the appetizer:

Though the Middle East has many specific regional and national cuisines, one item ties them all together: aromatic spices. Middle Eastern cooking also features many ingredients in common, like pita, honey, sesame seeds, sumac, chickpeas, mint and parsley.

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Middle East

Grilled Kebab (Kefta)

Summer favorites but year-round delicacies, ground-meat kebabs are enjoyed at home as well as in restaurants. Relatively inexpensive because they don't require a prime cut of meat, they're also nearly foolproof and can easily be adjusted to suit different tastes.

The following version is the classic dish served in roadside restaurants across Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan. When the heat and bustle, the smog and noise of city life wear and tear on body and soul, families escape for a day to charming little restaurants in nearby hills or river valleys. As children run cheerfully across the bare concrete floors and through the eclectic collection of tables and chairs filling every nook and cranny, infants explore the inviting dark world under the freshly wiped tables, and tolerant cats groom themselves in anticipation of the treats soon to be tossed their way. Service is often irregular and unsophisticated but the food—Ahhhhhh!—is always impeccable prepared and exquisitely seasoned.

1 pound lean ground beef
3 green onions, minced
1/2 cup minced parsley
Black pepper
2 loaves Arab bread, cut in half

1 onion, finely slivered
1/2 cup minced parsley
1 tsp. sumac

1. Combine the garnish ingredients and set aside.

2. Combine the meat, onions, parsley, salt, and pepper. Knead together until very smooth. Ideally the mixture should be passed twice through a meat grinder. Some individuals like the smooth texture of kefta that has been softened by cautious whirling in a food processor.

3. Shape the meat paste into balls the size of small lemons. With dampened hands, insert a flat barbecue skewer into each ball and squeeze the meant gently around the skewer to form thick cigar shapes. (If round skewers are used, the meat will not cling to the skewer.)

4. Grill over charcoal, turning once or twice.

5. Serve folded inside half loaves of Arabic bread, with a generous portion of garnish. Alternatively, serve on a bed of bread decorated with the garnish. Kefta is also delicious with just a sprinkle of sumac or with yoghurt sauce.


Add dried mint, red pepper, and garlic.

Add 1 egg, 2 cloves minced garlic, and thyme.

Palestine and Syria:
Add cinnamon and allspice.

Add 1/3 cup cooked rice, season with cinnamon and allspice.

Add 2 tbsp. rice flour and season with cumin

North Africa:
Add cumin and mint.

The Arabian Delights
by Anne Marie Weiss-Armush
$15.00 / paperback
Lowell House, 1994
ISBN: 1-56565-219-3
Recipe reprinted by permission.

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This page modified January 2007