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Nutrition Smarts

A Middle Eastern Journey

Ingredients 101 (continue...)

Vegetables commonly found on Middle Eastern menus are eggplant, spinach, cucumbers, onions, okra and green peppers. Fruits such as tomatoes, lemons and antioxidant-rich pomegranates make an appearance as well.

Meats on the Middle Eastern menu include lamb, beef and chicken. Pork is not served, as religious traditions forbid it. Fish and shrimp feature as well. Lebanese Taverna, for instance, serves swordfish kebabs and fresh, baked whole fish such as red snapper.

Legumes like chickpeas provide protein, fiber and complex carbohydrates. Choose hommos, which is chock-full of chickpeas, or try a dish with fava beans or lentils. Couscous and bulgur (cracked wheat) add whole grains to the meal. And for a dose of dairy, enjoy calcium-rich yogurt as marinade, sauce and dip.

Quick & Healthy Tips

  • Steer clear of fried dishes such as falafel (which contains chickpea fritters), kibbeh (deep-fried meat and wheat balls) and stuffed pastries.
  • Beware of tahini sauce, which is made from sesame seeds and full of fat. Ask for tahini on the side or order cucumber-yogurt sauce instead.
  • Mint tea is a popular after-dinner drink that aids digestion and is rich in antioxidants. But it is often served with a hefty amount of sugar, so ask for an unsweetened option and add a little honey to taste.
  • Opt for whole-wheat pita bread if it is available.
  • Feta, the most common cheese found in Middle Eastern cooking, has less fat than other popular cheeses, but it is quite salty. Try to choose dishes that donít feature feta as a main ingredient.

 
Navigating the Menu

Many of the most common Middle Eastern menu items make good picks for health-conscious diners, including:

Baba ghannouge: Pureed eggplant dip
Fattoush: Bread, cucumber, tomato and mint salad
Foole mídamas: Simmered fava beans
Hommos: Chickpea and tahini dip
Kafta: Meatballs made with lamb or beef
Shish kebab: Marinated lamb skewers
Shish taouk: Marinated chicken skewers
Shawarma: Thinly sliced lamb, beef or chicken from a vertical rotisserie
Tabbouleh: Parsley and bulgur wheat salad

Note that spellings of these dishes can vary depending on the country of origin (such as foole, foul or ful).

 

— Angela Moore

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