Egyptian Foods and Recipes
Ancient Roots - Today's Egyptian Food
The variety of Egyptian recipes is extensive, and utilizes many types of food. With a history of foreign trade, of invasions and the domination of other cultures, (Roman, Greek, Arab among them) Egypt has adopted many ways of preparing food. The influences came mainly from Syria, Lebanon, Turkey, Greece, Palestine, and other Mediterranean countries, but even those were modified in Egypt to a great extent, adapting them to suit Egyptian customs, and tastes to make these foods uniquely Egyptian. The dishes are simple and hearty, made with naturally ripened fruits and vegetables and seasoned with fresh spices. The food in the south, closely linked to North African cuisine, is zestier than that found in the north, but neither is especially hot.
But we must remember that the early Egyptians were accomplished agriculturists. They cultivated pistachios, pine nuts, almonds, hazelnuts, and walnuts, still popular food today. From their orchards came apples, apricots, grapes, melons, quinces, and pomegranates. To this day, Egyptians love vegetables. Ancient gardens featured lettuce, peas, cucumbers, beets, beans, herbs, and greens. Pharaohs thought of mushrooms as a special delicacy.
Egyptian cuisine is known for flavor and its use of fresh ingredients. The staple in every Arab's diet is a bread called Aish (means life), which is a darker form of the Pita bread in the Greek culture. Fava beans are also important in the diet. At an Arab meal, one would expect to have a soup, meat, vegetable stew, bread, salad, and rice or pasta. Their desserts aren't rich like those of many other Arab countries, similar cuisine as it is and most dishes have the same name all over the middle east, mostly fruit is served after a meal. Egypt's cuisine includes bean stew and falafel with veal, lamb and pigeon which is also popular.
Boiled cabbage was eaten before drinking bouts to prevent getting drunk. Herodotus records that the slaves who built the Great Pyramid at Giza were kept going on "radishes, onions, and leeks," three of the world's oldest vegetables.
Mulukhiya is a leafy, green, summer vegetable. A traditional dish in Egypt and Sudan, some people believe it originated among Egyptians during the time of the Pharaohs. Others believe that it was first prepared by ancient Jews. Molokhia is nutritious soup made from a type of greens, known as mulukhiya (also called Nalta jute, Tussa jute, Corchorus olitorius), which is found throughout and in other Arab countries with the same climate as well as in Israel. Dried or frozen mulukhiya greens may be obtained from Middle Eastern stores worldwide. Consumption of mulukhia was banned (along with a great many other things) during the reign of the Fatimid Caliph al-Hakim (c.1000 AD). In addition to mulukhiya, the Egyptians make a variety of meat (lahhma), vegetable (khudaar), and fish (samak) soups known collectively as shurbah, and all are delicious.
Rice (ruzz)is often varied by cooking it with nuts, onions, vegetables, or small amounts of meat. Egyptians stuff green vegetables with mixtures of rice. wara' enab, for example, is made form boiled grape leaves filled with small amounts of spiced rice with or without ground meat.
Potatoes (bataatis) are usually fried but can also be boiled or stuffed.
Salads (salata) can be made of greens, tomatoes, potatoes, or eggs, as well as with beans and yogurt.
Yogurt (laban zabadi) is fresh and unflavored; you can sweeten if you wish with honey, jams, preserves, or mint. It rests easy on an upset stomach.
Rice and bread form the bulk of Egyptian main courses, which may be served either as lunch or dinner. For most Egyptians, meat is a luxury used in small amounts, cooked with vegetables, and served with or over rice.
The Egyptian way of making kebabs is to season chunks of lamb in onion, marjoram, and lemon juice and then roast them on a spit over an open fire. Kufta is ground lamb flavored with spices and onions which is rolled into long narrow "meatballs" and roasted like kebab. Pork is considered unclean by Muslims, but is readily available, as is beef.
Pigeons (hamaam) are raised throughout Egypt, and when stuffed with seasoned rice and grilled, constitute a national delicacy. If you visiting Egypt, beware: local restaurants sometimes serve the heads buried in the stuffing.
Egyptians serve both freshwater and seagoing fish under the general term of samak. The best fish seem to be near the coasts (ocean variety) or in Aswan, where they are caught from Lake Nasser. As well as the common bass and sole, there are shrimp, squid, scallops, and eel. The latter, a white meat with a delicate salmon flavoring, can be bought on the street already deep-fried.
Native cheese (gibna) comes in two varieties: gibna beida, similar to feta, and gibna rumy, a sharp, hard, pale yellow cheese. These are the ones normally used in salads and sandwiches.
Egyptian desserts of pastry or puddings are usually drenched in honey syrup. Baklava (filo dough, honey, and nuts) is one of the less sweet; fatir are pancakes stuffed with everything from eggs to apricots, and basbousa, quite sweet, is made of semolina pastry soaked in honey and topped with hazelnuts.
Bbouzat haleeb or ice cream is a totally different experience from the rich American ice cream. Its quite light and gummy in texture. It actually stretches a bit as you spoon it. Misika (Arabic gum) and shalab (an extract from the tubers of orchids) can be found in most Mid-Eastern markets
Umm ali is another national dish of Egypt, and is a raisin cake soaked in milk and served hot. Kanafa is a dish of batter "strings" fried on a hot grill and stuffed with nuts, meats, or sweets. Egyptian rice pudding is called mahallabiyya and is served topped with pistachios. French-style pastries are called gatoux. Most homes and places serve fresh fruits for desserts, and it makes a perfect, light conclusion to most meals.
Although Turkish coffee has a reputation for being tart, its actual flavor depends on the mix of beans used in the grind. The larger the percentage of Arabica, the sweeter and more chocolate flavor. Ahwa comes in several versions: ahwa sada is black, ahwa ariha is lightly sweetened with sugar, ahwa mazboot is moderately sweetened, and ahwaziyada is very sweet. You must specify the amount of sugar at the time you order, for it's sweetened in the pot. Ahwa is never served with cream.