There’s nothing that makes us happier than delicious vegan food that doesn’t leave a gaping hole in our wallets. Happily, many Middle Eastern dishes are either easily veganized, already vegan, and as a bonus, they use super-affordable ingredients and fresh produce. If you’re planning for a party, it doesn’t get much easier than a mezze platter with hummus, babaganoush, dried fruits, nuts, falafel, and more. Recently, Middle Eastern cuisine, or rather, the flavors, have been making a buzz in the mainstream food world.
Restaurants are starting to spice up their dishes with spice blends that many of us have never tried before but are staples in Middle Eastern cuisine. We’re even starting to see homemade jars of spice blends popping up in farmer’s markets — and sure, it’s convenient, but we can also make them at home. Try this versatile Homemade Za’atar if you want to give your dishes a tangy, spicy, and aromatic kick. Dukkah is another popular spice blend, though it got its start in Egypt. It’s made by grinding nuts and spices together and perfect for sprinkling on all your favorite food. You can have it for breakfast like this Avocado Smash With Cashew Drizzle and Hazelnut Dukkah. For a side with dinner, try this Cinnamon-Roasted Pumpkin With Tahini Yogurt and Hazelnut Dukkah or this Roasted Beet Salad With Pumpkin Seed Dukkah and Lemon Garlic Dressing.
Once you’ve got the flavors down, it’s time to use them in dishes. Try these 15 meat-free Middle Eastern recipes!
1. Turkish Spinach and Tofu Borek
Typically made with cheese and spinach between layers of buttery filo pastry, borek is surprisingly easy to veganize — hence this Turkish Spinach and Tofu Borek, Since ready-made filo pastry is often vegan already (check the packet first, of course) it makes life much easier on all fronts and can be coated with a vegan butter, so you don’t lose out on the buttery, golden kind of filo this savory pastry demands. In place of cheese, crumbled tofu, with a dose of nutritional yeast to give it a cheesy hint, does a very fine job for the filling.
2. Afghan Naan
3. Shorbat Adas: Middle Eastern Red Lentil Soup With Pita Croutons
Shorbat Adas is a very popular Middle Eastern soup of lentils that is seasoned with lemon, cumin, and olive oil that’s typically served with pitas. In this rendition, collard greens are added for a boost of nutrition. Instead of pita bread, it’s served with crunchy za’atar spiced pita croutons. Overall, this is a tasty, nutritious, easy, and quick soup to get on the lunch table.
4. Eggplant Kebab With Tahini Sauce
Kebab is one of the most common street foods in the Middle East. It’s made by grilling vegetables of all kinds and serving them in a pita or larger flatbread. This Eggplant Kebab is seasoned with za’atar and served with crunchy salad, creamy tahini, and a drizzle of tahini on top. What’s great about this recipe is that it’s completely oil-free, without salt, and plant-based. It’s filled with great spices, crunchy salad, creamy hummus and, of course, tahini drizzled on top. You can bake the eggplant in the oven, or put it on the grill – just until it’s mushy inside and crispy on the outside.
5. Maamoul: Date-Orange Stuffed Cookies
Maamoul are plump, tender Middle Eastern cookies filled with a sweet and spicy mixture of dates, orange, and ginger. These treats have no refined sugar and just a touch of coconut oil — and if you lightly toast them in the toaster oven, you might be tempted to call them pop tarts.
6. Spiced Chickpeas With Harissa and Tamarind
These Spiced Chickpeas With Harissa and Tamarind are a heady melody of Middle Eastern flavor with savory and subtle tartness. The tangy, sweetly sour tamarind, nutty chickpeas and spicy harissa meld well together and it’s even better after a day or two. Make a big batch so you’ll have plenty of leftovers for the rest of the week. It’s wonderful for quick weeknight meals, especially perfect over quinoa and peas, or rice or with some pita bread.
Shakshuka is one of those breakfast recipes that has steadily gained popularity in the last couple of years, but anyone who’s enjoyed a North African or Middle Eastern breakfast will be familiar with its rich and tangy flavors. Typically topped with eggs, this recipe substitutes them for seasoned silken tofu, giving you a genuine, egg-free shakshuka experience. This is an easy one-pan meal best served with bread that’s perfect for soaking up all the flavorful tomato sauce.
8. Persian Style Potato Pancakes
In Arabic and Persian cuisines, there is a type of thick baked omelet or frittata that can utilize almost any vegetable (but always contains some green herbs). Sometimes, the mixture is made into small “pancakes” or “patties” and is shallow-fried in oil or clarified butter instead of baked. These Persian Style Potato Pancakes capture the flavor and texture of those without the eggs and only a little bit of oil by using a mixture of mashed Russet potatos, tofu, and chickpea flour. Serve them as a simple meal with rice or as part of a mezze if you’re serving a group.
9. Iranian Eggplant and Chickpeas Stew
This Iranian Eggplant and Chickpeas Stew is the perfect festive dinner. The texture of the eggplant and chickpeas go so well together, and the sweetness of the dates and apricots blend perfectly with the cumin, cinnamon, nutmeg, and turmeric. It is absolutely AMAZING.
10. Sunflower Seed Halva
Halva is a popular dessert across the Middle East and Europe that varies in ingredients depending on what region you are in. This Sunflower Seed Halva is very simple to make and essentially is just ground up seeds that are heated briefly, pressed down into a loaf pan, and then chilled. The result is a dense, sweet, and nutty bar that is usually eaten on its own.
11. Dolmades Stuffed With Pine Nuts and Currants
Dolmades are grape leaves stuffed with a savory rice mixture, and a staple of Greek and Middle Eastern cooking. If you like stuffed cabbage, you’ll love Dolmades Stuffed With Pine Nuts and Currants. Rice is sautéed with fresh herbs, crunchy pine nuts, and chewy, sweet dried fruit to create a medley of flavor and texture. Once the grape leaves are stuffed with this amazing mixture, the dolmades are simmered in a mixture of broth and tomato paste to make them even more flavorful.
12. Roasted Beet Kebabs
Traditional kebasa are made from grilled meat, but these crispy Roasted Beet Kebabs are made from roasted beets, black beans, cashews, parsley, coconut, and spices. The smoky, char-grilled aroma and melt-in-mouth texture paired with a creamy and vibrant beet dip will easily get you hooked. This is the kind of a dish that you would absolutely love to serve when you have friends over dinner. It just has that “wow” factor.
13. Quinoa Asparagus Tabbouleh
This Quinoa Asparagus Tabbouleh is the perfect side for spring. Fresh asparagus, parsley, and mint add the taste of fresh greens while tomatoes add a light, savory flavor. Savor this fresh and crunchy tabbouleh as a first course or a side dish, or as a wrap for a light, but filling lunch.
14. Iranian Jeweled Basmati Rice Pilaf
This Iranian Jeweled Basmati Rice Pilaf is a dish full of flavor, with saffron, cinnamon, and turmeric spiced rice, crunchy almonds and pistachios, orange zest, and plenty of dried fruit. One of the best parts about this rice is what happens in the last few minutes. Let the rice on the bottom of the pan get all golden brown and crispy, while watching carefully not to burn it, then flip it onto the top of the pile right before serving. This gives it a crisp texture and toasty flavor. Of course, after that, you have to top it all off with plenty of extra “jewels” to garnish which makes it look all vibrant and inviting when you plate it.
Mujaddara is an ancient dish that has been traced back to a cookbook from 1226 in Iraq. The dish is made with lentils and rice and was considered a dish eaten by the poor. It’s a hearty dish, filling and satisfying. The lentils and rice are seasoned with cumin, coriander, cinnamon, and allspice so it’s packed with warm flavors. The fried onions get mixed into the dish as well as tossed on top so you get fried, crunchy goodness throughout. The yogurt-lemon sauce adds a tangy, cool element against the spiciness. If this is considered peasant food, the rich can keep their meals and give us more mujaddara!
Didn’t find what you’re looking for? Stop on by our vegan Middle Eastern recipes page for more ideas.
Lead image source: Eggplant Kebab With Tahini Sauce