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Moroccan / Middle Eastern Cuisines

Food, Spices & Wine

Although the Middle East is vast region to include in a single cuisine type, there is a distinct set of flavors that the west has deemed Middle Eastern, and some dishes are universal with regional flavor dialects. Middle Eastern cuisine delivers rich, flavorful ingredients, earthy flavors and exotic spices.   The earthenware tagine (below) cooking vessel braises food slowly, and its conical design captures rising steam, collects it in its peak and then sends drops back down to keep food gorgeously moist.

moroccan-4Staple starches like bulgar wheat and couscous, redolent with sweet spice and dried fruit have been adopted by the west, as quintesential Middle Eastern accompaniments to North American cuisine.

Winemaking is not a recognized industry in the Middle East, due not only to the hot arid climate, but also to the fact that alcohol consumption is respectfully discouraged by Islam, the region's dominant religion. In spite of these factors, the western world has invested considerable time and effort to pairing of wine and Middle Eastern cuisines. The menu is as vast as the desert.

Mezzes for Starters

Middle Eastern meals normally start with mezzes. Mezzes are the Middle East's version of the appetizer, yet in and of themselves often include dozens of individual small dishes. Popular mezzes are hummous, savory phyllo pastries, baba ghanouj, and stuffed grape leaves.

moroccan-2Mezzes pair well with fruitier whites such as Chardonnay or Pinot Gris, or light reds that aren't too heavy.  Grenache or Beaujolais (left) are solid choices. Try an oak aged red like Rioja to accompany eggplant baba ghanouj with its strong garlic and onion component; the tannins will contrast nicely with the eggplant and the pomegranate dressing often served alongside.

The Main Event

The main dish or dishes follow mezzes. Mains may consist of lamb or goat, different kebabs, falafel, curry-like dishes with rice or couscous, fruit and nuts, stews and plenty of so-called Middle Eastern spices.

moroccan-1Middle Eastern spices would include cumin, nutmeg, cardamom, coriander, ginger, tumeric, sumac, baharat (blend), caraway, anise seed, allspice and cinnamon. Common ingredients in many savory dishes are figs, raisins, nuts and turmeric which pair well with fruity whites and less complex, softer reds such as Merlot, Beaujolais or Pinot Noir (right).

Lamb is generally the meat of choice and is prepared in myriad different ways. For the most part a heavy, bold red will stand up to savory spice-soaked lamb. For sweeter lamb stew with dried fruit and spices try a dry Reisling or a fruitier red. The acid will cleanse the palette.

Middle Eastern salads are fresh, with vibrant vegetables and are very lightly dressed with a touch of citrus. An acidic Spanish white wine that is somewhat full-bodied is the perfect pairing for these.

If you are still unsure about what varietal goes best with which dish, shoot straight up the middle so to speak. Fruitier reds and whites like Reislings are a recurring theme and seem to work well with most Middle eastern dishes. Pink wines like rose and white zinfandel are often a good bet also.