6 Spiced Middle Eastern Dishes to Warm You Up This Winter

If Mother Nature’s onslaught of chilly weather has been bringing you down lately, perhaps it’s time to start fighting back from your own kitchen. Some of the world’s most warming dishes come from the Middle East, where spices such as cumin, cayenne, and cardamom come together to create sumptuous, comforting dishes — all ideal antidotes for the nasty winter weather.

Curl up and keep warm with any of these 6 mouthwatering Middle Eastern recipes this winter.

Source: iStock

1. Shakshuka (Poached Eggs in Tomato-Chili Sauce)

Shakshuka’s origins can be traced to North Africa, and this a piquant one-skillet dish can be enjoyed for breakfast, dinner, or just about anything in between. The most typical variation involves a tomato and red pepper sauce spiced with hints of cumin, paprika, and cayenne, reports The New York Times. Eggs are then cracked over top of the pan, cradled, and cooked to perfection in the zesty sauce.

This Shakshuka incorporates feta cheese, which melts nicely into the dish for added texture and depth of flavor. The recipe takes 50 minutes to make and yields 4 to 6 servings.


  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 large onion, halved and thinly sliced
  • 1 large red bell pepper, seeded and thinly sliced
  • 3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon sweet paprika
  • ⅛ teaspoon cayenne, or to taste
  • 1 (28-ounce) can whole plum tomatoes with juices, coarsely chopped
  • ¾ teaspoon salt, more as needed
  • ¼ teaspoon black pepper, more as needed
  • 5 ounces feta cheese, crumbled (about 1¼ cups)
  • 6 large eggs
  • Chopped cilantro, for serving
  • Hot sauce, for serving

DirectionsHeat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.

Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-low heat. Add onion and bell pepper. Cook gently until very soft, about 20 minutes. Add garlic and cook until tender, 1 to 2 minutes; stir in cumin, paprika, and cayenne, and cook 1 minute. Pour in tomatoes and season with ¾ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon pepper; simmer until tomatoes have thickened, about 10 minutes. Stir in crumbled feta.

Gently crack eggs into skillet over tomatoes. Season with salt and pepper. Transfer skillet to oven and bake until eggs are just set, 7 to 10 minutes. Sprinkle with cilantro and serve with hot sauce.

Source: iStock

2. Dumbay Ki Nihari (Pakistani Slow-Cooked Lamb Stew)

You’ll forget all about the chilly weather after one bite of this spicy Pakistani Dumbay Ki Nihari stew. The slow-cooked lamb dish is packed with exotic notes of fennel, cumin, coriander, cloves, and cardamom for a comforting taste of Pakistani culture. Saveur points out that the dish’s name derives from the Arabic word nahaar, which means “day” — referring to the lengthy cooking process required to extract the fullest, most divine flavors from your lamb meat and bone. Trust us: It’s worth the wait! This recipe from Saveur yields 4 servings.


For the garam masala

  • 2 tablespoons poppy seeds
  • 1 tablespoon coriander seeds
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 1 teaspoon fennel seeds
  • ½ teaspoon whole black peppercorns
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 5 whole cloves
  • 3 green cardamom pods
  • 1 black cardamom pod
  • 1 star anise
  • 1 stick cinnamon, halved

For the nihari

  • 1 cup canola oil
  • 1 medium yellow onion, very thinly sliced
  • 3 lamb shanks, halved crosswise
  • 1 tablespoon cayenne
  • 2 cloves garlic, mashed into a paste
  • 1 (3-inch piece) ginger, peeled (1 inch mashed into a paste; 2 inches julienned, for serving)
  • Kosher salt, to taste
  • ¼ cup flour
  • 2 tablespoons ghee, melted
  • Chopped cilantro, lemon, or lime wedges, minced Thai chiles, and naan bread, for serving (optional)

DirectionsMake the garam masala – Purée poppy seeds and 1 tablespoon water in a spice grinder into a paste; transfer to a bowl. Grind remaining spices into a powder; stir into paste.

Make the nihari – Heat oil and onion in a 6-quart saucepan over medium. Cook until onion is caramelized, about 25 minutes; using a slotted spoon, transfer onion to a bowl. Discard all but ¼ cup oil from the pan. Cook lamb, turning as needed, until browned, 8 to 10 minutes.

Stir in reserved garam masala, the cayenne, garlic, and ginger pastes, and salt; cook 1 to 2 minutes. Add 3 cups water; boil. Reduce heat to medium-low; cook, covered, until lamb has fallen off the bone, 5½ to 6 hours. Using tongs, transfer lamb to a bowl; keep warm. Stir flour, ghee, and ¼ cup water in a bowl and add to pan; cook until thickened, about 15 minutes. Return lamb to pan.

Serve with the reserved onion, julienned ginger, and, if you like, the cilantro, lemon or lime wedges, chiles, and naan.

Source: iStock

3. Quwarmah Ala Dajaj (Kuwaiti Curried Chicken)

It’s easy to see why CNN highlights this curried chicken among its list of the 20 top Middle Eastern foods. Quwarmah Ala Dajaj, a staple Kuwaiti dish, steeps tender chicken meat in a boldly spiced tomato-lime sauce. The flavors of cinnamon, ginger, and clove come into play with each zesty bite, making it an excellent (and exotic) comfort food to enjoy during the dull days of winter. Food.com’s recipe takes 2 hours and 15 minutes to make, and yields 4 servings.


  • 3 pounds chicken, skinned and jointed
  • Salt
  • 1¾ teaspoons baharat mixed spice
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • ¼ cup olive oil or ghee
  • 2 large onions, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1 teaspoon fresh ginger, grated
  • 1 stick cinnamon bark
  • 1 cup tomato sauce
  • ¼ cup water
  • 2 dried limes
  • 1 cup frozen okra, lightly fried in a little oil (optional)

DirectionsRinse and wipe chicken pieces dry and sprinkle with salt. Combine baharat spice and turmeric, and rub half of the mix onto chicken pieces. Let sit for 15 minutes.

Heat olive oil in pan; add chicken and brown pieces on each side. Set aside on plate. Add onion to pan and fry gently until transparent. Add garlic, ginger, remaining spice mixture, and cinnamon bark to the onion; fry for 5 minutes, stirring often.

Add tomato sauce, water, salt to taste, and limes pierced twice with a skewer. Bring to a high simmer. Add chicken pieces and okra if using. Reduce heat to low and simmer very gently for 1½ hours until chicken is tender and sauce is thick. Serve hot with basmati rice dish and salad. Enjoy!

Source: iStock

4. Muhammara (Hot Pepper Dip)

If you’re looking for some spiced, snack-able goodness drawing from Middle Eastern influences, you can’t go wrong with Muhammara, a spiced red pepper and pomegranate sauce deriving from Aleppo, Syria. The Culinary Institute of America’s book Garde Manger notes that to make the pomegranate molasses required for the dish, you can simply cook ripe pomegranate and sugar to a thick, jam-like consistency over the stove. This is a spectacular and low-maintenance dish, perfect for dipping pita triangles or any veggies of your choosing. Love and Lentils’ recipe yields 1¾ cups.


  • 7-ounce jar roasted red peppers, drained
  • ½ cup fresh bread crumbs
  • ½ cup walnuts, lightly toasted and chopped finely
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • ½ lemon, juiced
  • 2 teaspoons pomegranate molasses, plus more for drizzling
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • ½ teaspoon dried hot red pepper flakes
  • ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • ¼ teaspoon sea salt

DirectionsPlace all ingredients into a food processor except for olive oil; gradually add in the olive oil until everything is well-combined and you have a smooth consistency.

Transfer the muhammara to a bowl, drizzle with pomegranate molasses, and serve at room temperature with the toasted pita triangles or fresh vegetables. Enjoy!

Source: iStock

5. Kousa Mahshi (Stuffed Zucchini)

Go Lightly Gourmet credits the Middle East’s historic affinity for stuffed vegetable dishes with the continued popularity of Kousa Mahshi. This dish can be altered to suit a vegetarian diet by replacing the meat with ½ cup of cooked, mashed chickpeas and ½ cup of pine nuts. The recipe serves 4 to 5 people and is a wonderful antidote to the brisk chill of winter.


Meat and rice filling

  • ¾ pound grass-fed ground lamb or beef
  • ¾ cup short-grain white rice like Arborio, rinsed
  • 1 cup chopped tomatoes
  • ½ cup chopped onion
  • 2 to 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh parsley (or 2 teaspoons dried parsley)
  • 2 tablespoons minced fresh mint
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • ½ teaspoon ground allspice
  • ¼ teaspoon nutmeg
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cloves
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cardamom
  • ¾ teaspoon salt and black pepper
  • 12 small to medium zucchini, about 6 to 8 inches long


  • 4 cups chicken broth
  • 1 (15-ounce) can tomato sauce, low salt
  • 1 (14.5-ounce) low-salt crushed tomatoes, undrained
  • 2 to 5 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh mint
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • Salt, to taste
  • Hot sauce, to taste (optional)

Directions: Core zucchini until each has walls about ¼-inch thick. Be careful not to poke a hole in them if possible.

In a deep bowl, mix together all the stuffing ingredients until well blended. Gently stuff the zucchini with the mixture using your fingers; be careful not to overstuff, as rice will expand. Set aside.

In a large, heavy-bottomed pot, combine the sauce ingredients and bring to a boil, while stirring. Then lower the heat and simmer for a few minutes to let the flavors stew. Very carefully float the stuffed zucchini in the broth and simmer, covered, for about 45 to 50 minutes until the rice and meat is done.

Check occasionally during cooking, adding more broth or water if needed. Serve in deep bowls in some of the hot broth, with minced fresh mint and parsley sprinkled on top. Serve with fresh vegetables such as carrot and celery sticks and hummus.

Source: iStock

6. Baked Kibbeh

Kibbeh, a minced meat dish containing bulgur wheat and spices, is the national dish of Lebanon, reports NPR. Rosa’s Yummy Yums notes that while the dish is often prepared in ball or torpedo shapes, it can also be baked into a meatloaf-like dish and served as for a cozily spiced and family-friendly dinner dish. This Baked Kibbeh recipe, adapted from Claudia Roden’s Arabesque: A Taste of Morocco, Turkey, and Lebanon, yields 4 servings.


Baked kibbeh base

  • ⅔ cup fine-ground bulgur
  • 1 medium white onion, cut into quarters
  • 1 pound lean ground lamb
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • Ground black pepper, to taste
  • 1½ teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil (1 tablespoon to grease the pan, 1 tablespoon for top of kibbeh)

Onion and pine nut topping

  • 1 pound white onions, sliced
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • ⅓ cup pine nuts
  • Sea salt, to taste
  • Ground black pepper, to taste
  • ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ⅓ teaspoon ground allspice
  • 3 tablespoons pomegranate molasses

Directions: For the baked kibbeh base – Cover the bulgur with water and let rest 10 minutes. Drain well.

In a food processor, purée the onion, then add the meat, salt, pepper, and cinnamon. Blend to a fine paste. Add the drained bulgur and blend again in order to get a smooth, homogenous, and soft paste.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Oil a 10-inch diameter tart pan and press paste into the bottom of the pan using your hands. Flatten and smooth the top. Rub with 1 tablespoon olive oil.

With a pointed knife, cut the kibbeh into 6 wedges through the center and run the knife around the edges of the dish to release them. Bake the kibbeh in the preheated oven for about 30 to 40 minutes, until browned.

For the topping – Meanwhile, fry the onions in the olive oil until they are golden-brown, stirring often. Add the pine nuts. Stir-fry until lightly golden.

Salt and pepper to taste, then add the cinnamon, allspice and the pomegranate molasses. Continue cooking and stirring for about 1 minute. Spread the onion mixture over the top of the kibbeh and serve.

More from Life Cheat Sheet: