Arabic Meat Dishes – A Guide to Tantalising Middle Eastern Cuisine

Arabic cuisine is known for its bold flavours and diverse ingredients, and meat dishes play a significant role in many traditional meals. As you explore the world of Middle Eastern cuisine, you’ll come across distinct regional variations that showcase the unique flavours and preparation techniques rooted in the rich heritage of each area.

In particular, Arabic meat dishes often feature lamb, chicken, and beef, all exquisitely seasoned with regional spices and herbs such as baharat, ras el hanout, and sumac. 

These spices provide depth and complexity to every bite, taking your palate on a sensory journey across the Middle East. Paired with staples like rice, bread, and vegetables, these meat dishes offer a perfect balance of flavours and textures – a true feast for your senses.

The delectable aromas wafting from the sizzling grills of Lebanese kebabs, Egyptian koftas, and Saudi Arabian shawarma represent not only the divine taste of Arabic cuisine but also the rich and colourful tapestry of Middle Eastern culture. 

As you delve deeper into the culinary world of these authentic dishes, you’ll start to truly appreciate the artistry and skill involved in their creation.

History of Arabic Meat Dishes

The origins of Arabic meat dishes can be traced back to the Eastern Arab world, where ancient civilisations such as the Sumerians, Babylonians, Phoenicians, Canaanites, Hittites, Arameans, Assyrians, Egyptians, and Nabateans influenced the development of the Arab kitchen. 

These early inhabitants relied primarily on agricultural products like wheat, vegetables, and spices, while also enjoying a variety of meats such as lamb, mutton, and poultry.

During the medieval period, recipes similarly spread across Islamic cities to the tales of One Thousand and One Nights. Travellers carried these recipes, and as a result, the dishes were tested, collected, copied, and adapted for local ingredients and tastes. 

One such example of a traditional Arabic meat dish is Mandi, which originated in Hadhramaut, Yemen. Mandi consists of meat and rice cooked with a unique blend of spices in a pit and has since become a staple in many regions of the Arabian Peninsula, particularly among the Yemeni people.

In the 7th century, when the Arabs arrived on the shores of the Eastern Mediterranean and occupied North Africa, they encountered an even greater variety of foods. The original inhabitants of these regions had a heavy reliance on a diet of dates, wheat, barley, rice, and meat. However, as the Arab influence expanded, so too did the variety of dishes. Yoghurt products became a popular accompaniment, such as “leben” (yoghurt without butterfat).

Throughout history, Arabic meat dishes have evolved and diversified due to various influences from neighbouring regions and new ingredients becoming available. 

Today, these dishes continue to be cherished and shared by people from all walks of life, demonstrating the richness of Arabic culinary heritage.

Common Ingredients in Arabic Meat Dishes

When it comes to Arabic meat dishes, a variety of spices and ingredients make them both flavourful and unique. If you’re looking to recreate these dishes at home, you’ll need a few essentials in your pantry.


This is a popular Arabic spice blend made up of seven or eight different spices, such as nutmeg, cardamom, coriander, paprika, black pepper, cinnamon, cumin, and cloves. This blend is often used in meat dishes to add depth and warmth to the flavour. You can use it as a rub or incorporate it into a sauce for a delicious taste.


It is another common ingredient in Middle Eastern cuisine, offering a strong and slightly sweet taste with a hint of warmth. You can use cardamom pods or ground cardamom in your meat dishes, both of which will enhance the overall flavour profile.

Moving on to herbs, parsley and mint are often used in Arabic meat dishes to provide a balance of flavours. While parsley adds a fresh, slightly bitter taste, mint brings a cooling effect that pairs well with the deep, warm spices used in these dishes. 

Chopped, fresh herbs can be added as a garnish or mixed into the dish during the cooking process.

Another essential ingredient in Arabic meat dishes is pomegranate molasses. This thick, syrupy product is made from concentrated pomegranate juice, sugar, and lemon juice. It adds a fruity undertone and a tangy taste, elevating the meat dish to a new level of flavour. 

Use it sparingly, as a little goes a long way. It can be drizzled over grilled meats or incorporated into a marinade or sauce.

In summary, to prepare classic Arabic meat dishes, stock your pantry with Baharat, cardamom, parsley, mint, and pomegranate molasses. When used in combination, these ingredients create the delicious, aromatic flavours that are hallmarks of Middle Eastern cuisine.

Popular Arabic Meat Dishes

Arabic cuisine includes a wide variety of delicious meat dishes that are packed with flavour and enjoyed around the world. In this section, we will discuss three popular Arabic meat dishes: MandiMansaf, and Shawarma.


Mandi is a traditional Yemeni dish that has gained popularity throughout the Middle East. It is made by slow-cooking meat, usually lamb or chicken, along with spiced rice in a special underground oven called a “taboon”. 

The key to a mouth-watering Mandi lies in the aromatic spices used, such as cumin, coriander, and cardamom.

To savour this dish, you should consider visiting a restaurant specialising in Arabic cuisine, where the meat is cooked to perfection, falling off the bone, and the rice absorbs the rich flavours from the meat.


Originating in Jordan, Mansaf is a classic Bedouin dish that has become a symbol of Jordanian hospitality. It consists of lamb, cooked in a unique sauce made from fermented dried yoghurt (jameed), served atop a bed of rice, and garnished with toasted almonds and pine nuts.

When you partake in a Mansaf feast, you’ll notice the dish is traditionally eaten with one’s hands, and it’s common to share from a large communal platter. The distinctive combination of flavours in Mansaf is sure to delight your taste buds and leave you craving more of this delicious Arabic cuisine.


Perhaps the most well-known Arabic meat dish, Shawarma is loved by many around the globe. This dish has its origins in the Ottoman Empire and has since spread far and wide. Shawarma consists of thinly sliced marinated meat, often chicken, lamb, or beef, which is roasted on a vertical rotisserie or spit.

As a fan of Arabic food, you’ll enjoy the process of assembling your Shawarma in soft, warm pita bread and customising it with a choice of vegetables, pickles, and sauces, such as tahini or garlic sauce. This versatile dish can be savoured as a quick snack or a more substantial meal, depending on your preference.

Cooking Techniques of Arabic Meat Dishes

In this section, we will explore three common cooking techniques used in the preparation of Arabic meat dishes: grilling, roasting, and braising.


Grilling is a popular method for cooking meat dishes in Arabic cuisine. It involves using direct heat to cook the meat, which often results in a caramelised, smoky flavour. To grill meats in the Arabic style, follow these steps:

  1. Marinate: Marinate your meat with a combination of spices, such as baharat, and olive oil. This helps to tenderise the meat and infuse it with flavour.
  2. Preheat: Preheat your grill (charcoal or gas) to medium-high heat.
  3. Cook: Place the marinated meat onto the grill, ensuring not to overcrowd the grates. Cook until the meat is cooked through and browned on the outside. For kebab-style dishes, thread the meat onto skewers before grilling.


Roasting involves cooking meat in an oven with indirect heat, allowing the meat to cook slowly and evenly. This technique is commonly used for preparing dishes such as lamb or chicken. Here’s how to roast meat in the Arabic style:

  1. Season: Rub the meat with a blend of spices, like ras el hanout, and olive oil to add flavour.
  2. Preheat: Preheat your oven to 180°C (350°F).
  3. Cook: Place the seasoned meat on a roasting tray or in a roasting pan. Cook in the preheated oven until the meat is tender and the juices run clear when pierced with a knife.


Braising is a cooking technique that uses both wet and dry heat, resulting in tender, flavourful meat dishes. This method is ideal for cooking tougher cuts of meat, such as beef or lamb shanks. To braise meats in the Arabic style, follow these steps:

  1. Sear: Heat a small amount of oil in a heavy pot or Dutch oven, then sear the meat on all sides until browned. Remove the meat and set aside.
  2. Sauté: In the same pot, sauté onions, garlic, and spices like cumin and cinnamon until fragrant and tender.
  3. Deglaze: Add a small amount of liquid, such as broth or tomato juice, to the pot, scraping up any browned bits from the bottom.
  4. Braise: Return the seared meat to the pot, and add enough liquid to partially cover the meat. Bring to a simmer, then cover and transfer to a preheated, 160°C (320°F) oven. Cook until the meat is tender and the flavours have melded together.

By mastering these cooking techniques, you can create a variety of Arabic meat dishes that are flavourful, tender, and satisfying.

Regional Variations of Arabic Meat Dishes

Arabic cuisine is diverse and varies according to region. In this section, we will explore the regional variations of Arabic meat dishes, focusing on Levantine Cuisine, Gulf Cuisine, and North African Cuisine.

Levantine Cuisine

In the Levant region, which includes countries such as Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan, meat dishes are flavoured with aromatic spices and herbs. 

One popular dish is Kibbeh, a mixture of ground meat, onions, and bulgur wheat, seasoned with spices like allspice, cinnamon, and cumin. This mixture can be shaped into balls or patties and can be grilled, fried, or even served raw.

Another popular Levantine dish is Shawarma, a marinated and slow-cooked meat on a rotating spit, typically served in a wrap with vegetables and tahini sauce. Shawarma can be made using chicken, lamb, or beef, with each restaurant or household having its unique marinade recipe.

Gulf Cuisine

Gulf cuisine, from countries such as Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and the United Arab Emirates, features an array of flavours with influences from Indian, Persian, and African culinary traditions. 

Machboos is a popular dish, consisting of meat, such as chicken, lamb or fish, cooked with rice and a fragrant blend of spices, including loomi (dried lime), saffron, and baharat.

Another staple in Gulf cuisine is Harees, a dish with meat such as chicken or lamb, slow-cooked with wheat, butter, and various spices. It has a porridge-like consistency and is often garnished with cinnamon and sugar.

North African Cuisine

The North African cuisine, including Moroccan, Tunisian, and Algerian dishes, is known for its bold use of spices and varied flavour profiles. 

A well-known dish is Tagine, a slow-cooked stew using meat, vegetables, and spices like cumin, coriander, and saffron. The dish is named after the unique clay pot in which it’s traditionally prepared and served.

Couscous is a North African staple, often served with meat, such as lamb or chicken, and vegetables. It is typically flavoured with spices like Ras el Hanout, a blend often containing cardamom, cinnamon, and cloves.

By exploring diverse regional variations of Arabic cuisine, you can discover a rich assortment of flavours, textures, and ingredients that will undoubtedly tantalise your taste buds.

Health Benefits and Nutritional Values

Arabic meat dishes offer an array of health benefits, thanks to their rich content of healthy fatty acids, high-quality protein sources, and low-sugar carbohydrates. 

These nutritious components can help you burn fat, increase energy levels, and improve blood sugar control, as they help regulate insulin levels in your body.

Moreover, many traditional Arabic dishes are full of vitamins and minerals, supporting overall health and wellness. 

For example, tabbouleh, a popular Middle Eastern salad made from tomatoes, parsley, mint, bulgur, and onion, is packed with vitamins and nutrients. To boost the protein and fibre content even further, consider replacing the bulgur with quinoa or couscous, a wheat indigenous to North Africa.

In a study examining 10 traditional dishes from the United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.), significant variations in nutritional values were observed. This highlights the importance of choosing dishes with a well-balanced nutritional profile to maintain a healthy diet.

It’s worth mentioning that some Middle Eastern dishes can have a high sodium content, with certain dishes containing over 600 mg of sodium per 100g serving. Sodium intake should be monitored, especially for those keeping an eye on their blood pressure or managing a low-sodium diet.

When enjoying Arabic meat dishes, take note of these nutritional benefits and make mindful choices to complement your health goals.

Pairings with Arabic Meat Dishes

When it comes to enjoying Arabic meat dishes, the right pairing of sides can elevate your meal to new heights. You’ll find that many Middle Eastern sides complement the robust flavours of the meat, creating a well-rounded and satisfying dining experience.

One popular side dish to consider is couscous. This versatile grain can be prepared in a variety of ways, such as a spiced Israeli couscous infused with falafel flavours. Couscous is quick and easy to make, and it tastes great with meat dishes like kebabs, lamb, or chicken.

Another excellent accompaniment for Arabic meat dishes is tahini sauce. Particularly popular in Lebanon, white fish fillets are often served with this rich, smooth sauce made from sesame seeds. To make the sauce, you’ll need to blend minced garlic, lemon juice, and tahini paste. 

Drizzling tahini sauce over your meat dish adds a creamy texture and nutty taste.

Incorporating mezze into your meal is a fantastic way to enjoy a medley of flavours alongside your Arabic meat dish. Mezze, or small plates, are similar to Spanish tapas and can be shared among friends and family. 

Options like chickpeas with garlicky yoghurt, toasted pita, and pumpkin kibbeh are delightful when eaten with meat dishes.

Don’t forget about the importance of bread. Lavash, a traditional Middle Eastern flatbread, is a delicious option to serve with your meat dish. 

Soft and thin, this bread can be used to scoop up sauces or wrap around pieces of meat, adding a delightful texture to the meal.

Finally, consider incorporating a fresh salad into your meal. A simple Arabic salad, made from cucumbers, tomatoes, parsley, and a lemon-olive oil dressing, can provide a refreshing contrast to the heartiness of your meat dish.

By choosing the right pairings for your Arabic meat dishes, you can create a memorable, well-balanced meal that showcases the best of Middle Eastern cuisine.

Serving and Presentation of Arabic Meat Dishes

When serving Arabic meat dishes, it’s important to consider both the visual appeal and the practical aspect of enjoying the meal. Below are a few tips to enhance the presentation and allow your guests to fully appreciate the delicious flavours.

First, always choose an appropriate dish or platter for the main course. Large, shallow bowls or oval serving platters are commonly used in Arabic cuisine to make it easier for everyone to reach the food. You can also use colourful ceramic dishes for a more vibrant and appealing presentation.

To highlight the key elements of your Arabic meat dish, try to arrange the meat and any accompanying vegetables or grains in a way that shows off their colours and textures. 

For instance, you could place the meat in the centre, surrounded by a border of vibrant vegetables or rice. Alternatively, consider layering the ingredients for an inviting display.

Garnishing your meat dish is crucial to both the flavour and appearance. 

Classic Arabic herbs and spices such as parsley, coriander, and mint can be used as a garnish, providing a burst of freshness to contrast the rich flavours of the meat. Additionally, sprinkling spices like baharat and sumac over the dish can add vibrancy and depth.

You may want to serve your Arabic meat dishes with complementary side dishes. Traditional accompaniments could include flatbreads, pickles, or a fresh salad like tabbouleh. Arrange these on separate plates or as part of a sharing platter for an authentic dining experience.

Finally, don’t forget about the sauces and dips that pair well with Arabic meat dishes. For example, offer yoghurt-based sauces or tahini to enhance the flavour and moisture of the dish. Be sure to place these in small, accessible bowls near the main course for easy dipping.

By paying attention to the presentation and serving elements of your Arabic meat dishes, you can ensure that your guests have a memorable and enjoyable dining experience.

Future of Arabic Meat Dishes

In the future of Arabic meat dishes, you can expect that traditional flavours will be preserved while embracing modern techniques and presentation styles. The culinary community remains dedicated to enhancing the essence of these dishes while broadening their appeal to both local and global audiences.

As people become more conscious of their health and the environment, chefs and home cooks will likely begin to experiment with alternative meat sources such as plant-based proteins and sustainable meat cuts. 

This innovation will not only cater to the growing number of vegetarians and vegans but also contribute to the objective of reducing the environmental impact of the food industry.

Keeping in mind the global nature of today’s society, Arabic meat dishes will continue to be influenced by cross-cultural culinary exchanges. You might see Arabian elements being incorporated into dishes from other regions, and vice versa, ultimately resulting in a more diverse and vibrant food scene.

The use of technology and social media will also play a significant role in the future of Arabic meat dishes. 

By sharing recipes, tips, and experiences online, you can contribute to the rapid sharing of knowledge and skills. Moreover, online platforms will enable international food enthusiasts to explore and appreciate the rich flavours and traditions embodied in these dishes.

In summary, the future of Arabic meat dishes appears to be full of potential, with a focus on maintaining authenticity while adapting to the contemporary demands of health, sustainability, and globalisation.


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