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Egyptian Cuisine and Recipes

Egyptian Recipes and Cooking

 

Cooking by Country - February 2007

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Egypt is situated in Northern Africa and forms the only land bridge between Africa and Asia. In fact, its most easterly part, the Sinai Peninsular, is often considered to be in Asia. It has land borders with Libya, Sudan and Israel and total 1,273km coastline on the Mediterranean and Red Seas.

 

The terrain consists of a vast desert plateau which is divided into two unequal parts by the Nile River almost down itís entire length and the climate is hot and dry in summer with moderate winters.

 

 

 

Ancient Times and Influences on Egyptian Cooking

 

7000 years ago, the Nile Valley area had a more temperate climate with higher rainfall than the present day and a terrain similar to that of todayís East Africa savannas - expanses of grasslands filled with wild animals plus arable land and readily available water. It is therefore not surprising that nomadic tribes of hunter- fisher- gatherers roamed the Nile Valley freely and thrived. There is archaeological evidence that by 5000 BC grains such as millet and wheat were being farmed, made easier by the construction of man made canals and irrigation systems and a that cattle was being herded in southern parts of the region. Even by this time, bread was a staple, being cooked in open fires or on the embers.

By 3200 BC a unified kingdom has already been formed. Grains and bread remained the staple of most peoples diet - both rich and poor. Vegetables and pulses such leeks, onions,  cabbage, chickpeas and lentils and fruit such as grapes (both fresh and dried into raisins), figs, pomegranates and dates were also consumed by the majority however the main sources of protein differed between the classes, with the upper classes eating more meats such as beef, pork, deer and goat and the lower classes eating more fish and wild birds such as geese, ducks and cranes. This was mainly due to the limited prime grazing land available. Another difference between the rich and poor can be seen by the types of sweeteners they used. The wealthy used honey whilst the poor tended to use dates.

The kitchen area was generally at the rear of the dwelling and sometimes on the roof but was usually an open area, partly shaded with a thatched roof and contained a basic clay oven and hotplate. Foods were cooked using clay pots and wooden utensils and various methods of cooking were regularly used including grilling, boiling, stewing and roasting. They also used preserving methods such as salting, smoking and drying and many seasonings were used including cinnamon, coriander (cilantro), dill, thyme, garlic and sesame. Dairy products were also consumed including butter.

Many outside influences on the traditional Egyptian cuisine came by way of colonisations such as the Romans c30BC, invading Arab tribes c600AD and the Ottomans (Turks) in the early 1500s. Particular culinary legacies which remain strong today include shish kebabs which were derived from the nomadic Arab warriors who often had to eat on the hoof and who adopted the method of simply roasting meat on swords over an open flame, the Ottoman Turkish Pashas who settled in Egypt and who mainly employed locals as cooks thus passing their culinary preferences on to the natives such as stuffed vegetables and immigrants from Syria, Lebanon, and Palestine introduced dishes such as Tahini, Hummus and Kofta.

 

Current Day Egyptian Cuisine

 

Whilst Egyptian cooking is flavourful, with many herbs and spices used in everyday cooking, the cuisine is not generally spicy hot. Today as in the past, bread remains a staple including Pitta bread made either with white flour (aysh shami) or with whole wheat flour (aysh baladi). Beans, in particular Fava (Broad) beans, are also an important ingredient widely eaten. The use of fresh local ingredients remains at the heart of Egyptian cooking and pasta and rice are often served. Popular meats include pigeon, chicken, mutton, camel and buffalo.

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In general, Egyptians eat three meals a day. A typical breakfast consists of stewed fava beans (ful mudammas) or bread and cheese or eggs. The afternoon family meal is eaten around 3:00 p.m. and is usually the main meal of the day consisting of meat or fish, vegetables, rice or pasta, salads and pickles plus the ubiquitous bread, with fresh fruit being the most usual dessert. Supper is generally a lighter affair served between 8:00 and 10pm but sometimes later and can include yogurt, fruit or cheese or leftovers from lunch. Turkish coffee or tea is often drunk with meals and all the dishes are placed on the table at the same time for diners to help themselves.


 

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