Flavors of Middle Eastern cuisine may seem exotic. The cuisine is known for its deliciously vibrant flavors. Inside the Middle Eastern kitchen, you will find an array of spices, fresh herbs, vegetables, olive oil, yogurt, lemons, grains, dates, honey, lamb, chicken, flatbread, and of course, hummus. So how do you pair wine with Middle Eastern flavors?
This month the Wine Pairing Weekend group of writers is exploring Middle Eastern food and wine pairings. Join our Twitter chat Saturday, May 8th, 2021 at 11:00 AM ET (using hashtag #WinePW), and don’t miss more articles from the group at the end of this post.
Tips for Pairing Middle Eastern Flavors with Wine
1. Balance the weight (richness) of the food to the weight (alcohol) of the wine
- Middle Eastern foods can range from fresh chopped salads to grilled lamb kebabs. Match lighter-bodied wines with lighter foods and fuller-bodied wines to heavier foods.
2. Fruit forward and lower tannic wines pair well with spices and spicy foods
- The Middle Eastern kitchen is known for using spices in their foods. These spices can range from allspice, cinnamon, cumin, sumac, and za’atar to spicier chiles and harissa.
3. Match the characteristics in the food with the wine
- Middle Eastern cuisine uses a lot of fresh herbs, lemons, tomatoes, and yogurt. Match a wine with higher acidity and green notes.
4. Pair contrasting components of the wine and food
- If the dish is salty, oily, or fatty, pair it with a crisp acidic wine to help cleanse the palate.
5. Pair tannic wines with bitter foods
- Eggplant, walnuts, and grilled meats pair well with wines with higher tannins, balancing the bitterness.
Middle Eastern Flavors Paired with Wine
Tabbouleh is a traditional Middle Eastern salad made with bulgur (cracked wheat), tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, parsley, mint, lemon juice, and olive oil. A light to medium-bodied wine with good acidity to match the acidity in the tomatoes and lemon juice makes for a good pairing. My Wine Pairing: Loveblock Sauvignon Blanc
Balilah (Spiced Chickpeas) is a street-food snack that also works as a salad alongside chicken or fish. The creamy chickpeas with cumin, coriander, chile flakes, parsley, mint, onions, and lemons pair well with a light to medium-bodied wine with good acidity like a rosé still wine or sparkling. The acidity in the wine matches the lemon’s acidity, while the wine’s fruity characteristics balance the spices. If you choose a sparkling rosé, the bubbles add a nice contrast of texture to the chickpeas.
My wine pairing: Castello Monaci Kreos Rosé or Pierre Sparr Brut Rosé
Chicken Musakhan is a popular national dish of Palestine. Chicken breasts coated with cumin, sumac, cinnamon, allspice, and pepper are then roasted at a high temperature. Served on naan bread with cooked sliced onions and topped with parsley, pine nuts, yogurt, and a squeeze of lemon juice. The range of spices from savory to sweet calls for a wine pairing with fruity characteristics and good acidity. The pine nuts add a nutty element, and the naan bread a yeasty note. A rosé sparkling wine makes a perfect pairing. My wine pairing: Pierre Sparr Brut Rosé
My Tasting Notes
Pierre Sparr Brut Rosé Crémant d’Alsace
12.5% abv | $ 25.00 Wholefoods | 100% Pinot Noir
Vineyards: Vosges hillsides and Rhine valley at elevations of 656-1312 feet with mostly eastern and southern exposures.
Soils: granite, limestone, gneiss, and chalky-clay
Vinification: Whole-cluster pressing, first fermentation in temperature-controlled stainless-steel vats. Six months later, wines from hillsides and valley floor are blended in to achieve desired flavor profile. The wine is bottled, yeast is added to initiate the second fermentation in the bottle. The wine spends a minimum of 18 months on its lees before disgorgement. The dosage is added, final residual sugar 13 g/L.
Deep pink in color. Aromas of strawberries and french bread. On the palate, dry with delicate bubbles, medium body, and medium(+) acidity. Flavors of strawberries, raspberries, savory notes, minerals, and a hint of stone fruit. Well balanced with bright, refreshing flavors, acidity, and a round soft lingering finish.
2019 Loveblock Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough
13% abv | $20.00 SRP | 100% Sauvignon Blanc
Vineyards: Family-owned estate vineyards in Marlborough’s Lower Dashwood and Lower Waihopai subregions with low intervention farming.
Soils: Mainly aged alluvial loams containing some silt loam over stone.
Vinification: The fruit for the wine is batch produced in small amounts. The batches are fermented separately and a small portion of the juice is barrel fermented in neutral old French oak barrels. (about 10% went through natural fermentation and 20% through malolactic fermentation in a tank).
Pale straw in color. Aromas of fresh herbs, grass, honeysuckle, and elderflower. On the palate, dry with medium body and medium(+) acidity. Flavors of citrus, fresh herbs, gooseberries, minerals, and a creamy texture. The acidity is well balanced with a nice finish.
2019 Castello Monaci Kreos Rosé Salento IGT
12.5% abv | $16.00 Wholefoods | 100% Negroamaro
Vineyards: Located in the Apulia region.
Soils: gravelly limestone and clay
Vinification: The rosé is made in the saignée method. The juice is removed from the skins after the desired color and berry flavor is achieved.
Medium salmon pink in color. Aromas of red berries and minerals. On the palate, dry with medium body and acidity. Flavor notes of blood oranges, cherries, minerals, and a hint of white pepper on the finish.
- 1 cup bulgur I use Bob's Red Mill brand
- 1-1/2 cup boiling water
- 1/2 cup red onion, finely chopped
- 1 cup parsley, chopped
- 1/4 cup fresh mint, chopped
- 4 medium tomatoes, seeded and diced
- 2 Persian cucumbers, diced
- 4 tablespoons, divided extra virgin olive oil
- 1/4 cup lemon juice
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- In a large bowl, add the bulgur, one and a half cup of boiling water, two tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, and 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Let soak for one hour uncovered.
- After one hour, drain any remaining water in the bulgur. Gently stir and fluff up the bulgur with a fork. Add the chopped onions, parsley, mint, tomatoes, cucumbers. Stir to combine.
- In a small bowl, whisk together the remaining two tablespoons of olive oil, lemon juice, and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Pour over salad and mix well. Cover and refrigerate for for at least two hours before serving.
Spiced Chickpea Salad
- 2 14 oz cans chickpeas, drained and rinsed
- kosher salt
- 2 lemons, organic
- 1 teaspoon cumin, ground
- 1 teaspoon coriander, ground
- 5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1/2 cup fresh parsley leaves, roughly chopped
- 1/2 cup fresh mint leaves, roughly torn
- 3 scallions, thinly slices
- 1/4 teaspoon dried chile flakes
- 2 small shallots, finely minced
- freshly ground black pepper
- In a 2 qt. sauce pan, add chickpeas and plenty of cold water to cover the chickpeas. Bring to a boil over high heat, and then decrease heat to medium-low. Simmer the chickpeas for 5 minutes, just to soften the chickpeas but still retaining their shape. Add 1/4 teaspoon of salt.
- Meanwhile in a large bowl, zest one of the lemons. Peel the same lemon and cut away the bitter white pith. Roughly chop the lemon flesh, removing any seeds and add the lemon and any juice to the bowl with the zest.
- Halve the remaining lemon lengthwise. Squeeze the juice of one halve into the bowl. Slice the remaining lemon halve into very thin slices, remiving any seeds as you go and add the slices to the bowl.
- Drain the chickpeas after they have simmered. Add them to the bowl with the lemon. Add the cumin, coriander, olive oil, chopped herbs, scallions, chile flakes, shallots, one teaspoon salt, and freshly ground black pepper. Stir to combine. Serve at room temperature.
- 4 medium sized chicken breasts, bone-in, skin on or off
- 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1 tablespoon cumin
- 3 tablespoons sumac
- 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon allspice
- kosher salt
- freshly ground black pepper
- 1/8 cup pine nuts
- 3 medium red onions, thinly sliced
- 3 naan breads
- 1 lemon, sliced into wedges for serving
- plain Greek yogurt, for serving
- parsley leaves, roughly chopped for garnish
- Preheat oven to 425 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
- In a large shallow bowl, combine and mix; 2 tablespoons olive oil, 1 teaspoon cumin, 1-1/2 teaspoon sumac, 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon allspice, 1 teaspoon kosher salt, and a few grinds of freshly ground black pepper. Add the chicken breasts and coat them with the spice mixture.
- Transfer the chicken breasts to the baking sheet. Roast the chicken for about 30 minutes or until instant-read-thermometer registers 160 F. Remove from oven, cover with foil, and set a side.
- Meanwhile, in a large sauté pan over medium heat, add 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Add the pine nuts and cook, stirring until they are golden about 3-4 minutes. Transfer the pine nuts to a plate lined with paper towels, reserve the oil in the pan. Add the remaining 1/4 cup olive oil to the sauté pan. Add the sliced red onions and 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt. Continue to cook over medium heat for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally until the onions are soft and pale golden but not caramelized. Add the 2 tablespoons of sumac, remaining 2 teaspoons of cumin, and some freshly ground black pepper. Stir to mix and then remove from the heat and set aside.
- Just before serving; preheat the broiler and tear the naan bread into fourths. Put the naan pieces on a baking sheet and place under the broiler for about 2-3 minutes, just to crisp the bread slightly.
- To serve: Arrange the naan bread on a platter. Top the bread with half of the onions, followed by the chicken and any juices left in the pan. (I like to tear the chicken breasts into 3 to 4 pieces before placing them on the bread). Top the chicken with the remaining onions, followed by the pine nuts, parsley, a sprinkling of sumac and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. Serve with plain Greek yogurt and lemon wedges.
More Middle Eastern Food and Wine Pairings from the Wine Pairing Weekend group
- Robin of Crushed Grape Chronicles is Celebrating Sauvignon Blanc Day at the Table with St. Supéry and Easy Middle Eastern Dishes.
- Nicole of Somm’s Table is Indulging My Lebanese Cravings with Chateau Musar Jeune Rouge.
- Susannah of Avvinare shares Israeli Wine From the Judean Hills and Tabbouleh Salad
- Terri of Our Good Life talks about Kofte Kebabs and Ben Ami Cabernet Sauvignon: a BBQer’s Bliss.
- Andrea of The Quirky Cork visits Lebanon and Syria, a Crossroads of Wines and Flavors.
- Camilla of Culinary Adventures with Camilla is sharing Man’oushe + Château Musar Lebanon Jeune Red 2017.
- Wendy of A Day in the Life on the Farm made up a Mezze Platter with Middle Eastern Wines.
- David of Cooking Chat is serving Sesame Free Hummus with Wine from the Middle East.
- Jane of Always Ravenous is Pairing Middle Eastern Flavors with Wine.
- Pinny from Chinese Food & Wine Pairing talks about Drinking Serious Wine from Israel’s Domaine du Castel and Eating Causal Israeli Food #WinePW
- Gwendolyn of Wine Predator shares So Africa’s Organic Reyneke Chenin Blanc and Syrah Paired with Middle Eastern Lamb Shanks.