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Arab culture & Islam

Arabic Food


Prepared canned hummus is available worldwide, but the flavor is not like that of home-made hummus which is easy to prepare, especially using canned garbanzo beans. Another option is to soak dried garbanzo beans overnight and cook them the next day. Serve hummus with Arab flat bread, fresh vegetables or any kind of rustic bread.


½ cup water

1 can garbanzo beans (drained) – about 1 ¾ cups

Alternatively: 1 ¼ cups dried garbanzo beans

4 cups and 6 cups water, divided

½ teaspoon and ¼ teaspoon baking soda, divided

½ teaspoon salt



2 large cloves garlic

1 teaspoon salt

1/3 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice

1/3 cup tahini (mix well before using)



In a small saucepan place ½ cup water and the drained canned garbanzo over high heat, reserving a few beans for garnish. Bring to boil and cook uncovered for about 1 min., allowing half water to evaporate.

Alternatively: To prepare dried beans soak beans in 4 cups of water, add ½ teaspoon baking soda and leave it overnight at room temperature uncovered. The next day, drain beans, place them with ½ teaspoon of salt in a medium-sized sauce pan with 6 cups fresh water. Bring to boil over high heat. Skim the foam off the top, reduce the heat to medium-low and add ¼ teaspoon baking soda. Cover and let the beans simmer for about 20 to 30 minutes or until tender.

Place 1 ¾ of the drained beans plus ½ cup of the cooking liquid in a small saucepan and boil-off half the water to prepare the hummus



Pour the boiled garbanzo beans and the remaining cooking liquid into a food processor fitted with a metal blade. Add the garlic and salt and process for 2 minutes. Use a spatula to scrape down the sides. Add the lemon juice and tahini and process for 1 minute more.

Transfer the hummus to a container, cover with a paper towel and refrigerate. Cover with the lid once cooled. Serve at room temperature.



Place room-temperature hummus in the center of a flat serving dish. Use the back of a spoon to spread the hummus over the dish so there is an outer raised lip around the perimeter, with a central ‘canal’ around the raised mound in the center. Place a radish star on a raised mound surrounded by three garbanzo beans. Garnish with a few springs of parsley and sprinkle the center and around the perimeter with paprika. Pour extra-virgin olive oil in the central canal formed with the back of the spoon. Offer with warm flat Arab bread.

(The recipe is taken from the book “Classic Lebanese Cuisine: 170 Fresh and Healthy Mediterranean Favorites” by Kamal Al-Faqih)



Hummus is one of the most famous Middle Eastern and Mediterranean delights. It is healthy and nourishing, believed to keep illness away. Hummus is the Arabic word for chickpea which is known today as the garbanzo bean. Garbanzo is the Spanish translation of the word meaning chickpea.

Hummus is one of the oldest foods known, dating back to Egypt over 7,000 years ago. We know that throughout history, chickpeas have been a staple of the Egyptian diet. It is thought that chickpeas have been around since prehistoric times. Chickpeas were growing in the hanging gardens of Babylon. As long ago as about 400 B.C., both Socrates and Plato were writing about the benefits of hummus in their diets. By 1200 A.D. many countries in the Mediterranean basin list Hummus as one of their staple foods. Also, hummus is one of the most widely eaten and the most popular foods of the Middle East. It is also popular food in Greek and Syrian cultures, as well as Lebanon and Holy Land of Palestine, but it is known and eaten in every Arab country, from Morocco in the West to Oman in the East.

The ingredients are pretty much standard, but the distinctive flavors are the ones that change. Because Hummus is legume, it is a healthy alternative dish and it can be very filling.

It is believed that the chickpea is native to the area around Persia and the Caucasus Mountains. Legends say that hummus was first made in the 12th century by the Sultan of Egypt, Saladin.

The earliest known recipes for a dish similar to hummus bi tahina are recorded in cookbooks published in Cairo in the 13th century.

Between nutty-tasting tahini and the buttery texture of the garbanzo beans, the dish is not only flavorful, but a very good source of vitamins and minerals.



Molokhia’s texture makes it unique. It gets very slimy after cooking which makes molokhia an ideal soup. Molokhia was found in India and Philippines but it has been a staple of Egyptian diets as far back as the Pharaohs. Molokhia is also eaten in Libya, Jordan, Palestine and Lebanon, but it is not as popular as in Egypt where it is eaten at the most important occasions and very often as family meal.

Nutritionally, it has three times the calcium and phosphorus as kale and four times the amount of riboflavin. It also provides 70% of the Recommended Daily Amount value of vitamin C and 25% of vitamin A.

One of Egypt rulers from the Fatimid dynasty, Calipf Al-Hakim Abu Ali Mansour who ruled Egypt from 985 to 1021 BC, banned the consumption of molokhia because he believed that it worked as a sexual stimulant in women. After his reign the ban was lifted and households continued to uphold the traditional meal, regardless of religion, across the country.

(Yield:  6-8 servings)


1 ¼ lb beef, cut into bite-sized pieces

2 ½ TB canola oil, divided

4 ½ c warm water

2 beef bouillon cubes

1 bay leaf

2 (400 g) bags frozen minced Molokhia

4 large garlic cloves, crushed

1 tsp salt

¼ tsp black pepper

Rice (for serving)

Fresh lemon (for serving)


In a 5-quart pot with a lid, heat 1 ½ TB of oil on high; sear the beef on all sides, then add the water, bouillon, and bay.  Cover the pot, bring it to a boil, then turn it down to a simmer and let it cook for 60-90 minutes (stirring occasionally).  Turn the beef broth back up to a boil and add the Molokhia, then turn it down to a simmer.  If you added frozen Molokhia, cook for 10-15; if you added thawed or partially thawed Molokhia, cook for 7 minutes.  When it’s done it should have the consistency of a thick soup, and it should still be a pretty bright green.


In a small saucepan, add 1 TB of oil and heat it on medium-low; add the garlic and sauté for 45-60 seconds (stirring continuously).  Add the garlic to the Molokhia, along with the salt and pepper. Taste the Molokhia and adjust it for seasonings.


Serve the Molokhia alongside rice (the Molokhia is usually spooned onto the rice and eaten that way), with fresh lemon juice squeezed on top.



Islam considers good food and drink to be blessings from God, manifestations of His power and mercy towards humankind. “O, you who believe! Eat from the good things we have provided for you and be grateful to God if you worship Him.” (Qur’an 2;173) Fruits, water or milk are the proof of the perfection of God’s creation. Believers are exhorted to enjoy the gifts from God during the lifetime. After the death and resurrection, blessed believers will enter paradise described as the wonderful garden where they will enjoy blessed food and drink.

Fundamental religious aspect of the Arab culinary culture is tradition of hospitality. A guest is sacrosanct, even if he or she belongs to the hostile tribe.

One of the most important religious aspects of Muslim culinary culture is the obligation to fast during the holy month of Ramadan.

First verses of the Qur’an (holy book of Islam) were revealed in the month of Ramadan. They were sent down on the ‘Night of Destiny’

Ramadan is the ninth month in the Islamic calendar. Islamic calendar is lunar, so Muslim year is 11 days shorter than the solar one. That is why we find the month of Ramadan to be floating through the solar year.

During Ramadan adult Muslims of both sexes are obliged to abstain from food, drinks and smoking during the daytime.

Muslims use this month to focus their minds on God.

Ramadan is the time for worshiping God, reading the Holy Qur’an, acts of charity, and overall soul purification. According to Islam, the rewards for fasting are numerous, but in this month they are multiplied.

The Ramadan ends with a two-day feast known as Feast of Breaking the Fast. For this occasion whole family get new clothes. It is custom in Arab world that sheep is slaughtered and eaten together with one’s extended family.


Popular Arabic Cuisine

Popular Arabic Cuisine

While Arabic cuisine differs greatly from region to region, there is one ingredient that no meal can go without: hospitality. Most meals in this area are as much about being hospitable and generous with others as they are about the actual menu. There are some customs at the table, too, and when you learn the Arabic language you’ll know just what to say (and how to say it) to make sure you enjoy the whole experience. Of course, over the years, Arabic cuisine has developed a very unique flavor that features the best of Mediterranean, Middle Easten, and Indian influences. Many of the most common dishes served in this area make use of ingredients not often used in the United States. This could include everything from lentils and fava beans to sesame seed oil and saffron. Some of these ingredients are just starting to become more popular in the west, but experiencing real Arabic cuisine is an experience you don’t want to miss. Common Foods and Dishes A lot of the cuisine in these areas will be filled with various fruits and vegetables. Most of the fruits are of the citrus variety, but the vegetables can include everything from cucumbers and eggplant to green beans and zucchini. Meats are also common in many dishes, but it is most often lamb or chicken. (Muslim Arabs don’t eat pork or drink alcohol, so you won’t see those very often except in the regions where other denominations live.) Tea is usually the most popular beverage in the area and is consumed quite regularly. Of course the exact type of tea is also dependent on the region, with places like Egypt serving a black and sweet tea while in Yemen you might be more likely to enjoy a milk tea. On the dairy side, you are likely to see a lot of yoghurt and white cheese. The yogurt of the region is made from sheep, cow, or goat milk, and it might be diluted with water to create a refreshing beverage or thickened to make it a tasty condiment. Most importantly, though, is the delicious bread which is pretty much an essential element of any table setting. There are a huge variety of breads, and they may be mixed in with other dishes or simply set out as a side, but it is almost always there and always tasty.

Some Regional Differences Arabic cuisine has been influenced by many different cultures, and the resulting specialty dishes of these regions have their own unique characteristics. In Egypt, for example, the cuisine leans vegetarian, and you can try the classic falafel or kushari. Sudan, on the other hand, usually goes pretty heavy on the spices, and their “mullah” is a very flavorful stew you won’t forget. And in Yemen you’ll find less emphasis on dairy, and you can try the saltah, a meaty dish filled with many different ingredients.

A Cultural Experience One of the best ways to start experiencing a culture is to sample the cuisine. Your Arabic course will get you started, teach you the language and some of the history, but don’t miss out on your chance to try something from the region for yourself. A lot of people are hesitant to try foods that are a little different from their everyday menu, but it’s a great first step into a different culture and some incredibly tasty cuisine.

Our Students Have Fun Cooking While They Learn Arabic

Eid al-Adha

During the last week of October, Muslims all around the world will celebrate Eid al-Adha (the Greater Eid). Eid al-Adha is an important religious feast celebrated annually on the 10th day of the Islamic Month Dhu al Hijjah; it starts after the Hajj (the annual pilgrimage to Mecca by Muslims) and lasts for 4 days.  Islamic and Arab countries announce official holiday during those days.

Muslims and Arabs keep several traditions during this Islamic festival; they dress up with their finest clothes and go to mosques to pray the Eid prayer and visit their families and friends. Those Muslims who can afford, sacrifice an animal and distribute third of its meat on the poor, usually it is a cow or a goat or sheep depending on the region. Distributing meat amongst people, making contributions to the poor, charity work and families’ visits are prominent traditions of this festival.

In Egypt it is no different than any other Muslim country, however there is one special thing that is common in all Egyptian homes but not anywhere else which is the iconic meal of “Egyptian Fatta”. Egyptian Fatta is a ruling dish in Eid al-Adha, and consists of meat, rice, bread and red sauce.

You can uncover more about Islam, Arabic culture and traditions when you learn Arabic. Learning the Arabic language will open you up to the deep and rich world of Islam. You can spend a summer, semester, or full year abroad practicing your Arabic language skills and learning firsthand about Arab culture. At Arab Academy, our on-campus students had the chance to live this formidable Islamic festival while taking Arabic lessons. They learnt how to cook the Egyptian fatta on the hands of  one of Egypt’s many talented chefs.









Kunafa is a traditional dessert during Ramadan. It is usually served with Iftar. Kunafah is made by drizzling a row of thin streams of flour-and-water batter onto a turning hot plate, so they dry into long threads resembling shredded wheat. The pastry is mixed with butter and filled with any of various options.

Foul Recipe

Soak one cup of Egyptian fava beans overnight then cook the drained beans in fresh water. Make sure the water well covers the beans. You may add a handful of yellow lentils. Boil for a few minutes then let it simmer on very low heat. Cover the pot thouroughly. It takes about 4-6 hours for the foul to become soft. Check every while to make sure there is enough water covering the foul.

There are dozens of recipes for serving foul but the most traditional is to add olive oil, lemon, salt, pepper, cumin and crushed garlic. You may also add some chopped parsley if you wish.

Belhana wel shefa! (Bon appetit!)

So7our السحور

So7our is the meal we eat in Ramadan a couple of hours before dawn. The main dish is the “foul”. It is economical and delicious.

Foul is rich in protein and various minerals. It is not easily digested and we do not feel hungry for a while, this is why it is preferred for so7our.

So7our is the meal we eat in Ramadan a couple of hours before dawn. The main dish is the “foul”. It is economical and delicious.

Foul is rich in protein and various minerals. It is not easily digested and we do not feel hungry for a while, this is why it is preferred for so7our.

Adventures in Alexandria: Seafood adventure

 Adventures in Alexandria: Sea Food

Although students come to Arab Academy with the intention of studying Arabic in Egypt, experiencing the culture is also very important. A very special part of that culture is Egyptian food with all its spices and tastes. With a true AA spirit, we left the Fort of Qaytbay bound to experience some of that famous Alexandrian sea food.

We headed to the Fish Market/ Tikka restaurants which are located right on top of each other. Students who are not into seafood had the option of ordering chicken from Tikka. It wasn’t very far from Qaytbay and its setting was very beautiful by the sea. The restaurant was all glass windows that overlooked a small port with fishermen and their boats. Although the restaurant had a low ceiling, it was well lit because of all the windows and the atmosphere was charming.

We started out with really yummy salads that included marinated tomatoes, aubergines and mixed salads. The salads are typically Egyptian and go with the usual grilled fish orders along with freshly baked hot white bread.

Most of us ordered grilled fish and accompanying sayadeyya rice, which is brown rice cooked with onions and spices and bits of seafood (optional). Everything was delicious and very hot and spicy. The high light of the meal was the grilled shrimps. Medium sized, the shrimps were absolutely delicious hot from the grill with a tasty garlic, lemon and parsley marination. In a true Egyptian fashion, most of us opted to peel and eat our shrimps by hand. The combination of dips and salads with fish and shrimps was a harmonious celebration of spices.

We had our meal over extended conversations. It was good to see everyone enjoying themselves and commenting about the new experiences they were having so far from home.

We didn’t really have room for desert after that meal but drank boiled fresh mint to help in digestion, then we were happy to head back to our hotel and look forward to our next adventure the following day…it was going to be a royal and scenic one too, along the gardens of Montazah.