Vegetarian feast in Jordan
It may surprise many as it did me when I arrived in Amman Jordan. This was a vibrant country, full of life, history and culture. What surprised me even more was the variety of delicious vegetarian food that Jordan has to offer. Vegetarians are in luck in Jordan,it’s very easy to survive without eating meat. Although vegetarianism as a concept isn’t widely understood (Jordanians love their meat) the food culture naturally relies on lots of fresh vegetables, beans and pulses. There are plenty of salads to choose from, lots of vegetable based dips to scoop up with flatbread, and tasty cheap snacks like falafel are easily found. Everything is flavourful from tangy to spicy with olive oil, lemon, garlic, parsley and mint featuring heavily.
As Jordan is an ancient and holy land appearing in Bible, many civilizations like Roman, Egyptian, Nabataean, Arab etc,come and met here leading to a cuisine that is a happy blend of Mediterranean, Lebanese, Bedouin, Egyptian ,etc influences. Also depending on which part of Jordan you visit some local variation in the food is found but the basic theme of colors, textures flavors and ingredients remains constant. As I am a vegetarian by personal choice, most of my focus was on vegetarian food.
As one of the largest producers of olives in the world, olive oil is the main cooking oil in Jordan. Herbs, garlic, onion, tomato sauce and lemon are typical flavours found in Jordan. The blend of spices called za’atar contains a common local herb called Sumac that grows wild in Jordan and is closely identified with Jordanian and other Middle eastern cuisines. Yogurt is commonly served alongside food and is a common ingredient itself, in particular, jameed, a form of dried yogurt is unique to Jordanian cuisine and a main ingredient in Mansaf the national dish of and a symbol in Jordanian culture for generosity
Another famous meat dish in Southern Jordan especially in the Bedouin Desert area of Petra and Wadi Rum is the Zarb which is prepared in a submerged oven also called a “taboon”. It is considered a delicacy of that area.
Internationally known foods which are common and popular everyday snacks in Jordan include hummus, which is a puree of chick peas blended with tahini, lemon, and garlic and falafel, a deep-fried ball or patty made from ground chickpeas. A typical mezze includes foods such as kibbeh, labaneh, muttabel, tabbouleh, olives and pickles. Bread, rice, freekeh and bulgur all have a role in Jordanian cuisine.
Popular desserts include as baklava, knafeh, halva and qatayef a dish made specially for Ramadan, in addition to seasonal fruits such as watermelons, figs and cactus pear which are served in summer.
Turkish coffee and tea flavored with mint or sage are almost ubiquitous in Jordan. Arabic coffee is also usually served on more formal occasions. Arak, an aniseed flavoured spirit is also drunk with food.
Jordanian meals start with mezze—an array of appetisers including salads, dips and fried snacks. They are often followed by a main course but most of these are meat based so for vegetarians the mezze can make an excellent meal in themselves.
Here are some of the diverse range of mezze available.
Salads are an important part of every meal for Jordanians and there’s always a huge variety on offer. In Jordan salads are fresh and flavourful.
Fattoush – Tomato, cucumber, lettuce, and radish with toasted pitta bread croutons and a dressing of tangy sumac, mint, parsley, lemon, garlic, olive oil, and vinegar. Crunchy and piquant—my favorite salad.
Tabbouleh – Parsley is the star of the show in this green salad with supporting parts from bulgar , onion, mint, lemon and olive oil. It’s often scooped up with a lettuce leaf. wheat, tomato
Arabic /Farmers salad – There are lots of variations of this tomato, cucumber and onion salad, sometimes it’s served with feta.
Perfect to go with the flatbread that’s always served with mezze.
Hummus – The Middle Eastern classic: chickpeas, garlic, lemon, tahini and lots of olive oil.
Baba Ghanoush – Smoky roasted aubergine with tomato, onion, chilli, garlic, mint, lemon, and olive oil.
Mutabbal – Aubergine with tahini and lemon. It doesn’t have chopped tomato and onion like baba ghanoush but they look similar. My favourite mezze
Zaatar – Dried thyme, sumac, and sesame seeds are mixed with olive oil. This is often eaten at breakfast by dipping bread in it. A delicious new discovery ,it goes especially well with crossiant to make it savoury.
Other Mezze Dishes
Galayat Bandura – One of the few hot vegetarian mezze, this means tomato from the frying pan. Tomatoes are fried with garlic, chilli, olive oil, and pine nuts are sprinkled on top.
Labneh – Yogurt is strained until it becomes a thick creamy cheese. Often served in balls in olive oil. It’s common at breakfast and is delicious.
Flatbread is served with every meal in Jordan and is fresh and tasty. Here’s a few varieties to look out for.
Khubz (Pita) – Literally, “ordinary” bread. This bread with pockets is common.
Shrak –Jordanian bread is baked by the Bedouins. Dough is thrown to make a very thin disk and cooked on a hot iron griddle shaped like an inverted wok.
Sometimes called Arabic pizza, and spelled in all sorts of different letter combinations (manakish, manaeesh), manakish is essentially a round of dough, topped with za’atar (an herb thyme spice mixture), olive oil, and can then optionally include toppings like white cheese (halloumi), eggs, or ground meat. It’s then baked in a brick oven.
When manakish is hot and fresh, right out of the oven, it’s incredibly delicious – the crusty bread with a fluffy inside, and that wonderful herb taste. I liked manakish especially just plain with za’atar, and I also really enjoyed the version with white cheese (halloumi cheese).
A typical everyday Jordanian food is mujadara, a mixture of rice, lentils, and a seasoning that includes cumin. It’s something that nearly everyone knows the recipe for how to cook it at home, and it’s commonly eaten as a dish that’s quick and easy. It’s also a favourite main dish for vegetarians in Jordan as well, as its filling and tastes delicious. The mujadara as the Beit Sitti cooking school was phenomenal. Check out the recipe on my website
What I really liked about the Jordanian style of mujadara is that the raw rice was cooked with the raw lentils altogether (rather than being cooked separately), so the flavors all melted and blended together. Additionally, deep fried caramelized onions sprinkled on top, take mujadara to the next level.
Traditional main dishes are rarely vegetarian but restaurants did cater for us and brought us roasted vegetables with rice or vegetable stew. We were usually happy to stick with mezze though. There are a few other dishes to look out for.
Falafel – These fried chickpea balls are sometimes found on their own as mezze but our favourite is a falafel sandwich, stuffed in pitta with hummus and salad. It makes a very cheap and quick meal. In Petra we liked the falafel sandwiches at the basic local eatery where we got two large falafel sandwiches and a drink for 5 JOD
Magluba – This upside down rice dish usually contains meat but it’s possible to make it with just vegetables like eggplant and cauliflower as we did at Petra Kitchen cooking class. It’s cooked in a pot and then served flipped onto a plate so the vegetables are on the top, hence the name.
Shourbat Adas – Another dish we made on our cooking class at Petra Kitchen. This simple lentil soup in popular in the winter. Check that it’s made with vegetable stock though.
Turkish coffee – Thick, strong, grainy coffee served in small cups and sometimes flavoured with cardamon.Was very satisfying in Petra when the temperature was 4 degrees
Tea – Tea is served black and very sweet, sometimes flavoured with mint or sage. It’s best brewed by the Bedouin over an open fire
Lemon and mint juice – Very refreshing.
Warbat – A heavy, filling dessert made from layers of filo pastry and cream cheese, topped with syrup
Knafeh – A typical dessert found in many middle eastern countries. Cream cheese is topped with shredded wheat, syrup and pistachio nuts.
Discovering Middle Eastern mezze was one of our highlights of Jordan. Jordan is one of the most vegetarian friendly countries I have visited and it was a pleasure to be able to enjoy local dishes that we are often unable to in less vegetable focused countries. With an emphasis on fresh, healthy ingredients and lots of flavor Jordanian food has become one of my favorites.
A big thank you to On the go tours who hosted us during our stay in Jordan and to our wonderful guide Ogla for answering all my questions and for the amazing Knafeh that he sourced for us.The best Christmas ever