Who wouldn’t just love to have a birthday celebration with an enchanting Arabian Nights theme? Picture an exotic and opulent scene, decked out in a jewel-toned palette with rich and glittery adornments. Absolutely magical!
But then there’s the question of the party menu. What do you serve at such a gathering? How easy would it be to order the right dishes or—if you’re a whiz in the kitchen—to prepare them yourself? Where do you get certain ingredients? Here is a Middle Eastern-inspired menu, from appetizers to main dishes, to drinks and desserts—along with recipes you can impress your guests with!
Start with Something Simple to Munch On
Welcome guests to the occasion with the delectable nuts and dried fruits that the Middle East is known for. Wonderful choices would be:
- roasted almonds, cashews, hazelnuts, and pistachios
- roasted pumpkin seeds
- dried apricots
- dried pear wedges
- special raisins called sultanas
- chewy prunes
- classic dates with seeds
If you want truly authentic Middle Eastern nuts and dried fruits, there are many sites on the internet to order from. But by all means, use the most similar substitutes that come packaged and ready to eat at your local grocery, if that would be more convenient for you. They’ll be delicious just the same!
Offer Traditional Mezes
Mezes are the Middle Eastern equivalent of appetizers. They are small tasty dishes served before a meal or enjoyed in cafés over drinks. For your birthday dinner, here are some delicious meze options for ushering guests further into the exotic ambiance:
- Falafel—arguably the “original veggie burgers”—are balls or patties of ground chickpeas, fried to a golden brown. They are often served in pita bread with a “pocket” slit on one side, but may also be eaten alone. You can easily make them with this recipe.
- Baba ghanoush or “eggplant mouse” is a very popular appetizer and dip in the Middle East. Made from grilled eggplant mixed with tahini (sesame paste), its smoky, rich flavor goes well with wedges of pita bread or with raw vegetables, and it can also be rolled up in wraps. Here is a simple recipe.
- Hummus is another well-known Middle Eastern dip-appetizer that has cooked, mashed chickpeas as its base, then is blended with tahini, lemon juice, and olive oil. It’s delicious served with grilled or toasted pita bread cut into wedges, or as a wrap spread. You may want to try this recipe.
- Tabouleh is a healthy and flavorful mix of bulgur wheat and finely chopped parsley and mint. It is customarily eaten as a salad on its own or as an accompaniment to Middle Eastern dishes. Check out this easy recipe.
Tip: If you’re wondering where to get the tahini (ground sesame seed paste) used in the above recipes, it can be homemade or bought from a Middle Eastern grocer or specialty cuisine store. Bulgur wheat can often be found at health food stores or, again, at specialty cuisine outlets.
Present Savory Main Dishes
Despite the enticing appetizers, guests should be sure to leave room for the signature main dishes coming up! More often than not, these are served along with the famous Middle Eastern couscous.
Often mistaken for some form of rice, couscous is technically pasta made of tiny grains of wheat flour dough. It most often accompanies a stew or savory sauce, but can actually be served with almost any dish. Just take your pick from the mouthwatering selection of recipes, featuring couscous with salmon, chicken, lamb, vegetables, herbs and spices, nuts, cheese, even dried fruits!
Tip: Couscous is available in most large supermarkets nowadays. Try looking in the rice and grains aisle, the international food section, or the pasta aisle.
Aside from the couscous dishes above, what would an Arabian Nights-themed party be without the world-famous kebabs? These skewered and grilled delights are at their most Middle Eastern when made with lamb. Here are just 3 of the dozens of delectable kebab recipes for you to choose from:
- Marinated Lamb Kebabs by Ina Garten
- Kofta Kebabs with Tzatziki (a yoghurt and cucumber sauce) – note: this recipe also gives a beef option
- Grilled Lamb Kebabs with Cucumber-Dill Marinade
Tip: The preferred cut of lamb for kebabs is loin or rib chops, as these are the most tender and easy to work with. A less expensive alternative that’s also easy to trim and cube would be the shank end of a boneless leg of lamb (ask your butcher about this).
Close with Delicious Sweets and Desserts
Bring the meal to a sweet conclusion with traditional Middle Eastern desserts and treats. Some absolutely irresistible choices:
- Turkish Delight or lokum is a delicately chewy sugar candy, flavored with rose water! You can order some online or look in the international foods section of a large supermarket. Although, if you’re up to it, you may actually try making it yourself—either the traditional way or a gelatin-based version.
- Baklava (“many leaves” in Farsi) is a delicious multi-layered, nut-filled pastry. Again, exotic treats like these are now often available in the international foods section of your supermarket. So, although you could try your hand at making it, opening up a box to serve is so much easier! See the recipe here.
- Muhallabia is a Lebanese pudding made with rice flour and ground almonds, and garnished with chopped pistachios and a bit of nutmeg. This recipe adds in some rose water, too!
Don’t Forget the Drinks!
Of course, this special party menu wouldn’t be complete without the proper beverages to accompany its rich and complex flavors.
Moroccan mint tea, for instance, is perfect for cleansing the palate. Made from green tea steeped with fresh mint leaves, it would look extra impressive served in an ornate silver teapot and gold-etched tea glasses!
Then, there are the wine pairings that experts recommend:
- Pinot Noir for the nuts, raisins, and figs
- Light red Beaujolais for the mezes
- Reisling for the flavorful main dishes
- Zinfandel for the lamb kebabs
- Chardonnay for chicken kebabs
Too complicated (or expensive) to have all these? Then, you may always choose just one quality Riesling or a pink rosé wine to complement the whole menu.
Once you’ve made your choices from the above appetizers, main dishes, desserts, and drinks, prepare to be transported to the land of the Arabian Nights at your birthday dinner!