Dining Out, Middle Eastern Style

Many mainstays of Middle Eastern cuisine stem from the region’s nomadic roots. The predominant flavors include garlic, onions, cardamom, coriander, sesame, cumin, thyme, marjoram and sumac, all of which travel well and are easily preserved in dry climates. Many dishes such as shish kebab and baklava are also found in Greek cuisine. Here’s how to navigate the menu to find the low-carb options.

On the Menu

Popular dishes in Middle Eastern restaurants include rice, chickpeas and lentils. Eggplant also gets star treatment. But there are also a number of meat dishes, especially lamb-based ones, and Babaganoosh, which is roasted eggplant that's mashed and mixed with garlic and a tahini, a paste made from sesame seeds. Traditionally, Babaganoosh is eaten with flatbread, but you can substitute celery sticks, green pepper chunks or even chunks of onion.

Dishes you’ll want to stay away in the first two phases of Atkins and eat in moderation in the second two include:

  • Hummus: a dip made from chickpeas and tahini
  • Falafel: a deep-fried chickpea patty
  • Tabbouleh: a salad made from bulgur (pre-cooked, ground kernels of whole wheat)
  • Fattoush: a bread, cucumber and tomato salad
  • Kibbe: a ground lamb and bulgur patty
  • B'steeya: Moroccan chicken pie with almonds

Try This Instead of That

  • Instead of hummus, try a tablespoon or two of labnee, a thickened yogurt flavored with mint (acceptable in Phase 2, Ongoing Weight Loss, and beyond).
  • Replace Tabbouleh with Loubieh, a dish of green beans cooked with tomatoes.
  • In place of Fattoush, try eggplant with garlic, tomatoes and peppers.
  • Try grilled, skewered dishes such as lamb shish kebab instead of Kibbe.
  • Rather than Falafel, order the skewered and grilled balls of ground lamb and onions called Kofta.
  • Try Shish Taouk, skewered pieces of marinated chicken grilled over charcoal, rather than B'steeya.