Egyptian Lentils, Rice & Pasta (Koshari)
This kitchen-sink of a vegetarian dish was most likely invented in Egypt in the mid-1800s when Cairo was a major multicultural trade port, which could explain the similarities to Italian spaghetti as well as the Indian rice-and-lentil comfort food khichdi. Three toppings--a spicy tomato sauce (shatta), crispy onions and a garlicky vinegar (dakka)--are added to the koshari before serving, but in Cairo most people like them in separate bowls so they can season their bites one at a time. (Recipe adapted from Zooba Restaurant.)
Egyptian Falafel with Tahini Sauce (Taameya)
The Arabic word taameya translates to "tasty little bits." This version, made with fava beans, which are plentiful in the Nile delta, is thought by some to be the original falafel. (Recipe adapted from Zooba Restaurant.)
Vegan Black-Eyed Peas
Two Cypriot specialties--good olive oil and fresh lemons--lend sunny flavor to this simple bean dish, served as a side in Cyprus. Chard adds a hearty touch. Top with a dollop of Greek yogurt, or nondairy yogurt to keep it vegan, for a meatless meal.
Shaved Artichoke Salad with Shrimp
Venice was built on saltwater marshes in the 6th century, and many local crops like the city's Sant'Erasmo artichokes, have a delicate taste of the sea. For this healthy salad artichokes are sliced thin--a great use for a mandolin if you have one--and served raw. When paired with the sweet-salty shrimp the combo evokes the flavors of the lagoon. For tender and tasty results, buy the smallest, freshest artichokes you can find.
Baked Chickpeas with Orange, Lemon & Squash (Revithia me Kolokytha)
On Crete, chickpeas are commonly flavored with Seville orange, a pleasingly bitter variety grown locally. Orange zest along with lemon juice makes a good substitute. A little mustard deepens the flavor.