At Butcher & Bee in Charleston, S.C., owner Michael Shemtov and chef Stuart Tracy prepare this messy, incredibly tasty vegetarian sandwich, called a sabich, with vegetables, hummus, house-baked pita and herbs from a garden right behind the restaurant. "The sabich is Iraqi-Israeli, just like me," Shemtov says. "It's a personal dish."
This sweet and tangy Middle Eastern stew, with falling-apart-tender lamb, is one of wordsmith and perfect host Jesse Sheidlower's favorites. He found it in Nawal Nasrallah's Delights from the Garden of Eden: A Cookbook and a History of the Iraqi Cuisine. "It's a fantastic though little-known cookbook," Sheidlower says. "It's incredibly extensive and provides a lot of cultural and historical background. And it's good to keep in mind that all of this Iraqi culture and history is getting destroyed."
A supermarket rotisserie bird right off the spit is wonderful in this Middle Eastern-inspired warm chicken dish. It's a delicious and healthy alternative to a typical mayonnaise-based chicken salad, especially in a sandwich.
Chris Hanna learned to make these airy pitas from her Syrian grandmother, and she still insists on baking them from scratch when serving shwarma. "It isn't that hard to make your own, and the flavor and texture are far superior to the flaccid, sweet kind you find in most grocery stores," she says.
Shwarma, thin slices of roasted meat and condiments that are often wrapped in a pita, is a popular street food throughout the Middle East. The lamb should sit overnight in a spicy, garlicky marinade before grilling, though three days would be ideal.
Falafel stands throughout the Middle East often have some version of this hot chile sauce, called zhoug, for giving a spicy kick to pita sandwiches. Sortun adds pumpkin seeds to her take on this fiery sauce to thicken it and deepen the flavor.
Jody Adams of Rialto in Cambridge, MA, stocks her kitchen with this intensely flavored Egyptian blend of toasted nuts and seeds, traditionally eaten on bread dipped into olive oil. "I like to sprinkle it on salads and stir it into yogurt," she says.
This is one of Defne Koryürek’s favorite dishes from chef-owner Semsa Denizsel at Kantin restaurant. The rice is glossy and sticky, and full of tender calamari and mussels. The addition of spices like allspice and cinnamon, plus some currants, gives the dish a slightly sweet edge.
This lovely dessert or late-breakfast dish is made by toasting coarse semolina and almonds in butter, then simmering them with sweetened milk and dried apricots. The result is crumbly, aromatic and pilaf-like. It's called helva in Turkey, though it's not to be confused with another Turkish dessert called halvah, which is made with tahini and is fairly common in the U.S.
The Kerkennah Islands off the coast of Tunisia are known for their date palms, olive trees and caper bushes. The Kerkennaise capers are very similar to the famous plump capers of Pantelleria, the Sicilian island just 30 miles away.
One of Defne Koryürek's favorite homemade sausages includes beef, lamb, red peppers and garlic; she loves eating it alongside a creamy salad of lentils, roasted peppers and sautéed pears. The recipe is also delicious when prepared with spicy, rich merguez sausage.
This pudding is made with finely milled rice flour, seasoned with cinnamon and caraway and garnished with walnuts, pine nuts and slivered almonds. Known as meghli, it is traditionally served at birthdays and holidays, including Christmas.
The creamy Middle Eastern eggplant dip called baba ghanouj is traditionally served with warm pita and an assortment of salads. Here, we top the pita with the dip and a mixture of romaine, tomato, and cucumber for an extraordinarily tasty meal.
Burhan Cagdas makes ground-meat kebabs (kofta) from hand-chopped lamb mixed with diced lamb-tail fat. In place of the fat, Paula Wolfert uses crème fraîche, which keeps the meat rich-tasting and meltingly tender.
Defne Koryürek created this recipe, a.k.a. Eggs alla Kortun, when she and her husband, Vasif Kortun, were living in New York City in the '90s. He loved the combination of toasted bread, poached eggs, sizzling feta and olives, so she decided to name the dish after him. When they returned to Istanbul, Koryürek opened a café, Refika; this was one of the first things she put on the menu. She says, "To our delight, it sold like crazy!"
Here's something to do with roasted chicken from the deli—a Middle Eastern sandwich chock-full of spicy lentils, bulgur, lettuce, tomato and tahini sauce. Two pockets per person is enough to make a meal. If you like, serve extra Tabasco sauce at the table. You can find tahini (sesame-seed paste) in most supermarkets.
It seems that every Middle Eastern household has its own version of tabbouleh. Some people prefer the salad made with mostly herbs and greens; others include tomatoes; and some add spices like Aleppo pepper, sumac, and allspice. Our version, made with a little tuna, becomes a main course. Serve it as is or stuffed into pitas.