Monday, February 6, 2012

Tastes from the Middle East in Brooklyn

Note: I'd like to dedicate this post to my friend Dina who introduced me to zaatar, lebneh, and most important of all: the wonder of Doritos dipped in yogurt.

Middle Eastern and Mediterranean food are great. With both you get a punch of flavors without the intensity or spiciness of South Asian food (which I love but can't eat for every meal). It's light but filling and there are many options for vegetarians. For these reasons, when I'm thinking of a place to eat out but not overindulge, Middle Eastern cuisine comes to my mind.

A few weeks ago, I checked out Bedawi Cafe in Park Slope. A small and cute location on Prospect Park West, Bedawi had excellent food and a homey feel. It was hard to narrow down what I wanted to eat so my sister and I decided to get an assorted plate. I feel like the picture here speaks for itself. Deliciousness. Baba ghanouj, foul (fava beans with tomatoes, garlic, parsley, scallion, and lemon), beet salad, lebneh, and black beans with plum tomatoes, scallion, parsley, and bulgur.

And because I can't get enough of lebneh (a strained tart yogurt that is almost cheese-like), I ordered a separate plate after downing half of the assorted plate.

This meal definitely rivaled a similar assorted plate I had at Turkish Cafe Restaurant on E16th St in Midwood. Open 24 hours, Turkish Cafe is a hole-in-the-wall with a family atmosphere. It's not as pretty as Bedawi but it does stay open on Christmas, which was convenient when my dad was in town and we were looking for a place to eat.

The full plates on the menu are all meat-based, but if you happen to be in this part of Midwood, I recommend stopping in for their appetizer mix. The small size coupled with the delicious fresh bread was enough for me, but for $4 more you can order the large. A mix of hummus, baba ghanouj, Russian salad, piaz (white beans with vegetables), cacik (yogurt, kirby, mint, and garlic), and Turkish eggplant with mashed green and red bell peppers and garlic. So delish! Next time I want to try their falafel--like finding good guacamole, finding good falafel is also a task.

Before telling you my lazy person's version of an assorted plate or mezze, I must go on a slight tangent about lebneh. If you haven't tried lebneh but you love plain (Greek or not) yogurt, do it. You'll thank yourself. Every time I think I can go vegan, something dairy pulls me back. First it was my discovery of the crisp taste of Dubliner cheese, intermittently because of goat cheese, and now more than ever, plain yogurt. I just love plain yogurt--whether it's with fruit and granola, on top of a taco (salad) in lieu of sour cream, along with a beans and rice/couscous dish, or alongside a spicy Indian meal, it makes my tongue happy. And a trick I learned from one of my best friends, it also tastes delicious with Doritos (the original nacho cheese version).

Ok, and now with my lazy person's mezze recipe (which is not so much as a recipe as a "let's-throw-this-all-onto-a-plate" technique).

What you'll need
-Middle Eastern flatbread, lavash, or pita
-olive oil
-tomatoes (grape or cherry, but any will do)
-fava beans
-garlic, lemon
-plain yogurt (Greek or not) or lebneh
-parsley or cilantro

Start by warming up the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Coat the flatbread/lavash/pita with olive oil, then sprinkle on desired amount of zaatar and sumac. If you're like me, sprinkle a lot. Warm in oven for about 7 minutes. Meanwhile heat olive oil and garlic in a pan. Before garlic starts to brown, add canned fava beans and grape tomatoes cut in half. Sprinkle lemon juice over it all and cook til fava beans and tomatoes are soft. For eggplant, cut up into small pieces, drizzle with olive oil, salt and pepper and bake it until tender. When all the hot elements are done, place a dollop of plain yogurt and hummus on your plate, the hot stuff, and voila! a lazy person's mezze.


  1. YUMMM! Middle Eastern food always hits the spot. --mwl

    1. It's one of my default cuisines. Always satisfying!