Middle Eastern Cooking Is Spicing Up the County

Local chefs are fala-full of fun twists on this delicious cuisine.

Move over hot sauce and black pepper. Harissa and Aleppo pepper, along with a caravan of other Middle Eastern ingredients, have been seasoning the nation’s food scene. In fact, Whole Foods Market named the regional cuisine as one of the top-10 food trends for the year 2018. 

Based on heart-healthy extra-virgin olive oil and featuring a plethora of vegetarian options and vivid flavors still novel to many of us (such as rosewater and sumac), it’s no surprise that the cooking genre has become as hot as fresh-out-of-the-oven pita bread. (Of course, the fact that most Middle Eastern spots begin your meal with a basket of the warm, pillowy flatbread helps, too.)

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Taste for yourself by visiting one of the approximately 10 county spots, all of which are relatively casual and offer a wealth of fun-to-share mezze (small plates). Of the various cuisines, Turkish is most represented here, by the cozy Fez Turkish Mezze in Mamaroneck; more modern The Turk in Mount Kisco; and spacious and airy BosphoRus Restaurant in Hartsdale. All three restaurants offer large menus, showcasing Turkish cuisine’s emphasis on vegetable stews (many featuring eggplant), meat and fish kebabs, bread, yogurt, tomatoes, pulses (beans, peas, lentils), and rice. Similar to Greek cooking, Turkish is vegetable-heavy and olive-oil-based.

Photos by Doug Schneider

Baked eggplant  stuffed with onions, peanuts, raisins,  and grilled peppers is a popular hot appetizer at BosphoRus

Try the flavored yogurts (cucumber, mustard green, and garlic-walnut), kebbeh pie, made with lamb and bulgar, and mhammara, a spicy dip of walnuts and roasted red peppers, at Fez Turkish Mezze. At The Turk, order the artichoke hummus, beet spread with chickpeas, and baked halvah (sweet nut-butter paste, similar to fudge). BosphoRus offers grilled socuk (spicy, dry Turkish sausage), and Russian-inflected borscht, Baltic herring with potatoes, and Siberian pelmeni (beef dumplings served with sour cream). Don’t be surprised by the latter: After all, Georgia, a former Soviet republic, borders on Turkey.

For sweeter, more floral flavors, head to Shiraz Kitchen in Elmsford. The Persian restaurant offers highlights from Iran, with four flavors of rice pilaf (sour cherry and pistachio; fava bean and dill; dried barberry and pistachio; and orange zest, pistachio, and almond), as well as fesenjan, a hearty meat stew with walnuts and pomegranate, tahdig (crispy rice), and saffron-rubbed meat kebabs. Desserts, including a saffron ice cream and faloodeh (frozen rice noodles with rosewater, served with sour cherry syrup) feature floral flavors.

Don’t skip the extensive drinks menu, including Turkish coffee, Persian black tea with saffron, dough (yogurt drink), tarragon soda, pomegranate juice, and sour cherry nectar. After, stop by the restaurant’s well-stocked Middle Eastern grocery shop — located right next door — to bring home ingredients for your own Persian feast.

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“It’s no surprise that
the cooking genre has become
as hot as fresh-out-of-
the-oven pita bread.”

For a taste of Israel, try Taiim Falafel Shack in Hastings-on-Hudson. The much-lauded counter-service eatery — ideal for takeout or delivery — is rich in the cuisine’s classics, including salads, hummus with meat, shakshouka (eggs poached in spicy tomato sauce), and pita wraps. If you finish “The Masada” — an “XL” sandwich featuring spit-grilled chicken and lamb shawarma, falafel, rice with lentils, Israeli chopped salad, hummus, pickles, turnips, and tahini — by yourself, the restaurant will display your picture.

Truly unique is the restaurant’s selection of flavored hummus. They come in fresh basil, truffle oil, fresh cilantro, roasted garlic and tomato, preserved lemon, olive, masabacha (a less smooth version of the dip), and jalapeño. In a surprising twist, Taiim also offers a selection of Indian “street food,” such as vegetable and chicken samosas, bhondas (chickpea flour-dipped potato and sweet pea patties), and chicken tikka masala.

Finally, Hash O Nash Middle Eastern Country Kitchen in Mamaroneck tries to span the region as a whole, serving up Moroccan tagines, gyros, shawarma, Egyptian moussaka (eggplant and tomato cooked with olive oil and pomegranate molasses), wood-grilled meats, and a bounty of salads. Spice up your order by sampling shrimp har’rak (with hot pepper, garlic, and cilantro) and stopping by on a Friday or Saturday night to watch a belly dancer perform.

For the most stimulating experience at any of these spots, bring a large group of family and friends and order a combination platter of mezze. Soak up the region’s bright flavors and warm hospitality. Before you know it, you’ll be adding trademark ingredients, such as pomegranate molasses, labneh, tahini, bulgur, rosewater, and za’atar (a spice mix featuring sesame seeds, thyme, cumin, and sumac) to your grocery list.


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Dina Cheney is the author of six cookbooks, including The New Milks: 100-Plus Dairy-Free Recipes for Making & Cooking with Soy, Nut,
Seed, Grain, and Coconut Milks.

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