The Middle East

Happy Monday, all.

How are you?

I’m okay. Despite having the normal highs and lows that come with every Monday, things seem to be looking up. I wore my regular wool coat rather than my sleeping bag coat, and flats rather than boots to work today, evidence that warmer weather is on the horizon.  Summer fruits are popping up on sale at the market, which led to me impulse buying a crate of organic strawberries for $6 on Sunday. That’s a lot of strawberries, but they were no doubt a spring-y addition to my lunchtime chicken salad. And, to end the day on a high note, I have my first batch of ice cream in the fridge ready to be churned tomorrow. If that doesn’t scream the promise of summer, I don’t know what does.

As we kick off this week in my culinary travels, I’ve decided to revert back to the more regional overview I had with Africa. In truth, I could have done that with Asia and the South Pacific as well, but for some reason I got lost and more often than not took a country-by-country approach. After researching the Middle East, I’ve concluded that a lot of the countries share the same traditions, flavors and dishes and therefore I’m going to take the next 2-3 weeks to handpick some favorites from each rather than focusing on one at a time.  So, for what most likely turn into the rest of the month, look forward to favorites from Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Israel, Syria, Yemen and Oman.

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For the past 18 months, I’ve started every country or region with a menu. A plan. My approach for the next month is breezy, meaning I don’t really have a menu or a plan.

I KNOW.

Who am I? I am NOT a breezy person.  I live by schedules, post-it notes and I admit that, unless I’m on vacation, I can get ornery if I veer off the path.  However, I think this attitude for the next month will give me some flexibility as I face a busier than normal season at work and two extended weekend trips that will pop up at the end of the month. So, while the lack of planning would tend to make me uncomfortable, I think for April it will be just what the doctor ordered.

So, what to expect?  Well, historically, the Middle East has been a crossroads between the worlds of Europe, Asia and Africa, and therefore the food exhibits traits of all three.  However, before the merchants and traders walked this way, the geographically distinct area bred raw ingredients found just here.  Those, combined with the Euro-Africa-Asian influences give us the familiar food that we know and love.

gyro

It was here that wheat was first cultivated, followed by barley, pistachios, figs, pomegranates and dates.  Fermentation was discovered and used to leaven bread.  As time passed, more influences fell upon the region:  Turkey’s Ottoman Empire brought the sweet pastries of paper-thin filo dough and the dense, sweet coffee.  Russians brought yogurt. The Mongols, spices.  And from Spain, the flavors common in Mediterranean cuisine.

It’s going be one tasty month, so giddy up!

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Picture from CNN Travel


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