What makes Middle Eastern cuisine so celebrated are some of the unique preparation methods and ingredients native to the Fertile Crescent area. Some representative tastes of the cuisine include cooling, tangy, slightly spicy, and herbal. These flavors are derived from ingredients such as yogurt, garlic, red pepper, and oregano that tantalize the taste buds with each bite. With the variety of flavors that Middle Eastern foods have to offer, it’s no wonder they are starting to gain popularity in retail and foodservice channels. They are poised for even further success when seen as a “better for you” option.
From a preparation method perspective, Middle Eastern foods, especially meats, are traditionally grilled, braised, or roasted. Roasting meat on a vertical spit is one of the more unique cooking methods that originated from the region. Grains, legumes, spices, and vegetables are typically blended, puréed or fermented to enhance the natural flavors of the ingredients, which create unusual yet delicious condiments for proteins, vegetables and breads.
One such condiment that is growing in prominence in the western hemisphere is harissa. This chili paste is made from a blend of smoked Tunisian baklouti and serrano peppers, garlic, coriander, and tomatoes. Another notable item is tahini, which is a paste of sesame seeds often used in falafel wraps. Both of these have seen growth on menus over the last four years, harissa (+78.8%) while tahini went up (+53.3%). A few emerging condiments from the region include muhammara and Yemeni green z’hug. Muhammara is a mixture of puréed roasted red peppers, walnuts, garlic, and lemon juice blended with the tangy sweetness of pomegranate molasses. Yemeni green z’hug has been described as the Arabic version of pesto, only spicier. Z’hug is typically made with green hot peppers, cilantro, coriander, garlic, parsley and various other spices such as caraway seeds. Both muhammara and Yemeni green z’hug are relatively new to American menus and grocery shelves, but as consumers with adventurous palates continue seeking new flavors, these interesting, bright, bold and tangy offerings just might be what they are craving.
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