Monday, July 28, 2003

Middle Eastern Food

On the rare San Francisco summer days when things really do warm up, I want to cook food that is best suited to the season. While the Asian tradition is to eat hot soup that makes you sweat to cool you down, I prefer food that can be served cold or at room temperature. Middle eastern food is a great choice because unlike some other ethnic cuisines, the ingredients are widely available, especially in the summer. The basic ingredients are fairly simple--cucumbers, tomatoes, onions, garlic, lemons, mint, parsley, cumin, pita bread, yogurt, tahini...so many recipes include them. The cuisine seems designed to take advantage of summer bounty and to keep you cool in hot weather. Many of the dishes do not even require using the stove, an added benefit when the kitchen is already too hot.

Last time I was in London I went to my favorite bookstore--Books for Cooks, and bought a slim volume on Lebanese cooking. While it lacks some of the French inspired recipes I recall from eating at Lebanese restaurants, it does contain many classic middle eastern dishes. Most recently I have made hummus, baba ganoush, tahini dip, lamb meatballs, kofta with yogurt sauce, fatoush salad and felafel. All was made from scratch except the felafel. The secret to great felafel is just frying the hell out of it. I have tried low fat and baking it, etc. but to get that really golden crispy exterior, you've simply got to fry. If you shallow fry it in olive oil at relatively high heat, it doesn't get greasy. Happily, the majority of these dishes including the felafel are just as good the second day and keep well in the fridge. Eating leftovers means even less cooking on hot days!