Butcher: New Middle Eastern Street Food

Sally Butcher

If you are strolling through a new city and want to get a good sense of the cuisine then eat the street food. The cafes, roadside stands, beer or wine bars, or late night restaurants often offer the best and most diverse cuisine. That is especially true in the Middle East. From Turkey to Morocco and Qatar, the best food is often not the main dish, but all the small extras, the mezze, the snacks, and sweets that can fill all hours of the day.

Sally Butcher’s New Middle Eastern Street Food (Interlink 2014) takes a broad look at casual and comfort food of a wide swath of the Middle East she calls Snackistan:

Snackistan is all about celebrating these less formal styles of eating. It is not about fast food, or fifteen-minute meals, or three-ingredient suppers, and in fact some of the dishes contained within these pages take a long time to prepare. My mother-in-law frequently spends a whole day preparing comfort food snacks to sate her clamorous and largely ungrateful brood for the week ahead: fridge food, packed lunch food, busy shopkeeper food. (p. 7)

New Middle Eastern Street Food by Sally ButcherStart with “Four Recipes for When Only a Salted Snack Will Do” for some unusual recipes like Lemon-Roasted Almonds with Saffron (p. 14) for which you’ll need hard-to-get fresh almonds. But Za’atar-Fried Chickpeas (p. 16) covered with fragrant wild thyme za’atar. She also includes recipes for vegetable chips covered with different Middle Eastern spice mixes like Turnip with Dukkah (p. 20) and Harissa Popcorn (p. 21). The following chapters cover Fishy Things, Meat on Sticks, Meat not on Sticks, Hot Vegetarian Mezze, Salads and Cold Mezze and Mostly Carbs before turning to sweets and drinks. Flipping through the chapters, you’ll find Armenian Stuffed Mussels (p. 36), packed with rice, dill and pine nuts, which you can also enjoy in any seaside restaurant in Turkey. Further over in the Caucasus, sample the Beef Kabob, Georgian Style (p. 52) with pomegranate juice, oregano and thyme. Sally includes an inventive Rabbit and Fig Kebabs (p. 64) that is inspired by the flavors of Turkey and Morocco. Among the vegetarian dishes, try Spinach with Rhubarb and Pomegranate (p. 165) from Iran or East African Spiced Red Lentils (p. 115) with berbere spice mix of fenugreek, cumin, coriander, cardamom and plenty more.

The dessert chapter has the usual nut, yogurt, and bakhlava sweets, plus some very unusual ones like Date Syrup Fondue with Tahina (p. 176) instead of chocolate at your next party. Sweet Tabouleh (p. 189) is a fruit salad with Earl Grey-soaked bulgur, mint, cilantro and basil – so you can start and end your next dinner party with the same dish – first salty then sweet. And instead of stewing quince, Sally makes chips out of them to snack on all day long in Snackistan Quince Chips (p. 188) New Middle Eastern Street Food is full of imaginative recipes from a wide swath of the Snackistan – recipes that will make you want to fill your days with snack after snack.

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