Since the focus of this month has primarily been Moroccan cuisine, I thought it was time to taste some of the more exotic and complicated Middle Eastern dishes I have encountered during some of my reading. Since a trip to Morocco is not in my near future, a friend and I entrusted this experience to the chefs at Saffron in downtown Minneapolis. “First-rate comfort food, certainly, but chef Sameh Wadi’s contemporary interpretation of the genre — and his million-dollar nose for seasoning — propel them far beyond home cooking.” says the Star Tribune. This is also true in their drinks. I recommend the “Sunrise in Turkey”, which combines house infused orange vodka, citrus and pomegranate liqueur.
Our server suggested trying a variety of mezzes. We started with the lamb brain in olive oil stewed tomatoes and parsley. The brain is lightly fried, and the taste is mild. The tomatoes and parsley provided most of the flavor of the dish. I assumed it would be chewy and gritty, and was pleased to discover the texture to be creamy. I will not be seeking out this dish again anytime soon, but I would recommend it to anyone looking for an experience.
Our next course was the chicken bisteeya, an aromatic saffron stewed chicken & almond pie wrapped in a phyllo pastry with cinnamon sugar. It was a balanced combination of sweet and savory. I am looking forward to trying this dish myself. It looks to be labor intensive and time consuming, but the results are well worth the trouble. We paired our bisteeya with Charred Brussels Sprouts & Parsnips with black figs, chili flake, brown butter and lemon. Also delightful. The sweetness of the dates seemed to intensify the citrus flavor.
The grand finale was the Shredded Phyllo & Sweet Cheese Pie (Kunafa) with cardamom-saffron syrup and pistachios. This was brought to our table in a hot skillet, and then drizzled with the syrup. It was sticky, sweet, crunchy, and creamy all together. This recipe was from the chef’s Lebanese grandmother.
The entire experience was inspiring. It has given me more depth into the variety of Middle Eastern cuisine. I look forward to creating my own versions of some of these dishes, and encourage you to share variations you have created.