4 Trends From the Eastern Mediterranean
The Eastern Mediterranean is a playground for chefs happily exploring the complex, intriguing and craveable flavors of countries like Turkey, Greece, Israel and Lebanon. Flavors, ingredients and dishes like harissa, ras el hanout, za’atar, halloumi and shakshuka were unfamiliar a few years ago and now are emerging on American menus.
With that backdrop of culinary exploration and consumer discovery, the region represents big flavor opportunities for trend-forward menu development. We’re highlighting four Eastern Med-inspired trends representing flavor-rich growth opportunities for all segments of American foodservice.
1. Broadening Hummus’ Horizon
Hummus has had major play on retail shelves and on trending menus the last couple of years. Further pushing boundaries, chefs are putting hummus to work in new applications – as a base for salads, or thinned out and used as a dressing or a drizzle. Chefs also experiment with the menu potential of other plant-based purées, like beet, cauliflower and carrot, and exploring menu versatility in new applications, bringing vibrant colors and flavor notes to new formats.
Creative Dining Services, a hospitality and dining services provider based in Zeeland, Mich., recently launched Za’atar Hummus Bar, a bowl concept where guests choose from a selection of hummus varieties: charred carrot and ras el hanout; spring pea and spinach and beet. It gets swiped across the bowl’s base, then choices of proteins, toppings and sauces are added. “Hummus carries with it a lot of positives. It’s familiar to diners and can take on so many different flavors,” says Ian Ramirez, director of culinary innovation and operations. “It also adds this great color and texture to a bowl build.”
2. Yogurt with a Kick
Crave-ability often comes down to the sauce, spread or drizzle on a menu item. Chefs are reaching for yogurt and taking a cue from Eastern Med kitchens, using it as a base for spicy additions like harissa. Combining the two as a signature condiment serves up a modern opportunity. Yogurt boasts a health halo, and its roundness of flavor makes it a great partner for popular assertive flavors like poblano, sambal and Sriracha. By pairing cooling yogurt with bold ingredients, the result is a bright flavor experience tempered by a nuanced heat delivery.
Josef Centeno is chef/owner at BäcoShop in Culver City, Calif. His green herb chicken bäco features thyme, Meyer lemon vinaigrette, yogurt, green cabbage and parsley. It’s the spiced yogurt that makes the sandwich crave-able. He adds sumac and honey, and sometimes a little pounded raw chile, like habanero. “That’s the great thing about yogurt – because of its tartness, you can add either savory, hot, sweet or a combination,” he says.
3. Falafel Steps Forward
Yet another pickup from the Eastern Med momentum, the humble yet delicious falafel has all the makings of becoming a trend-forward menu star: It’s a familiar platform for American consumers because it’s easily signaturized with additional base elements, a trending plant-forward build and has the chickpea boom in its favor.
Chefs are upgrading the simple handheld to a layered affair spiked with pickled vegetables and creamy drizzles. The falafel is also moving into other forms (e.g. falafel sliders or a falafel “dog”) and into the bar bite arena, served with on-trend dips and accompaniments.
Dune, a fast-casual Mediterranean spot in Los Angeles, offers its falafel in a house-made flatbread with organic hummus, pickled turnips, carrots, beets and onion, cabbage, fresh greens and house-fermented pickles. Sumac-dusted shoestring potatoes finish the build. “It’s super versatile and lends itself to lots of different accents,” explains chef/owner Scott Zwiezen.
4. Middle Eastern Meat-Centric
Two rising meat-centric stars hailing from the Eastern-Med region are catching fire on American menus: the döner kebab and shawarma. Both are heavily seasoned meats cooked on a rotating spit and sliced thinly to be layered atop a bowl or into a sandwich, with fresh or seasoned vegetables and a drizzle of a creamy sauce.
“These Eastern-Med meats offer a great way to use less meat in a really flavorful way,” says Matt Harding, director of culinary at The Piada Group. “You can borrow the aggressive spicing and use it to fit your brand. There’s an incredible gut reaction to these savory, juicy, wonderful meats. Chefs are capitalizing on that and moving it to an everyday experience.”
Get more ideas and information at www.getflavor.com.