Tag Archives: hummus

Naya’s: A Piece of Lebanon in New York City

Lebanese is the one cuisine I can never tire of! Even after my holidays in Lebanon in which every family visit is accompanied by a plentiful feast, I come back craving the food. Having been spoiled with the best Lebanese food, my family and I have always struggled to find an authentic and delicious Lebanese restaurant in New York city. That is until we found Naya’s in midtown.

In celebration, I brought my friends for a well-prepared feast on Easter. Traditionally, the standard Lebanese meal at a restaurant is all about sharing. It begins with the mezze, which are small sharing platters. My family, one who loves food, usually overdoes this course and is even too full to move onto the hot dishes. Nonetheless, the meal is finished off with a platter of grilled meat and vegetables and rice with vermicelli.

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Common mezze include hummus, taboule, babaghanoush, spinach pies, fatoush (salad with pomegranate syrup and sumac), falafel, kibbe (meat and cracked wheat stuffed with spiced ground meat), sambousac (fried pastry filled with spiced ground meet), grilled haloumi cheese, among many other dishes. The variety is so expansive that a different combination of dishes can always be ordered.

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I have found it nearly impossible to not leave a meal like this full beyond belief. However, the food itself is actually quite light. Butter and cream are rarely used. Each dish usually contains a large amount of olive oil, garlic, and lemon. For the most part, dishes are prepared through grilling, baking, or sautéing. There is an abundance of vegetables, whole grains, and fruits in every meal. Fish and poultry are more often used than red meat, which when used is most commonly lamb.

Naya’s menu offers a broad representation of Lebanese cuisine. They are true to the original flavors and preparation. With the plentiful choices, there is sure to be a dish for everyone to love. Go to Naya and allow yourself the opportunity to become acquainted with the mastery of a Lebanese kitchen.

 

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A Middle Eastern Salad Concoction at Sweetgreen

If you’re not familiar with the way it works at Sweetgreen, you can either make your own salad from a set of “bases” and “toppings,” or you can choose from one of their own combinations of bases and toppings. Since the mighty chickpea has become a staple of the American health nut’s diet, it comes up in as many as three different toppings: plain chickpeas, falafel, and hummus. The latter two are featured in Sweetgreen’s Hummus Tahina salad. An updated Greek salad, this concoction starts with a romaine lettuce and kale base, and is topped with tomatoes, cucumbers, pita chips, red onions, and falafel. Dressed with a tangy tahini dressing, and slapped with a scoop of hummus, this salad reaches the end of the assembly line, ready to eat. I went to Sweetgreen to try it out, and got a weird look for ordering the salad without any tweaks. Is that a bad sign? Oh my.

Do I need a better camera or is there no way to make this look appetizing?
Do I need a better camera or is there no way to make this look appetizing?

Usually in these posts I talk about authenticity, but I feel like it is kind of futile in this case. I mean do Guacamole Greens take you back to Mexico? What about the Rad Thai?

When I go to sweetgreen, I don’t expect my taste buds to be dazzled. It seems to be Sweetgreen’s objective to cover each part of the food pyramid in every one of their salads. Unfortunately, this means that their combinations can be very crowded. The list of ingredients that went into my Hummus Tahina is unnecessarily long. I don’t need hummus AND falafel AND tahini. Individually, the hummus is creamy and nutty, the falafel is warm, chunky, and hearty, and the tahini is light and tangy. But together you get tahini and chickpea overload. Romaine is traditional, and kale is a cool update, but again, why put them together? That being said, some ingredients were essential, like pita chips that give crunch, and cherry tomatoes that add color and sweetness.

Overall, it was an okay lunch. Next time, I’d take out the hummus, keep the falafel, and go for an all-kale base.

Also, I promise, I will have at least one home cooked Middle Eastern recipe before the end of the semester!

Happy spring!

The best (and most authentic?) Hummus in Morningside Heights

Asking around Columbia, I found that the word that first comes to mind when I mention Middle Eastern food is hummus. This chickpea-based dish has become an important part of the American diet, featured constantly in our dining halls, and even sitting side by side with salsa and other dips on the Super Bowl table. A healthy alternative to ranch and mayonnaise, Hummus is simply a mash-up of chickpeas dressed with tahini (sesame paste) and lemon juice. This dip originates in the Levant, where it is traditionally eaten with pita bread and falafel for breakfast, or served as a mezze, a small plate or appetizer  at dinner. Hummus here in Morningside Heights is easy to find; it is served in the many Middle Eastern restaurants and delis in the neighborhood, and sold in packages in all of the grocery stores around campus. I have never really given much thought to the authenticity of the hummus found around the area, because I consider a plate of hummus and freshly made pita bread eaten on the side walk in downtown Amman an experience that cannot be replaced or imitated here in New York. Nevertheless, I have done a little experiment to find which place offers the most authentic hummus in Morningside Heights, the most successful combination of the three basic ingredients with the right amount of spices. To carry out this experiment, I picked up plates of hummus from different restaurants and grocery stores in the area and hosted a gathering of my Middle Eastern friends. Each person tasted the different plates of hummus, all removed from packages and placed in numbered white plates, and ranked the hummus from most to least authentic. Averaging out the results, we arrived at the following ranking:

 

Falafel on Broadway

3151 Broadway (b/w Tiemann Pl. and La Salle St.)

A bit of a hike north of 116th St., this small Middle Eastern eatery offered the most authentic Hummus. This Hummus was not too tart from the tahini and lemon juice, nor was it too starchy. It was drizzled with, but not overwhelmed by, a good amount of olive oil. It would be very close to Hummus found in the Middle East, except that it was too spicy. The restaurant itself is charmingly shabby, with skewers of raw kebab stacked in the glass display case by the front door, and posters from Jordanian tourism adverts covering the walls, owing to the owner’s heritage.  Falafel on Broadway is a great place to relax with a plate of Hummus and falafel, a cup of tea, and maybe even a shisha.

 

Samad’s Gourmet

2867 Broadway (b/w 111th St and 112th St)

This deli right under The Heights Bar and Grill seemed like a regular grocery store at first glance. All I could see through its display window were muffins and other standard deli fare. But taking a step inside, I found myself in front of bags of spices with aromas that bring me back to the spice bazaars of Istanbul and Cairo. This place also sells a huge variety of imported goods like chalva, a sesame-based confection, maftoul, the Levantine version of cous-cous, and za’atar, a delicious blend of thyme and Middle Eastern spices. I could spend an hour looking through all the goods they were selling, but returning to my purpose, I headed towards the deli counter, where they serve hummus and other Middle Eastern mezzes. Samad’s Hummus came in second, having a right consistency, but it fell behind Falafel on Broadway because of the lack of olive oil.

 

Maoz Vegetarian

2857 Broadway (b/w 110th St and 111th St)

This vegetarian fast food chain serves up Hummus along with other eastern Mediterranean staples like baba ghanouj and falafel. Maoz’s Hummus ranked high on our list, giving us the right proportion of chickpeas to tahini. Their Hummus missed on its spice blend, which was not quite the same as that mixed into traditional Hummus.

 

Amir’s Grill

2911 Broadway (b/w 112th St and 113th St)

This small Middle Eastern fast food restaurant has seen a pretty substantial makeover since last year. The menu has changed quite a bit and they have even begun to offer wine, beer, and handcrafted Boylan soda. While their Hummus tasted good, the problem was its consistency. Hummus should be easy to pick up with a piece of pita bread, but this Hummus was just too runny. But don’t let this Hummus review scare you away from eating some of the other foods on offer, like their shawerma or baba ghanouj, which are actually very good.

 

Westside Market

2840 Broadway (b/w 110th St and 111th St)

Westside serves its own Hummus alongside brands like Sabra and Tribe. Westside does not just make plain Hummus, but also offers hummus blended with spinach, or with baba ghanouj. None of these blends are authentic, so we decided to taste the only the plain variety.  We found that it was a too hard, possibly because it was low on tahini.  While their Hummus isn’t quite authentic, you could salvage the dip by drizzling on some olive oil to make it less stiff.

 

Sabra Hummus

This brand of Hummus could be found in practically any grocery store here in the US. We included it in our tasting to see if a manufactured Hummus could resemble the traditional homemade dip. We were not surprised that this dip failed our test miserably. For most of us, this was the first, and probably last, time we ever have Sabra. The hummus was just bitter, leaving our mouths with this awkward after-taste. Could it be the quality of chickpeas or just a side effect of the manufacturing process? For us, this hummus was just bad, let alone unauthentic.

A Middle Eastern Gem, just a trip down the 1 train away.

If you have a case of the Sundays, don’t worry–Melina’s got just the place for you.  Take a ride on the 1 train down to Chelsea and experience another part of the city and try to forget that Monday’s tomorrow.  Melina makes it quite easy.

In the heart of Chelsea lies an eatery that offers an innovative approach to Middle-Eastern cuisine.

Ilili is not a hole in the wall. Far from it. But for much of the Columbia University community, everything south of 42nd street might as well be hidden. For those of you who have been hoping to make a journey sometime soon to the highly raved about “downtown,” Ilili is a great starting point.

The two-story restaurant radiates a trendy, young urban professional vibe and still manages to retain a traditional Lebanese culture. If you are only in the mood for drinks and appetizers, the downstairs lounge area offers inviting ottomans.

There is a famous Greek proverb that goes a little something like this: “A restaurant is only as good as its bread.” Okay, it is not a proverb. But I am Greek, and I wholeheartedly believe the aforementioned statement. It suggests that one could already predict the quality of the entire menu upon tasting the warm pita at Ilili. The bread, steaming with freshness, disappears fast. After the pile is gone, a server comes back with more in record time. Magical. Ordering a few dips is a must, since they complement the pita bread so nicely. The “Mouhamara” molasses dip has walnut and pomegranate bits inside. The hummus comes in several different flavors. You can choose the plain one, which will not disappoint, but the jalapeño version has a nice and spicy kick. Continue reading A Middle Eastern Gem, just a trip down the 1 train away.