Over the last decade, I have taken inspiration from the Middle East and tried to highlight the incredible array of flavors wherever I could. From our selection of dips with flatbread to the Moroccan lamb meatballs, the bold spices and fresh flavors of the region have had permanent homes on the Carpe Vino menu. Finally, we now have the opportunity to showcase this cuisine and delve deeper into the food that fueled the “cradle of civilization”. The Middle East has one city that truly has become the melting pot of all the different cultures and the food that they eat. Jerusalem: North African, Arab, Jewish, and European cultures all have homes in this city.
In recent years, the popularity of this food and its ingredients has increased in America and all over the world. Much of this rise can be credited to London’s Yotam Ottellenghi with his best selling cookbooks Plenty, Plenty More, and of course, Jerusalem. I would be lying if I said much of my inspiration for this menu didn’t come from his books. With our Crossroads of Culture prix-fixe menu, we will be showcasing classic Jerusalem dishes as well as ingredients from the entire region. Enjoy! –Chef Eric Alexander
First Course (choice of one):
Tuna Kibbeh Nayyeh: Classically, a kibbeh is a mix of ground meat with onions, herbs, spices, and bulgur wheat which is shaped into ovals, skewered and grilled. A kibbeh nayyeh is the same mixture served raw. We have substituted the usual lamb for diced sushi grade Ahi tuna, mixed with the bulgur, mint, parsley, spices, and chile. It is basically a Middle Eastern Tuna Tartare. Garnished with Labne, a yogurt cheese, and crispy fried flatbread.
Dungeness Crab Falafel: The ultimate Middle Eastern street food. Ground chickpeas mixed with parsley, cilantro, cumin, coriander, scallions, and garlic. Rolled into balls with sesame seeds and deep fried. We are making our version
A little bit more luxurious by adding fresh picked Dungeness crab to the mix. While most versions are served in a pita pocket with several toppings and sauces, ours will be plated with homemade hummus, a salad of shaved farmers market cucumbers, tomatoes, and herbs. Finally a drizzle of tahini sauce made from sesame paste, garlic, and lemon juice.
Farm Egg Shakshuka: This dish may have originated in Tunisia, but the people of Jerusalem enjoy it for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. A dish of eggs poached in a mixture of tomatoes and peppers. We start with a cast iron skillet layered with a sauce of tomatoes, roasted red peppers and red chiles. A farm egg is cracked into the mix along with roasted artichokes and then baked in the oven until the egg is cooked but the yolk still runny. Served in the skillet and garnished with sheep’s milk feta, cilantro and grilled bread.
Second Course (choice of one):
Fattoush: An Arab chopped salad featuring the freshest vegetables possible. Tomato, cucumber, radish, scallion, mint and purslane are diced and mixed with fried pieces of pita bread, olive oil, lemon juice, and sumac. Purslane is a green weed that grows wildly all over the Mediterranean and here in California. It has a citrusy flavor and great texture. The pursulae is sourced from Chef Alexander’s Mt. Vernon Rd. farm where it grows between the row crops.
Charred Eggplant Soup: Chefs in the Middle East know the best way to coax flavor from eggplant is to first char it over hot flames to give it that wonderful smokiness. From simple eggplant salads to the classic baba ganoush, this technique is used most frequently. Our pureed eggplant soup is no different. First, we char the eggplants and scoop out the flesh. Combined with onions, roasted garlic, tomato, stock, and ras al hanout, it is simmered until the flavors meld and then pureed. Ras al hanout is a North African spice mix that varies depending on the person mixing. All spice blenders will have their own recipe, but most include cumin, coriander, cinnamon, peppercorns, allspice and clove. The soup is garnished with argan oil, made from the Moroccan argan tree. Argan oil has a nutty, slightly smoky flavor.
Main Course (choice of one):
Zaatar Crusted Swordfish: Wild California swordfish is crusted in zaatar, a spice mix comprised of dried thyme, sesame seeds and sumac. It is pan-roasted and served with sautéed sweet corn, cherry tomatoes and green chickpeas. . .the fresh version of the most commonly used dried varieties. Finally, the dish is finished with a butter sauce prepared with harissa, a spicy condiment made from red chiles, tomato, garlic, cumin, coriander and caraway.
Saffron-Roasted Petaluma Chicken: Organic chicken thighs are marinated with saffron, lemon, onion and spices and roasted until golden brown. They are served with a mix of freekeh, charred summer squash, and barberries. Freekeh is a whole green wheat kernel similar to a wheat berry. Barberries are a dried fruit used commonly in Iran and have a tart flavor. The dish is finished with zhoug, a spicy Yemenese condiment made from fresh parsley, cilantro, green chiles, and spices.
Grilled Lamb “Shawarma”: A preparation featuring large pieces of meat marinated and then grilled over a hot fire. The meat is then shaved and served with flatbread and various condiments. It is similar to Greek Gyros. Our lamb dish is inspired by shawarma: the whole lamb shoulder is marinated in similar spices and grilled over wood. . .but that is where the similarities end. Our marinated and grilled lamb is sliced and served with mejadra, a classic Jerusalem dish of lentils cooked with rice, spices and fried onions. Also on the plate will be a sweet and sour eggplant jam made with onions, tomatoes, pomegranate molasses and vinegar. A spoonful of yogurt and cilantro finish the dish.
Dessert Course (choice of one):
Rosewater Malabi: A malabi is a thick sweet cream pudding flavored with rosewater, and similar to the Italian panna cotta. Our version will be set in a glass mason jar and layered with fresh raspberry puree, toasted coconut and pistachio
Orange Blossom Meringue: A classic egg white meringue cookie flavored with orange blossom water served with fresh Medjool dates poached in a coffee sugar syrup scented with cardamom. Garnished with toasted slivered almonds.
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