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Middle Eastern fare is perfect for your summer table

By Wolfgang Puck, Tribune Content Agency on

As a chef who is fortunate to be well known, journalists often ask me my thoughts about hottest food trend of the moment. Over the years, I've shared my thoughts about everything from gourmet pizza and Asian fusion cuisine (two major trends in which I played a role) to authentic barbecue to kale to the keto diet.

When questions have come lately about what's exciting in the food world, an answer that comes more and more to mind is the rising popularity of Middle Eastern food. From Syria to Lebanon, Israel to Egypt, the Gulf States to Iran, contemporary yet authentic versions of these ancient culinary traditions are becoming as hot as the desert landscapes from which many of them arise.

Some of the most in-demand reservations are for upscale places that bake their own pita and other traditional breads, make their own hummus dip from specially sourced chickpeas, toss exquisite salads of sun-ripened produce, grill marinated meats and seafood over open flames, and serve refreshing desserts that often sparkle with ruby-like pomegranate seeds.

I find the food exquisite and exciting. And, when you look at it closely, it often isn't that different from dishes many of us are already familiar with. The difference often comes from subtle ingredients and seasonings, such as intensely tart-sweet pomegranate molasses and the powerfully lemony spice called sumac. That taste exotic yet still somehow familiar, that you can find easily in Middle Eastern markets that might be near you and also buy online.

For an introductory example of such dishes that are perfect for summertime dining, I'd like to share two recipes that have become popular on the menu of my Wolfgang Puck Bar & Grill at the MGM Grand Hotel in Las Vegas, where Chef de Cuisine Dylan Hallas runs the kitchen. I'm talking about fattoush and herbed labneh.

The names themselves may be unfamiliar to you, but you'll recognize the dishes on your plate like they're old friends.


Fattoush is a traditional Syrian salad that gives new life to scraps of crunchy pita chips by pairing them with sun-ripened tomatoes and other vegetables, much like the Italian salad called panzanella does with leftover country bread.

Labneh is a spreadable yogurt cheese made throughout the Middle East that is most like a very thick Greek yogurt, often seasoned as it is in Chef Hallas' recipe and served as a dip or as an accompaniment to grilled fish along with the fattoush if you like.

With peak-of-season tomatoes beginning to fill the markets right now, it's the perfect time to make fattoush and its creamy companion. I hope you'll try both of them soon and go on enjoying them through the end of the summer and beyond.



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