Homemade Middle Eastern Cuisine in New York City

Curated by
Shef Thaddeus D.
Hometown:
Aleppo, Syria
Middle Eastern cuisine in three words: vibrant, fresh, balanced
Most-used ingredients: olive oil, lemon, sumac
Iconic food spaces:

Zaatar Manousheh

This Arabic flatbread is topped with high quality Lebanese zaatar and extra virgin olive oil. It is fluffy and aromatic with a brick oven taste. This simple combination of ingredients proves that sometimes, less is more. Served with cucumber, olives, tomato, and fresh mint on the side. Fold it up with the toppings or slice it like a pizza.

Browse cuisine

Kibbeh Bil Sanniyeh

This is my grandmother's recipe for baked Kibbeh (a combination of ground beef and bulgur wheat) stuffed with a layer of seasoned onions, pine nuts, and more seasoned beef. Crispy around the edges, this baked kibbeh is a lighter alternative to the more well-known fried kibbeh balls. Comes with mint cucumber yogurt.

Browse cuisine

On what makes Middle Eastern cuisines unique

My mother is originally from Aleppo — a Syrian city located right along the ancient spice (or silk) road — home to the diverse blend of  flavors and ingredients that traveled through it and became incorporated into its fabric. We call the food from our region “Levantine,” which refers to the Levant region of Syria, Cyprus, Lebanon, Palestine, and Jordan — a medina of Middle Eastern cuisine. 

Growing up in New Jersey, my friends would say that all of our food tasted like Thanksgiving, and that is because it has a coziness to it. Our food uses “warm spices,”like  cumin, all spice, and cinnamon. I use olive oil in every dish, garlic, sumac, and of course, the quintessential Levantine spice blend: Za’atar. 

We ask ourselves, "what dish can we create that makes the most out of this particular ingredient?" For example, hummus literally means "chickpea" in Arabic, the name of the dish is really ḥummuṣ bi-ṭ-ṭaḥīna, which translate to “chickpea with tahini.”  If it’s done right, it should be such a balance of the two that it’s not too heavy on either flavor, it’s created this perfect merger. It’s the same story for muhammara, it’s the best dish you can make with a red pepper. It’s all about doing just enough to manipulate the true flavor of the pepper, Middle Eastern cuisine focuses on maintaining the integrity of our ingredients. 

Browse cuisine
Sekoura

"The best way I can describe Middle Eastern cuisine is to say that it’s simple and balanced. It’s based on one main ingredient that you’re doing minimal things to to really make the most out of that flavor and maintain its integrity."

The Middle Eastern Dinner Table

On the Syrian side and the Italian side, it’s a very similar feeling, family get-togethers involve a lot of food and a lot of sharing of food. Coming from my cultures, there’s kind of a joke that we share our food so much that people take it from us.

If I picture my family’s dinner table growing up and even to this day, there was always hummus, always olives, always a bread like pita or a manousheh, always olive oil, and always a bowl of za’atar. We dip the bread into the olive oil and then into the bowl of za’atar which makes it stick. My grandmother used to make large plates of kibbeh, dolma, and stuffed vegetables, enormous quantities of them, enough to feed an entire village.

Kibbeh is a dish that is very specific to Levantine culture. You can go back six thousand years to find the ancient Assyrians eating it as a way to stretch meat.  Aleppo alone is known for having 32 varieties of kibbeh.

"Food is very integral to Middle Eastern culture, it is part of our DNA to make sure that people aren’t hungry, it’s an expression in love in a lot of ways."

I do think it’s a beautiful thing to share bits of your cultural background through food with people. I like making our food more accessible to people who have never tried it before. It’s a way to learn about culture and history — it is both edible art and artifact. 

I have a couple who order from me all the time, one is Jordanian and the other is Lebanese. They said they couldn’t find baked kibbeh anywhere, homemade the way I make it, and when they did on my menu, they were so excited. They raved about it in their reviews, they told all their friends about it. It has absolutely warmed my heart to see how much they love a dish that is so meaningful to me and to my own family, and to all those who call the Middle East home. It made them feel nostalgic and that’s the ultimate compliment for me.

Find local shefs

Tips for finding the best Middle Eastern food in New York City

Sekoura

Middle Eastern shefs to try in New York City

Sekoura

I am originally from Algiers, Algeria and food is my passion. I have been cooking since I was young, learning many ethnic berber (native North African ...

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Fatemeh

I grew up in Armenia, and one of the fondest memories of my childhood is sitting in the kitchen and watching my mom do her magic, turning simple ingre ...

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Margo

I grew up in Armenia, and one of the fondest memories of my childhood is sitting in the kitchen and watching my mom do her magic, turning simple ingre ...

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Thaddeus Elias

As the son of a Syrian mother and an Italian father, I grew up with fresh, vibrant Mediterranean and Middle Eastern flavors. I have been fascinated wi ...

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Sekoura

Sekoura

I am originally from Algiers, Algeria and food is my passion. I have been cooking since I was young, learning many ethnic berber (native North African ...

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Fatemeh

Fatemeh

I grew up in Armenia, and one of the fondest memories of my childhood is sitting in the kitchen and watching my mom do her magic, turning simple ingre ...

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Margo

I grew up in Armenia, and one of the fondest memories of my childhood is sitting in the kitchen and watching my mom do her magic, turning simple ingre ...

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Thaddeus Elias

Thaddeus Elias

As the son of a Syrian mother and an Italian father, I grew up with fresh, vibrant Mediterranean and Middle Eastern flavors. I have been fascinated wi ...

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