On New Year’s Day, most people make a list of the fattening foods they plan to avoid, the diet they plan to start, or the healthy comestibles they will start ingesting posthaste in an effort to start the New Year right. Me? I’m combing the internet, magazines, and other information oracles in order to make my own list: the foods that everyone will be eating this year — what I predict will be ubiquitous in restaurants, groceries, and specialty food stores. Here’s what I’ve gleaned from my research, and I’m sharing it with MIB readers so that you can be on that bandwagon from the get-go.
Middle Eastern Cuisine
From food trucks to fine dining, Middle Eastern cuisine continues on the rise. Where it used to conjure images of falafel, hummus, and pita bread, Yotam Ottolenghi’s London restaurants and best-selling cookbooks seemed to light a fire of creativity and inspire Israeli-born chefs like Michael Solomonov (the 2017 James Beard Award Outstanding Chef for Zahav in Philadelphia) and Alon Shaya (another James Beard Award winner for Shaya in New Orleans, now the subject of a custody battle of sorts) to open stateside restaurants revolving around their native cuisine. In Chicago, Lettuce Entertain You has had great success with River North’s Ema, where chef CJ Jacobson’s Lamb and Beef Kefta Kebabs are drizzled with lemon, olive oil, and tzatziki; the Hummus is topped with braised lamb ragu and spicy harissa sauce; and Halva, a Middle Eastern confection made of pureed sesame seeds and sugar, is garnished with medjool dates and candied nuts. Wines from Israel, Morocco, and Lebanon are featured on their list. Noon O Kabab, a “perfectly Persian” restaurant in the North Center neighborhood, takes a deeper dive into Middle Eastern food than most, with dishes like Aash-E-Reshteh, a vegetarian stew made with spinach, cilantro, oats, lentils, beans, chick peas, and noodles, or Fessenjan, chicken simmered in pomegranate-walnut sauce. Looking to Ottolenghify your home kitchen? Stop in to Pita Inn Market & Bakery in Skokie, where you’ll find everything from dried legumes and grains to halal meats, dairy, and seemingly every type of pickled vegetable or olive in existence. Look for fresh house-made pita and lavash breads, as well as rich baklava and kinafa, a traditional cheese pastry topped with shredded filo (kataifi). And of course, rosewater figures heavily in Middle Eastern sweets, so you can tick off two 2018 food trends in one visit!