Taste recently published an article focused on using yogurt to marinade meats. The gist here is why haven’t we all been doing this all along? And the point is well made.
While “we” – read U.S. consumers and professionals – may not have been marinating meats in yogurt, this technique has been used historically in the Middle East. But, as noted in the article, it was likely introduced to the region by Mongolian invaders in the 13th century.
The article is timely as foodservice in this country increasingly turns its attention to Middle Eastern cuisine as a source of inspiration and innovation. Despite a steady stream of news about conflicts and other issues that may have negatively impacted the potential for Middle Eastern in this country, elements common from that region have been steadily making inroads into the U.S. market by way of Greek cuisine, Moroccan cuisine and the Mediterranean diet. Consider the growth over the last few years of hummus, pitas, falafel, chickpeas, kebabs, tzatziki and more recently of shawarma, shakshuka, sumac and za’atar.
Of course, our understanding of cuisine from this region is limited in general. There is, of course, no Middle Eastern cuisine but rather a culinary heritage that spans approximately 18 countries (depending on who you talk to) and a varied history of conquest, trade, colonization, and conflict. As with many other cuisines – Italian, Mexican and Chinese are excellent examples – our education begins with broad strokes and often Americanized versions but then evolves to a more granular understanding of cuisines specific to each country and, within those countries, various regions.
But back to the Taste article. Many of the preparations discussed are those that would be most appealing to a broad American audience in that they involve charring or otherwise caramelizing the outside of the meat. Visually, this is most appealing to the widest array of U.S. consumers and would be the most effective way of promoting the technique of using yogurt as a marinade. This is not necessarily how one may find yogurt used in the Middle East. For example, Mansaf is the national dish of Jordan, though popular throughout the Middle East, which sees lamb cooked in a fermented dried yogurt but without the caramelization. In fact, the yogurt as primary ingredient is quite evident given the white sheen on the meat. Though delicious, it’s appearance would likely be off-putting to U.S. consumers unaccustomed to that style of cooking. Of course, this may change as familiarity and comfort with the more traditional elements of Middle Eastern cuisine increases.
We can expect to see a growing array of Middle Eastern flavors, ingredients and applications impact food here over the coming years. Despite the negative press, U.S. consumers are likely ready to explore the cuisines form this area of the world. The opportunities are endless and the potential for innovation thrilling.
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