Celebrating beans, hearty grains, roasted vegetables, olive oil, sesame, herbs, and exotic spices, the foods of Egypt, the Levant, and their surroundings offer a wealth of options for the vegetarian diner. Take the menu at Lebanese BYOB restaurant Kan Zaman; not only does it include the familiar Middle Eastern staples that make the cuisine so veggie-friendly, it also offers the opportunity to sample a few less widely known non-meat dishes.
Interestingly, Middle Eastern foods have been shared and their recipes circulated and adapted among cultures throughout the region over centuries. Which explains why practically every country lapped by the eastern Mediterranean Sea eats hummus. (That hummus is delicious certainly had something to do with it, too.)
But long before there was hummus, there was fūl, a dish made of cooked and mashed fava beans that's as old as the Pharaohs. On Kan Zaman's menu it goes by the name foul mudammas ($4.95) and is made of puréed fava beans, garlic, hot peppers, lemon juice, parsley, herbs, and drizzled olive oil. It's thick and left slightly chunky, making it easy to scoop up with Kan Zaman's slices of cloth-thin pita. The depth of flavors in Kan's Zaman's foul mudammas can be inconsistent from visit to visit (a sign at least that the kitchen is making it in house), but even at its blandest this sharable app is still quite tasty, thanks to its unfussy expression of ingredients. At its best, it's fantastic; the creaminess of the beans complements the brightness of the lemon, herbs, and spices.
Kan Zaman entrees come with your choice of salad or lentil soup (also available à la carte for $2.75), and I always opt for the latter. Black pepper and sharp celery help lift the rich, starch-forward base of red lentils and potato, making for a savory and well-balanced rendition of this staple of the cuisine.
The vegetarian combo ($10.95), off the appetizers menu, is in fact an entree-sized tour of several Middle Eastern classics: hummus, tabouleh, baba ghannouj, falafel, dolma, feta cheese, and black olives. The standouts are the creamy, nutty hummus, crisp falafel balls, and the fresh, vinegar-bright tabouleh—but really there's no disappointment on this plate. The portions are generous, and the combinations of flavors are seemingly endless.
The Mediterranean spinach ($12.95), one of four vegetarian entrees on the menu, was a risky order on a recent visit that paid off. From the description— sautéed spinach with fresh tomatoes, onions, garlic, feta cheese, and herbs—it just didn't sound all that exciting. But I ended up loving it. I opted to have it over a bed of bulgur wheat, which arrived fluffy and light, with just the right amount of bite. The stew-like spinach mixture had a deep, roasted-tomato flavor punctuated by green earthiness from the spinach. Crumbled feta added a pinch of saltiness that elevated all the flavors at play.
One of the neater features of Kan Zaman's dining room is the row of pillow-laden, reclined-seating dining tables that complements the Western-style two- and four-tops. If you venture out to Kan Zaman, this more relaxed mode of dining is definitely worth a try. After the hearty, filling, veggie-friendly feast you can construct for yourself there, you may want to lie down for awhile.
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