Andrew Zimmern's Favorite Produce From The Middle East - Exclusive

Eating seasonal produce is an excellent way to ensure that your meals will be packed with both nourishment and flavor. It can also help to liven things up in the kitchen by bringing in new culinary combinations. We recently sat down with Andrew Zimmern at this year's New York City Wine & Food Festival for an exclusive interview with Tasting Table where he shared some of his favorite seasonal foods. The James Beard-award-winning television personality, cookbook author, and chef also talked about the region of the world whose fresh produce he feels particularly connected to. 

"In the Middle East, there are two growing seasons, eggplant season and tomato season," Zimmern shared, implying that these are the two products that are totally central to cooking in the region. Eggplants are at their best between winter and spring and come in several varieties with varying flavor profiles. Sweeter white eggplants are commonly used in the Middle East for preparing the ever-present baba ganoush, while purple and globe eggplants are the larger ones we most often use in Italian-style cooking and are found everywhere, and petite Japanese eggplants taste wonderful in stir fry. Tomatoes, too, come in all shapes and sizes, and are in fact grown year-round in the Middle East but are most relished for their sweetness and ripeness in the summer months.

The produce that defines us

For Andrew Zimmern, eggplants and tomatoes are more than just delicious produce. "Those are vegetables that in many ways define us, right?" he reflected. When visiting Israel, where Zimmern has traveled frequently, he shared: "A fried eggplant sandwich on the streets of Tel Aviv, to me, is as delicious a food as you can find." That style of Middle Eastern eggplant sandwich is known as sabich and can commonly be found sold as sumptuous street food across the region.

For cooking eggplant at home, Zimmern has crafted a method of preparation that he believes comes closest to achieving the texture and flavor of sabich. "I've taken to grilling eggplants and just seasoning them with some fresh chilies and mint," he detailed. Zimmern then adds chili oil — one of his favorite pantry staples — plus lemon, and cheese to complete the sandwich. "In Israel, we have incredible cottage cheese. I mean, it is just the greatest. I can't even relate it to [other cheeses]. It's more like ricotta than anything else," he noted. Zimmern isn't alone in his love for eggplant or his sabich creation; his family is similarly smitten. "That's something that we eat in our house almost every other night."