When I was 19, I went to cooking school at La Varenne in Paris, where I was trained in classic regional French cuisine. So when it came to cooking vegetables, I was all about adding flavor with butter or cream. Then two things happened: I worked in Boston for the Tunisian-born chef Moncef Meddeb, and I traveled extensively throughout the eastern Mediterranean. Moncef pushed me to a deeper understanding of food and flavors, which was reinforced by my time away. While visiting Turkey, I discovered that not only does food there feel rich, exciting, and flavorful, but it also left me energized. After a big meal, I didn’t want to go to bed—I wanted to go dancing! Thanks to the abundant use of spices, herbs, and fats (in the form of nuts, olive oil, and yogurt), the food felt healthful but also seductive and, yes, exotic.
When I opened my restaurant Oleana in Cambridge, Massachusetts, I decided to focus primarily on the entrancing flavors of the Arabic Mediterranean. Though there’s no shortage of meat on the menu, I think it’s our exciting ways with vegetables that keep our customers coming back for more. What follows are some of these very recipes plus a look at the flavorings that make them so special. So put away the butter, pull open the spice drawer, and revel in bold flavors. After dinner, who knows? You might just feel like dancing.