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Food for Thought – Middle Eastern Dining at Its Best

by Linda Viertel – 

Chef/owner Erdahl Nehir with his signature meze platter

One of the joys of life along the river is that the melting pot of cultures that have come to live and work here has produced a wide range of restaurants offering the food of many lands. Still, Melike, featuring the cuisine of Turkey and the Middle East, comes as a refreshing – and delicious – surprise.

Chef/owner Erdahl Nehir grew up in Turkey near the Syrian border and spent six years as a restaurateur in Saudi Arabia. Hailing from a family of chefs, including his father, uncles and cousins, he loves his Middle Eastern food heritage and is a virtuoso in the kitchen. You can tell from the very first taste – even the most best-known dishes, like hummus, babaganouj and meat kebabs have something special about them – some combination of herbs and spices, some sixth sense about texture – that beg to be sampled again and again. Ingredients are locally sourced whenever possible and halal prepared.

Nehir’s appetizers deliver uniquely subtle takes on favorite Mediterranean specialties. His hummus possesses a texture and flavor that is superior to anything you may have tasted elsewhere, topped as it is with whole chickpeas for added flavor. His babaganouj delivers a lively yet subtle smokey taste. In Melike’s generous meze platter diners will enjoy mixing a variety of tastes and textures: large dollops of hummus and babaganouj join lebni (a thick, creamy yogurt spread), Nehir’s eggplant soslu (sauteed aubergine in tomato sauce), kisir (finely ground bulghur, parsley and tomato paste), plus dolmas (rice and herb stuffed grape leaves). All are accompanied by fresh baked pita.

Hot appetizers include Nehir’s lightly fried sigara (cigar-shaped) borek – phyllo stuffed with feta and parsley – that are delicate foils for a meze platter. But then, it’s hard to forego the mucver (pan-fried zucchini pancakes) the falafel or the grilled octopus, or fried or grilled calamari. For Melike’s appetizers alone, it is definitely worth dining in a group to make sure all the Mediterranean flavors get sampled.

The bar at Melike boasts its
weekly beer specials on the blackboard.

Lamb is the featured meat at Melike – served as succulent shish kebabs, kofte kebabs (Turkish ground lamb patties mixed with parsely, onions and Turkish spices), chargrilled lamb chops, Turkish style lamb sauted with bell peppers, onion and tomatoes, or grilled lamb ardana (spicy ground lamb combined with bell and spicy peppers and mounted lengthwise on a wide skewer). On Friday, Saturday and Sunday Nehir serves the Turkish specialty Lamb Doner. Similar to the Greek gyros and Arabic schawarma, doner is a vertically grilled marinated ground lamb that is sliced, topped with a special Turkish yogurt sauce, and served with rice and salad. Iskender doner takes the lamb one step further, sautéing the sliced lamb in a special tomato-based sauce, served over pita, and topped with lebni and cecik (yogurt mixed with finely diced cucumber and a selection of herbs). And, Nehir’s lamb shank offering, a generous portion of meat slathered with his rich tomato and herb based sauce is served with rice, as are all of his entrees.

Fresh branzino, trout, salmon and shrimp are also available, delicately chargrilled. And, Melike’s chicken, like the lamb, is marinated to achieve succulence and enhanced taste when grilled. Nehir also serves a chicken doner, Turkish style sauteed chicken or a chicken curry. Vegetarians won’t be disappointed at Melike with eggplant moussaka and Nehir’s special vegetarian casserole on the menu.

Salads are a staple of Middle Eastern cuisine; they are healthy combinations of tomatoes, bell peppers, cucumbers, onions, olive oil, lemon juice, herbs and lettuce, and Nehir’s are no exception. Whether you choose tabbouleh, or a Jerusalem salad featuring celery, dill and a tahini dressing, or the traditional Mediterrarean with feta and artichokes, or the Piyaz – a white bean, parsley, mint and red onion melange, or a sumptuous seafood salad, you will be experiencing Middle Eastern cuisine at its freshest and most classic.

Children can be kept busy dining on chicken fingers and mozarella sticks, though it will be hard to keep them from tasting Nehir’s Turkish specialties or craving baklava for dessert. Beer, wine and alcohol are offered, and the novelty of trying a delicious Turkish wine is hard to resist. Nehir offers a variety of Turkish reds and whites in addition to Raki, a Turkish specialty much like the powerful Greek ouzo: try Efe Klasik or Efe Gold.

Nehir also offers Kahvalti, a lavish Turkish breakfast, in his private dining room which is also available for catered lunch and dinner. Up to 35 guests can be accommodated – with a choice of wine and beer and/or a full bar.

Melike, which means “queen” in Arabic or “beautiful person” in Turkish, is named for Nehir’s two-year old daughter, and he has created a loving and simple atmospheric tribute to her, replete with Turkish music, Turkish rugs, brass platters and delicate Middle eastern decorative items throughout. As Nehir says, “You don’t have to go to Turkey to eat the food, you can come here.” You should.

If You Go

199 Main Street, Ossining

914-236-3393 | Fax: 914-236-3395

melikeossining.com

Hours: Tues.-Thurs. 4 p.m.-10 p.m.
Fri.-Sat. 12-11p.m. Sun. 12-9 p.m.

Catering and large orders available


Candied Sweet Potatoes – Southern Style

(an homage to Paul Prudhomme)

4-6 sweet potatoes or yams, peeled and cut into 1 ½ to 2 inch chunks

1 ½ cups water (more if needed depending upon size of sweet potatoes)

½ cup sugar

¼ cup light brown sugar

1 stick butter, in all

1 and 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract (best quality available)

Juice and grated rind from ½ lemon

Combine sweet potatoes (or yams), water, sugars, 4 tablespoons of the butter, the vanilla, lemon juice and rind in a 1 to 2 quart saucepan. Cover and cook over medium heat for 30 minutes or slightly longer, stirring occasionally. Uncover and cook until potatoes are fork tender, about 15 minutes more. Add the remaining 4 tablespoons butter, stirring until completely melted . Cook uncovered until sauce is thick, about 5 minutes more.

Serves 8-10 as a side dish. Best to serve in small bowls, since the sweet candied sauce should accompany the potatoes and is divine.

 

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