Chef Ana Sortun’s Heirloom Tomato Kibbeh

We owe our chef friend Ida Shen many thanks for pointing us toward a terrific chef on the East Coast. Ana Sortun is chef-owner of Oleana, a popular Cambridge, Mass.-based restaurant which serves Arabic-influenced foods of the Mediterranean and Turkey.

“You really need to check out Oleana if you ever are out in Cambridge,” Ida tells us.  “It is one of my favorites.”

In addition to Ida and many others, Sortun can count among her admirers the Mediterranean food expert Nancy Harmon Jenkins. She praises Soturn’s book, Spice (William Morrow Cookbooks, 2006).

“If  Spice doesn’t want to make you get on the next boat to Istanbul,” Nancy writes, “it will surely drive you into the kitchen to try your hand at these delectable combinations.”

Unfortunately, we weren’t in a position to hop a plane to Boston to dine at Oleana. That didn’t deter us from contacting the restaurant and requesting a recipe from Sortun.

Oleana promptly emailed us a great recipe for a popular dish from the Middle East and Turkey: kibbeh, a paste typically made from bulgur wheat and other ingredients.

Sortun’s kibbeh combines bulgur, grated tomato, minced green pepper, scallions, pepper paste, tomato paste, cumin and chilies. It all comes together with extra virgin olive oil. The kibbeh is topped with an heirloom tomato stuffed with strained yogurt known as labne.

Sortun, who is committed to using local ingredients, has won rave reviews from critics. The James Beard Foundation chose her as the “Best Chef” in the Northeast in 2005.

A cooking stint in Turkey early on in Sortun’s culinary career changed her approach to food. That trip was when she learned that in the Mediterranean, spice is used to create richness, depth and flavor without heaviness. She also experienced the mezze style of eating, which is to have many tastes of mostly vegetable-based dishes before reaching a protein course.

“Chefs always focus on flavor and appearance,” Sortun says, “but few think about how one feels after eating a long meal.”

Sortun also is a big proponent of extra virgin olive oil. She says it “gives subtle fruit flavors and aroma, silky texture or ‘good’ fat to any preparation.”

Sortun likes EVOO for health reasons, too, citing “its high content of monounsaturated fatty acids and antioxidants.” She adds: “Good for digestion, good for skin, good for you!”

It all makes us want to book reservations at Oleana sooner … versus later.

Bon appétit,

Claude S. Weiller
Vice President of Sales & Marketing
California Olive Ranch