November's Can't-Miss Dish
October's Can't-Miss Dish
December's Can't-Miss Dish
Looking for a no-fail, mouthwatering, gonna-tell-your-friends-about-it plate? Each month, Boston Globe columnist Ellen Bhang highlights the dish you need to try right now—and something to sip alongside it.
November’s Can’t-Miss Dish
On the plate: Dips Plate
Where to find it: Even if you have fully embraced stew and braise season, there’s always room on the table for lavish, colorful dishes to begin your meal. Moona, a cozy Inman Square restaurant featuring meze of the Eastern Mediterranean, has excelled in such fare since it opened.
The five-year-old establishment feels fresher than ever. Restaurateurs Mohamad El Zein and Radouan Ouassaidi recently debuted a renovated nook, painted turquoise with decorative plates hung like art. The rejuvenated dining area hints at changes ahead: The business partners are already looking forward to spring when they can double the restaurant’s patio seating.
For now, thread your way through the road construction on Hampshire Street and reward yourself with a dish that showcases the preserving and pickling techniques that El Zein learned in his native Lebanon. It’s a plate that exemplifies Moona, which is the Arabic word for “pantry.”
Notes on the nosh: “Dips Plate” has always seemed too humble a name for such a head-turning dish. Served with pita bread, it brings to the table three sumptuous spreads: Smoked Baba Ghanoush bejeweled with fresh pomegranate seeds, fluffy Hummus dusted with smoked paprika, and a tangy yogurt-cheese called Labneh. Glossy olives, chunky coins of pickled cucumber, and turnips tinted fuchsia from adding beets to the brine round out the composition.
El Zein, who arrived in Boston in the ‘90s to study finance before getting into restaurant management, says that to achieve such flavorful results, each dip is all about the main ingredients. When it comes to making the baba ghanoush, for example, “The most important thing I teach the cooks,” he says, is “it’s a fine line how much tahini you put in.” The eggplant—charred whole on a grill until its flesh can be shredded with a fork into silky strands—should be the first thing you taste, not the sesame paste.
Similarly, chickpeas should be the foremost flavor in a good hummus. The cooks soak tiny dried garbanzo beans in water with a pinch of baking soda to tenderize them. The legumes are rinsed, then simmered low and slow. Whipping the chickpeas in a food processor while they’re still warm is also key to flavor and texture. Tahini, lemon juice, and salt are blended in, plus one additional component. “We also use some of the [chickpea] braising liquid,” El Zein notes, likening it to how Italians use pasta water to loosen up a thick sugo.
Sip alongside: Select a juicy red blend called “Musar Jeune,” crafted by Chateau Musar, a venerable, much-lauded producer in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley ($49). The 2018 bottle offers a touch of dried fruit character, and expresses scents and flavors that clue you into the blend of grapes. Black currant aromas indicate cabernet sauvignon; fleshy red fruit on the palate is from cinsault; and an appetizing black pepper note points to syrah. Enjoy this luscious wine alongside the luxurious Dips Plate, then on through the rest of your autumnal supper.