Relish the fact that the seven little ramekins that can exponentially improve a meal at Maydan only cost $1 each. Dinner without the condiments inspired by age-old Lebanese, Moroccan, Yemeni, Tunisian, and Israeli recipes is a misstep.
“You could come in and eat and order 10 things then come in again and have the exact 10 things but have a completely different meal because you’re finding different ways to make combinations and the condiments make that easier,” says co-executive chef Chris Morgan.
At first the restaurant didn’t know what to call the section of the menu with rainbow colored sauces like harissa and zhough that can be drizzled onto flatbread, swirled into hummus, and used as dippers for Maydan’s signature grilled meats, seafood, and vegetables. But then owner Rose Previte found the answer at a California greasy spoon.
“I saw a sign in a dive bar in Los Angeles that said, “Practice safe dinner, use condiments,” Previte says. “I was like, ‘Done!’ I love it because you get the flavors of so many places that we went to. The section [of the menu] is full of memories.”
Before opening Maydan, Morgan, co-executive Gerald Addison, Previte and others traveled to the regions that would inform the restaurant’s menu. “The trip influenced which condiments made the menu,” Addison says. “We always wanted harissa, zhough, and tahina. All the rest we saw and fell in love with them.”
The group set out to dine in homes as well as restaurants on their culinary odyssey. “One of the challenges of this cuisine and going across borders is each country thinks of recipes as their own,” Previte says. “That’s what we did on the trip—listen to grandmas tell us how they do it and figure out how to translate it to 14th Street.”
Addison knows to expect feedback from guests who are from the Middle East or who have traveled extensively in the region. “A lot of the dishes are made in different countries and they’re old recipes that people really hold onto,” he says. “We’re basing them off recipes that we’ve seen, but we’re going to evolve as we go because people will show us certain things.”
So what are the condiments Maydan serves and where do they come from, according to Addison and Morgan?
Morgan was introduced to tomato jam accented with cinnamon and white sesame at a fancy dinner in Marrakech, Morocco. “It was ridiculously lavish,” he says. “To finish the meal, they gave us a lamb dish with tomato jam. I messaged Gerald right away to say we should totally put it on the menu.” The chefs fold in a little garlic for a savory note and encourage diners to order it with the family-style lamb shoulder.
With origins in Tunisia, harissa is the spiciest condiment on the menu. The chefs make it from fresh and dried chili peppers, cumin, and oil. The chunkiness of harissa varies but the chefs at Maydan decided on a smooth blend.
Zhough is made with parsley, cilantro, cumin, serrano peppers, and oil. Addison credits Yemeni Jews with developing it, which explains why it’s predominantly found in Israel today. “It’s fitting to this whole [Maydan] concept of migration and borders,” he says. “It’s popular in all of the falafel shops in Israel along with tahina, but it came from Yemen initially.” It’s the second spiciest condiment after harissa.
Addison encountered ezme in Turkey on a street lined with Kurdish restaurants. “The only thing they do is roast baby lamb on spits underground,” he says. The hacked up lamb meat is then drizzled with ezme—a chunky mix of tomato, onion, peppers, and pomegranate molasses for a touch of sweetness.
So far toum is the most popular condiment at Maydan, according to Previte. It’s thick and a shade of bright white dentists only dream of. “Toum is used all over but most people think of it as Lebanese,” Addison says. “Our favorite in Lebanon was really cloud like. I still can’t achieve that texture, which pisses me off.”
To make it Addison and Morgan blend garlic with a neutral oil so as to not discolor the mixture, lemon, and egg white. The end result has the texture of Crisco. “From what I was told by the woman who took me around Istanbul, Syrians make it with egg white; Lebanese do not,” Addison explains. Previte’s Lebanese aunt popped into the kitchen on one of the first nights of service, protesting the use of egg white. “That was something we had at every meal,” Previte says.
The garlic flavor isn’t faint and Previte already received some feedback from customers. A table of Iranian guests requested a bowl of mints by the door because they were leaving the meal with garlic breath. “In Iran it’s very offensive to have garlic breath,” Previte says. “That was great feedback because we are definitely leaving people with a lot of flavor.”
The primarily ingredient in tahina is a sesame paste known as tahini that’s used throughout the Middle East. Morgan says they season it with lemon juice, olive oil, and salt. He recommends it with lamb.
Maydan’s chermoula contains lemon, garlic, parsley, Aleppo peppers, saffron, paprika, and tumeric. The last three ingredients give it a golden hue. Morgan tried chermoula with every meal he ate in Morocco. “The seasoning varies like crazy from one recipe to the next,” he says. Moroccans use it to marinate meats and they drizzle it on seafood. Guests should do the same at Maydan, which serves grilled squid, sardines, and shrimp.
Maydan priced the condiments at $1 each to encourage people to order all of them. “This is the narrowed down list,” Addison continues. “To us, each one brings a different thing to the party.”
Maydan, 1346 Florida Ave. NW; maydandc.com