Social cultures produce favored habits, which is nowhere more apparent than in foods people eat. A bagel is just a bagel, but in the mind of a Jewish diner, the next thought might be lox. Probably not so for a non-Jewish diner, though. The spicy chopped vegetable side dish is such an item in Turkey, according to Mehmet Coskum, a native of Turkey, and owner of Artemis Mediterranean Bistro.
“This dish is very famous in Turkey, along with the kebab. That’s what is usually served with the kebab,” he said. For the record, when it is served in Turkey, the spiciness is higher than you’ll find in the Artemis version. “We can make it as spicy as they have in Turkey, and some of our guests, they want it spicier. We do it to suit most of the people here (in Greater Cincinnati), but it is authentic in all the other ways—just like you’d get in Turkey,” he said.
So, what is in this ubiquitous fresh side dish? To start, the veggie mix features a base of fresh tomatoes. The vegetables include zucchini, red and green bell pepper, onion, cucumber, and parsley, all fresh. “We chop the vegetables into a fine dice, and then drain all the water off. As a binder, we use pomegranate molasses, and to season there is salt, pepper, mint, and oregano, along with red pepper flakes, which is where the spiciness comes from. The pomegranate molasses gives the dish a little sour flavor that is just the right balance for a kebab, chicken or lamb or beef.”
On Artemis Bistro’s menu, the dish is offered as an appetizer served with pita bread, but in Turkey, the fresh, uncooked spicy chopped veggies likely would appear on the plate with a kebab order—part of a cultural cuisine that prizes the use of native-grown vegetables.
We tried the spicy chopped vegetables with our chicken dish offered at Artemis, and Coskum is on target that the spicy veggies are a perfect complement to the flavors of the chicken.
Kebabs are the most ordered entrée items at Artemis, as they have been since the restaurant opened several years ago. “The chicken kebab is the top seller for us,” Coskum said. Also near the top in popularity are the cabbage roll and the stuffed eggplant entrées, followed by lamb kebabs and other lamb dishes, which brings us to a recurring issue for restaurants and diners-out who patronize them — supply.
“There is a shortage on everything — lamb, for instance — and it’s a challenge to find the stuff (you need) to fill the gaps with something else. And the price of just about everything is higher, and in some cases, really a lot higher,” Coskum said, adding that he is trying to hold the line on pricing until supply chains return to normal.
Nationwide, the National Restaurant Association estimates that check numbers have increased around four percent, and that Ohio eateries are in line with that trend. At the same time and for the same period, costs of food and supplies coming into restaurants have risen about nine percent. “That’s everything that would go into the expense column, including wages and costs for everything from packaging to protein,” said John Barker, head of the Ohio Restaurant Association.
“The problem we have is part cost, but also it is that stuff is not available, such as lamb. A couple weeks ago, lamb was higher in cost, but I could get everything. This past week we could only get leg of lamb, and this week there is no lamb out there from our suppliers,” Coskum said.
He cited chickpeas (from which his popular hummus appetizer is made) as another example. He uses #10 cans (about the size of a gallon of milk) of chickpeas—four cans a day—to make the hummus. Recently, the large cans, from a provider’s brand he knows and prefers, have not been available. Switching to another brand can be problematic, since tastes of one brand can be, and usually are, different from another.
“Some of our guests notice that sort of thing, and I wish it wasn’t that way—the differences. But until things out there start to stabilize and get back to normal the way they were before the pandemic hit, we are going to have to be patient. We’ve gotten through the hardest part of what the pandemic did, and we will get through this too. But it takes patience from everybody.
“I am so happy that people are coming out to dine in our restaurant again, and the place is full on the weekends again. At the same time, I hope everybody knows what we are up against, in getting the stuff we need to make the meals we bring out of the kitchen, the shortages we can’t do anything about, and in getting the help we need to do everything,” he said.
The issues Coskum related in finding staff for the kitchen and the front of the house seem universal in the hospitality sector, so, here’s hoping we’ll all be patient when dining out.
See you at Artemis Mediterranean Bistro!
Artemis Mediterranean Bistro
7791 Cooper Road
Cincinnati, OH 45242