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Foodie Field Trip

Our food editors visit the kitchen of Foxy Falafel in the Twin Cities where they talk hummus, harissa and Middle Eastern spices with owner Erica Strait.

Betty Crocker Cook - Kristen Olsen
Food Editor, Betty Crocker Kitchens

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Our Betty Crocker Kitchens team finds food inspiration all over the place, but we especially love to get out of the test kitchens and into restaurants across the country where we can grab an apron and learn from chefs making great food. 

We recently visited Foxy Falafel in the Twin Cities to meet up with owner Erica Strait—who’s bringing the flavors of the Middle East to the Midwest—and hear what five ingredients she can’t live without and how she works them into her menu, both at the restaurant and at home.

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Favorite ingredient: Tahini 

Tahini is a thick paste made of ground sesame seeds that’s used in a variety of cuisines including North African, Greek and Middle Eastern. Erica uses it as a major ingredient in both her hummus and baba ganoush. 

How to use it at home: Hummus with pita chips 

This Betty Crocker recipe takes just 25 minutes, but if you’re super short on time, grab some packaged hummus from the grocery store. Hummus is great as a dip for veggies, pitas and chips or used as a sandwich spread. 

Favorite ingredient: Za'atar 

If you’re at Foxy Falafel and wondering what makes the baked pita chips taste so good, it’s za'atar, another of Erica’s must-have ingredients. Za'atar is a tangy, herb-focused Middle Eastern spice blend composed of toasted sesame seeds, dried thyme, marjoram and sumac. 

How to use it at home: Multi-purpose spice blend 

Once you introduce this spice blend to your kitchen, you’ll never run out of ways to use it. Erica recommends it for seasoning chicken and turkey, adding it to soups for an extra hit of flavor, and combining with olive oil to use as a dip for fresh-from-the-oven classic white bread. Look for it at specialty shops or make your own blend at home.

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Favorite ingredient: Saffron 

Saffron is the world's most expensive spice, but fortunately a little goes a long ways. It’s made with the yellow-orange stigmas of a small purple crocus and used both as a flavor and tint, providing food with an unmistakable yellow hue. At Foxy Falafel it’s used to create a tangy aioli that tops cross sections of lightly fried cauliflower—a customer favorite. 

How to use it at home: Rice dishes 

Saffron is traditionally used in seafood paella but is also found in arroz con pollo and Caribbean chicken recipes. For a quick hit of flavor and color, combine a small amount with mayonnaise and use on sandwiches or as a dip for veggies. Saffron’s flavor is released by heat so it’s best to combine it with a dash or two of very hot water and let it stand for 10 minutes before using.

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Favorite ingredient: Harissa 

Harissa is a fiery hot sauces usually made with hot chilies, garlic, cumin, coriander, caraway and olive oil. Every falafel at Foxy’s comes with a choice of three sauces: cucumber mint yogurt, green tahini and spicy harissa. On our visit, the harissa—with its smoky, garlicky taste—was the runaway favorite. 

How to use it at home: New condiment 

Erica reaches for harissa at home as often as the next person reaches for ketchup. Which is to say, she uses it in everything—topped on a baked potato, stirred in with scrambled eggs and spread on a turkey sandwich. Harissa pairs especially well with poultry and red meat like Betty’s grilled steak sandwiches and, of course, falafels.

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Favorite ingredient: Rose water 

Rose water—a distillation of rose petals with an intense perfume flavor and fragrance—has been popular in Middle Eastern, Indian and Chinese cuisines for centuries. On our visit, we were treated to a sneak taste of the rose water and pistachio crème brûlée soon to be on the Foxy menu. It was incredible. 

How to use it at home: Delicate sweets 

Found in specialty and gourmet grocery stores, rose water can be used to enhance the flavor of baked goods (like our crème brûlée), give a floral hint to ice cream or even added to a glass of Champagne for a floral twist. 


Updated regularly, our Inside the Kitchens blog offers an up-close, behind-the-scenes look inside the legendary Betty Crocker Kitchens and insights from our kitchen experts, who are continually creating fresh new food ideas for home cooks around the world. Learn even more about Ann and Kristen, and the rest of our kitchens team, here.

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