April 17, 2013:
Egyptian, Lebanese fare at Samira's
By Lauren MacCarthy
BELMONT -- At Samira's Homemade, two cultures come together. From the small takeout shop, you can order the national dish of Egypt, ful medames, made with fava beans, tahini, lemon juice, and olive oil. That sits near muhammara, a spread of roasted red peppers, toasted walnuts, and pomegranate molasses, traditional in Lebanon.
Lebanese-born Samira Hamdoun and her husband, Egyptian-born Ragab Hamdoun, met in Cambridge 20 years ago. He knew he was destined for the food business, like his two brothers and a sister, because he grew up working his brother's falafel stand in a northern Egypt oasis town. Samira grew up in a large family and helped cook for them, eventually taking over the kitchen from her mother when other family members showed a preference for Samira's food.
Six years ago, the couple began making hummus and selling it at Formaggio Kitchen, where Samira worked at the time. They expanded their offerings and began selling them at farmers' markets and small retail outlets. Their shop in Belmont, where they prepared them, now has a takeout counter offering traditional Egyptian and Lebanese dishes and new takes on old favorites.
The duo makes things you might expect -- like hummus and baba ghanouj -- and these come in wraps and grilled sandwiches. But order one of these classics and you might bite into an unexpected green. "I like adding arugula, because of its spicy taste," Samira says. "It really brings out the flavor of everything."
Ragab's new favorite is a toasted sandwich with labne, a yogurt cream cheese, spread on pita with olives, cucumbers, tomato, arugula, and a drizzle of a very New England taste: maple syrup. "The maple syrup is key to making it sweet and tangy -- tastes you often see together in Egyptian food," he says.
Another house specialty is goat cheese mixed with Middle Eastern za'atar, a mix of thyme, oregano, marjoram, toasted sesame seeds, and salt. It's spread on bread with big dollops of fig jam and arugula, then folded and turned into a hot panini. Samira introduced her husband to za'atar, a favorite for breakfast in Lebanon. "Now he eats it three times a day," she says.
The shop also features daily entrees such as samek mashway, a grilled whole fish, with sides of hummus and fattoush, the Lebanese bread and vegetable salad. "Fish is always served with hummus in Lebanon," says Samira. "They just go together."
The Hamdouns' dips attract vegetarians and vegans. All meats such as chicken, lamb, and beef, are Halal, which means they meet standards for Muslim customers. They make two homemade sausages: an Egyptian version of dry, spicy sujuk of beef and lamb, grilled with lemon juice, and ma'anek, a sweeter Lebanese beef and lamb version with pine nuts.
For the couple, the takeout counter is a way to capture part of the spirit of Ragab's family food stalls in Egypt. "You make friends, you talk, you share," Ragab says. "Yes, the food is important, but you share culture, stories, lives, with the people. That is the best thing."
Samira's Homemade , 203 Belmont St., Belmont, 617-489-3400, www.samirashomemade.com.
Lauren MacCarthy can be reached at lmaccarthy@ aol.com.