“Flavor is my signature flavor profile!” If you’ve ever visited any of Sameh Wadi’s restaurants, you know his proclamation is true. Whether he’s serving up curry burritos, Korean rice bowls or a Southern-inspired seafood boil, Wadi’s food is full of flavors from around the world.

Raised in the Middle East, Wadi and his family came to the U.S. in 1997. Inspired by the food he grew up eating, Wadi opened Saffron restaurant in Minneapolis after a stint in culinary school. A decade later, he closed Saffron and started a food truck, World Street Kitchen. The world cuisine served out of the truck was a hit and led Wadi to open a brick-and-mortar outpost in South Minneapolis. Two other restaurants, Milkjam Creamery and Grand Catch, followed.

We asked Wadi to share some of his favorite unusual flavor combinations with us, and wow, did he deliver. Feast your sense on this:

Dark chocolate and oil-cured black olives
One of my favorite savory/sweet combinations! Oil-cured olives are salted and sun-dried olives. Unlike the brined olive varieties that are most widely available, these olives have slightly caramely notes that pair well with the fruity, earthy and slightly bitter notes of the dark chocolate. At Saffron we served a dark chocolate ganache cake with oil-cured black olive ice cream, spicy Palestinian olive oil, and sea salt.

Lamb, bagna cauda, asparagus, golden beets and aleppo pepper

Lamb and brown anchovies
The idea of bold, salted fish and rich-flavored meat may turn many people off. The combo of flavors is like winning an argument when you know that you were right all along. The marriage of the salty lil’ fishies and lamb works because they are both bold, but the anchovy helps accentuate the meat’s natural sweetness. Example: Roasted lamb loin with bagna cauda butter sauce.

Seared tuna, thick yogurt, black pepper and onion
I just had this combination on a recent trip to Palestine and it blew my mind. It shouldn’t work, but the acidity and creaminess of the yogurt are a perfect foil for the rare-seared tuna. The onions were cooked in a spicy olive oil with a small bit of black pepper.

Scallops, vanilla, cucumber and green apple
Vanilla is the odd man out here, but the rich and creamy aromatic qualities work amazingly well with seafood. The mild, sweet flavor of scallops pairs well with all the other ingredients individually, but the true magic is when they are all combined together. The slightly sour apple and cooling cucumber act as a textural contrast, as well as a unique flavor combination. Example: Seared & chilled scallops crudo with vanilla oil, jalapeno/cucumber broth, green apple/cucumber relish.

Grilled lemon

Dry aged beef and grilled lemon
In Middle Eastern cuisine, it’s very common to squeeze a little fresh lemon on grilled meats or even marinate the meat in a little acid (vinegar or lemon usually), so it may not seem like an odd combo at first to some. The funky, earthy flavor of dry aged beef is amazing on its own, and it’s only accentuated by the rich citrusy notes of the grilled lemon.
Example: Charred dry aged ribeye steak with grilled lemon halves and olive oil.

Squab, cinnamon sugar, phyllo, egg and almonds
These are the main ingredients in pastilla (bastilla or bisteeya) the North African (Moroccan) squab and pastry pie. The squab, or sometimes chicken, is cooked in aromatics (onion, garlic, ginger, saffron, cinnamon) and finished with egg to thicken the stew. It’s topped off with almonds and wrapped in warqa, or phyllo, then baked and topped with powdered sugar and cinnamon. This dish is the perfect dish to showcase the Moroccan art of blending savory and sweet flavors without it being odd or heavy handed.

Who’s hungry? If you’re inspired to experiment with flavors, Sameh provided a recipe below for you to try your hand at blending some unexpected flavors:

Blood Orange Salad with Oil-Cured Black Olives and Mint

Adapted from The New Mediterranean Table
By Sameh Wadi
Yield: 4 servings

Orange, onion and olive is a classic combination from North Africa. Here, we pair those flavors with the creamy sheep’s milk feta and hot peppers, which work really well against the citrus and the pungent olives. Blood oranges have a slightly tart-sweet flavor profile with a slight berry-like finish. Other sweeter citrus fruit can be substituted if blood oranges are not available.

Chef’s tip: We soak the red onion in ice water to make them less pungent and bring forward the natural sweetness.

4 blood oranges
2 tablespoons (30ml) blood orange juice, reserved from cutting oranges
1 teaspoon (5ml) sherry vinegar
1 tablespoon (15ml) extra virgin olive oil
1 small red onion, peeled, cut into very thin rings 1/8 inch, soaked in ice water for 15 minutes, drained and patted dry
12 oil cured black olives, pitted and halved
¼ cup (37g) sheep’s milk feta, crumbled
3 tablespoons (4.8g) mint, small leaves
½ jalapeno, sliced very thin
½ fresno chili, sliced very thin
maldon salt

Using a sharp knife, peel the orange, removing all of the bitter white pith. Cut into horizontal ¼ inch slices. Squeeze the peel of the orange over the slices to keep them

In a small mixing bowl, whisk together the reserved orange juice, sherry vinegar and olive oil.

Arrange the slices of orange on a large platter or individual plates. Drizzle a small amount of the vinaigrette on the oranges.

Garnish with red onion, olives, feta, mint, both chilies and a bit of the crunchy salt.


Additional Media: Matt Lien
Minnesota Music: Cloud Cult, Corey Palmer, Lateduster, Lazerbeak, Rob Meany 
Production Team: Amy Melin, Brennan Vance, Ezra Gold, Joe Demko, Slade Kemmet  _____________________________________________________________

This story is made possible by the Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund and the citizens of Minnesota.