the moveable feasts

Roasted Sweet Potatoes & Red Onions with Tahini & Za’atar

with 16 comments

roasted sweet potatoes & red onions with tahini & za'atar

I know there’s been a lot of chatter about Jerusalem. (And yes, I know I’m late to the game on it (typical)). But as Tim commented in his earlier post today, all the chatter is for good reason: it’s an incredible cookbook. I wouldn’t be exaggerating when I say it’s the most beautiful cookbook I’ve ever owned—or seen, for that matter—and I don’t think it’d be too early for me to say that it’s also already become my favorite. It’s the type of cookbook that you keep very close with you in the kitchen because of the type of flavors and cooking it inspires, but it also is the type that you read every night before you go to sleep, glazing over the beautiful photography and all the little snippets and stories. I think those little stories are my favorite—I love how before each recipe there are notes not only about the technicalities of the flavors and ingredients, but also some really eloquent anecdotes and observations on food and life in Jerusalem and its surrounding areas. Under the heading of a humble recipe of fried cauliflower with tahini, for example, is this little note:

“For Jerusalemites, Arabs and Jews alike, the idea of dining alone is abhorrent. Eating is a celebration, a feast, it is about breaking bread and about conviviality, it is about abundance and sharing. As no one is particularly fussy about decorum and good table manners, the meal is always destined to turn into a lively gorge, with everybody sharing everything, happy to dig into one another’s plates, to grab and move plates around until truly satisfied. It is not a particularly orderly or calm way to eat, but it is certainly a very happy one.”

Oh! Doesn’t that comment just make you feel so good and happy with the world? It’s these little comments, I think, that make this book so special to me. Seriously, my twin sister Lindsey is considering buying it as a coffee table book for its commentary and photographs. I hate to over-do the shower of praise on this book, but I guess my main intention here is to make you feel guilty if you haven’t bought or looked it at yet. So get it.

basic, classic tahini sauce
I got connectionszzz
roasted sweet potatoes and red onions

Anyway, of all the recipes to choose from, I picked the one that is cheap to make, simple, and of which I had most of the ingredients on hand. In this case, I had a bunch of sweet potatoes to use up, so I substituted them for the butternut squash that was originally called for. Besides, a few days earlier I had made baked sweet potato fries for dinner and a tahini-honey dipping sauce to go with them and that combination was good, so I knew the substitution wouldn’t be too out of line here. But if I were to be honest with you, I’m guessing the butternut squash would be better in this (and really, who was I to question Ottolenghi and Tamimi in the first place?). I still really, really liked all of these flavors together. Imagine sweet-savory caramely-roasted sweet potatoes and red onions, with the creamy but bitter tahini and za’atar, and just a sprinkling of oily pine nuts and parsley. It’s quite the dish.

A word about the ingredients: as I’m sure most of you are aware, za’atar is a Middle Eastern spice blend that combines dried thyme, sumac, and roasted sesame seeds. There are some different (really delicious) variations of this, but the classic one looks like a strikingly deep-green powder. I bought mine at a Lebanese grocery store in my city that imports it in from Jordan, but Heidi just did a post on making homemade za’atar. It’s an awesome spice mix to have around though; I personally just like it by itself with some olive oil and warmed pita.

before the accents
from jerusalem

One Year Ago: Quiona, Arugula and Roasted Broccoli Salad with Feta

Roasted Sweet Potatoes & Red Onions with Tahini & Za’atar
Adapted slightly from Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi’s Jerusalem
Serves 4, more or less (I made two main-course meals out of it)

The original recipe calls for butternut squash, which I think would be ideal in this, but sweet potatoes are what I had on hand so that’s what I used. I peeled my potatoes, but I think next time I’d leave the skins on–that goes for the butternut squash, too. Also, as you’ll notice in the photos, I used two different pans to roast the potatoes and onions in. My baking pan wasn’t big enough to include them both and I thought it’d be easier to have them separated in case the onions cooked faster (in my case, they didn’t). Something to keep in mind, though, if you don’t have a pan large enough to accommodate all the vegetables.

2 pounds sweet potatoes (about 2-3), cut into 3/4 by 2 1/2 inch wedges
2 red onions, halved through the root and cut into 1 1/4 inch wedges
3 1/2 tablespoons olive oil, separated

3 1/2 tablespoons light tahini paste
1 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice (about 1/2 a juicy lemon)
2-4 tablespoons water
1 small clove garlic, crushed and minced

3-4 tablespoons pine nuts
1 tablespoon za’atar
small handful coarsely chopped flat-leaf parsley

Preheat oven to 475 degrees F. Place the squash and onion on a large baking sheet, or two–you should have enough space to be able to spread out all the vegetables evenly. Drizzle 3 tablespoons of the olive oil evenly over the vegetables, and season liberally with about 1 teaspoon kosher slat and some black pepper. Toss everything together to coat. Roast in the oven for 30 to 40 minutes, until the vegetables are cooked through and edges begin to darkly brown. Take care to check the onions and potatoes separately, as they might be done at different times. Remove from oven and let cool slightly.

Meanwhile, prepare the tahini sauce. Whisk together the tahini, lemon juice, 2 tablespoons of the water, and 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt in a small bowl. The consistency should be that of honey–you may have to add a tablespoon or two of water more to dilute it, or even a tablespoon or so of tahini to thicken it. Set aside until ready to use.

To prepare the garnish, heat the remaining 1-2 teaspoons of olive oil in a small skillet over medium-low heat. Add the pine nuts and a good few pinches of kosher salt and cook, stirring often, for about 2 minutes or until the nuts are golden brown. Remove from heat immediately.

To assemble everything, spread the roasted vegetables onto a serving platter. Drizzle the tahini over it, followed by the pine nuts (and any oil left over), the za’atar, and the parsley.

Written by Amy

January 31, 2013 at 11:51 pm

16 Responses

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  1. Awesome! Love your photos, especially the one on the top of your post.
    Are you the coolest person I don’t know??

    Abbey Davies (@abbeyasaayi)

    February 1, 2013 at 12:28 am

  2. I am totally feeling guilty now because I still didnt get the book for myself. But these roasted sweet potatoes look fantastic, I really don’t know what has stopped me from buying it.
    I have a question, though, are many of the recipes in the book meat-centered or do you think it would be something for me too?


    February 1, 2013 at 2:44 am

    • Lena, there are large sections on fish, meat, and vegetables stuffed with meat, but there’s also a good spread of salads, a few legume-based dishes, and an extensive and varied dessert section that I’m really excited to try out. Admittedly, much of the draw for me is the beautiful meat dishes, but I think you will probably be happy with the book anyway. It is such a gorgeous, colourful book.


      February 1, 2013 at 9:05 am

    • Yeah, can’t much add to what Katie has said. There are a lot of meat dishes, but I think the whole book is great with its grain, vegetable and dessert pages. And just the flavors and textures of all the dishes (and the photography + notes that goes with them) are insanely inspiring in themselves.


      February 1, 2013 at 10:41 am

  3. I love that quote. It makes me all kinds of warm and happy inside. Sharing food with friends and family is so incredibly important.

    I also love that book – I bought it for my brother and Dad for Christmas but don’t actually own a copy myself! Am hoping enough hinting will get someone to give it to me :-)


    February 1, 2013 at 2:54 am

    • Haha that was my strategy! For about a whole month before Christmas I was dropping a whole lot of “That Jerusalem cookbook looks so nice! Oh, you haven’t seen it yet?! Let me show you…”

      And it is such a nice, warm quote. It’s a good reminder too.


      February 1, 2013 at 10:38 am

  4. That looks awfully delicious! yuumm!! :-D


    February 1, 2013 at 8:51 am

  5. I feel as though Jerusalem is a book I could cook out of almost everyday. There’s so much to it that’s beautiful and varied. I only got it about a week ago (I’m pretty slow about these things too.), but I’m so excited about so much in it. It helps that I have more free (or at least unstructured) time on my hands these days.

    Your sweet potatoes look really pretty. One of my favourite things about Ottolenghi recipes is that he manages to make everything light and fresh, even when it comes to traditionally heavier ingredients. Is that the case with these potatoes? I might try making them to take to school for lunch next week. I just have to get some new za’atar. I realized yesterday that the za’atar in my cupboard is almost as old as my relationship with Octavian!


    February 1, 2013 at 9:13 am

    • Although I’ve only been recently introduced to Ottolenghi recipes, I think I get the same vibe as you do. Everything is so balanced in those dishes, and I love how even with the heavier ones he urges you to pair it with a sharp salad like tabbouleh. I’d say that’s the case with this one. It tastes really satisfying and filling but the tahini and herbs help out with it not being so heavy. And I wish I ate like the cookbook every day! There’s just something about Eastern Mediterranean-Middle Eastern dishes that just seems so fresh and exciting. I really am hoping I’ll get a lot of uses out of it. And I hope I get to hear about your experiences with it!


      February 1, 2013 at 10:35 am

  6. Well now I definitely feel guilty that I haven’t bought this book yet. When I am finished my love affair with the cookbooks that I was gifted for Christmas, I will be sure to check Jerusalem out. I love the simplicity of this dish too – I am finding more and more that less really can be better. I could make this tonight if I picked up some tahini and za’atar on my way home from work. Hmm…
    Happy weekending, Amy!
    PS. Beautiful top photo – I just love it.

    • Thanks, Amanda, and happy weekend to you too!


      February 1, 2013 at 10:36 am

  7. I bought Jerusalem for one of my friends this year for Christmas. I swoon over it every time I see it. One of my new favorite restaurants even has a copy out in their open kitchen. One of these days I will make it mine. I’m so in love with these beautiful cookbooks that are perfect for the coffee table. I have several on mine right now!


    February 1, 2013 at 1:15 pm

    • Me too. Anytime someone (usually a non-food person) tells me that cookbooks are going to stop being produced one day, I just want to show them Jerusalem and just be like… no. Ha


      February 1, 2013 at 4:37 pm

  8. I LOVE this dish and have probably made it 10 times in the past few months. (I do like to peel my butternut squash, though!) I’ve cooked a bunch out of the book and everything I’ve made has been great. What big flavors! I’m glad this dish found its way to you. :)


    February 2, 2013 at 8:18 pm

  9. Sounds really nice this. Will give this a go over the weekend. Thanks for sharing this.


    bristol plasterer

    June 3, 2015 at 9:57 pm

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