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.
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.
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.