Month: February 2014

Tahini cookies: Taking matters into my own hands

Tahini Tales: Hummus was my gateway dish to tahini. I really like the stuff and it’s more versatile than it might suggest when simply used as one of the ingredients in hummus. A paste of roasted sesame seeds, tahini is quite similar to nut butters in taste and also quite nutritious. One of the most compelling features of  Jerusalem: A Cookbook is the lovely stories that they tell about each recipe. For this cookie recipe, they explain how, “when it comes to food, Israelis can be very fickle” and describe how cookies were super-popular and trendy in the country a few years ago (similar to the cupcake craze, I imagine). One of the most popular types of cookies there at the time were tahini cookies. I have had tahini in the context of dessert a few times but have never made anything with it other than hummus, so these cookies sounded pretty enticing.

dry ingredients

A Crumby Situation: I followed the instructions pretty religiously but after mixing everything for even longer than I was supposed to, the dough would not form into a unified whole. The crumbs just kept moving around but wouldn’t play nice and just get along. So I decided to play around buy adding little extra spoonfuls of tahini and dashes of vanilla but it still would not form into a dough. Finally, deciding to live on the edge a bit and take matters into my own hands, I decided to add one large egg in a last-ditch attempt to get it to form. That worked perfectly! Typically, I post links to the recipe from other blogs or websites, but since I adapted this recipe so much, I’m including my adapted version of it below.

crumby dough

Well, that’s just crumby.

bonded dough

Much better. Thanks, Mr. Egg!

Recipe for Tahini Cookies (Adapted from Jerusalem: A Cookbook):

  • 2⁄3 cup / 130 g superfine sugar*
  • 2⁄3 cup / 150 g unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 2⁄3cup / 150 g light tahini paste**
  • 1 tbsp / 14 ml vanilla extract
  • 5 tsp / 25 ml heavy cream
  • 2 cups plus 1.5 tbsp/ 270 g all-purpose flour
  • 1 large egg
  • cinnamon
  1. Preheat the oven to 400°F / 200°C. Place the sugar and butter in a stand mixer fitted with the beater attachment (or use a hand mixer) and beat on medium speed for about 1 minute, until just combined but not aerated much.
  2. With the mixer running, add the tahini, vanilla, cream, and egg, then add the flour and beat for about 1 minute or until the dough comes together.
  3. Pinch of 2⁄3 oz / 20 g of the dough and roll into a ball between your palms. Use the back of a fork to push down lightly on top of the ball so that it flattens just slightly and takes on the marks from your tines.
  4. Place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper (you my need to bake in 2-3 separate batches, depending on the size of your baking sheet). Sprinkle a little cinammon on each cookie and then bake for 15 to 17 minutes, until golden brown.
  5. Transfer to a wire rack to cool before serving. They will keep in a sealed container for up to 10 days.

*Only have regular granulated sugar and not superfine sugar on hand? Not a problem. Check out this video from America’s Test Kitchen to learn how to make your own.

**The better-quality tahini paste that is commercially available doesn’t contain emulsifiers so you should definitely mix the tahini well before measuring it out. I use my hand mixer for this.

ready to bake

Twist on an Old Favorite: As they mention in Jerusalem, tahini is basically the local take on peanut butter in Jerusalem and the surrounding region. Therefore, I think of these cookies as a tasty spin on the classic peanut butter cookie, only more shortbread-like and significantly less sweet. Even though I added an egg to mine (not called for in the original recipe), these are very similar to shortbread in consistency and totally melt in the mouth after all of the little crumbs break up. Personally, I like the fact that they are not super sweet because, though I do enjoy sweets, a lot of desserts are just cloying for my taste.  I have a hunch that these would go very well with tea.

P.S. I found this recipe on Scribd for some other tahini cookies that have a tasty-sounding twist: incorporating almond paste and dried cherries. I might have to also try these!


Lady Galette

Wannabe Francophile: Around the time I was in 8th grade, my older sister Lydia was working at the AMC movie theater that’s located in one of those giant strip-mall megaplex areas. It has all of the usual suspects: Bath & Body Works, Starbucks, GAP, and Borders, among many others. My group of friends and I developed a weekend routine that usually involved being dropped off at the movie theater where I begged Lydia to get us all into a movie for free (thanks, sis!). After the movie we typically headed over to Marble Slab or La Madeleine for a late-night snack.

At La Madeleine, one of my favorite things to get was the spinach galette. I had never seen or heard the word “galette” before, and it might have had something to do with my sudden and inexplicable desire to study French the next year in high school. Opting to study French in high school instead of Spanish (far more practical in South Texas) was maybe not the brightest choice but I loved it. Please don’t ask me how well three years of French in high school and one in college served me when I visited France, but if there’s one area I can generally remember vocabulary and correct pronunciation, it’s with food!

From Jerusalem, Avec Amour: This recipe for red pepper & baked egg galettes had been beckoning me ever since I got the cookbook. The only thing that kept me from making them until now was the fact that I’d have to work with puff pastry. Many years ago, somebody told me that working with puff pastry is tricky and that kept me from ever using it until now. I’m sure that is true when you actually make the dough yourself but for this recipe you can use the store-bought stuff and it was not difficult to work with at all.

prepped ing. close up

Ready to roast.

Ready to roast.

Ingredients (click here for the full recipe!)

  • red bell peppers
  • onion
  • thyme sprigs
  • ground coriander & ground cumin
  • olive oil
  • coarsely chopped flat-leaf parsley & cilantro
  • best-quality, all-butter puff pastry*
  • sour cream (I substituted full-fat Greek yogurt)
  • large eggs

*When The Best is Hard to Find: Rather than using “best-quality, all-butter puff pastry,” I used Pepperidge Farm’s simply because that is the only kind I could find at the supermarket when I went to purchase all of the other ingredients. Sometimes I am really fussy about getting “best-quality,” and sometimes I settle for less-than-the-best when I can’t be bothered to drive around to multiple stores looking for the best ingredient. Since this is a Pepperidge Farm product, it is definitely not all-butter and includes some dubious ingredients (lookin’ at you, high fructose corn syrup). I wish I could say that the finished product wasn’t delicious because I didn’t use a higher-quality puff pastry but that is simply not the case. In the future, I think I will opt for Trader Joe’s puff pastry since it is an all-butter recipe, unlike this one.

The horror!

The horror!

roasted veggies

Roasted vegetables. Them’s purty!

Shallow Well: After brushing the puff pastry with a beaten egg, it was time to arrange the roasted vegetables on the puff pastry squares. Making sure to leave a shallow well in the middle where the egg would go made for an oddly relaxing vegetable engineering project. I tried to build barricades so that the egg whites wouldn’t run all over the place and was mostly successful.

cropped galettes without eggs

Waiting for their eggs.

Meze It Up at Brunch: Oh, these were so incredibly delicious. The cookbook explains that the lovely sweet roasted red pepper is a typical dish served as part of a meze spread. These galettes would be very much at home served at brunch. Served with a light salad of soup, they even have sort of a “Ladies who do lunch” vibe but in the best way. Though the recipe only yields four separate galettes, I have plenty of roasted veggies and eggs left and will use the second sheet from my puff pastry box to bake another batch. The cookbook also suggests substituting the eggs with feta. I think I would try a soft goat cheese instead because I love the pairing of roasted red pepper with it.

Cleansing the palate: Parsley & barley salad

Me & Tabbouleh (A Love Story): My older sister Elena is responsible for introducing me to countless awesome things (and way too many to go into here!). One of those things is tabbouleh. The year was approximately 1993 and the setting is some hippie cafe in Austin where Elena was attending the University of Texas. Elena insisted I try tabbouleh. Being a kid, I loved the word ‘tabbouleh’. It just rolls off the tongue so nicely. Since I had (and still have) a serious love of sourness, the first thing I noticed when I tried it that first time was the lemony bite. No two tabboulehs are ever the same, and some are much more lemony than others. This one is not over-the-top with its lemon but it does a nifty job of highlighting the freshness of the parsley. Ok, even though according to the authors it’s not “technically” tabbouleh [see below], it’s pretty close. Since I can never resist tabbouleh, I was pretty excited to taste the finished product.

(Not) Tabbouleh: At first glance, this parsley and tabbouleh salad looks curiously similar to what you might think is tabbouleh. But, the authors explain, people in Jerusalem and the surrounding region feel very strongly about the names of dishes and even though this is definitely tabbouleh inspired, many would not consider it such.

parsley&barley prepped ingredients

The ingredients

Ingredients (click here for the full recipe!)

  • pearl barley*
  • feta cheese
  • olive oil
  • za’atar
  • coriander seeds
  • cumin
  • flat leaf parsley
  • green onions
  • garlic
  • cashews, lightly toasted
  • green pepper
  • allspice
  • lemon juice, freshly squeezed (and don’t you DARE think of using that crap out of a yellow bottle!)
  • salt and freshly ground pepper

*Extra Credit for the Hard Core Health Nuts: I just read in the January issue of Bon Appetit magazine that pearl barley is less nutritious than the other varieties since the hull, the most nutritious part, has been removed. I don’t really care about that too much in this recipe since everything else is pretty stinkin’ healthy. However, the authors advise that you can substitute the pearl barley with spelt, farro, or wheat berries, all of which are more healthful.

What Does 3 oz of Parsley Look Like? I have no idea. Nor have I shelled out the money for a fancy digital kitchen scale (for now…) to weigh the parsley to know exactly. I pretty much just chopped up the two bunches of parsley I bought in groups and kept mixing the little piles in with the other ingredients until what I had before me resembled the photo in the cookbook.

toasted cashews

Toasted cashews

Bro, I’m So Toasted: Not that I am complaining about this recipe taking too long to prepare, because at about 1 hour of prep time, it’s actually one of the faster recipes in the book, but sometimes I get mildly annoyed for thinking something’s only going to take half an hour to prepare because I didn’t pay attention to some of the little details. With this recipe, those little overlooked details included the time it would take me to toast the coriander seeds (good luck not letting those little jerks roll all over your counter) and the raw cashews.

feta marinating

Feta marinating with dry herbs & olive oil

Cleanse Your Palate: The cookbook recommends this be served with a rich dish, such as the Chicken with Carmelized Onion and Cardamom Rice. I have already made that dish and just you wait until I make it again and write about it here! Until then, feast your eyes on this food porn video of it being made from the good people of The New York Times’ Dining section. This salad is so refreshing and a great palate cleanser so it will go well with any rich, fatty, meaty dish.

parsley & barley salad

Parsley & barley salad

A Study in Contrasting Textures: Something I have to say about the recipes from chef Yottam Ottolenghi and his crew are that they’re pretty much always a study in contrasting textures. This salad is no exception. The parsley intermingling with the al dente barley plus the salty little chunks of beautifully seasoned feta—it’s a serious party in your mouth, folks. Go ahead, go back up to the link above and cook it yourself!

Comfort from the Levant

Everyone Needs A Little Comfort Once in a While: When I lived in Germany, one of the things I missed most was the comfort food from back home. Coming from south Texas, that food was Mexican food, but more specifically, rice and beans. None of the dubiously named “Mexican” restaurants in the area where I lived served food tasting even remotely like what I was used to so I would cook my own and never be disappointed.

Warm Comfort: In Jerusalem: A Cookbook, author Yotam Ottolenghi discusses how he and his co-chef and co-author, Sami Tamimi, can easily waste many hours arguing over what makes the best comfort food and why but they can always agree that mejadra is true comfort food. Mejadra, a lentil and rice dish elevated with the addition of fried onion, is popular throughout the Arab world and after tasting it I know exactly why. Pure comfort. I have a theory that one of the most common ingredients found in the various dishes that people think of as comfort food is rice.

Simple Ingredients, Simple Process: None of the ingredients are super exotic or difficult to find. The only thing I didn’t have on hand or find at my local grocery store were the cumin seeds, but I just substituted ground cumin. 

  • Brown or green lentils
  • Basmati rice
  • Onions
  • Oil (for frying)
  • Water
  • A little flour, sugar, salt and pepper
  • Allspice, turmeric, cinnamon, cumin and coriander seedsMejadra ingredientsSimple but not Quick: When I say that it’s a simple recipe, I’m not saying it’s a quick one but nor is making it going to take up half your day. Boiling the lentils is quick and painless but I can’t say the same for slicing all of those onions and then frying them in three separate batches. But it is worth it because the onions really make the dish sing!

Lentils boiling

Sliced onions 2

I might have cried a little in the process of slicing these onions.

Onions frying

One of the three batches of onions frying.

Bringing it All Together: Once I cooked the lentils and fried the onions, I toasted the spices before stirring in the rice, lentils, and water then covering it to let simmer after bringing it to a quick boil. After that, I lifted the lid briefly to cover the whole pot with a tea towel and then quickly placed the lid back on and waited for ten more minutes before getting to stir in half of the fried onions, plate it, and top it with the remainder of the onions.

The Finish Line: The chefs advise serving it with a dollop of Greek yogurt. I ate mine with it and the creamy tanginess complemented the mejadra beautifully. I had the same problem I always have when eating legumes and grains: I couldn’t stop. The good news is that this is healthful dish so I didn’t feel any quilt about grabbing seconds (or thirds). The warm, generously spiced flavor of mejadra is addictive.

Make It Yourself! You can find the recipe to make mejadra here. Warning: Unless you are lucky enough to have a spice kitchen, your house will smell of the toasted spice for a day or two!