sargento Archives

Ghorayebah (Middle Eastern Butter Cookies)

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One of my favorite takeaways from my college education as a comparative literature student is the term synecdoche–using the part to refer to the whole. In baking, we use images in our heads of flour (scattered all over our aprons), butter (creamed to whipped perfection), and sugar (its crystals dazzling in the light) to stand in for the entire process of making cookies or loaf cake. In reality, there’s chocolate chips and vanilla extract and a couple of eggs in the batter, too.

But today, the part is really the whole cookie. Today’s butter cookies contain nothing but butter, sugar, and flour. Of course, we use some nuts for garnish, but let’s let the synecdoche stand.

These cookies hail from the Middle East. As my year of exploring Middle Eastern cuisine for Sargento winds down, I went through the archives and noticed there were no desserts. I’ve tried pomegranate molasses on grilled cheese sandwiches and made lentils every which way. I got stupidly obsessed with za’atar and dukkah. But I haven’t shared anything sweet. Perhaps this is because cheese doesn’t figure in Middle Eastern dessert (though there are plenty of delicious-looking milky puddings). So today we’re venturing away from the cheese and the savory so that I can share these cute, simple, three-ingredient cookies with you in time to get them on your Christmas table.

Yesterday I shared a holiday tart, kicking off a sweets week of sorts. Tomorrow, we’ll have chocolate-dipped shortbread gems from a really talented contributor, so keep your sweet teeth tuned in!

This sponsored post is part of an ongoing collaboration with Sargento, called Flavor Journey. Throughout this year, with the support of Sargento, I’ve been exploring Middle Eastern cuisine–at home, in Brooklyn, at cooking classes, and wherever the flavors may take me. You can see the whole series here. Sponsored posts let me do some of my best work on this blog, and I only ever work with brands whose values and products mesh with the content I love to produce for you. Here’s my affiliate disclosure.

Curried Lentil Soup

Curried Lentil Soup

Just as, as a quarter-lifer, you start to invent your own traditions (Friendsgiving, Sunday Night Pasta, Latkes for Two), I think as I’ve grown up, I’ve reinvented my own comfort foods, too.

Lentils have fought and won for a spot on my comfort food list as my twenties have advanced. On cold nights, or cold rainy nights like the ones we’ve been having, a bowl of lentil soup steaming beside grilled bread or cheesy pita croutons satisfies both Alex and me like little else. Even the creamy pastas that had long been my go-to’s.

Because I’ve been cooking a lot of lentils recently, in my exploration of Middle Eastern cuisine for Sargento, I wanted to take the chance to share a lentil-cooking technique that might help make this healthful, cheap bean, a staple of the region, one of your comfort foods too. 

Roasted Sweet Potato & Fig Grilled Cheese with Balsamic Reduction

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Well, I bring you another grilled cheese today! It’s been more than eight months, a delay which would make very little sense to you if, like my frying pan, you could see a tally of my grilled cheese consumption.

Within the stringent bounds of the grilled cheese sandwich (must have: bread, cheese), there’s room for creativity. Some tweaks, like adding veggies, make the sandwich a bit more healthful. Others use up leftovers, like this timely Turkey Reuben. This one finds inspiration in the pages of Ottolenghi’s Jerusalem, a blockbuster in the Middle Eastern cookbook sector of the shelf. (No, really, it’s gone viral.) I was browsing my copy and found a salad of roasted sweet potatoes, halved figs, balsamic vinegar reduced to a syrup, and feta. The salad sounded good. Which meant it would be better, I thought, as a grilled cheese.

Though I usually roast my vegetables to a nice browned crisp, for this recipe, I left the potatoes a bit softer, which works better in a sandwich. The other elements of this Middle Eastern fusion-y sandwich? Balsamic vinegar, reduced with a bit of sugar into a syrup that’s equal parts sweet and tangy, and fig jam, to replicate the original flavors of the Ottolenghi recipe. Then there’s Swiss cheese, the sandwich’s delicious glue, and good bread that gets buttery and golden in the frying pan.

I always love to combine sweet and savory, but this time of year the combo is everywhere! At our Thanksgiving, we roast our sweet potatoes with brown sugar and butter, and I can just imagine slicing up a leftover potato and making this sandwich for a day-after sweet-meets-savory meal at which I’ll clearly be giving thanks to the Jerusalem cookbook, for yielding so much inspiration.

More sweet potato recipes:

Baked Brie & Sweet Potato Bites

Sweet Potato & Andouille Hash Browns

Sweet Potato & Caramelized Onion Frittata

Za’atar Roasted Salmon with Greens

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Oh gosh, I’m not totally sure how to sell this one to you. This is what we eat for dinner when we don’t know what to eat for dinner. It’s quick. There are five ingredients. What you spend on wild salmon, you make up for with nearly no prep and just 10 minutes of cooking. This is really good and really healthful, detox food that will still fill you up.

In fact, this is Alex’s recipe. He used to make it before I made dinner for us most nights. All you do is sauté garlic, add a lot of greens, arrange the salmon on top, and bake for a couple of minutes. In the oven, the greens get slightly crisp on top but rich underneath, since they benefit from cooking in a little bit of the salmon’s fat, just like the potatoes from Alex’s roasted chicken. Don’t get me wrong, though: this is not bachelor food. The pink salmon presents itself pretty handsomely, sitting there on top of tender farmers’ market greens.

Of course the za’atar is my addition. I’ve been sprinkling it on salads and sandwiches since this post, when I started my Middle Eastern exploration with Sargento. With the salmon, the herb mix serves two purposes. One, the combination suits salmon perfectly: the thyme is fragrant, the sesame seeds are rich, and the tangy sumac, like lemon, helps cut through salmon’s fattiness.

Roasted Vegetables with Pomegranate Vinaigrette

Roasted Vegetables with Pomegranate Vinaigrette

I’m always curious about what other people eat. When I meet the all-too-common New Yorker who says “I don’t cook,” I always ask what he does for meals, out of a genuine (if naive) curiosity (because I know all the reasons that cooking can be a pain when life is busy). When I meet people who do cook, I plaster them with questions too. Do they cook every night? On Sundays for the week? How do they deal with grocery shopping and planning? Maybe this is market research, but mostly I’m just annoyingly inquisitive.

(If you’re a New Yorker who doesn’t cook but wants to, you probably need a coach.)

My questions have often led me to new insights about what you guys, my audience, want. I’ve also received recommendations for recipes I never would have thought of. Like when a friend pulled her copy of Plenty from the bookshelf one afternoon when we were over and turned it to Ottolenghi’s recipe for roasted vegetables with vinaigrette, and I had my own moment of cooking confusion. “What do you serve them with?” I asked. Maybe some quinoa, she replied, but maybe not. Wondering if roasted vegetables alone could comprise dinner, I went home and made the recipe for Alex and me. We did pile our veggies on top of quinoa, but it turned out we didn’t have to. These vegetables pack both flavor and substance, and they’re really tasty.

The real epiphany in this recipe is dressing roasted vegetables after they come out of the oven. You may question dressing something that already has been tossed with olive oil, but the way the vinaigrette soaks into the hot fennel, onions, sweet potatoes, and carrots will make you forget your questions. That addition of flavor (and calories) is also what bumps this up from some side dish to the status of a vegetarian main.

Kitchen Stuff: The Best Middle Eastern Cookbook

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In a small kitchen, you don’t need a lot of equipment to cook great food. Still, you do need some pots, pans, utensils, and dishes–obviously. In the BGSK book, you’ll find a bare bones list of necessary tools, but I’ve long wanted to bring you a similar resource on the web.

So we’re going one by one, stocking up our virtual pantries and maybe our real ones too.

When you embark on a new cooking project–or really on learning to cook altogether–it helps to have a good reference book on hand. In fact, you can skip culinary school altogether if you’ve got an encyclopedia like Mastering the Art of French Cooking: think, of course, of Julie and Julia.

So when I embarked on my Middle Eastern Flavor Journey, I knew I would need a bible. I bought a bunch of Middle Eastern cookbooks and added them to my tottering pile, and in the last few months, I’ve paged through them, reading and cooking my way to a true appreciation of the region’s cuisine, and sharing my findings with you.

There’s been one standout among the books, Claudia Roden’s, The New Book of Middle Eastern Food, originally published in 1968. All the chapter and recipe introductions convey serious knowledge from Roden to the reader, not just about the food but also about the cultures, and about the changes in how Westerners have come to view the food of Egypt, Lebanon, and Syria in the passing decades. In Roden’s pages, I’ve discovered new flavors and flavor combinations, gotten a sense of the flow of a Middle Eastern meal, and come to appreciate the true simplicity of the best Middle Eastern dishes. If you’re interested in the region, I can’t recommend the book highly enough–and I’ve barely cracked the surface.

Here are three of the amazing recipes I’ve made from The New Book of Middle Eastern Food:

This sponsored post is part of an ongoing collaboration with Sargento, called Flavor Journey. Throughout the year, with the support of Sargento, I’m exploring Middle Eastern cuisine–at home, in Brooklyn, at cooking classes, and wherever the flavors may take me. You can see the whole series here. Sponsored posts let me do some of my best work on this blog, and I only ever work with brands whose values and products mesh with the content I love to produce for you. Here’s my affiliate disclosure.