Inspiration for this recipe comes straight from the pages of Jerusalem, the new cookbook by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi. As with Ottolenghi’s last book, this volume happily demonstrates how colorful, complete, complex, and satisfying a plate of vegetables can be. (No one is paying me to say that, but for the record, I accept payment in the form of Kitchen Aid Mixers and candied pecans.)
As is my habit with new cookbooks, the first thing I do is flip through the pages and look at the pictures. (Before I delve into the text, I like to imagine what ingredients a given dish might hold; this makes it easier to come up with adaptations and fresh ideas, before I know what I’m ‘really looking at’.)
And so it was that I planned this recipe in my mind-grapes, before I knew what I was really looking at: a plate of roasted butternut squash with red onions, parsley, and toasted pine nuts. What I picked up from the picture alone was the image of bold, orange roasty roots, za’atar, and tahini.
Za’atar, for those who don’t know, is a spice blend popular throughout the Middle East. It typically consists of: dried thyme, oregano, marjoram, toasted sesame seeds, salt, and sumac. Every country (nay, every household) makes it a bit differently, and by all means you can play around making your own. (Personally, I buy a blend from the Lebanese supermarket down the street.) I am totally obsessed, and dust it over: pita (with olive oil), eggs cooked any style, chicken or vegetables, tomato sauce.. it’s a great way to zip up a bagel with cream cheese, or goat cheese.
This recipe makes for a flavorful, substancial side dish, although I ate it for lunch this afternoon and was satisfied. (Tahini, lemon, roasted garlic, za’atar, and labneh are natural and winsome allies.)
It is lovely served hot, the sweet potatoes crisp against the cooling balm of labneh, but delicious at room temperature as well.
A quick note on the first picture: Yes, that’s right, I received a sweet potato so large it could be used to defend against home invasions. Thanks, CSA!
A quick note on the second picture: I was actually making a big batch of root vegetables, which is why there appears to be so much salt and pepper. If you are making this recipe on its own, I suggest using quite a bit less!
- 1 pound sweet potatoes
- a healthy glug of olive oil
- sea salt, black pepper
- 1 clove of garlic
- 1/2 teaspoon lemon zest
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- 1/2 tablespoon tahini
- 1 tablespoon za’atar
- 1/4 cup labneh
1. Heat the oven to 425F.
2. Peel the sweet potatoes. You can cut them into matchsticks, as I did, although it’s not necessary. This dish will be just as tasty if you dice the sweet potatoes instead.
3. In a medium bowl, toss the sweet potato pieces and the garlic clove with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Then move them to a parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Move the baking sheet to the oven, and set the timer for 10 minutes.
4. After 10 minutes has elapsed, open the oven and snatch the garlic clove; it should be nicely soft by now. While you’re at it, give the sweet potatoes a little toss. Set the timer for 10 more minutes.
5. Remove the garlic clove from it’s thin shell, and add it to a small bowl. Use the back of a spoon to smoosh the garlic clove into a paste. Now add the lemon zest, the lemon juice, and the tahini. Add a small crack of pepper, and set the bowl aside.
6. Check on the sweet potatoes–they should be nicely colored, almost black in spots. Remove them from the oven. Use tongs to move the sweet potatoes to a large plate. Drizzle on: the dressing, and then the za’atar, and then the labneh. Serve warm, or at room temperature.