These are the dishes that started my love affair with Yotam Ottolenghi and inspired me to start writing this blog. Last year at Christmas, Meera’s roommate invited me to their house and she made these dishes. Quite frankly, they blew my mind.
A year later, when I was invited to Christmas dinner at Patrick’s house, I made these dishes again. It was a commemoration of the past year, going back to where it all started. I’ve come a long way in the last year in terms of my cooking. As my sister Reva likes to say, a year ago I barely knew how to open a can. She exaggerates, but it’s true – I’m much more comfortable in the kitchen now than I was then! Of course, another exciting thing about this year is that it’s been raining a ton in Berkeley this past month, and there are mushrooms galore! This fungi foodie is very happy about that :)
I’ve already blogged about the butternut squash and tahini dip, in a previous post. Briefly, peel and chop a large butternut squash into chunks, sprinkle with cinnamon, salt, and olive oil, and roast in the oven for 70 minutes. Next, put it in the blender with greek yogurt, tahini, and garlic. When ready to serve, sprinkle with black and white sesame seeds and date syrup. That’s it! I got my date syrup at the airport in Tel Aviv right before I hopped on the plane back to San Francisco, but I imagine you could find it at any Middle Eastern specialty store. Don’t forget the date syrup – it makes the dip pop! The date syrup is also necessary for the beet dip, which is a savory contrast to this sweet spread.
While I personally prefer the sweeter butternut squash and tahini spread, the beet dip seemed to be a bigger hit with the men at the party. I’ve been on a bit of a beet kick lately. I’ve even been adding them to my morning smoothies! The first step of this dish is to roast 2 lbs of beets in the oven at 400 degrees F for a very very long time. Ottolenghi suggests roasting them for about an hour, but I had to roast them for nearly 1.5 hours to get them to the point where a knife can easily slide into the beet. In the meanwhile, assemble the rest of the ingredients, as pictured below. I found this recipe on pg. 53 of Jerusalem, but it was also featured online here.
Once the beets are soft enough, take them out of the oven and let them cool. Then peel them with your fingers and cut them into pieces and place them in the blender. This part is really really messy so arm yourself with reinforcements. Patrick was a great help with peeling the beets :) Blend them with 2 cloves of garlic, 1 small red chile, and 1 cup Greek yogurt.
Once the yogurt, chile, garlic, and beets are blended, place them in a bowl.
Next spoon in 3 tbsp olive oil, 1.5 tbsp date syrup, 1 tbsp za’atar, and 1 tsp salt.
Mix with a spoon. Then chop up 2 tbsp of roasted hazelnuts, and slice two green onions, and spread them on top. Ottolenghi also calls for 2 oz of goat’s cheese on top, but I am not a huge fan of goat’s cheese, so I refrained.
Both dips are unexpected and delicious, and are great with pita, crackers, carrots, jicama, or peppers. Middle Eastern mezze on Christmas, a new tradition?