By Yotam Ottolenghi, The New York Times
LONDON — I’ve been waiting for the perfect dish to reintroduce my test kitchen colleague Noor Murad. I think this may be it. We’ve been working together for a while now, so I could have chosen from many recipes. But this one, for oven fries with tahini yogurt and smoky-sweet nuts, especially says “Noor” to me.
Noor always says she’s “Bahrain-made, New York-trained.” Luckily for me, London is now her stomping ground. Every day that Noor walks into the test kitchen, she brings her journey with her. Whether we’re working on a recipe for a column or for a cookbook, the ingredients, memories and stories she’s picked up on the way — from Bahrain to New York to London — are with us, too.
For example, we developed these oven fries in London in May, a month when it appeared to have rained, hailed or been extremely windy nearly every day. Rainy bank holidays, wind-swept attempts to eat outside, picnics abandoned in search of shelter: For Noor and me — both solar-powered by the Middle Eastern climate of our youths — it’s all so totally, brilliantly, stereotypically British.
We’ve both done our time at the British seaside, eating fish and chips from a paper bag targeted by greedy sea gulls, watching the good folk of a coastal town actively choosing to swim in the North Sea. I happily watched and ate but thought, nostalgically, “The Mediterranean, this is not.” Noor happily watched and ate but thought, controversially, “these British fish and chips — all this vinegar! — are overrated.”
We blew in to the test kitchen inspired, and set to work. We knew we loved chips — British chips, American fries. We knew we loved eating with our hands. We knew these little wedges of starch provide comfort and seaside sustenance like nothing else. We knew we didn’t want to go down the potatoes-doused-in-vinegar route, though — so we paused for thought.
Noor remembered her New York days, when she would go out with her buddies after a long shift in the restaurants they were starting out in. Late at night and early into the next morning, they’d pile into the Eveready Diner in Hyde Park, New York, for late-night snacks. The retro menu was barely looked at before the order was placed. It was disco fries every time, the diner’s “famous French fries smothered with brown gravy and shredded Cheddar cheese.” Add bacon and call it supper.
Happy though these memories are — and delicious as those disco fries still are, no doubt — this is where Noor’s Bahraini background took over. The disco fries’ melted cheese and brown gravy were swapped out for the tahini, yogurt and lemon juice sauce that courses through her veins. Urfa and Aleppo chile flakes were reached for to add flavor every bit as punchy as the bacon bits brought. The crunch came from pine nuts and almonds toasted gently in olive oil, which adorn so many of dishes from Noor’s Middle Eastern childhood.
We tried the dish. There was something missing: vinegar! Those North Sea chippies were on to something after all. We were a long way from dousing — we gently pickled herb stems in some vinegar instead — but, still, I smile to think that the sea gulls circling the British seaside have made their way into the food memory.
We tried the dish again. I was delighted. Noor was transported — to the English cobble-beach seaside, munching with mates; to the late-night American diner, decompressing with work buddies; to the car with her dad, eating Bahraini street food out of oil-stained paper bags, burning their tongues in the process. It’s home, from home, from home: reminiscent of all three places but, at the same time, completely and utterly Noor-ish.
Oven Fries With Tahini Yogurt and Smoky-Sweet Nuts
Yield: 4 servings
Total time: 1 1/4 hours
For the potatoes:
- 2 1/4 pounds (1 kilogram) skin-on Yukon Gold (or King Edward) potatoes, cut lengthwise into roughly 1/2-inch (1 1/2-centimeter)-thick sticks
- 2 teaspoons rice flour
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- Kosher salt
For the pickled herb stems:
- 1 heaping tablespoon finely chopped fresh cilantro (coriander) or parsley stems (or a mixture of both)
- 1 1/2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
- For the smoky-sweet nuts:
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 1/3 cup (40 grams) pine nuts
- 1/4 cup (30 grams) roughly chopped blanched almonds
- 1 teaspoon light brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon nigella seeds (or black sesame seeds)
- 1 teaspoon Urfa chile flakes
- 1 teaspoon Aleppo chile flakes
- 1/2 teaspoon hot smoked paprika
For the tahini yogurt:
- 3 tablespoons (60 grams) Greek-style yogurt
- 2 1/2 tablespoons (50 grams) tahini
- 1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
1. Heat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit (200 degrees Celsius).
2. On a large parchment-lined baking sheet (tray), toss the potatoes with the rice flour, oil and 1 teaspoon salt. Spread them out in an even layer so they’re not overlapping. Cover the baking sheet tightly with foil and bake for 15 minutes, until the potatoes steam and soften slightly.
3. Meanwhile, make the pickled stems: Add the herb stems to a small bowl with the vinegar and set aside to gently pickle.
4. Prepare the nuts: Add the oil to a small frying pan and heat over medium-high. Once hot, add the pine nuts and almonds, and cook, stirring occasionally, until toasted and nicely browned, about 1 to 3 minutes. Remove from the heat and immediately stir in the sugar, nigella seeds, Urfa and Aleppo chile flakes, paprika, and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Transfer to a bowl.
5. Make the tahini yogurt: Add all the ingredients to a bowl with 2 1/2 tablespoons water and 1/4 teaspoon salt; whisk until smooth. Add an additional 1 or 2 tablespoons of water, if needed, until the mixture is just pourable, since it tends to thicken as it sits.
6. Remove the foil from the potatoes, turn the heat up to 425 degrees Fahrenheit (220 degrees Celsius) and return to the oven for 15 minutes. Use a spatula to gently flip the fries over, separating them if they stick together at all, and bake for 20 to 25 minutes more, until nicely golden and crispy. Set aside to cool for 5 minutes.
7. To serve, transfer the fries to a large serving platter and drizzle with the tahini yogurt. Spoon the nut mixture on top, followed by the pickled stems and their liquid. Serve immediately.
And to Drink …
Fried potatoes go beautifully with dry sparkling wines. For the sake of argument, I’m perfectly willing to call these baked potatoes “oven fries,” and sparkling wines would be a great choice, whether Champagne, cava, crémant or the various Champagne facsimiles of the world. Yes, the toppings make this a slightly more complicated match, and so might any other dishes you are serving if this is part of a larger meal. Luckily you have numerous options. Dry rosés would match the Middle Eastern flavors. I’d be intrigued to try fino sherry, too. Orange wines, with their slight rasp of tannin, would be fascinating with this dish, whether from the country of Georgia, Slovenia or anywhere else. Sauvignon blancs and many other dry whites would go well, too, but I’d steer clear of reds. — Eric Asimov
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.
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