In Flavors of the Sun, I found a book that I believe will satisfy any cook’s curiosity about Middle Eastern spices, whether you want an instruction manual, stories of adventure and flavor or recipes that will inspire you to experiment more with exotic ingredients. And I’ve tested this theory in the most recent season of the cookbook club that I lead. My conclusion is that this book can be an indispensable tool for any home cook who appreciates the sensuality of spice.
A manual for using Middle Eastern Ingredients from a Brooklyn institution
This book is subtitled The Sahadi’s Guide to Understanding, Buying, and Using Middle Eastern Ingredients. Sahadi’s Importing Co. on Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn was my neighborhood grocery store when I was in culinary school in the early 1990s. I’m convinced that shopping there transformed the trajectory of my career and sent me on a decades-long adventure that only gets better as the journey continues!
Every shopping trip was an adventure. I tasted my way through every type of feta, learned about labneh, harissa, pomegranate molasses, and rosewater. I purchased spices I’d never used, teas from far-off lands, so many types of honey, and anything unfamiliar. I’d go home and learn to taste these items and then I’d research them at the library (the old-fashioned way before the internet). I’d try to learn anything I could about the places, flavors, and people who they belonged to.
Later, I built my culinary career on flavor dynamics and the study of food in culture – particularly of the many diasporas that, like me, call NYC home. In a way, I have Sahadi’s to thank for that.
About Sahadi’s Brooklyn
In 1895, Abrahim Sahadi (a recent immigrant from Lebanon) opened a store selling Middle Eastern foods on Manhattan’s lower west side. Sahadi’s Importing Company is now New York City’s oldest continually operating specialty food store. They now sell specialty goods from six continents.
Wade Sahadi, the author’s grandfather, opened the flagship store on Atlantic Avenue in 1948. The store was expanded to two storefronts in 1978, three in 2012. Their newest space is in Brooklyn Industry City, opened in 2018; it has a market, café, and an event space.
There’s so much more to the story, and it’s all shared throughout this book in the characteristic warm, generous manner you’ll find in Sahadi’s stores when you’re ready for your next flavor adventure.
Christine Sahadi Whelan is a fourth-generation co-owner of Sahadi’s and the company’s Culinary Director. She has been working in the shop since she was 8 years old. Today, she runs the place – along with her brother, cousins, and (since 2000) her husband.
Review of Flavors of the Sun
Flavors of the Sun is so much more than a cookbook. It’s an education in the flavors and ingredients of Lebanon, Syria, Israel, Jordan, Greece, Turkey, and North Africa. Stories, information, and recipes are organized by flavor profile instead of by course or primary ingredient. To me, that was a plus. It’s like having five cookbooks in one since each section contains recipes for everything from appetizers to cocktails to desserts. For a few in our group, the set up was inconvenient – but not enough to draw harsh criticism. This book was certainly a group “all-time favorite.”
Each flavor section: Bright, Savory, Spiced, Nutty, and Sweet, features several key ingredients. Things like sumac, pomegranate molasses, za’atar, mint, Aleppo pepper, harissa, tahini, and flower waters each have their own guides called “Ten More Ways to Use…” that make this book an invaluable resource. Especially for those of us who find ourselves buying a fortune worth of specialty ingredients and only know one way to use them.
Getting more use out of the spice rack
My pantry is getting so much more use, now that I have this book! And it’s also growing because of the new ingredients I am just now learning about thanks to the wealth of information in here. I just learned about two new ingredients that I can’t wait to play with – mahlab (tiny, dried kernels from St. Lucie cherries used in sweet breads and desserts) and urfa peppers.
Looking for menu ideas to bring all the new flavor discoveries together cohesively? There’s an entire menu section at the end of the book.
Some of the cookbook’s best recipes
For each session of the cookbook club, I create menus featuring a selection of recipes from each featured book. this provides some structure for the prep and for our conversations. These are only suggestions, and many people experiment with whatever strikes their fancy. Here’s just a few of the recipes we worked from and a summary of the feedback:
- Semolina Breakfast Pudding
Lovers of American Cream of Wheat will adore this recipe. I had a bunch of semolina in my pantry from making handmade pasta and was so happy to find another use for it. Although I enjoyed this for breakfast, it was even better as a comforting dessert paired with a black walnut Old Fashioned. (Think curling up in front of a roaring fire with your lover, a cocktail and this sensuous pudding.)
- Classic Fattoush
Fattoush is a Lebanese bread salad. And everything about this version of the salad was satisfying. Crunchy fresh vegetables, tangy sumac – a Middle Eastern spice worth getting to know, refreshing mint, bright lemony dressing, and lots of toasted pita to soak up all the goodness!
- Sheet Pan Chicken with Sumac and Winter Squash
This is the ultimate weeknight sheet pan meal. (And it is a crowd favorite. At least, it was the hands-down favorite of our cookbook club.) I usually make this sumac-spiced chicken dish with bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs that are easy to stock the freezer with and always keep delicata squash in the house to make this on the fly.
- Slow Roasted Harissa Salmon
Harissa is a Tunisian chile sauce or paste. And this roasted salmon dish makes an excellent introduction to harissa to those who don’t know how to use it. This dish is one I used to buy from the prepared foods case at Sahadi’s for many years. So happy to have the recipe now. I think this one is a close second in popularity with our club to the chicken above.
- Hibiscus Shortbread Icebox Cookies
If you didn’t know, the hibiscus flower is not only edible, it’s also considered an aphrodisiac. Here, the flowers are part of the sugar that gets blended in and rolled on the edges is like tiny tart pop rocks of flavor in the rich butter shortbread. These cookies are a permanent stock item in my freezer now. I slice and bake them in my toaster oven for a quick treat.
- Pistachio Cheesecake with Kataifi Crust
Although I haven’t personally made this cheesecake recipe yet, two others did in my cookbook club did and swear it will be their fancy dessert go-to for dinner parties forevermore.
Have you cooked from Flavors of the Sun? I’d love to hear what your favorite dishes were. Leave a comment with your thoughts below! And if you don’t have a copy of the cookbook yet, you can order it from Amazon today:
Or you can buy it directly from the Sahadi’s website.
Join the cookbook club
If you’d like to join the cookbook club live on Zoom, there’s still time to register for Winter 2022 – registration comes with new copies of all four of the selected books shipped to you from Kitchen Arts & Letters bookstore in NYC. Our live by Zoom sessions are scheduled for February 1 & 15, and March 1 & 15, 2022. Register on the 92nd Street Y website. Our theme will be “Cooking Off the Beaten Path”.
More recipes with Middle Eastern spices to inspire you
While you wait for your Sahadi’s cookbook to arrive in the mail, you can start experimenting with the flavors of the Middle East with a few of our favorite recipes on the site:
Featured image by Taylor Kiser
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