The New Mediterranean Table: Modern and Rustic Recipes Inspired by Traditions Spanning Three Continents, written by Sameh Wadi, contains 125 traditional and modern recipes featuring the rich cuisines of the Mediterranean. Wadi’s recipes are deeply rooted in his family, with his love of cooking mostly influenced by his parents. When he was a child, Wadi’s parents actually put together a manuscript of Palestinian recipes with the intention of it becoming The Encyclopedia of Palestinian Cuisine. Unfortunately, his family’s relocation to Jordan during the Gulf War occurred before the book could be published. Through their moves, the manuscript remained intact and has become a foundation for many of Wadi’s dishes. While you will find a handful of traditional recipes in The New Mediterranean Table, most are recreations by Wadi featuring the amazing spices and flavors of the Middle East, North Africa, and Southern Europe.
Sameh Wadi was born in Kuwait and relocated to Jordan with his family during the Gulf War. They eventually settled in Minnesota in 1997. He is now the chef of Saffron Restaurant & Lounge and World Street Kitchen in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He was also an Iron Chef contestant and a semi-finalist for the James Beard Foundation “Best Chef” and “Rising Star” awards.
Chapters are divided based on course: Small Plates, Large Plates, Side Dishes, Dessert, Drink, and The Larder.
Small Plates focuses on mezze-style appetizers, soups, and salads. You will find an assortment of recipes using fresh ingredients, from Goat Cheese and Date Tart with Caramelized Onions and Thyme to Fresh Chickpeas with Cumin Butter and Blood Orange Salad with Oil-Cured Black Olives and Mint. The Large Plates are geared towards main entrees and one-pot meals. There are easier to assemble dishes such as the Grilled Lamb Chops with Greek Herbs & Spices to the more complex, multi-ingredient Chicken Bastela. The Side Dishes chapter includes just that, side dishes to accompany the meal. You will find recipes that span across the seasons, from Coriander Potatoes with Roasted Tomatoes and Caramelized Paprika Butter to Roasted Butternut Squash with Black Figs, Brown Butter and Blue Cheese. The Dessert chapter is on the small side, but a few recipes stand out: Chocolate & Ras el Hanout Ice Cream with Olive Oil and Sea Salt, Pistachio & Sour Cherry Baklava Roll, and Pomegranate & Rose Petal Granita. The Drink section includes five recipes for Eastern Mediterranean coffees, teas, and other beverages. The Larder may be my favorite part of the book. In addition to the sauces, spices, homemade yogurt, sausages, garnishes, and other accompaniments that are listed to help create the rest of the dishes in the book, these can also be used as building blocks to create your own recipes.
All of the recipes include headnotes and many also have chef’s tips to help add a little extra flair. Ingredients are provided in US Customary and Metric measurements.
Stunning photography is provided by Matt Lien. Many of the recipes include a beautiful full page photo of the finished product. Some also include step-by-step photos.
This book is best for those wanting to try out new dishes with flavors from the Middle East, Southern Europe, and North Africa. Many of the recipes are on the more complex side and not the best choice for quick, weeknight meals. They are, however, geared for the home cook wanting to create restaurant quality dishes at home that are sure to impress. The dessert and drink chapters are on the short side (with no alcoholic or pork dishes), but there are plenty of salads, fresh vegetables, cheeses, and entrees. All of the recipes I tried were well-written and left no question on how I was supposed to proceed. Many of the ingredients are now available in larger supermarkets, but a few may require a trip to the Middle Eastern/Mediterranean Market or online shopping.
I didn’t initially plan to feature the recipe for Sweet Potatoes with Tamarind and Tahini on the blog, so I made the side dish at night with no intention of putting a lot of effort into the photograph. We all enjoyed the roasted sweet potato slices drizzled with a tahini sauce and pomegranate molasses (I had it on hand so didn’t use tamarind) so much that I made it again for lunch the next day when the lighting was available for better photos.
The recipe provided for the tahini sauce will make a lot more than you need for the sweet potatoes. You can easily halve the ingredients and still have a bit extra or pair the sweet potatoes with another recipe from the book that also uses the sauce. I whisked together the tahini sauce while the sweet potatoes were in the oven, so the entire process took less than 30 minutes.
These sweet potatoes are incredibly easy to make, but the end result is packed with flavor and quite stunning. The tangy sweetness of the pomegranate molasses pairs perfectly with the roasted, creamy tahini.
I was able to find Pomegranate Molasses at Whole Foods. It is also be found in International markets featuring Middle Eastern food. It is also available on Amazon: Al Wadi Pomegranate Sauce, 14 Ounce and Cortas Pomegranate Molasses, 10-Ounce Bottles (Pack of 4).
Here is also a way to make your own pomegranate molasses.
Tahini is a sesame seed paste created from ground toasted or raw sesame seeds. It is becoming more readily available in the international or health food section of most larger supermarkets. It is also available on Amazon: Baron’s Kosher 100% Pure Ground Sesame Tahini 16-ounce Jars (Pack of 2) and Achva Organic Tahini, 17.6 Ounce. If you are unable to find it, you can also make your own. I have seen multiple recipes, but have not tried any myself yet. Make sure you stir the tahini well before using, especially down to the bottom of the container.
I also made Carrot Salad with Grapefruit and Charmoula, Hummus with Caramelized Paprika Butter and Za’atar, Roasted Chicken with Sumac and Onions, and Roasted Peaches with Goat Cheese and Pistachios.
The Carrot Salad with Grapefruit and Charmoula is a fairly easy salad to prepare, especially if you make the charmoula ahead of time. Carrots (using heirloom adds a variety of colors) and radishes are thinly sliced (best with a mandoline) and combined with grapefruit segments before being tossed in a citrus charmoula dressing. I particularly liked Wadi’s tip for soaking the carrot slices in ice water to help them curl and maintain their crispness.
Wadi was unsure at first about including Hummus in the book since it has become mainstream, but finally decided to add a Classic Hummus recipe, plus variations: Hummus Royale with Spiced Beef and Pine Nuts and Hummus with Caramelized Paprika Butter and Za’atar. This was actually my first time making hummus, but will definitely not be my last. The chickpeas need to soak overnight and boil for a couple of hours the next day, but the actual prep work is very simple. With the help of a food processor, the cooked chickpeas became a smooth puree with the addition of tahini, lemon, garlic, and olive oil. His toppings of caramelized paprika butter and za’atar definitely kicked the hummus up a notch.
The Roasted Chicken with Sumac and Onions is also mostly hands off, but packed with flavor. After marinating 2 hours to overnight in a sumac olive oil spice blend, the chicken is roasted with red onion wedges and garlic cloves until tender. I picked this recipe because I have been trying to use up a bag of sumac, but now I am ready to buy even more to make this chicken again and again. I served the chicken over a bed of rice-vermicelli pilaf.
The peaches have been overflowing in the markets recently, so I chose the Roasted Peaches with Goat Cheese and Pistachios from the dessert chapter. Peaches are halved, sprinkled with sugar and seared on a skillet until a caramelized layer forms. They are then roasted in the oven in the sugar thyme syrup until tender. If that isn’t enough, they are served with a dollop of soft goat cheese, honey, and crushed pistachios. It was a refreshing fruit dessert without being overly sweet and perfect for the end of summer.
Disclaimer: I received this book from Page Street Publishing in exchange for this review. All comments and opinions are my own.
Sweet Potatoes with Tamarind and Tahini
Adapted from The New Mediterranean Table: Modern and Rustic Recipes Inspired by Traditions Spanning Three Continents
2 large sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch (13 mm) rounds
Fine sea salt
1/4 cup (54 grams) Tahini Sauce (recipe below)
3 tablespoons (45 ml) tamarind syrup or pomegranate molasses
2 tablespoons (8 grams) cilantro, coarsely chopped
Extra virgin olive oil for driving
1 cup (230 grams) tahini
1 tablespoon (13 grams) homemade thick yogurt or Greek yogurt
1 tablespoon (15 ml) fresh lemon juice
2 garlic cloves, finely grated
3/4 cup (180 ml) water, plus more as needed
Sea salt to taste
To make the tahini sauce: In a medium bowl, mix together tahini, yogurt, lemon juice, garlic cloves, and water until well combined. Add more water as needed to reach desired consistency. Season with salt to taste. Refrigerate until needed.
Preheat oven to 450 degrees F (232 degrees C). Line a large baking sheet with parchment.
Place the sweet potato slices in a large bowl. Drizzle with canola oil and season with fine sea salt. Toss to coat evenly. Arrange the slices on prepared baking sheet in a single layer, not touching. Bake in preheated oven until golden and fork tender, 20-30 minutes.
Arrange the slices on a serving platter. Drizzle with tahini sauce and tamarind syrup (or pomegranate molasses). Sprinkle with cilantro, maldon salt, and a small drizzling of olive oil.