Flavors of the Sun: Middle Eastern Ingredients from a Century Old Family Business

“Herby and garlicky, with a bright jolt of sumac, this is everything you want in a one-pan meal,” says Christine Sahadi Whelan about her recipe for Sheet Pan Chicken with Sumac and Winter Squash.

         Whelan, a fourth-generation co-owner of Sahadi’s and a lifelong Brooklyn resident, grew up in the James Beard Award-winning specialty grocery store that first opened in 1898. A graduate of NYU with a Degree in Finance and International Business she also trained at the Institute for Culinary Education, she also made mamoul with Martha Stewart. She brings all this to the table as Sahadi’s Culinary Director and now with her new book, Flavors of the Sun: The Sahadi’s Guide to Understanding, Buying, and Using Middle Eastern Ingredients with its more than 120 recipes. The flavors of the Middle East are just steps away from your kitchen with this book.

         Sahadi’s is truly a family affair. Both her children as well as her husband work at the store which is an integral part of their neighborhood and the city of New York as well. Their excellence was recognized as a true American Classic by the James Beard Foundation.

         Whelan notes that the ingredients in her Sheet Pan Chicken like many of the recipes in the book can easily be substituted.

         “Kabocha and delicata squash are good options because they don’t need to be peeled, but acorn squash or butternut work, too,” she says. “I sometimes use a couple of different kinds for visual interest. Either way, you’ll have folks wanting to eat directly from the pan the second you take this out of the oven.”

         The book is an amazing introduction to the wide variety of ingredients such as sumac, pomegranate molasses, aleppo black pepper, and halvah that are best sellers in the store. Whelan shows us how to use them in easily her accessible recipes that are a great way to learn the nuances of Middle Eastern cookery.

Warm Roasted Cauliflower with Tahini-Yogurt Dressing

“We are always happy to share recipes with customers who want to try their hand at our family favorites at home, but we love it even more when customers return the favor! This recipe is a variation on one that came to us from longtime patron Steve Marcus, who devised a hearty cauliflower side dish incorporating all his preferred Sahadi’s staples,” writes Whelan in the introduction to this recipe. “It’s well-spiced and tangy, with a hint of sweetness from dried apricots, and a nice cold-weather option when there aren’t a lot of fresh green veggies to choose from.”

SERVES 6 TO 8

  • 1 head cauliflower
  • ½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 Tbsp za’atar
  • 1 tsp fine sea salt
  • 1 tsp Aleppo pepper
  • ¼ cup tahini
  • ¼ cup plain Greek yogurt, full or low fat
  • 2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
  • ½ tsp ground white pepper
  • ¼ cup chopped fresh parsley
  • ¼ cup chopped Turkish apricots

Preheat the oven to 425°F.

Cut the cauliflower into 2 in [5 cm] florets and mound on a large rimmed baking sheet. Toss with ¼ cup of the oil and the za’atar, ½ tsp of the salt, and the Aleppo pepper. Spread the cauliflower in a

single layer and roast, turning once or twice as it cooks, until golden brown, 25 to 30 minutes.

While the cauliflower is roasting, whisk together the tahini, yogurt, remaining ¼ cup of olive oil, and the lemon juice in a large bowl. Season with the remaining ½ tsp of salt and the white pepper. Add 2

Tbsp of water to thin to drizzling consistency, adding more by the tsp as needed.

Add the warm cauliflower and toss to coat with the dressing. Gently stir in the parsley and apricots to distribute evenly. Serve warm.

Sheet Pan Chicken with Sumac and Winter Squash

  • 1 head cauliflower
  • ½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 Tbsp za’atar
  • 1 tsp fine sea salt
  • 1 tsp Aleppo pepper
  • ¼ cup tahini
  • ¼ cup plain Greek yogurt, full or low fat
  • 2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
  • ½ tsp ground white pepper
  • ¼ cup chopped fresh parsley
  • ¼ cup chopped Turkish apricots

Pat the chicken pieces dry and, if you are using breasts, cut each in half to make 2 smaller pieces.

Whisk together 2 Tbsp of the sumac with the salt, dried thyme, dried oregano, and garlic in a large bowl. Add the oil and stir until well blended. Add the chicken pieces to the bowl, turning to coat them with the mixture, then cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 to 2 hours or up to overnight.

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Cut the squash in half through the stem end and remove the seeds.  Cut the squash into ½ inch thick slices and arrange them in a single layer (or overlapping slightly) on a large baking sheet. Scatter the herb sprigs on top, reserving a few for serving. Arrange the chicken on top of the squash, skin-side up, leaving a bit of room between the pieces and tucking in red onion chunks here and there. Dot the lemon slices around the pan. Pour any remaining marinade over everything.

Roast in the center of the oven for 30 minutes. Baste the chicken and squash with pan juices and continue to cook for 15 minutes, or until the skin is browned and the chicken is cooked through. Sprinkle with the remaining 1 tablespoon of sumac and the reserved herb sprigs. Serve directly from the baking sheet.

Sweet and Spicy Nut Brittle

“One of the best parts of working in this business is that I always have top quality nuts available for snacking or baking,” says Whelan. “This is a fun way I like to use them that also doubles as a nice holiday gift.

MAKES ABOUT 4 CUPS  

  • 2 cups roasted unsalted mixed nuts (about 1/2 lb, coarsely chopped 11/2 cups sugar
  • 1 cup Amaretto or bourbon
  • 2 Tbsp honey
  • 2 Tbsp unsalted butter
  • 3/4 tsp Aleppo pepper
  • 1 tsp flaky sea salt

Preheat the oven to 300°F. Spray a rimmed baking sheet with nonstick spray.

On a separate rimmed baking sheet, spread the nuts in a single layer and toast in the oven for 5 minutes. Transfer the nuts to a large bowl and cover to keep warm. (Warming the nuts helps the caramel flowover them more readily.)

In a 1 quart saucepan, combine the sugar, amaretto, honey, and butter. Attach a candy thermometer to the side of the pan. Heat over medium heat until the butter melts and the sugar dissolves, then continue to boil until the mixture reaches 300°F (hard crack stage).

Carefully pour the sugar mixture over the nuts and mix quickly with a silicone spatula or wooden spoon, coating all the nuts. Immediately pour onto the prepared baking sheet and spread in a thin layer.

Sprinkle with the Aleppo pepper and salt. Let cool completely, then break into pieces and store in an airtight container.

The above recipes are excerpted with permission from Flavors of the Sun: The Sahadi’s Guide to Understanding, Buying, and Using Middle Eastern Ingredients (Chronicle Books, 2021) by Christine Sahadi Whalen. Photographs © 2021 by Kristin Teig

Share your thoughts. I'd love to hear from you.