Monday, February 12, 2018

Pan-seared Sirloin with Chimichurri

I don’t know if it’s the cold weather or an iron deficiency trying to communicate with me, but I’ve recently found myself intensely craving steak. Not to mention that I’ve finally learned how to cook it exactly how I order at a restaurant (medium rare), and it didn't involve setting off the smoke alarm (let’s hope that was a one time occurrence) or a 2-day bout of food poisoning from undercooking. My vegetarian-leaning self has finally learned how to flawlessly prepare bovine meat, and now, I can’t get enough; specifically, this Pan-seared Sirloin with Chimichurri

I’ve shied away from learning how to cook steak in the past—as if because I rarely ate it I wasn’t worthy of knowing how to prepare it—assuming I was inherently set up to fail. Previously, I’d nervously overcook a piece of meat, making sure I paired it with a flavorful sauce to cover up any of my missteps. Only with a little bit of research did I figure out a few essentials for proper steak cooking. How simple the basic principles are!

1. Temperature matters. Bringing steak to room temperature an hour before cooking ensures optimal heat penetration to the middle.
2. Seasoning matters. A generous rub of salt, pepper, and olive oil will suffice.
3. Flipping matters. Turning the steak every minute promotes an even sear.
4. Resting matters the most. Letting the steak sit for five minutes, plus half the cook-time, lets it finish cooking properly after being removed from the heat.

The last step is arguably the most important because there’s nothing more disappointing than an overcooked slab of beef. Trust me on this one—the steak needs to sit to finish cooking through.

Adding to this enthusiasm was my discovery of Piedmontese heritage beef at the Union Square Greenmarket, produced by Stony Mountain Ranch (full market schedule here). Although Stony Mountain Ranch’s cattle is raised in Pennsylvania, the breed is originally from the Piedmont region of Italy, known for having the best beef in the country due to its supreme succulence and super lean disposition. This desirable combination is a result of the cows’ genetics: Piedmontese cattle naturally carry a unique gene that reduces fat yet improves tenderness. And while the beef is genetically lower in total fat than other breeds, it also has the highest percentage of good polyunsaturated fats within that total fat. Think omega-3s like DPA and DHA. On top of that, its exclusively grass-fed. If looking for a healthy breed, you’ve found your guy.

The quick and easy chimichurri sauce hails for Gjelina, one of my favorite cookbooks for condiments and vegetables. For me, it’s essential for a chimichurri to have the right oil to vinegar ratio—not too slick, not too tart—and this one delivers exceptionally, dotted with spices that accent the grassiness of the herbs.

Pan-seared Sirloin with Chimichurri
Makes 1 ½ cup chimichurri

Grass-fed, tender cut of steak (i.e. rib-eye, tenderloin, porterhouse, T-bone, skirt steak, top sirloin, filet mignon. Budget 6 ounces, or a little more than 1/3 lb, per person)

1 bunch fresh cilantro, stemmed and chopped
½ bunch fresh flat-leaf parsley, stemmed and chopped
1 Tbsp dried oregano
1 tsp smoked paprika
½ shallot, minced
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil (can use less if desired)
Kosher salt
Freshly ground lack pepper
1 Tbsp red wine vinegar


1. Make the chimichurri. In a medium bowl, combine the cilantro, parsley, oregano, paprika, shallot, and olive oil and stir. Allow to stand at room temperature for about 20 minutes. Just before serving, add red wine vinegar. Season with salt and pepper.

2. Make the steak. Heat a hot cast iron pan with oil, and follow the 4 steps above! A medium rare steak should cook for 6 minutes (flipping every minute), and rest for 8 minutes before serving.

Friday, January 5, 2018

Butternut Squash Salad with Farro and Pepitas

As I was mindlessly scrolling through Instagram last week (New Years resolution: do less of that), I came across this quote. “People are so worried about what they eat between Christmas and New Year, when what matters is what they eat between New Year and Christmas.” It got me thinking about my own past behavior, namely, gauging myself with sweets and alcohol in that coveted vacation week—only to go to the other extreme, a juice cleanse, in the days after as an attempt to negate my poor eating choices.

This type of seesaw eating is not only unhealthy, but also extremely anxiety provoking. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve curtailed these periods of “extremes” for a healthy balance somewhere in the middle. I try to mostly eat a diet of whole, unprocessed foods, focused on ample vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats. I generally stay away from excess sugar. When I indulge, I don’t get hung up on it. I treat that as “sometimes” behavior, and move on.

Apropos to this mindset, my early January diet won’t be a frantic attempt to reverse any immoderation from the past week. Rather, it will be a reset back to middle ground; looking at the future instead of dwelling in the past. This Butternut Squash Salad with Farro and Pepitas was my first recipe of 2018, and I’ve been eating it with gusto all week long.

Shocker to nobody: I don’t think I’ve ever met a farro salad with roasted vegetables I didn’t like. That being said, the number of times I’ve encountered one which wildly supersedes its predecessors is scant. This is one of those rare occasions, and the winning ingredient is most surprising. It’s… the onions?!

Here, while the farro cooks, finely chopped red onion is quick-pickled in a simple brine of vinegar, water, salt, and sugar. Then, the entire concoction—brine and onion bits—is poured into the salad for a lovely acidic tang that hits on all seasoning notes. Without this dressing, the grain and squash combination could easily feel too earthy, even dull. But the pickled onion adds sprightly vim, enhanced further by dots of crunchy pepitas and silky, heavenly ricotta salada.

To the original recipe I added Brussels sprouts and garbanzo beans, and cut back on the olive oil and crumbed cheese per my personal preference. These changes are reflected below. While I encourage you to consume this salad upon completion, I will say it is the kind of dish that tastes even better with time. I’m on my fourth day in a row of eating it for lunch, and the flavors have never been better.

Butternut Squash Salad with Farro and Pepitas (tweaked slightly from Smitten Kitchen)
Serves 6

1 medium butternut squash (about 2 pounds)
1 lb Brussels sprouts, halved (optional)
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 ½ cup semi-pearled farro (the kind that cooks in 20-25 minutes)
1/3 cup toasted pepitas
1/3 cup ricotta salata (omit to make vegan)
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar (or red/white wine vinegar)
1 tablespoon water
½ teaspoon table salt
½ teaspoon granulated sugar
½ small red onion or 2 shallots, finely chopped
1 can garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed (optional)


1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

2. Peel squash, then halve lengthwise and scoop out seeds. Cut squash into approximately 3/4-inch chunks. Coat one large or two small baking sheets with 2 tablespoons oil total. Spread squash (and Brussels, if using) out in single layer on sheet. Sprinkle with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Roast until pieces are tender, about 30 to 40 minutes, turning them over halfway through the cooking time. Set aside to cool slightly.

3. While squash is roasting, cook farro in a large pot of simmering salted water until the grains are tender but chewy, about 30 minutes or per package directions. Drain and cool slightly.

4. While squash/Brussels are roasting and farro is simmering, in a small bowl, whisk together sherry vinegar, water, 1/2 teaspoon table salt and granulated sugar until sugar and salt dissolve. Stir in onion/shallot; it will barely be covered by vinegar mixture but don’t worry. Cover and set in fridge until needed; 30 minutes is ideal but less time will still make a lovely, lightly pickled bulb.

5. In a large bowl, mix together roasted veggies, farro, red onion and its vinegar brine, the crumbled cheese, pepitas, and garbanzos, if using. Toss with 2 tablespoons of the remaining olive oil. Taste and adjust seasonings (you might want to add more vinegar). Salad keeps in the fridge for up to a week.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Cowboy Cookies

Given my "maximizer" tendencies, that is, an insistence on assessing all possible options to ensure I’ve chosen the absolute best one before making a decision— as my sister has pointedly labeled my behavior—choosing a holiday cookie is not an easy task for me. By not easy, I mean positively agonizing. The possibilities are endless, the angles innumerable. Does one go traditional Christmas cookie, sprinkles and all? Or gingerbread, molasses-rich and deeply spiced? What about dark chocolate, peppered cheerily with candy cane morsels? I poured through all of my cookbooks and read countless “Top 50 Christmas Cookies” lists online, toiling through the comments sections in feverish hope of feeling with finality that I’d chosen the best…

And just when I’d settled for an intricate yet interesting spice cookie with a thin lemon glaze on top, bae glanced at the cookbook photo and told me point-blank that it looked like someone had jizzed all over these Pfeffernüsse varietals. Horrified, I slapped the book shut, ready to start the search from scratch.

“You’re thinking too hard about this,” bae said. “Why don’t you just make chocolate chip? Everybody loves chocolate chip cookies.” My first reaction was to protest, too mundane! Too basic! Too non-holiday! But truth is, bae had a very good point. So I set out to find a recipe for a loaded chocolate chip, and with resolve and conviction chose these Cowboy Cookies—trading my “maximizing” mindset for wholehearted enthusiasm apropos to these spectacular sweets.

I don’t know why they are named “Cowboy”, but I do know this—they’re insanely delicious, easy to make, hard to mess up, and quite the crowd pleaser. I mean, how can a cookie that’s essentially the Original Tollhouse Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe plus pecans, oats, shredded coconut, and cinnamon be anything but? Even for baking dopes like me who don’t let the butter warm to room temp and bake a dangerous 2 minutes past their doneness, they still managed to turn out excellent. For the amateur baker, a resilient cookie is a must.

In its original form, this recipe makes giant, scone-like Levain Bakery style cookies—¼ cup batter allocation per each. I wanted more of a two-bite cookie, so I cut the recipe and cookie size by one-third, which I’ve reflected below. Now, you are free to eat more than one :)

Happy Holidays! Sending all the love and joy of the season from my kitchen to yours. I’ll see you in the New Year.

Cowboy Cookies (from the New York Times)
Makes 30 two-bite cookies

1  cup all­ purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/3 teaspoon salt
1 stick butter, at room temperature
½ cup granulated sugar
½ cup packed light­ brown sugar
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1 cup old­ fashioned rolled oats
2/3 cup unsweetened flake coconut/ coconut chips
2/3 cup chopped pecans

1. Heat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Mix flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and salt in bowl.
3. In a large bowl, beat butter with an electric mixer at medium speed until smooth and creamy. Gradually beat in sugars, and combine thoroughly.
4. Add egg, beat into batter. Beat in vanilla.
5. Stir in flour mixture until just combined. Stir in chocolate chips, oats, coconut and pecans.
6. For each cookie, drop a heaping tablespoon of dough onto ungreased baking sheets, spacing 3 inches apart.
7. Bake for 13 to 15 minutes, until edges are lightly browned; rotate sheets halfway through. Remove cookies from rack to cool.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Pan-Roasted Romanesco with Golden Raisins, Tahini & Sumac

It's nearly impossible to visit a farmers market this time of year without a head of romanesco, nestled between its broccoli and cauliflower cousins, catching your eye. Was it the pinwheel of stegosaurus-like spiral spikes that first gave you pause? Or maybe its fluorescent lime hue was cause for reconsideration. Either way, we can agree that the romanesco is definitely the most bizarre-looking Brassica of the bunch. But if that fractal eccentricity means you're habitually turning to its tamer family members, I urge you to try those crazy spikes in the kitchen with Pan-Roasted Romanesco with Golden Raisins, Tahini & Sumac.

Contrary to its sharp exterior, romanesco has a very mild flavor; significantly subdued compared to broccoli or cauliflower. That's not to say the romanesco is dull—I've often seen it described as having a "sweet nuttiness" that becomes accentuated with high-heat cooking. Think of it as a vegetable to be praised for its agreeableness, perhaps; boasting a wonderfully crunchy texture primed for charring in that deeply satisfying way exclusive to roasted winter vegetables.

And yet, an oven isn't even required to cook the romanesco to perfection in this recipe. Instead, the florets are pan-roasted, achieving beautifully bronzed, charred edges in just 10 minutes time. At first, I was skeptical: how could such a burly stalk be cooked to completion via open stove top with minimal oil so quickly? The secret, it turned out, was in the finish. After approximately 8 minutes of charring, the florets are "steamed" with a splash of vegetable broth for the remaining cook time. The contact of the broth with the hot pan's bottom immediately creates a steam bath for the romanesco, ensuring that the crunchy florets lose their raw bite in the final minutes before serving. Genius, right?  To my delight, the pan-charring worked for two other winter vegetables I generally reserve for time-consuming oven roasting as well, broccoli and brussels sprouts.

This recipe hails from the Gjelina cookbook by Travis Lett, a connoisseur of phenomenal vegetable preparations. Everything is nuanced: the sweetness of the raisins and nuttiness of the tahini amplifying the flavor profile inherent to the romanesco, the sprinkle of tangy Sumac and coarse sea salt to finish. The presentation is beautiful, a masterpiece fit for entertaining that feels almost indulgent when whipped together on a random weeknight for one. Substitutions are effortless and welcome: romanesco can be subbed out for any other hearty winter vegetable, golden raisins with many a dried fruit. If Sumac isn't a pantry item for you, top with finely grated lemon peel instead.

Pan-Roasted Romanesco with Golden Raisins, Tahini & Sumac (from Gjelina)
Serves 4 to 6

¼ cup tahini
Juice of 2 lemons
1 garlic clove, minced
2 Tbsp cold water
2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for cooking
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
2 medium heads romanesco, trimmed and chopped into 1-in florets
¼ cup golden raisins
2 Tbsp vegetable stock or water
1 Tbsp ground sumac
Flaky sea salt
Best-quality olive oil for drizzling

1. In a small bowl, combine the tahini with the lemon juice, garlic, and cold water. Whisk in the extra-virgin olive oil. The sauce should be thin enough to drizzle with a spoon. (If it is too thick, add in more cold water, 1 Tbsp at a time.) Season with kosher salt and pepper.
2. Heat a large frying pan over high heat. Add enough extra-virgin olive oil to coat the bottom of the pan, and warm until hot but not smoking. Add the romanesco, cut-side down, and cook until deep golden brown in color, 3 to 4 minutes. Stir with tongs or a wooden spoon and cook for 2 to 3 minutes longer. Turn the heat to medium and add the raisins. Season with kosher salt and cook, stirring, until the raisins soften, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the stock and allow the ingredients to steam briefly. Taste a piece of romanesco for seasoning and doneness; it should be tender.
3. Transfer to a serving platter, drizzle the tahini sauce on top, sprinkle with sumac, and garnish with sea salt and a drizzle of best-quality olive oil. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Pumpkin Miso Broth with Soba

If a pumpkin spiced latte is the most expected use of this winter cucurbita's namesake, I'm coming at you from the opposite end of the spectrum with this Pumpkin Miso Broth with Soba recipe. Sure, you've probably dabbled in pumpkin as a savory medium—maybe delving into my Moroccan Pumpkin Stew, or swapping in a can of puree for a recipe that calls for butternut squash. But today, we're traveling to uncharted territory with what is, essentially, deconstructed pumpkin sushi. Here is why pumpkin plus Japanese flavors, while seemingly incompatible, patently works. 
1. Miso soup is wintery, delicious, cozy, and a runny-nose keep are all squash soups.
If it's warm, brothy, and aromatic, it's perfect for cold weather. So off the bat, here is the lowest common denominator. But let's build on that a bit. Miso soup is inherently intense in it's flavor profile, plus extremely salty—I've never had a bowlful without feeling immediately bloated. Here, it is tempered by the gentle earthy squash, sweet and meaty, the perfect watery-broth enhancer. Minced ginger adds a spicy, bitter undertone that immediately feels proactively cold-fighting. So we retain all of the positives of regular miso soup, but add some hearty substance to create a full-bodied base.

2. The toppings are udon soup level. 
In Japanese udon soup, the broth sits under a vibrant, intricate pizza pie of toppings (udon, mushrooms, snow peas, egg, etc.) that render this dish so pleasing. Same goes here, with a healthy makeover. Instead of udon, whole-grain buckwheat noodles add the slippery spaghetti-like slurp you crave in a big bowl of Japanese soup, along with shiitake mushrooms, sliced scallions, sesame seeds, and nori. They all sit so elegantly on the surface, waiting for that first plunge of your spoon to ensconce them into the rich, inviting pumpkin-miso broth.

3. The gloriousness that is nori (seaweed, not Kimye's daughter).
How is that I've never paid much attention to the edible red algae that holds sushi together? The dried seaweed is incredible—I'd even argue it's my favorite part of this recipe. In the same way that shaved truffles add exponential depth to any pasta dish, so does mineral-rich nori to the fish or vegetables it touches. Nori comes in sheets, and a quick touch of heat via fry pan causes it to crumble easily; now, it's a garnish. The salty, sea-tasting nori blends beautifully with the sweet earthy sugar pumpkin, really driving home the dish.

Are you intrigued? I'd say this lovely, exotic vegan soup will be the perfect antidote after a week of Thanksgiving fodder and fullness. I can't wait to hear what you think.

Pumpkin Miso Broth with Soba (by My New Roots)
Serves 4 as a main, 6 as a side


1 Tbsp coconut oil
2 medium yellow onions
¾ tsp sea salt
3 cloves garlic
1 medium (~2 lb) sugar pumpkin
3 to 4 cups water
3 to  4 Tbsp white or light miso
1 Tbsp minced fresh ginger
6 oz soba noodles (can substitute whole-wheat spaghetti)
Juice of 1 lemon

Sesame seeds
Sautéed shiitake mushrooms (I added soy sauce and rice wine vinegar)
Nori/seaweed (available at Whole Foods)
Cubed cooked tofu (optional, if adding protein)
Toasted pumpkin seeds (optional)

1. Roughly chop onions, mince garlic. Wash the pumpkin well (as you’ll be eating the skin), and chop into chunks. Preserve the seeds if you plan on roasting them: 30 minutes at 350 degrees, tossing every 10 minutes, should toast them evenly.
2. In a large stockpot, melt the coconut oil. Add the onions and salt, stir to coat and cook for about 10 minutes until the onions are just starting to caramelize. Add garlic and cook for about a minute until fragrant.
3. Add the pumpkin and stir to coat. Add 3 cups of water, cover, bring to a boil, and reduce to simmer for about 15 minutes, until the pumpkin is tender.
4. While the soup is cooking, prepare the toppings: Bring a pot of salted water to the boil. Cook soba noodles according to package directions, drain and lightly rinse. Slice scallions, lightly toast sesame seeds in a dry skillet over medium heat, about 2-3 minutes. Sauté mushrooms in a lightly oiled skillet (plus a dash of soy sauce and rice wine vinegar) over high heat for 5-7 minutes.
5. Transfer the soup to a blender and blend on high until completely smooth. (An immersion blender works too). Add more water if necessary – you’re looking for a creamy consistency, but it should not be thick like a paste. Add the miso, ginger and blend again until smooth. Taste and adjust seasoning as desired. Transfer soup back to the pot and keep warm (reheat if necessary, but try not to boil). Add lemon juice to soup.
6. Ladle soup into bowls, top with soba, scallions, sesame seeds, mushrooms, and remaining optional toppings if using; crumble the seaweed over top. 

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Miso Harissa Delicata Squash

Before you accuse me of a typo in the first two ingredients of this recipe—um hello questionable kveller, don't tell me you mean to intentionally combine the all-encompassing umami Asian flavor of miso with the distinctly spicy, capsicum essence of Moroccan cuisine's harissa?— let me assure you it is not. Ever since I saw these two incongruous tastes paired together in Miso Harissa Delicata Squash, I've had my eye on this recipe. Last weekend I came across all the main ingredients at the Greenmarket—kale, radishes, and fingerling potatoes play a supporting role in addition to the delicata namesake— so it was finally time to fulfill my curiosity of the marriage of these bold, distinctly different flavors. The result was a dazzling, daring flavor bomb of spicy, sweet, and salty that transformed these sometimes overplayed fall-forward vegetables into an exciting and edgy novel dish.

It's simple, really. The salad is very good. And the fact that it's dressed in an unusual blend of known, but rarely mixed, flavors makes it even better. There is sweet, thanks to the inherently honeyed delicata squash and sugary miso; and there is earthy, thanks to the starchy potatoes and bitter kale. These two profiles play beautifully off each other, ensconced in tinges of harissa components cumin, coriander, and chili pepper. Biting radishes and toasted seeds give crunch to the tender baked vegetables. The salad is best served warm, though room temperature is fine, too.

The recipe is extremely efficient with its time allotment. You can prepare all remaining ingredients while the squash and potatoes are roasting, so upon their completion (which is only 25 minutes, not the protracted 50 minutes of a sweet potato or spaghetti squash) everything else is already sitting in one large bowl. Their transfer finishes the recipe.

The hearty dish feels like a main, so I added a can of chickpeas for protein to secure that title. The original recipe calls for roasted almonds, but I subbed in the toasted seeds from the delicata. If you don't want to roast those seeds but stay in the squash family, toasted pepitas also suffice. One more note: I doubled all the vegetables (reflected in recipe) but used the called-for amount of harissa/miso, as both ingredients are very pungent. I thought the vegetables were dressed just right, so I suggest erring on the side of less harissa and miso. You can always add more once the vegetables have roasted.

Miso Harissa Delicata Squash (from 101 Cookbooks)

1 lb small fingerling potatoes, washed and dried
1 1/2 lb delicata squash
1/4 c extra virgin olive oil (OK to use less)
1/4 c white miso*
1-2 Tbsp harissa paste*
3 Tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 bunch kale, de-stemmed and finely chopped
4 radishes, very thinly sliced
1/8 c toasted delicta squash seeds, pepitas, or Marcona almonds
1 16 oz can chickpeas, drained (optional)

*Both of these ingredients are available at mainstream markets like Whole Foods and Fairway. For those who live in NYC, try Taim harissa paste. It's the best!

1. Preheat the oven to 400F degrees. If the potatoes aren't tiny, slice them into pieces no larger than your thumb. Cut the delicata squash in half length-wise, and use a spoon to clear out all the seeds. Cut into 1/2-inch wide half-moons. You can leave the peel on these squash.

2. In a small bowl whisk together olive oil, miso, harissa. Place the potatoes and squash in a large bowl with 1/3 cup of the miso-harissa oil. Use your hands to toss well, then turn everything out onto a baking sheet. Bake until everything is baked through and browned, about 25-30 minutes. Toss once or twice along the way after things start to brown a bit. Keep an eye on things though, you can go from browned to burned in a flash.

3. In the meantime, whisk the lemon juice into the remaining miso-harissa oil. Taste, it should be intensely flavorful, but if yours is too spicy or salty, you can dilute it with a bit more olive oil or lemon juice. Stir the kale into the leftover dressing and set aside.

4. Place the warm roasted vegetables in a bowl and toss with the kale mixture, radishes, seeds/almonds, and chickpeas (if using).

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Smoky Summer Squash and Yogurt Spread | The Recipe Hunters

By nature of its definition, the “sustainable” part of “sustainable food” can be expounded in different ways. The most widely used description pertains to the environmental component, i.e., conserving ecological balance through mindful environmental practices—eating locally to reduce carbon footprint, enhance the wellbeing of the local farming community, that sort of thing.

The social component, while omnipresent, is sometimes overlooked. A sustainable food system should enhance a community’s social well-being, celebrate their social values. For example, the social interaction at a farmers market contributes to its sustainability, in addition to the local nature of the produce. As would using that produce to cook a meal for a group of friends or family. In the world of sustainable food, the act of eating together— sharing experiences, passing down recipes— is not as perfunctory as one might think.

All over the world, cultures retain livelihood partially thanks to this social environment built upon food. A tapestry of food, interaction, and stories weave together to create the way of life that defines a people. This is sustainability—both in terms of food, and the inherent meaning of the word itself. Propelling a particular identity forward, one that happens to be grounded in food. Everyone has their own, and The Recipe Hunters are hungry, literally, to seek them out.

Over the summer I had the privilege of meeting the self-titled Recipe Hunters, Leila Elamine and Anthony Morano, and was deeply moved by the work they do. In a nutshell, Leila and Anthony travel the globe to find authentic and traditional family recipes, recording the stories behind the people and dishes as they go. To understand the seasonal produce of a particular region, they volunteer at local farms; immersing themselves in the culture they wish to capture. “Once we find someone special who cooks traditional food with passion, experience, and love, we record the entire process with photography, video, and writing,” they explain. Their mission boils down to using food as a medium to build community, preserve culture heritage, and re-establish the dining table as the familial centerpiece.

The first week in August, Leila and Anthony hosted a restaurant takeover to cook a feast of mezze recipes they had “hunted” during their travels in the Middle East. As guests, we traversed a whirlwind journey to Lebanon, Palestine, Egypt, and Syria by flavor, each stop accompanied by an intimate anecdote from Leila and Anthony’s time spent in that region. They would fondly recall a cook by name, who we could conveniently follow on the menu. Rather then eat zaa’tar, I ate Doha’s zaa’tar. Amal’s hummus. Marietta’s eggplant fritters. To acknowledge the authors of each recipe in writing was to bridge their distance, allowing their identities to dine in NYC with us along with their fare and tales.

Mezze is one of my favorite categories of cuisine, and I could wax poetic about Khuta’s Zahra Bi Tahineh, roasted cauliflower drizzled in tahini sauce, and Elena’s elioti, unleavened olive and cilantro bread, until the cows come home. But if I had to choose just one dish out of the 11 served that was my favorite, I think it would be Mtabal Koosa Ma’Laban by Doha from Palestine: a summer squash and yogurt spread I greedily and sloppily slathered over pita after pita. A sucker for mashed vegetable dips (see my Roasted Cauliflower and Garlic dip) I loved the way the deeply roasted earthy-sweet squash pulp tasted with the tart, creamy yogurt; whisked amply with brazen garlic, slick grassy olive oil, and quality sea salt. This dip will remind you of others in the region—tzatziki and labneh to name a few—but truly maintains an identity of its own with the delightful smoky summer squash. (For apartment-dwellers lacking a grill, charring vegetables on an open gas-burning stove top is a wonderful way to char the skin to a blackened crisp and achieve that grill-scorched flavor on the interior. Just make sure you monitor said veggies carefully so they don't catch on fire)! A cinch to whip up, the dip is aptly seasonal despite the cooling weather: summer squash are still prolific at the farmers markets right now.

Hungry to keep living vicariously through The Recipe Hunters? Visit their website or YouTube Channel to watch their culinary adventures in action and get more delicious, storied recipes.

Smoky Summer Squash and Yogurt Spread (Mtabal Koosa Ma’Laban)
By Doha via The Recipe Hunters

4 medium sized summer squash
1.5 cloves of garlic
5 tsp sea salt
2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 cup of tart, plain yogurt

1. Fire roast the summer squash or cook them directly over a medium-high flame on a gas burner until their skins are charred and their insides are soft.
2. Using a mortar and a pestle, mash the garlic with the salt.
3. In a bowl, stir the garlic and salt in the yogurt. Peel open the squash and use a spoon or your hands to crape the pulp into the yogurt. Stir the yogurt until everything is evenly dispersed.
4. Drizzle with EVOO and serve with lots of pita.