Halvah-Stuffed Challah

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Growing up, one of my favorite after-school snacks was halvah rolled up with lavash flatbread: simple, sweet, and satisfying. Called halvardeh in Persian, Middle Eastern halvah is ubiquitous these days in well-stocked American grocery stores. But when I was a kid, halvah was precious: we’d make semi-monthly drives from Santa Rosa to San Jose to stock up on Iranian favorites, including halvah, sour cherry jam, lavashak (sour fruit roll ups), and spices and herbs for days.

This halvah-stuffed challah is a grown-up version of my childhood snack and make no mistake about it: this is a weekend project. Adapted from a Food and Wine recipe, this takes the better part of an afternoon to make, and the results are well worth it. This recipe makes two loaves so make like me and freeze one for eating later, when the craving strikes.

Halvah-stuffed challah

Ingredients:

1 1/2 cups warm water
1 1/2 tablespoons active dry yeast
1/3 cup plus 1 teaspoon sugar
5 eggs
1/2 cup canola oil
2 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
8 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground cardamom
1 cup tahini
1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon honey
Salt
1 1/2 cups chopped halvah
Sesame seeds and more sugar, for sprinkling

1. Make the dough: In a small bowl, whisk the water with the yeast and 1 teaspoon of the sugar. Let stand for 10 minutes, until foamy.

2. In a medium bowl, whisk 4 of the eggs with the oil and 1 teaspoon of the vanilla. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook, combine the flour, pinch of salt, 2 teaspoons cinnamon, 1/4 teaspoon cardamom and the remaining 1/3 cup of sugar. Mix to blend. Add the egg and yeast mixtures and knead until the dough comes together, scraping down the side and bottom of the bowl, about 3 minutes. Scrape the dough out onto a work surface and knead until smooth and slightly sticky, 8 to 10 minutes. Transfer the dough to an oiled large bowl and cover with wax paper and a towel on top.

3. Make the filling and topping: In a medium bowl, stir the tahini with 1/3 cup of the honey, the remaining 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla, the remaining 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, a pinch of salt, and 2 tablespoons of water until smooth. In a small bowl, beat the remaining egg with the remaining 1 tablespoon of honey and 1 tablespoon of water.

4. Preheat the oven to 375F degrees and line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Divide the dough into 2 equal pieces. Transfer 1 piece to a lightly floured work surface and keep the other piece covered with a damp kitchen towel. Divide the dough on the work surface into 3 equal pieces. Using a rolling pin, roll out 1 piece into a 
14-by-6-inch rectangle. Spread 1/4 cup of the tahini mixture on top, leaving a 1/2-inch border. Sprinkle 1/4 cup of the halvah over the tahini in an even layer. With a long side facing you, tightly roll up the dough into a log, pressing the seam and ends together to seal in the filling. Repeat with the other 2 pieces of dough, 1/2 cup of the tahini mixture and 1/2 cup of the halvah. Arrange the 3 logs on one of the prepared sheets and braid them together. Brush with the egg wash and sprinkle with sesame seeds and sugar. Repeat with the second piece of dough and the remaining filling, egg wash and toppings. Bake the challahs for about 25-30 minutes on the middle and bottom racks of the oven, shifting and rotating halfway through, until deep golden. Transfer to racks to cool.


Turkish-Style Poached Eggs

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What surprised me most about Turkish cuisine when I visited Istanbul several years ago was how spicy it could be. I thought the food would be more like its Iranian counterpart: herbaceous and drizzled with saffron and turmeric at every turn. And while Turkish cuisine incorporates similar flavors, it’s also laden with peppers, both mild and hot. I loved it. Redolent with fresh vegetables, flatbreads, yogurt, lamb, and ingredients similar to the Iranian palate I’d grown up with, Turkish food was at the same time familiar but not.

One of my favorite dishes were these poached eggs. No one does breakfast like the Turks. The silky sauce is garlicy, yogurty, and has just enough heat so that you can’t stop sopping it up with bread, yolks and all. You can serve this with any flatbread, but I prefer this with some good-quality slices of toasted sourdough. Iranian barbari is delicious too.

Turkish-style poached eggs

Ingredients:

1/2 cup plain whole-milk Turkish or Greek yogurt

1 small garlic clove, minced

3/4 teaspoon sea salt

2 teaspoons unsalted butter

1 teaspoon olive oil 

1 teaspoon ground Aleppo pepper or Turkish red chile flakes 

2 large cold eggs
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice, divided

2 thick sourdough 
slices or pieces of barbari bread, toasted


1. Fill a large skillet with water to a depth of 2 inches. Bring to a simmer over medium.

2. Place yogurt in a small saucepan and slowly warm over low heat. Stir in garlic and salt. Cook, stirring, until yogurt mixture is the consistency of lightly whipped cream, about 3 minutes. Remove from heat.


3. Melt butter in a small saucepan over medium, stirring occasionally, until just beginning to turn brown, about 4 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in oil and Aleppo pepper. 


4. Crack 1 egg into a ramekin or small bowl. Add 1 teaspoon lemon juice. Repeat with remaining egg and remaining 1 teaspoon lemon juice in another ramekin or small bowl.


5. Gently slide eggs, 1 on each side of the large skillet, into the simmering water. Reduce heat so there is no movement in the water, and poach eggs until whites are set and yolks are still runny, 4 to 5 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, remove the eggs to a plate.


6. Divide the warm creamy yogurt mixture between 2 
shallow bowls. Top each with 
a poached egg, and pour the peppery butter around and slightly over the yogurt. Serve with bread.

Apple and Pear Old Fashioned

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I grew up in Santa Rosa, ground zero for California’s 2017 historic fire season that wiped out so much of the city, county, and region last year. The neighborhood I grew up in was one of the worst hit. Months later, neighbors are coming back and there is no sound sweeter than that of rebuilding. Shout out to a resilient community.

By chance, I’d visited Santa Rosa the day before the fires, and my parents had sent me home with a huge haul of produce from their garden, as they always do. Apples, blood oranges, Asian pears, pomegranates, figs, Meyer lemons, persimmons, muscat grapes, Persian mulberries, Persian cucumbers, San Marzano tomatoes, sun gold tomatoes, Santa Rosa plums — I could go on and on. I’ve been very lucky to be eating farm to table well before the phrase ever entered the popular vernacular.

With the fire went the beautiful garden that my parents had lovingly built over the decades, and in the haze of the days that followed, I found myself with a bag of fruit that I didn’t want to eat. If I ate the fruit, the last vestiges of the garden I grew up in would vanish forever. But if I didn’t eat the fruit, it would, of course, go bad.

So I infused the fruit in bourbon. A year later, I realize that sounds strange, but in the moment, it felt like the right thing do to. And you know what? That infused bourbon made the best old fashioned I’ve ever had. It was bittersweet, but in a sense, it allowed the fruit to be frozen in time.

The apple and lemon and pear trees may be gone forever, but they can be replanted. They’ll grow and thrive again. And until they do, I have this recipe to remind me that there is joy to be found in all places, no matter the circumstance.

Apple and Pear Old Fashioned

Ingredients for the infused bourbon:

Peel from 1 whole grapefruit
Peels from 2 Meyer lemons
2 pear cores
2 apple cores
One 750-ml bottle bourbon

Ingredients for 1 old fashioned:

1/2 teaspoon sugar
5 dashes of Angostura bitters
Ice
2 ounces infused bourbon
1/2 ounce water
Orange twist, for garnish

1. Make the infused bourbon: Combine all of the ingredients in a jar; cover. Let stand at room temperature for 10 to 12 hours. Strain the bourbon through 
a cheesecloth-lined fine sieve.

2. Make the old fashioned: In a rocks glass, muddle the sugar with the bitters. Fill the glass with ice and stir in the infused bourbon and water. Garnish the drink with an orange twist.

Ramen with Miso Pesto

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I hate cilanto. It tastes awful to me. (Yeah, I’m one of those.) But cilantro is good for you and lately I’ve been trying to sneak it into recipes where I might not notice, like in salsas or chutneys, or this miso pesto tossed with springy noodles.

And you know what? I don’t taste the cilantro. Adapted from Bon Appetit, this pesto is packed with bright, herbaceous flavor, thanks to the addition of spinach, lemon juice, and a healthy dollop of sweet and salty white miso.

These noodles make a perfect warm-weather dinner and they’re a terrific way to get in bunches of greens without even trying.

Ramen with miso pesto

Ingredients:

4 cups baby spinach
2 cups cilantro leaves with tender stems
1 tablespoon white miso
1 small garlic clove
1/3 cup olive oil
1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
1 teaspoon lemon juice
Salt
2 5-ounce packages fresh ramen noodles
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, cut into pieces
Toasted sesame seeds, for serving

1. Bring a medium pot of water to a boil.

2. Meanwhile, puree spinach, cilantro, miso, garlic, olive oil, sesame oil, and lemon juice in a blender until mixture is smooth. Season with salt and pour pesto into a bowl.

3. Cook noodles according to package directions. Drain and add to bowl with pesto. Add butter and toss until butter is melted and noodles are coated in sauce.

4. Divide noodles between bowls and top with sesame seeds.

Singaporean-Style Chicken Congee

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Congee, jook, bubur, porridge — whatever you call it, it’s the ultimate comfort food in a bowl, and an endlessly adaptable one at that. Topped with fried shallots, drizzled with sweet and salty soy sauce, served alongside Chinese doughnuts or a soft-boiled egg — the possibilities are endless.

Whenever I travel to Asia, I eat a lot of congee, especially for breakfast. One of my favorite ways to prepare congee is Singaporean-style. This version uses sticky rice as well as short-grain rice for a creamier version, but you can use simply regular short-grain rice for equally delicious results.

Singapore-style chicken congee

Ingredients:

1/2 cup short-grain rice
1/2 cup glutinous white rice
4 cups water
4 cups chicken stock
1/2 pound boneless chicken, cut into 1/2 inch slices
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoons Chinese rice wine
1/4 teaspoon sesame oil
1/2 teaspoon sugar
2 teaspoons shredded ginger
2 teaspoons crisp-fried shallots
1 green onion, thinly sliced
Pepper

1. Wash both types of rice, drain, and place in a large saucepan. Add the water and chicken stock and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer with the saucepan partially covered for about 1 hour, until the rice is very thick and soft, stirring from time to time to keep the rice from sticking. (If the congee is looking too thick, add some water or stock to thin it out.)

2. When the rice has been cooking for 30 minutes, put the chicken in a bowl, sprinkle with cornstarch and toss to coat. Add the soy sauce, rice wine, sesame oil, sugar, and ginger. Mix and set aside.

3. When the rice is porridge-like, add the chicken and its marinade. Stir well and simmer until the chicken is cooked, 7-10 minutes.

4. Transfer the porridge to serving bowls and top with the crisp-fried shallots, green onion, and pepper to taste. Serve accompanied with more soy sauce for adding to taste.