Christine Sahadi Whelan, Owner of the Acclaimed Middle Eastern Grocery Store Sahadi's, Shares Her Weeknight Dinner Strategies
The author of the new cookbook, Flavors of the Sun shares her go-to ingredients and recipes.
One way to face the challenge of weeknight dinners? Take a cue from a cuisine that uses a few powerful flavor enhancers to boost simple ingredients, that leans heavily on quick-cooking vegetables and lean proteins, and that allows for lots of variation. We're talking about Middle Eastern cuisine, which hit every one of the aforementioned notes. And for a real-life perspective on the topic, we spoke with Christine Sahadi Whelan, a fourth-generation co-owner of Sahadi's, the legendary Middle Eastern grocery store in Brooklyn. Her new book, Flavors of the Sun ($35, chroniclebooks.com), is an eminently useful guide to understanding and using Middle Eastern ingredients, but it also doubles as a sort of weeknight dinner handbook.
Sahadi Whelan, a mother of two with a full-time job, might be one of the most impressive multitaskers we know. Making a salad while the chicken marinates and boiling water for spaghetti while she throws together a quick tomato sauce that cooks in the same amount of time as it takes to get the pasta al dente are the kinds of two-for-one tricks that help her get dinner on the table quickly. "I'm very big on multitasking," she says. She's also pretty strategic: She has an arsenal of practical, simple-to-execute recipes, and preps components ahead of time whenever she can. That might mean chopping vegetables the night before or in the morning and roasting a big pan of vegetables that she can then spread out over the course of three nights (night one: as a side dish; night two: crack an egg on it; night three: add cheese and fresh vegetables, and roll into a tortilla).
A solid arsenal of pantry items is also key. In Flavors of the Sun, Sahadi Whelan includes handy tips for using pomegranate molasses, sumac, za'atar, harissa, berbere, ras el hanout, and more to punch up staples like chicken and shrimp. Aside from these Middle Eastern staples, she also always has olives, rice, lentils, and high quality tinned fish on hand, as well as pita, baguettes, and dough in her freezer, which means meze is always an option.
Among the recipes from Flavors of the Sun that are destined to become favorites are her Everyday Swiss Chard, which works equally well with chard, spinach, mustard greens, kale, or escarole—just don't skimp on the feta and shake of sumac; and a make-ahead Layered Bulgur, Fennel, and Mint Salad with Pine Nuts, where the grains absorb the dressing but the herbs and vegetables stay crisp and fresh. Quinoa Tabbouleh with Chickpeas is a completely satisfying vegetarian entrée, or add bits of grilled chicken or lamb (bonus: it holds extremely well for up to five days in the fridge). And then there's Fiery Berbere Shrimp, which Sahadi Whelan says is "easy, easy, easy, and truly tasty." She chops leftovers and puts them in a salad, folds them into a quesadilla, or stuffs them into a pita with vegetables with a bit of yogurt. For a simple weeknight dinner with an unexpected punch, you can't do much better than that.
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