“Soframiz: Vibrant Middle Eastern Recipes from Sofra Bakery & Cafe,” by Ana Sortun and Maura Kilpatrick. Ten Speed Press. $35.
Perhaps my favorite thing about cooking is the sense of creating something from nothing: Vegetable scraps and a chicken carcass simmered for hours create a delicious broth that puts the boxed versions to shame. Fresh-ground nutmeg added to simple mashed potatoes adds a whole extra layer of flavor that somehow says “home.” Simple oats baked with just the right blend of nuts, spices and maple syrup make breakfast better for days.
“Soframiz” offers recipes from across the Middle East that capture that alchemy of the kitchen, using simple ingredients and uncomplicated processes to create what truly can become, as the book describes them, “beloved everyday dishes.” Ana Sortun and Maura Kilpatrick are the chef and pastry chef behind Sofra Bakery & Cafe and the award-winning Oleana, both in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
“Soframiz” means, loosely, “our table,” and the authors explain that their recipes are meant to be mixed and matched, to create a spread, or a meze, that fits the occasion, the company, even the weather, and to create new traditions. It’s a book I can imagine using at my table for years to come.
That may be because my introduction was Chicken Shawarma with Garlic Sauce and Greens, which starts with homemade yufka, a flatbread that is chewy and flaky at once.
Talk about making something from nothing: The ingredient list is salt, water, flour and olive oil. This bread is so good you’ll want to double the batch and stash a few in the freezer for later.
The chicken, marinated in yogurt, lemon juice and a shawarma spice blend, is roasted on a rimmed baking sheet into which you first pour a half cup of water, so that the bird starts cooking in moist heat. The result is tender, deeply flavorful chicken. I’ve made toum, or garlic sauce, before but had never achieved the perfectly creamy consistency created here by poaching the garlic in milk before blending it with lemon juice and olive oil.
Spread on the yufka and topped with chicken and ribbons of spinach, this made for a meal that left my family speechless.
The yufka was equally delicious as the foundation for Sausage Pita with Cumin, Orange and Olive, with the toum replaced by a spread of butter blended with feta cheese.
The book’s clear language and tantalizing photos made me eager to dive into recipes that my lack of patience or precision might otherwise have caused me to avoid, particularly yeast breads and baked goods. The tahini brioche threatened to undermine my confidence, after I let it rise too long and overbaked it slightly. Even with those hiccups, a slice eaten warm with a small mug of Tahini Hot Chocolate was a delightful winter afternoon treat.
Next on my to-try list are Warm Buttered Hummus, Spicy Lamb and Pine Nuts, where the hummus is made in a Turkish style that replaces some of the olive oil with unsalted butter, and revani, a semolina cake soaked in simple syrup infused with chamomile.
Sortun and Kilpatrick have included a sourcing list for the few harder-to-find ingredients they use, such as Maras red pepper, fine chocolate or olive oil. They sell many such items at the Cambridge bakery. While there, if these recipes are any measure, you’ll want to take a seat at their table.
— CHELSEA CONABOY
SYRIAN-STYLE LENTILS WITH CHARD
Sortun writes that this recipe is a staple at Sofra in the fall, when leafy greens are at their sweetest. It’s easy to see why. The molasses added here makes for a tart dressing that perfectly balances the sweet onion, dark greens and earthy lentils. This recipe avoids overcooking the lentils and chard for a salad that holds up for several days of lunches.
Serves 4 to 6
11/2 cups brown or French green lentils (lentilles du Puy), picked through for stones
3 teaspoons kosher salt, plus more to taste
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
11/2 cups sliced sweet onion, such as Ailsa Craig, Vidalia or Walla Walla
1 tablespoon finely chopped garlic
10 chard leaves, stalks removed, sliced into thin ribbons (about 3 cups)
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 tablespoons grape or pomegranate molasses
3/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves (about 1 bunch)
Freshly ground black pepper
In a saucepan, bring 6 cups water to a boil over high heat. Add the lentils, lower the heat and simmer until just tender, about 20 minutes.
Add 2 teaspoons of salt and let the lentils stand off the heat for 5 minutes to absorb the salt. If the lentils cool down before they have time to absorb the salt, they will be salty on the outside and not seasoned throughout. Drain and spread them onto a baking sheet to cool.
Meanwhile, place a sauté pan over medium heat and add 2 tablespoons of the olive oil. Add the onion and sauté on low heat until the onion starts to brown, about 10 minutes.
Stir in the garlic and chard leaves and cook until the chard wilts and is tender, about 3 minutes.
Combine the lentils in a large mixing bowl with the onion and chard mixture. Add the lemon juice, grape or pomegranate molasses, and remaining 6 tablespoons of olive oil. Add the cilantro, and season with the remaining 1 teaspoon salt and the pepper to taste.
Serve at room temperature or chilled. Store covered in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.