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Roasted sweet potatoes with tahini

2013 March 4


Have you ever heard of The Piglet? No? Let me turn you on to one of my guilty foodie pleasures.

Each year, the community site holds a cookbook competition, where popular books published in the previous year go head-to-head in a crazy, March-madness-like smorgasbord of brackets. There’s no rhyme or reason to the pairings. Ice cream competes against cafe food, chef techniques against Burmese cuisine. Round by round, the list is whittled down until a winner is crowned at a hoppin’ NY bash.

But best of all are … the judges: an improbable line-up of foodies, both professional and not. It’s the last place you’d expect to find Bryant Gumble or Stanley Tucci, but there they are.

My favorite picks, Small Plates & Sweet Treats (by Aran Goyoaga) and Jerusalem (by Yotam Ottolenghi) were both knocked out in the first round [devastated], but no matter — the true thrill of this competition is not the competitors, but rather, the essays. The judges must submit reviews of the pair of books assigned to them, along with a narrative of the process they went through to arrive at their decisions.

With each passing year, those essays — and they are, indeed, substantial and far more than simple rote reviews — have become things of legend. While most of the judges positively drip with trustworthiness and sincerity, taking up their charge with lighthearted, thoughtful cheer, some come off as unbearably highfalutin and in desperate need of a Valium. Others, amusingly, seem hopelessly in-over-their-heads clueless (and oddly so, as the one I particularly have in mind works in food publishing).

Delicious.  Rubbing-your-hands-together, can’t-wait-for-the-next-round wonderful.

And then there are the community comments that follow up the decisions — sometimes kind, sometimes not. Taken all together — the unlikely pairings of competitors, the judges, the highly-opinionated commentators reviewing the reviews — the competition’s timing is a welcome dose of high drama, coming as it does with “Downton Abbey” wrapping for the season.

I heartily recommend this as a good lunch-time read. If you want to skip to the end to see who won, go here. (And here is the full bracket results.)

If you’d like to draw out the surprise a little, go here, which is the start of Round 1 — the remaining brackets are listed on the right hand side of the page: quickly with squinted eyes scroll down to Round 1 (the rounds are listed in reverse order, with the winner at the top), and work your way up.


Which brings me to today’s recipe. As I mentioned, Jerusalem was knocked out in the first round (by one of those Valium-needing types, who included the complaint that he couldn’t find za’atar in Manhattan — rather unbelievably, I might add, as I live in a flyover state and have not one but three sources for za’atar within a fifteen minute drive), but remains tops in my own set of brackets. As my cooking preferences transitioned over time to simple foods with simple preparations, authors and chefs like Yotam Ottolenghi are the ones whose cookbooks find room on my bookshelves.

His recipe calls for butternut squash, but as my supply is long gone, my store of sweet potatoes easily steps in, as would many root vegetables, I suspect.



Fit for a leisurely lunch, when I most often make this — prep is quick and super simple, and total time is dictated solely by the heating up of the oven and roasting time — I add massaged kale and whatever nut or seed sounds good in the moment. Za’atar and lemon juice add bright, unexpected notes to winter’s earthy root vegetables. (And a tahini-laced Greek yogurt dressing is my obsession-of-the-moment — I adore it on everything, from vegetable bakes to green salads.)

It’s a filling dish of thoughtful, well-balanced flavors.

Roasted sweet potatoes with tahini

adapted from Yotam Ottolenghi’s Jerusalem, via

Don’t let the length of this recipe fool you – prep is fast, and can be made for a light lunch, or dinner on a busy weeknight. I altered a few ingredients here and there without, I think, impacting the soul of the dish.


  • for the vegetables:
  • 1 large sweet potato cut into 1″ cubes
  • 1 red onion, cut into 1 1/4-inch wedges
  • 3 large leaves of kale (I use lacinto kale), central stem removed
  • olive oil for drizzling
  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • for the dressing:
  • 2 tablespoons tahini paste
  • 1 tablespoon Greek yogurt
  • 1 big squeeze lemon juice from half a lemon
  • 1 tablespoon water
  • 1 small clove garlic, minced
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • for the assembly:
  • 2 heaping tablespoons pepitas
  • 2 teaspoons za’atar
  • 1 tablespoon coarsely chopped flat-leaf parsley
  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper


  1. Preheat oven to 475°F.
  2. For the vegetables: In a large mixing bowl, gently toss the sweet potatoes and red onions with a drizzle of olive oil. Season lightly with salt and pepper. Spread out the vegetables evenly on a parchment lined baking sheet, and roast for 20 to 30 minutes. The vegetables are done when they’re spotty brown.
  3. Meanwhile, place the kale leaves in a bowl, drizzle lightly with oil and a pinch of salt, then massage the leaves with your fingertips until the leaves turn bright green, and become silky and slightly wilted. Set aside.
  4. For the dressing:: Whisk together all of the ingredients in a bowl. It should have a pourable consistency – if necessary, stir in additional water, one teaspoon at a time, until it slowly but steadily drips off the whisk.
  5. Assemble: Spread the kale leaves on a serving platter. Spoon the roasted vegetables evenly on top and scatter the pepitas amongst the veggies. Drizzle the tahini dressing in thin streams over the vegetables. Finish with the za’atar, parsley, a light sprinkling of salt and pepper.
Prep Time: 10 minutes       Cook time: 30 minutes       Yield: 2 servings


10 Responses
  1. March 4, 2013

    This is just beautiful on top of, I’m sure, being delicious! I love everything in here, this could definitely be the whole meal for me!

    • Karen @ Leaf & Grain permalink*
      March 4, 2013

      Ditto, on the whole meal thing. ‘Round the ‘webs, folks leave comments asking what main dish it should be served with. It *is* a main dish. If anything, it could be paired with some nice homemade bread and a glass of wine… :)

  2. March 4, 2013

    Love The Piglet. Was sad to see Dirt Candy, Small Plates and Jerusalem out of the running so early. Although, what was up with the dust jacket hate and all the unecessary snarkiness from the community? Judges and commenters alike needed that valium. I thought Gumble’s and Tucci’s reviews were two of the best this year, for sure. I am in no hurry to rush out and buy this year’s winner though. Sorry…

    This salad reminds me of the two bunches of kale sitting in my fridge. I am sure they will still be there waiting to be used when I get back from my trip to the Lone Star State – pairing them with roasted veggies and a creamy dressing sounds like a treat. Frankly, after this week, anything that isn’t chicken fried or covered in white gravy will make me happy.

    • Karen @ Leaf & Grain permalink*
      March 4, 2013

      Ooo, Texas – at least it should be warm there (after two straight days of non-stop snow, this girl. needs. warmth…).

      I agree about this year’s winner. While I get what they’re trying to convey, I think the cover was poorly done, and it – for me, at least – defines and influences (negatively) every recipe therein. The dust jacket thing – I thought all of that was sort of hilarious, and falls squarely into the clueless camp. What makes the competition interesting (if not a bit maddening) is that some judges just have no idea what to do with the pair they’ve been assigned, and advance one over the other simply through a “lesser evil” decision. That’s how, I feel, Small Plates got stiffed (and, conversely, how Smitten advanced so far, not through merit, but by irritating the judges less than the other book).

      And actually, I don’t think I’ve ever agreed with final round picks of *any* of the four years of competitions (how on earth did Tender not advance to the finals last year?). If this were the James Beards’, it would be a ridiculous display of petty subjectivity, but knowing the players – a field and a set-up where Bryant Gumble can crank out the best essay of the whole shebang – it’s plain great fun.

  3. March 6, 2013

    These are the kinds of dishes that I love, both to create and to consume; it’s colorful, flagrantly tasty and altogether simple, even though it looks restaurant-worthy. Sometimes it’s almost criminal what can be made with simple, pure foods.

    • Karen @ Leaf & Grain permalink*
      March 6, 2013

      I couldn’t agree with you more! I’ve become a much, much happier cook since I started focusing on these kinds of dishes. Not that I don’t love a good challenge, but most days, simple prep, flavors that pop – those are my kind of meals.

  4. March 7, 2013

    Such a gorgeous, hearty dish! I still have to get my hands on a copy of that cookbook. So many cookbooks, so little time!

    • Karen @ Leaf & Grain permalink*
      March 11, 2013

      I know exactly what you mean – I’m on the verge of doing another cookbook purge to make room for new! (Really excited about the new Deborah Madison tome of veggies – I received notice from Amazon this morning that it’s shipped.) But Ottolenghi and Nigel Slater will always have permanent homes on my shelves. :)

  5. March 11, 2013

    This salad is beautiful! I love all the color, and the ingredient list is awesome. I would love to have this for lunch or dinner. I just discovered your blog and all your pictures and recipes are gorgeous! It is a joy looking around your site. -Sandra

    • Karen @ Leaf & Grain permalink*
      March 12, 2013

      Thank you for visiting – and leaving a comment, which I love. :)

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