Roasted Potatoes and Fennel with Za’atar

Every year around my birthday I go out for  dinner at one of my favourite restaurants, The Kebab Cafe, in Astoria Queens. I don’t really eat out much, because it interferes with my desires to spend all of my time cooking in my own kitchen, but eating at the Kebab cafe is deeply satisfying to me.  It is a tiny Egyptian cafe, where the owner/chef Ali sits down at your table to tell you what he is cooking today.  You can then watch him prepare your food, because the kitchen is a part of the tiny dining room.  It really feels like going over to a beloved Uncles home for dinner.  Ali is such a charming man and it is so clear that he LOVES to feed people.  He kind of reminds me of my maternal grandfather.  On the other hand, if you start him talking on politics or mention the British and he will swear and rant and tell you how he really feels.  His candor, humour and delight in provoking his patrons reminds me of my biological father.  All of this personality AND the man really knows how to cook.  Ali is especially skilled at preparing cuts of meat that are hard to come by in the USA…lamb cheeks, rabbit, all manner of organ meats.   I am so there.

Many of the dishes that Ali prepares use za’atar which he describes as “Egyptian hocus pocus” or “Egyptian Chanel number 5”.  za’atar  is a spice mix that includes has thyme and sumac and sesame seeds and other stuff.  It is delicious and I bought some at Sahadi’s recently, because I don’t live in Queens any more and I can only trek out to the Kebab Cafe every once in a while.

This is another post that is so simple I don’t even know if it counts as a recipe, but it is really, really good.  These potatoes are an excellent as a side dish to some sautéed swiss chard and a poached egg for breakfast.  They make a complete lunch or dinner served with wilted dandelion salad or amaranth greens.  They would do well with some baked chicken with prunes capers and green olives. I made a big batch and ate them with everything for a week.

Scrub a bunch of smallish red potatoes and one fennel bulb.  Slice the potatoes into 8 wedges each.  Slice the fennel in to slivers.  If you like, you can toss in a few chopped cloves of garlic and a slivered onion…or not.  Toss all of it with some olive oil, salt, pepper and za’atar, spread it in a single layer in one or two baking sheets and roast in a 425 degree oven until everything is tender and getting crisp on the edges.  I like to turn the potatoes every 10 minutes or so until they are done.

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