tahini cookies

There’s been a run of gorgeous cookbooks in the last few months–big, hardcover, giftable, expensive tomes that weigh about as much as a cast iron pan. They look like they come from the same family, kind of like cousins. There’s Japanese Farm Food, which first I borrowed from a friend, then bought for myself and gave away as a gift–twice. I’m now waiting for another copy to arrive in the mail, and I’m going to try really hard to keep that copy. There’s also Burma, which I have visited in the bookstore many times, and one of these days, I’m hoping it might come home with me. Naomi Duguid did that one, and she’s the reigning queen of heavy cookbooks from faraway places. There’s also this book, from which I haven’t cooked but the cover- the cover! So beautiful. These are the books that take us places. And although they might be pricey, they cost a whole lot less than a plane ticket.

Last year, my big book splurge went to a book called Plenty. Lots has been said about that book, mostly glowing, and even though there is an entire chapter devoted to eggplant (not my cup of tea), it’s a great book, and it has inspired me in all sorts of new ways when it comes to combining flavors. But this book, this new one from Yotam Ottolenghi (now joined by Sami Tamimi)–this book has my heart. There is, in particular, a simple but brilliant chicken and caramelized onion dish that has pulled me out of a dinner rut more than once, but I’ve made several other recipes and I’ve loved them all. And I love a book that takes me places.

I’m due for a walkabout. Somehow I’ve found my way out of the country a few times over the last decade, and I find that I live off the smells and air from those trips for years. This past fall, I’ve been in and out of a funk (and sometimes back in it again), and every so often when it gets harder, Joey says to me, “How are we going to get you out of the country this time?”

For now, this is how. Right here in my kitchen. Like I said, it’s cheaper than a plane ticket, and I’m still here to kiss the girls goodnight.

Last month, Cheryl Sternman Rule went to Israel. I’ve been reading Cheryl’s site for a long time now, and although we’ve never actually met, she’s always had a way of catching moments with her words that makes me feel so happy to have her in my life. (She also wrote this beauty–one of my favorites of the year.) I love these posts she wrote about Israel. So much of it is the photos–she captures the light, the smell, and the sound of her moment so that I am just there with her. But the way she wrote through her trip was raw and open. It was luscious and a little bit awkward in that way I remember feeling in places that are so new and different and other to me. I read each of those posts more than once, and they stayed with me after the computer was closed. I am thankful to Cheryl for letting me travel with her, and for liberating me from more than a few moments when I felt stuck here in my own house and kitchen.

Just after Cheryl came home, the fighting in Israel and Palestine began. And, I think, unsure of just how to talk about her trip in the context of the day’s news, she took a break from writing about it.

I’m looking forward to hearing more stories of Cheryl’s trip, if she feels inspired to continue telling them. And I have to admit that as the news came in of so much loss on both sides of the conflict, I think that my time traveling with Cheryl through her writing affected the way I heard the news. I had faces in my mind that wouldn’t have been there otherwise, and I had the experience of meals shared around tables. Does it help for me to be here in my kitchen, heartbroken at the news of so much violence? Of course not. But somehow, I think that shared experience leads to some sort of understanding, and that just might make a difference. I know that when I came home from Turkey and told the girls about the sound of the call to prayer so many times a day–how it sang its way from speakers tucked into trees and I couldn’t help but just stop and listen–I know that hearing those stories gave them just a tiny bit of another culture that could have been otherwise misunderstood. I know that in a small way, embracing another culture’s spices or ways of making dinner does something, even if it doesn’t feel big enough.

There are times when I open a cookbook from another culture and I am amazed at the differences. I have never heard of this spice! Or I would have never considered cooking lamb like that! But other times, it seems like we all like to eat the same things, wherever we come from.

These are the best kind of cookies. Simple, not too sweet, perfect with tea, and quick to put together. They stay good for a while, so they’d be a nice little addition to a cookie swap or a treat gift. Really, they’re a good cookie to know this month, when people tend to stop by unannounced for tea. They are in the peanut butter cookie family, but they’re smoother, lighter, and a little more complicated.

I’m thankful for these books that take me places–right now especially this one and this place. And for Cheryl, too, for taking me along with her on her trip. You can go too! Her adventure is there for you. (Thanks also to Ten Speed Press for helping to create such a beautiful book and for sending it along to me. You guys are so great at creating the best mail days.)







  1. Susan says

    I hope Cheryl reads what you wrote, as you said exactly what I couldn’t put into words about traveling with her and shrinking the (man-made) borders of the world. I didn’t know if she was back when the fighting broke out and I was so worried for her! And seeing pictures from far away places that are not what is on the nightly news makes them that much more real and less foreign.
    So thank you to all the food blogs/writers who share their knowledge!

  2. says

    I’ve heard great things about Jerusalem and have been wanting to check it out! This recipe for Tahini cookies looks delicious. Will definitely be trying!

  3. says

    I bought this book just last week, it caught me just before I walked out the door of Shakespeare and Co. in Paris Fr. Odd perhaps to buy a cookbook named Jerusalem in an English bookstore in a French city, but somehow also right. I am so excited to cook everything in it!

    • alana says

      It does seem just right- a perfect and delicious mix. It really is such a great book–I think you’re going to love it.

  4. says

    Dear, sweet Alana,

    Thank you for your words of support, kindness, and encouragement. The next time Joey says: ““How are we going to get you out of the country this time?” I hope you’ll reply, “I’m not sure, but let’s call Cheryl.”


  5. Michael Schneider says

    I bet these would be fabulous with cardamom (and maybe just a pinch of cumin) instead of cinnamon, too.


    • alana says

      I had that thought too! Also, I think a little bit of fresh nutmeg. They really are good as is, but definitely a good palate for some spice experimentation.

    • alana says

      Hi Andy,
      I’ve never had one of David’s recipes fail me, so you’re probably good either way! But my sense in looking from his recipe is that the almond and the whole wheat flour are going to give those cookies more texture, and I must admit that the crumb of Ottolenghi’s recipe was just perfect for me. I also love the addition of heavy cream in this one–it gives it just a bit more richness. But if you try David’s, let me know!

  6. says

    Mmmmmm… yes, I made these last year, and they are SOOOO good. The texture is divine.

    Also, your radish write-up made me laugh out loud, well past my bedtime. Tsk tsk. And thanks :)

    Happy December, Alana!


    • alana says

      Heh. So glad you appreciate my root vegetable erotica :) Oh, and I’m making candied peels today, and I blame you! Happy December, Molly… xo, A

  7. says

    I just found your blog, and I feel like this post in particular is rather serendipitous. You see, my family got two cookbooks as gifts this season – Jerusalem, and yours. I had not heard of either and in just the last 2 weeks it seems like they have both wedged permanent niches for themselves into my kitchen repertoire.

    I’ve been reading your book cover to cover, and so far it has inspired me to make several new things that I never thought would be worth the trouble. When I first flipped through the book, I was immediately engaged. We already make many of the things mentioned in the book, like various breads, doughs, and pickles, but other things were new and now I’ll probably never buy the store-bought versions again (pudding! beef jerky!).

    I just wanted to thank you for writing such a beautiful and inspiring book (I usually just skim the stories preceding recipes, but here I’ve been reading every word). I feel like it’s the book I would write if I ever wrote one, so it’s wonderful to have it already written for me and available to use and share with others. I can’t wait to read more of your blog now as well.

    • alana says

      Oh, thank you Sarah! I’m very honored to be on the shelf next to Jerusalem :). I haven’t been disappointed by a recipe from that book yet. And I’m so thrilled to hear that the book is getting such love in your kitchen. Happy new year to you…

  8. says

    Health starts here and it is not oil based. The smsaee ginger is awesome for a salad with mandarin oranges and slivered almonds. I also bought the caesar dressing, its not as good but helps to have something different. It is in there produce section. I agree if I didn’t have options on dressings, I’m not sure I’d last very long on this plan.


  1. […] Finally, a tweaked version of tahini cookies from Jerusalem.  These are rather mild in flavor, but have a wonderful buttery texture.  As you know my obsession with peanut butter cookies, perhaps you are not so surprised that tahini cookies are the second recipe I made out of Jerusalem?  Nor that I made them twice in two weeks?  You can also see the original recipe and a lovely writeup here. […]

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