Accordion Sweet Potatoes with Tahini Sauce (Photo/Faith Kramer)
Accordion Sweet Potatoes with Tahini Sauce (Photo/Faith Kramer)

Colorful fall favorites with Middle Eastern hues

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Fall is the time for two of my favorites — pumpkin and sweet potatoes. Pumpkins have a long association in Italian and Sephardic Jewish cooking, and the sweet potato also has been a staple in Jewish cooking, particularly in dishes with Eastern Europe roots such as tzimmes.

In these recipes, both vegetables are baked and served with Middle Eastern accents, and can be served as colorful additions to autumn tables.

For a simpler version of the sweet potato dish, bake whole sweet potatoes, cut open, and then top and garnish. For a vegan/parve version of the pumpkin, use agave instead of honey, cut baked pumpkin apart into eight pieces, and garnish with tahini sauce, silan and fresh herbs.

Accordion Sweet Potatoes with Tahini Sauce

Serves 4

  • 6 Tbs. olive oil, plus extra
  • 4 small orange-fleshed sweet potatoes (about 8 oz. each)
  • ¼ tsp. ground cumin
  • ¼ tsp. salt
  • ¼ tsp. ground black pepper
  • ¼ tsp. paprika
  • ½ tsp. za’atar or oregano
  • Tahini sauce (see below)
  • Optional toppings (see below)
  • ¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro or flat-leaf parsley

Heat oven to 450 degrees. Line a baking tray with parchment paper. Lightly oil paper with extra oil. Scrub unpeeled sweet potatoes. Place potatoes flattest side down. Starting about ½ inch from each tip, cut slices about ¼ inch apart almost all the way through each potato (if desired, place each potato between two chopsticks as a cutting guide). The slices should remain connected.

Mix 6 Tbs. oil, cumin, salt, pepper, paprika and za’atar in a small bowl. Place potatoes uncut side down on baking tray. Brush seasoned oil over tops and sides of potatoes. Bake for 20 minutes, brush again with seasoned oil. Bake for another 20 minutes. Brush with seasoned oil. Bake for another 20 minutes or until potatoes are fork-tender. Remove from oven. Immediately brush with seasoned oil. Serve hot, warm or room temperature drizzled with tahini sauce, garnished with optional toppings and cilantro.

Tahini sauce: Stir together ½ tsp. minced garlic, ⅛ tsp. salt, ½ Tbs. lemon juice and 2 Tbs. cold water. Stir in ¼ cup tahini paste. Mixture may seize, but keep stirring, adding cold water by the teaspoon until sauce is smooth and pourable. Add salt, tahini and/or lemon juice as needed.

Optional toppings: Garnish with chopped red onions sprinkled with ground sumac or paprika. Drizzle with silan or pomegranate molasses, amba (Iraqi-Israeli fermented mango sauce), and/or plain dairy or non-dairy yogurt.

Ricotta-stuffed Pumpkin

Serves 4 as a main dish, 8 as a starter or side

  • 1 Tbs. olive oil, plus extra
  • 3- to 4-lb. kabocha pumpkin (also called kabocha squash)
  • 1 Tbs. lemon juice
  • ½ tsp. Aleppo or Urfa pepper flakes (see note)
  • 1 Tbs. honey or agave syrup
  • ⅛ tsp. salt
  • Ricotta filling
  • 1 Tbs. silan (date syrup) or pomegranate molasses
  • 2 Tbs. chopped fresh mint, cilantro or flat-leaf parsley
Ricotta-stuffed Pumpkin
Ricotta-stuffed Pumpkin

Heat oven to 450 degrees. Oil a rimmed baking tray with extra oil. Cut top off kabocha pumpkin. Use a sturdy spoon to scrape out seeds and strings. Discard top, seeds and strings. Place pumpkin on baking tray.

Mix 1 Tbs. oil in small bowl with lemon juice, pepper flakes, honey and salt. Brush inside of pumpkin with seasoned oil.

Bake 50 to 70 minutes until fork-tender, occasionally brushing inside of pumpkin with cooking liquid. Let cool (liquid inside will be absorbed). Cut into 8 slices but do not detach at center. Place in a snug-fitting serving bowl. Spoon in ricotta filling. Drizzle with silan and garnish with mint.

Ricotta filling: Mix together 16 oz. whole milk ricotta, 2 Tbs. honey, ¼ tsp. ground nutmeg, ¼ tsp. salt, ⅛ tsp. ground black pepper and (optionally) ⅛ tsp. ground sumac, ⅛ tsp. dried mint, ⅛ tsp. Aleppo or chili flakes. Swirl in 1 Tbs. silan or pomegranate molasses.

Note: If not available, use ¼ tsp. chili flakes.

Faith Kramer
Faith Kramer

Faith Kramer is a Bay Area food writer and the author of “52 Shabbats: Friday Night Dinners Inspired by a Global Jewish Kitchen.” Her website is Contact her at [email protected].