Oven Fries about Bahrain, New York and London

LONDON – I’ve been waiting for the perfect dish to re-introduce my test kitchen colleague Noor Murad. I think it can be. We’ve been working together for a while so I could have had a lot of recipes to choose from. But this one, for oven fries with tahini yoghurt and smoky-sweet nuts, especially says “Noor” to me.

Noor always says it was “made in Bahrain, trained in New York”. Fortunately for me, London is now their turf. Every day that Noor enters the test kitchen, she brings her journey with her. Whether we’re working on a recipe for a column or a cookbook, the ingredients, memories and stories she gathered on her way – from Bahrain to New York to London – are with us too.

For example, we developed these oven fries in London in May, a month when it rained, hailed or seemed extremely windy almost every day. Rainy holidays, windswept attempts to eat outside, picnics abandoned in search of shelter: for Noor and me – both solar-powered by the climate of our youth in the Middle East – everything is so total, brilliant, stereotypically British.

We’ve both spent our time on the British coast, eating fish and chips out of a paper bag attacked by greedy seagulls and watching the good people of a coastal town actively swimming in the North Sea. I watched happily and ate, but thought nostalgically: “It’s not the Mediterranean.” Noor watched happily and ate, but thought controversially, “Those British fish and chips – all that vinegar! – are overrated. “

Inspired, we blew into the test kitchen and got to work. We knew we loved fries – British fries, American fries. We knew we loved to eat with our hands. We knew that these little strength wedges provide comfort and nourishment by the sea like nothing else. However, we knew we didn’t want to go the vinegar-potato route – so we paused to think.

Noor remembered her New York days going out with her pals after a long shift at the restaurants they started out at. Late that night and early the next morning, they huddled into the Eveready Diner in Hyde Park, NY for late night snacks. The retro menu was barely looked at before ordering. Every time there was disco fries, the “famous diner fries smothered with brown sauce and grated cheddar cheese”. Add bacon and name it dinner.

As happy as these memories are – and as delicious as these disco fries are undoubtedly still – Noor’s Bahraini background took over here. The melted cheese and brown sauce of the disco fries have been swapped for the tahini, yogurt, and lemon juice sauce that runs through her veins. Urfa and Aleppo chilli flakes were grabbed to give the flavor, which is just as punchy as the bacon pieces. The crunch came from pine nuts and almonds, which were gently roasted in olive oil and decorate so many dishes from Noor’s Middle Eastern childhood.

We tried the dish. Something was missing: vinegar! These North Sea Chippies were up to something. We were far from dousing – instead we gently soaked the herb stalks in some vinegar – but I smile anyway when I think of the seagulls circling the British coast having found their way into food memory.

We tried the dish again. I was pleased. Noor was transported – to the English cobblestone beach coast, where he chewed with friends; to the American diner at night, relaxing with work colleagues; to the car with her father, ate Bahraini street food out of oil-smeared paper bags and burned his tongue in the process. It’s at home, at home, at home: it reminds you of all three places, but at the same time completely Noor-esque.

Recipe: Oven fries with tahini yoghurt and smoky-sweet nuts

Fried potatoes go wonderfully with dry sparkling wines. I like to refer to these baked potatoes as “oven friezes”, and sparkling wines would be a good choice, whether it’s champagne, cava, crémant or the various champagne facsimiles in the world. Yes, the toppings make the game a little more complicated, as do all of the other dishes you serve when this is part of a larger meal. Fortunately, you have plenty of options. Dry roses would go with Middle Eastern flavors. I would also be interested in Fino Sherry. Orange wines with their light tannin note would fascinate this dish, whether from Georgia, Slovenia or elsewhere. Sauvignon Blancs and many other dry white wines would do fine too, but I would stay away from red wines. ERIC ASIMOV

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