I grew up thinking I would become a chef. Cooking, eating, reading cookbooks, watching Anthony Bourdain, and shopping at markets were and remain some of my favorite things to do. Neither of my parents cook, so I grew up making the family meals by experimenting. However, my grandmother loves to cook, so I would always cook when I visited her house—I think that’s how I first came to love cooking.
When I left for college and moved to New York, I got so busy that I now rarely take the time to cook for myself or even sit down and enjoy a meal. Partly, I think what i love about cooking and eating is the social aspect—there’s something special about making a meal for your friends or family. However, I am now sheltered in place with my grandmother at her house in Massachusetts, and we have time to cook together every day.
A few days ago we marinated chicken in a mixture of olive oil, pomegranate molasses, whole grain Dijon mustard, fresh herbs (lots of thyme and rosemary), za’atar, spices (including a lot of Aleppo pepper, sumac and ras el hanout), and garlic. I can’t give exact measurements since that’s not how I cook. We have both lived in Brooklyn and that’s where our shared love of middle eastern food comes from. Along with the chicken, which we cooked in her Aga (a European stove that also heats her house—she got this when living in rural England in the ‘70s), we made a simple salad and some roasted root vegetables which get very crispy and sweet in the Aga (Golden beets, red potatoes, carrots, parsnips, fennel, small onions, and whole cloves of garlic with thyme and rosemary). She lives in a farmhouse in rural Massachusetts, so the meat is always local, and the vegetables are as well and often come from her garden.
I didn’t expect to spend my spring back home in Massachusetts, but though cooking with my grandmother I have come to view this as an opportunity to slow down and spend a lot of time with someone I love.
- 4-6 cups roughly chopped root vegetables (I like a mix of potatoes, Japanese sweet potatoes, carrots, parsnips, and golden beets)
- 1 head of garlic, cloves separated but not peeled
- 3-4 shallots or a small onion, sliced
- 1/2 a head of fennel, sliced
- A nice handful of fresh thyme and/or rosemary
- 4 tablespoons za’atar
- 2 tablespoons ground cumin
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 4 tablespoons olive oil or butter (if you substitute duckfat, bacon fat, or drippings, the vegetables will have an irresistible savoriness to them that works perfectly with the sweetness that comes from caramelization)
- Heat oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Toss all of the ingredients together and place them in a baking dish—this recipe can be scaled up or down, just make sure they are not to crowded or else they will be unable to caramelize and get crispy. Cover with aluminum foil and cook for about 25 minutes, until they are steaming and starting to get tender.
- Uncover the vegetables and cook for another 25 minutes or so. They are done when they are tender throughout and nicely browned on the outside. The garlic should be caramelized to the point that it is a sort of brown candy. Enjoy!