Last summer, while Bryan and I were in Massachusetts, we had one of the best meals of our lives at Oleana, Ana Sortun’s Eastern-Mediterranean inspired restaurant. it was as close to perfect as I have experienced. The restaurant was recommended to me by several readers who sold me when they pointed out that the kitchen is almost entirely female staffed.
On a perfect summer night we sat in the beautiful garden and enjoyed some crazy delicious food. It is a bit of a happy blur, but I remember it feeling like a perfect evening: grilled peaches, lamb, haloumi, a chickpea terrine, plenty of wine. I love Chicago, and wouldn’t trade our restaurants for any other, but I admit that I am jealous of Cambridge for having Oleana. We don’t have anything like it here and I desperately wish we did.
The meal started off with a plate of bread accompanied by a carrot puree, olive oil, and a small bowl of dukkah (Sortun’s take on the Egyptian spice mix). It was a favorite. I bought Spice, Sortun’s cookbook that night and was very excited to see the recipes for that first course were included. I was even happier to learn they are perfectly duplicated at home. The carrot puree is bright and spicy and I could (and do!) eat it by the spoonful. The Dukkah is just right and we love dipping a hunk of break in olive oil and then dukkah to coat it in savory spices before spreading it with carrots. These are a couple of year-round snacks that I will return to again and again. Of course, it isn’t quite the same without the perfect summer night and beautiful Oleana, but it will have to do until we make our way back east.
Carrot Puree (adapted from Ana Sortun’s Spice: Flavors of the Eastern Mediterranean)
- 2 pounds carrots, peeled and cut into 2-inch lengths
- 6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus more for dipping
- 3 tablespoons white wine vinegar
- 5 teaspoons harissa
- 3/4 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
- Kosher Salt and pepper to taste
In a large saucepan over high heat, cover the carrots with water and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium and simmer until tender, about 20 minutes. Drain the carrots and return them to the dry saucepan. Cook the carrots for 30 seconds or so over medium heat dry them out. Remove the pan with the carrots from the heat and coarsely mash them with a fork or whisk. You want a coarsely ground carrot puree, not a smooth puree.
Stir in the olive oil, vinegar, harissa, cumin and ginger and then season the mixture with salt and pepper.
Dukkah (adapted slightly from Ana Sortun’s Spice: Flavors of the Eastern Mediterranean)
- 1/2 cup blanched almonds
- 3 tablespoons coriander seeds
- 2 tablespoons cumin seeds
- 3 tablespoons sesame seeds
- 1/4 cup unsweetened dried shredded coconut
- 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
In a medium skillet over medium heat, toast the almonds until golden, about 4 minutes. Transfer the almonds to a work surface to cool, and then finely chop them.
Put the coriander and cumin seeds in the same skillet and toast, stirring until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Transfer the seeds to a spice grinder and allow them to cool completely before coarsely grinding.
In a medium bowl, combine the almonds with the ground spices.
Put the sesame seeds in the same skillet and toast them over medium heat, stirring until golden, about 2 minutes. Transfer to the spice grinder.
Toast the coconut in the skillet over medium heat, stirring constantly until golden (be careful not to burn!), about 2 minutes. Add the toasted coconut to the grinder and let it cool completely.
Grind the sesame seeds and coconut to a coarse powder. Combine with the almond and spice mixture and season with salt and pepper.