Sweet and savory tahini dishes usher in the New Year
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Sweet and savory tahini dishes usher in the New Year

In Brooklyn, an Israeli’s artisanal halva and tahini seeds new interest in the fatty but nutritious staple

Brooklyn Sesame’s spreads come in six varieties including pistachio, cocoa, black caraway seeds and toasted coconut. (Julien Zeitouni/JTA)
Brooklyn Sesame’s spreads come in six varieties including pistachio, cocoa, black caraway seeds and toasted coconut. (Julien Zeitouni/JTA)

NEW YORK (JTA) — An expert “raw halva” maker, Shahar Shamir has been creating all-natural sesame spreads — and serving them to friends and family — for years.

So when the native Israeli’s plan to open a Brooklyn cafe hit some snags, he took his friends’ suggestions and started selling his halva spread instead, calling the business Brooklyn Sesame.

In Israel it is common to eat halva or tahini with breakfast, as a snack or for dessert. And while the fat content of tahini has scared away some Americans, growing numbers are realizing that good fats from items like nuts and sesame can produce long-term health benefits and even help with weight loss.

In fact not eating tahini spread actually caused Shahar to gain seven pounds last year, he said. When he took a break from making his tahini spread and there weren’t any open jars lying around, he was tempted to nosh on more caloric foods.

“When I eat my tahini, I am not eating other junk, and I believe sesame and honey are great for digestion,” he said.

Brooklyn Sesame’s spreads come in six varieties including pistachio, cocoa, black caraway seeds and toasted coconut.

Have a halva craving? The halva spreads are available in more than 25 stores in the New York area and one store in Massachusetts, or you can order online.

You can also try whipping up one of Shahar’s signature recipes this holiday season and use some rich, sweet tahini to usher in the New Year.

The following recipes are courtesy of Jorg Thoene, Leah Koenig and Shahar Shamir.

Apple and Coconut Halva Baklava Tarts (Leah Koenig/JTA)
Apple and Coconut Halva Baklava Tarts (Leah Koenig/JTA)

APPLE AND COCONUT HALVA BAKLAVA TARTS

Ingredients:
1 small Granny Smith apple, peeled, cored, and finely chopped
Zest of 1 lemon
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1/3 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup finely chopped pistachios
1/2 cup finely chopped walnuts
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon cardamom
6 sheets thawed filo dough
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted (or substitute vegetable or coconut oil)
1/4 cup Brooklyn Sesame Halva Spread with Toasted Coconut, divided
Honey, for drizzling

Preparation:
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and set aside a 12-cup muffin tin.

In a bowl, stir together the apple, lemon zest, lemon juice, and brown sugar; let stand for 10 minutes until it gets juicy. Stir in the pistachios, walnuts, cinnamon, and cardamom.

Place 1 sheet of fillo dough on a cutting board (cover the remaining sheets with a damp towel so they do not dry out), and gently brush all over with the melted butter. Place a second sheet on top of the first and continue in this fashion, alternating brushing with butter and stacking fillo sheets until there are 6 layers.

Use a sharp knife to cut the fillo sheet into 12 squares. Arrange 1 square into each well of the muffin tin, pressing it into the bottom and sides.

Spoon 1 teaspoon of Halva Spread into the bottom of each cup, then fill two-thirds of the way with the apple-nut mixture. Brush edges of each pastry with a little more melted butter; bake until the pastry is golden, 15-20 minutes. Let cool for 10 minutes in the tin, then carefully remove tarts to a wire rack. Just before serving, drizzle each tart with a little honey.

Lamb Stew with Dates (Leah Koenig/JTA)
Lamb Stew with Dates (Leah Koenig/JTA)

LAMB STEW WITH DATES AND CARAWAY HALVA SPREAD

Ingredients:
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
3 pounds lamb stew meat, cut into 1 1/2-inch cubes
2 yellow onions, finely chopped
2 carrots, peeled and chopped, optional
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes, or more to taste
1/2 cup dry white or red wine
1 1/2 cups beef or vegetable stock
1 14-ounce can diced tomatoes, with their juice
1/4 cup chopped dried dates
3 tablespoons Brooklyn Sesame Halva Spread with Black Caraway Seeds
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Finely chopped fresh parsley, for serving

Preparation:
Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large Dutch oven or heavy-bottomed pot set over medium-high heat.

Working in batches (do not crowd the pan), add the lamb cubes and sear, turning with tongs, until well-browned on all sides. Transfer browned lamb to a plate and set aside.

Add remaining tablespoon of oil to the pot, then add onions, carrots, if using, and a pinch of salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until softened and lightly browned, 5-10 minutes. Add the garlic, cumin, and red pepper flakes, and continue cooking, stirring constantly, until fragrant, 1-2 minutes.

Add the meat back to the pot along with the wine, stock, and tomatoes; bring mixture to a simmer, then reduce heat to low, cover, and cook, stirring occasionally, until meat is cooked through, about 1 hour.

Stir in the dates and Halva Spread, turn up heat to medium-low, and continue cooking, uncovered and stirring occasionally, until fruit softens and the stew thickens slightly, about 5 minutes. (It will continue to thicken as it cools.) Season with salt and pepper to taste.

To serve, transfer stew to a shallow bowl, sprinkle with parsley.

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