Flavours have a remarkable ability to evoke memories of people, places, events, feelings from times gone by, as well as hope for times to come. We all have our comfort foods. Have you ever stopped to think about why you find that macaroni & cheese so comforting? Or that broccoli flatbread? Or that special bar of Fazer chocolate? Next time, think about it. Chances are it subconsciously brings you back to some happy memory. And sometimes it’s not such a subconscious choice – like my liberal use of tahini in the past few weeks, to bring my tastebuds back to sun-kissed Tel Aviv.
Travelling with me usually turns into a food tour of whichever country, city, town I happen to be in. However, since my last trip to Israel was for research, I made a conscious decision to not allow food to distract me. I was there to work! Now that does not mean that I suddenly practiced food tourism abstinence. Can you imagine? I certainly can’t. Talk about food bringing you to happier places – in my opinion, a certain amount of food discovery is necessary for life! That said, it doesn’t have to mean spending all day traipsing north, south, east, west, through various neighbourhoods and markets, sampling the best halva here, the best hummus there, and seeking out the best spices and fresh dates over there. It can also happen through one of the simplest of foods – the sandwich.
What? You say, the sandwich? What could possibly be so novel about a sandwich that it satisfies my thirst for new flavours at every turn? Well, delicious rye bread from Lehamim Bakery, a Tel Aviv stalwart, certainly helps. Everything they turn out from their various locations across the city is delicious. My favourite, though, is their flagship shop cum café on Rechov Ha’hashmona’im. The atmosphere is electric with fresh baked goods produced 24 hours a day. That’s right 24 hours a day, all week, except for Saturday. A morning spent there chatting with friends and family over a coffee and almond croissant is hard to beat. And best of all, they make a spelt challah and quite a few products that are 100% rye!
So, yes, the first ingredient to a truly special sandwich is obviously the bread. But what really transports the eater is the flavour combination, because it is something unique to each culture. The particular combination that has been haunting me ever since Y first made me this sandwich is tomato, avocado, and tahini. Tomato and avocado are delicious no matter what (although I didn’t always think so, as muchomonisia could tell you), but it is the tahini that transports it to the next level. Tahini. All it is is sesame paste and yet it has the power to take ordinary ingredients and make them exceptional. Without tahini, for example, there would be no hummus or baba ghanoush! And – there would be no sandwich!
When I had to decide what to bring to a potluck dinner on Friday the answer was immediately obvious to me. No, not the sandwich (which I have been eating practically every day since being back from Israel), but I would utilise the same flavour combination to make a delicious quinoa salad. The result satisfied all my cravings and disappeared rather quickly from the dinner table, so I’d say it was a success!
Below is the recipe, so you can try it yourself. Or, just top a slice of your favourite bread with some avocado and tomato and a drizzle of tahini to spice up your usual lunchtime sandwich.
Avocado + Tomato Quinoa Salad
Serves 4 as main or 6-8 as side
1½ cups quinoa
3 cups water
1 cube of low-sodium veg. stock
¼ toasted almonds (optional)
2-3 TBSP tahini (start with less and add more to taste)
juice from ¼-½ of a lemon (start with less and add more to taste)
Combine quinoa, water, and vegetable stock cube in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil and reduce heat to simmer. Simmer until the quinoa has unfurled and the water is soaked up, about 15 minutes. Be careful not to burn the bottom.
Remove the cooked quinoa to a bowl and allow to cool. If you don’t have time to allow it to cool, it’s okay to skip this.
While the quinoa is cooling, cube the avocados and tomatoes.
Drizzle the tahini and lemon juice over the quinoa and mix well. Taste to make sure the flavour is to your liking. Add the avocado and tomato and almonds and mix again.