A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of joining a group of friends, acquaintances, and new-to-me faces when Tara O ‘Brady was in town promoting her cookbook, Seven Spoons. We all descended on Aran Goyoaga’s beautiful studio space in downtown Seattle for a Friday lunch that Aran and Tara cooked from the book, surrounded by blooming peonies, fizzy drinks, and good company. When I was on tour last year promoting my own cookbook, I remember how exhausting (albeit wonderful) it was just feeling “on” all the time while meeting and greeting new faces. But during the hour or so before we all sat down to lunch, I marveled at how calmly Tara was chatting and pulling together all of these dishes. I’m quite certain I would’ve been a wreck if someone had asked me to prepare a meal from my book in the middle of book tour in a room filled with many of my peers. But both Tara and Aran were busily chatting, delegating small tasks, garnishing away. To say everything was delicious would be an understatement; to say I felt like it was the best lunch I’ve had in a very long time would be the truth — and all a testament to how at home Tara is with her food and her style of cooking. While the roast chicken was incredible as were the roasted springy vegetables, greens, almonds and honeycomb — I couldn’t stop slathering that gorgeous, silky hummus onto everything in sight. I knew when I got home it’d be the first recipe from Tara’s book that I’d flip to.
Regardless of where you flip first, all of the recipes in Seven Spoons feel very much like a “Tara” recipe — you know the cookbooks you own (or the blogs you read) that have a very distinctive voice and perspective when it comes to the writing and approach to food? That’s how I’ve always felt about Tara’s blog and I was delighted to discover that I feel the same way about her cookbook. So many of the recipes may be something familiar to you at first glance but then there will a new ingredient or a fresh approach or way of looking at a dish that makes you excited to get into the kitchen. From Esquites and Yellow Tomato Gazpacho to Whole Wheat Peanut Butter Cookies, I’ve got a good little list of “must try next” recipes awaiting my attention.
But first, hummus. The first thing I noticed when I got home and studied the recipe was that Tara uses miso in her hummus in addition to tahini which I haven’t seen before. She describes white miso as having a “fermented umami-rich edge” which is pretty spot on: its bold, rich flavor compliments the nutty tahini and the bright lemon beautifully. It’s the smoothest hummus I’ve ever encountered and perhaps the most well balanced (don’t tell Sam).
Now Sam is a very tough audience when it comes to hummus. You may recall I wrote about his recipe a few years ago on the blog and he makes it often when we have friends over or when we need a quick potluck appetizer to bring to a friend’s house. The one major difference (although he would list many) that I think sets Sam’s hummus apart from others is that he uses much more tahini than is commonly called for — he insists real Lebanese hummus doesn’t shy away from it. Other hummus that doesn’t follow suit is really more of a “bean dip,” according to Sam. For instance, most storebought hummus is decidedly, 100% a bean dip. No question. So he was a bit skeptical when I told him I was making Tara’s hummus, but was also intrigued by the use of miso and the interesting garnishes.
The verdict? I had a big dollop with my salad for lunch yesterday and Sam had some of our crisp crackers dipped in it when he got home from the office. He did not call it bean dip, and even had seconds (this is saying a lot) when we brought it to picnic with friends at the park last night. We’re both looking forward to the leftovers. It’s a memorable one, this hummus, and I have a hunch that the rest of the book may just follow suit.
Megan’s Notes: I made a few tweaks to Tara’s recipe due to pantry shortage and last minute inspiration: In her recipe, she calls for 1/4 cup blanched almonds which she has you pulverize in the food processor before adding the beans; I didn’t have any in the cupboard but I did have almond meal so I went this route instead. In addition, we have two big jars of lemons we preserved this winter and at the very last moment, I decided to add a heaping tablespoon of chopped preserved lemon to the hummus, which added a subtle, bright perkiness. Do know that preserved lemons are naturally quite salty, so adjust your seasoning accordingly. If you don’t have them around, I wouldn’t buy them for such a small amount, but I had a hunch they’d be great. My tweaks are reflected in the recipe below.
Tara makes some great recommendations for garnishes that make this dish really beautiful and add interesting layers of flavor; if you don’t have any of these on hand, a simple drizzling of olive oil or sesame oil and toasted sesame seeds will be a really good start.
Slightly adapted from: Seven Spoons by Tara O’ Brady
In a food processor fitted with the metal blade, add the almond meal and chickpeas and run the machine, stopping and scraping down the sides occasionally, until the beans are crumbly and light. Pour in the tahini, miso, garlic, red pepper flakes, lemon juice, and preserved lemon. Blend again for 2 minutes or so, then scrape down the sides of the machine.
Switch on the motor and start drizzling in enough water, slowly, so that the hummus billows up, aerated and fluffy. Depending on the beans, you may not use all the water, or you might need more. Let the machine run for about 2 minutes, or until the consistency is nice and smooth. Taste and check for seasoning; add salt and pepper if you’d like. For a roasted accent, drizzle in some toasted sesame oil.
Let the hummus sit for 30 minutes at room temperature before serving, or refrigerate in a covered container for up to 3 days. Serve with your choice of garnishes.
Glimpses of Spring
We returned home from San Francisco on New Years Eve just in time for dinner, and craving greens -- or anything other than baked goods and pizza (ohhhh San Francisco, how I love your bakeries. And citrus. And winter sunshine). Instead of driving straight home, we stopped at our co-op where I ran in for some arugula, an avocado, a bottle of Prosecco, and for the checkout guys to not-so-subtly mock the outlook of our New Years Eve: rousing party, eh? They looked to be in their mid-twenties and I figured I probably looked ancient to them, sad even. But really, there wasn't much sad (or rousing, to be fair) about our evening: putting Oliver to bed, opening up holiday cards and hanging them in the kitchen, and toasting the New Year with arugula, half a quesadilla and sparkling wine. It wasn't lavish. But it's what we both needed. (Or at least what we had to work with.) Since then, I've been more inspired to cook lots of "real" food versus all of the treats and appetizers and snacks the holidays always bring on. I made Julia Turshen's curried red lentils for the millionth time, a wintry whole grain salad with tuna and fennel, roasted potatoes, and this simple green minestrone that I've taken for lunch this week. Determined to fit as many seasonal vegetables into a bowl as humanly possible, I spooned a colorful pesto on top, as much for the reminder of warmer days to come as for the accent in the soup (and for the enjoyment later of slathering the leftover pesto on crusty bread).
It turns out shopping for wedding dresses is nothing like they make it appear in the movies. Or at least it hasn't been for me. Angels don't sing. Stars don't explode. Relatives don't cry. There isn't a sudden heart-stopping moment that this is, in fact, "the one." To be honest, I always knew that I wasn't the kind of gal for whom angels would sing or stars would explode but I did think I'd have some kind of moment where I could tell I'd found the best dress. Instead, my mom flew into town and we spent three (yes, three!!) days shopping for dresses, and since then I've been back to the stores we visited -- and I'm more undecided than ever. Tomorrow morning I'll return with my friend Keena to try and tie this business up once and for all. Cross your fingers.
When I was single and living alone in the Bay Area, I made virtually the same thing for dinner each night. I ate meals quickly while in front of the computer. Or even worse: the television. This most often included what I call "Mexican Pizzas" which were basically glorified quesadillas baked in the oven until crispy. Sometimes, if I was really feeling like cooking, I'd whip up a quick stir-fry with frozen vegetables from Trader Joe's or a mushroom frittata using pre-sliced mushrooms. Mostly, though, it was Mexican Pizzas -- a good four or five nights a week. Today, thankfully, dinner looks a lot different. Meals in general look a lot different. How would I explain that difference? I think that ultimately how we feel about our life colors how we choose to feed ourselves and the importance that we place on preparing our own meals.
Today was 75 degrees in Seattle and it seemed the whole city was out and about drinking iced coffee in tank tops and perhaps not working all that hard. When we have a hit of sunshine like this in April (or, really, any time of the year), we're all really good at making excuses to leave the office early -- or, simply, to "work from home." I just got back from LA last night, unpacked in a whirlwind this morning, and took Oliver to meet up with three friends from our parents group at the zoo. The only other time I'd been to the Seattle zoo was once with Sam a few years ago when we arrived thirty minutes before closing and ended up doing a whirlwind tour -- sprinting from the giraffes to the massive brown bear to the meerkat. The visit today was much different: we strolled slowly trying to avoid the spring break crowds and beating sun. I managed to only get one of Oliver's cheeks sunburned, and he even got in a decent nap. A success of an afternoon, I'd say. Coming home I realized we didn't have much in the fridge for lunch -- but thankfully there was a respectable stash of Le Croix (Le Croix season is back!) and a small bowl of this whole grain salad I made right before I left town. It's the kind of salad that's meant for this time of year: it pulls off colorful and fresh despite the fact that much of the true spring and summer produce isn't yet available. And for that reason, I make a few versions of it in early spring, often doubling the recipe so there's always the possibility of having a small bowl at 1 p.m. while the baby naps in the car seat, one cheek sunburned, windows and back door open -- a warm breeze creeping into the kitchen.
On Monday our little family of three is headed to the airport at 6 am to board our first with-baby cross-country trip. We'll be visiting Sam's family in New Jersey for a few days, then renting a car and driving over to meet up with my family at my mom's lake house in the Adirondacks. Sam's younger sister and her kids have yet to meet Oliver; my grandpa has yet to meet him, and Oliver has yet to take a dunk in a lake, see a firefly, or spend quality time with energetic dogs -- of which there will be three. A lot of firsts. This week my family has been madly texting, volunteering to make certain meals or sweets on assigned days while we're at the cabin and it got me thinking about really simple, effortless summer desserts -- in particular, ones that you can make while staying in a house with an unfamiliar kitchen and unfamiliar equipment and still do a pretty bang-up job. I think fruit crisp is just that thing.