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.
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.
In a few short weeks, we're headed to New York, Vermont and New Jersey to visit family and see my sister Zoe get married. In starting to think through the trip and do a little planning, I found Oliver the cutest tiny-person dress shoes I've ever seen (and he's quite smitten with them), sussed out childcare options for the night of the wedding, and found what feels like the most expensive (and last) rental car in the state of New Jersey. I try very hard not to be one of Those People that begins lamenting the loss of a season before it's remotely appropriate to do so, but this year, as we'll be gone much of September, I've felt a bit of a 'hurry, make all the summery things!' feeling set in. So we've been managing increasingly busy days punctuated with zucchini noodle salads, gazpacho, corn on the cob and homemade popsicles (preferably eaten shirtless outside followed by a good, solid sprinkler run for one small person in particular. Not naming any names).
Somehow, in what seems to have been a blink of an eye, we have a six month old baby. In some ways I can't remember a time we didn't have an Oliver, and in other ways it's all a blur broken up by a few holidays (a Thanksgiving thanks to grocery store takeout, and our very first Christmas in Seattle), a few family visits, a one-day road trip to Portland, a birthday dinner out, a birthday cake, weekend drives to nowhere in particular, swimming at the pool with Oliver, weekly get-togethers with our parent's group, doctor's visits, hundreds of walks around the neighborhood, hundreds of cups of coffee, dozens (or more?) of scoops of ice cream. Most of the worrying about keeping a baby alive has made way for other concerns, and Oliver's need for constant stimulation or soothing walks and car rides has been traded for stretches of time playing with a new toy or checking out his surroundings. In truth, it's thanks to that tiny bit of baby independence that this humble, summery cake came to be in the first place. So we've all got an Oliver to thank for that. Or, really, we have a Yossi Arefi to thank, as it's from her beautiful new cookbook that I've bookmarked heavily and am eager to continue exploring.
A triple berry summer crisp made with oats, quinoa flakes and hazelnuts. Summer in a skillet.
I had a weak moment on our honeymoon in Italy when I decided that I should be making gelato for a living. My enthusiasm for Italian gelato wasn't surprising to anyone. I'd done extensive research, made lists, had Sam map out cities in terms of where the best gelaterias were. I took notes and photos and hemmed and hawed over flavor choices: Sicilian Pistachio! Chestnut Honey! Sweet Cheese, Almond and Fig! In truth, on that particular trip, I cared far more about treats, sunshine, and cobblestone walks than I cared about famous landmarks or tourist attractions, often leaving the camera back at the hotel in favor of my small black notebook which housed detailed jottings on dessert discoveries in each city we visited. Our friends Matteo and Jessica happened to be in Naples on the one night we were there, and we all went out for pizza together followed by a long stroll around the city. At some point the conversation turned to gelato (as it's bound to) and Matteo brought up the famous school in Bologna where many renowned gelato artisans study. My wheels were spinning. Maybe we should visit Bologna. I should see this school! I should talk to these students! I could make Sicilian Pistachio; Chestnut Honey; and Sweet Cheese, Almond and Fig each and every day of our lives. Or at the very least, travel to Bologna to learn how and then come back to Seattle to take our Northwest city by storm. Well here we are six months later, back to reality, and the impetus to pack up my bags and head for Bologna has subsided for the time being ... but not the unwavering gusto to sample. That part will always be with me. It's been awhile since I mixed up a batch of ice cream at home, but the other day a beautiful new cookbook landed on my doorstep and I flipped right to a recipe for dark chocolate sorbet with toasty, salty almonds. I didn't need much convincing.