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.
The Thanksgiving Table
Today is a different kind of day. Usually posts on this blog come about with the narrative and I manage to squeeze in a recipe. But sometimes when you really stumble upon a winning recipe, it speaks for itself. We'll likely make these beans for Thanksgiving this year. They're one of those simple stunners that you initially think couldn't be much of a thing. And then they come out of the oven all sweet and withered and flecked with herbs. You try one and you realize they are, in fact, a pretty big thing.
I always force myself to wait until after Halloween to start thinking much about holiday pies or, really, future holidays in general. But this year I cheated a bit, tempted heavily by the lure of a warmly-spiced sweet potato pie that I used to make back when I baked pies for a living in the Bay Area (way back when). We seem to always have sweet potatoes around as they're one of Oliver's favorite foods, and when I roast them for his lunch I've been wishing I could turn them into a silky pie instead. So the other day I reserved part of the sweet potatoes for me. For a pie that I've made hundreds of times in the past, this time reimagined with fragrant brown butter, sweetened solely with maple syrup, and baked into a flaky kamut crust. We haven't started talking about the Thanksgiving menu yet this year, but I know one thing for sure: this sweet potato pie will make an appearance.
It has begun. Talk of who is bringing what, where we'll buy the turkey, what kind of pies I'll make, early morning texts concerning brussels sprouts. There's no getting around it: Thanksgiving is on its way. And with it comes the inevitable reflecting back and thinking about what we're thankful for. And about traditions. The funny thing about traditions is that they exist because they've been around for a long time. Year after year after year. But then, one Thanksgiving maybe there's something new at the table.
I didn't expect green beans to bring up such a great discussion on traditions, sharing of poems and how a piece of writing can linger with you. So thank you for that. Your comments pointed out how important people and place are and how food takes the back seat when it comes right down to it. Even if you feel quite warm towards Thanksgiving and are looking forward to next week, reading about recipe suggestions and meal planning online and in magazines can start to feel tiresome right about now. Why? Because I suppose when it all comes down to it, in the big picture it doesn't matter what we all serve anyway. Next year, you likely won't remember one year's vegetable side dish from another. What you'll remember are the markers that dotted the year for you: whom you sat next to at the table, a toast or grace, and the sense of gratitude you felt for something -- large or small.
I got a text from my mom the other day that read: demerara sugar? I responded back with a question mark, not sure what she was referencing. It turns out she was experimenting with a new pie recipe that called for the natural sugar and wasn't sure why she couldn't just use white sugar as that's what she's always done in the past. A few days later we talked on the phone and she mentioned she'd let me take charge of the salad for Thanksgiving this year as long as there was no kale. No kale! And I wanted to do the mashed potatoes? Would they still be made with butter and milk? In short, we're always willing to mix things up in the Gordon household. Whether it's inspiration from a food magazine, friend or coworker, either my mom or one of my sisters will often have an idea for something new to try at the holiday table. But what I've slowly learned is that it can't really be that different: there must be pumpkin pie, the can of cranberry sauce is necessary even though not many people actually eat it, the onion casserole is non-negotiable, the salad can't be too out there, and the potatoes must be made with ample butter and milk. And while I was really scheming up an epic kale salad to make this year, there's a big part of me that gets it, too: if we change things too much we won't recognize the part of the day that comes to mean so much: the pure recognition. We take comfort in traditions because we recognize them -- because they're always there, year after year. And so today I present to you (mom, are you reading?): this year's Gordon family Thanksgiving salad.