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.
Healthy Comfort Food
People describe raising young kids as a particular season in life. I hadn't heard this until we had a baby, but it brought me a lot of comfort when I'd start to let my mind wander, late at night between feedings, to fears that we'd never travel internationally again or have a sit-down meal in our dining room. Would I ever eat a cardamom bun in Sweden? Soak in Iceland? I loved the heck out of our tiny Oliver, but man what had we done?! Friends would swoop in and reassure us that this was just a season, a blip in the big picture of it all. They promised we'd likely not even remember walking around the house in circles singing made-up songs while eating freezer burritos at odd hours of the day (or night). And it's true.
Oliver is turning two next month, and those all-encompassing baby days feel like a different time, a different Us. In many ways, dare I say it, Toddlerhood actually feels a bit harder. Lately Oliver has become extremely opinionated about what he will and will not wear -- and he enforces these opinions with fervor. Don't get near the kid with a button-down shirt. This week at least. He's obsessed with his rain boots and if it were up to him, he'd keep them on at all times, especially during meals. He insists on ketchup with everything (I created a damn monster), has learned the word "trash" and insists on throwing found items away on his own that really, truly are not trash. I came to pick him up from daycare the other day and he was randomly wearing a bike helmet -- his teacher mentioned he'd had it on most of the day and really, really didn't want to take it off. The kid has FEELINGS. I love that about him, and wouldn't want it any other way. But, man it's also exhausting.
I just finished washing out Oliver's lunchbox and laying it out to dry for the weekend. My favorite time of day is (finally) here: the quiet of the evening when I can actually talk to Sam about our day or sit and reflect on my own thoughts after the inevitable dance party or band practice that precedes the bedtime routine lately. Before becoming pregnant for the second time, I'd have had a glass of wine with the back door propped open right about now -- these days though, I have sparkling water or occasionally take a sip from one of Sam's hard ciders. Except now the back door's closed and we even turned on the heat for the first time yesterday. The racing to water the lawn and clean the grill have been replaced by cozier dinners at home and longer baths in the evening. You blink and it's the first day of fall.
I'd heard from many friends that buying a house wasn't for the faint of heart. But I always shrugged it off, figuring I probably kept better files or was more organized and, really, how hard could it be? Well, I've started (and stopped) writing this post a good fifteen times which may indicate something. BUT! First thing's first: we bought a house! I think! I'm pretty sure! We're still waiting for some tax transcripts to come through and barring any hiccough with that, we'll be moving out of our beloved craftsman in a few weeks and down the block to a great, brick Tudor house that we wanted the second we laid eyes on it. The only problem: it seemed everyone else in Seattle had also laid eyes on it, and wanted it equally as much. I'm not really sure why the homeowner chose us in the end. Our offer actually wasn't the highest, but apparently there were some issues with a few of them. We wrote a letter introducing ourselves and describing why we'd be the best candidates and why we were so drawn to the house; we have a really wonderful broker who pulled out all the stops, and after sifting through 10 offers and spending a number of hours deliberating, they ended up going with ours. We were at a friend's book event at the time when Sam showed me the text from our broker and I kind of just collapsed into his arms. We were both in ecstatic denial (wait, is this real?! Did we just buy a house?) and celebrated by getting chicken salad and potato salad from the neighborhood grocery store and eating it, dazed, on our living room floor. Potato salad never tasted so good.
If your house is anything like ours, last week wasn't our most inspired in terms of cooking. We're all suffering from the post-election blues -- the sole upside being Oliver's decision to sleep-in until 7 am for the first time in many, many months; I think he's trying to tell us that pulling the covers over our heads and hibernating for awhile is ok. It's half-convincing. For much of the week, instead of cooking, there'd been takeout pizza and canned soup before, at week's end, I decided it was time to pour a glass of wine and get back into the kitchen. I was craving something hearty and comforting that we could eat for a few days. Something that wouldn't remind me too much of Thanksgiving because, frankly, I can't quite gather the steam to start planning for that yet. It was time for a big bowl of chili.
Porridge is not the sexiest of breakfasts, it's true. It doesn't have a stylish name like strata or shakshuka, and it doesn't have perfectly domed tops like your favorite fruity muffin. It doesn't crumble into delightful bits like a good scone nor does it fall into buttery shards like a well-made croissant. But when you wake up and it's 17 degrees outside (as it has been, give or take a few, for the last week), there's nothing that satisfies like a bowl of porridge or oatmeal. It's warm and hearty and can be made sweet or savory with any number of toppings. The problem? Over the years, it's gotten a bad rap as gluey or gummy or just downright boring or dutiful -- and it's because not everyone knows the secrets to making a great pot of warm morning cereal. So let's talk porridge (also: my cookbook comes out this month! So let's take a peek inside, shall we?)