Fall

Quinoa Bowls with Roasted Vegetables | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler

Quinoa Bowls with Roasted Vegetables

Quinoa Bowls with Roasted Vegetables | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler

Quinoa Bowls with Roasted Vegetables | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler
Quinoa Bowls with Roasted Vegetables | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler
Quinoa Bowls with Roasted Vegetables | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler
Quinoa Bowls with Roasted Vegetables | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler
Quinoa Bowls with Roasted Vegetables | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler

As I recover from my lack of cooking, I am easing back in with my favorites, my go-to’s, and things I realize I should have shared with you.

I think it was around Thanksgiving that I first had some variation of this bowl. It’s a simple equation, really, and one you’ll find all over the internet. Cook a grain (or combination of grains), top with vegetables and/or proteins, and season with sauces. What I like best about them is that with minimal effort, you can feed yourself anywhere from four to six meals with only about two hours of effort. They have become a go-to in our house: I add a soft boiled egg at breakfast or crispy baked tofu at dinner. I add greens to make it more of a salad, or whatever roasted vegetables I might have lurking in the depths of my fridge that need to be finished up, or some smoked salmon from the farmers market. The point is, this is endlessly riff-able and endlessly people-pleasing.

Here are a few other recipes I use for topping my grains and sauces:

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Carrot Ginger Sauce/Dressing | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler

Carrot Ginger Dressing

Carrot Ginger Sauce/Dressing | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler
Carrot Ginger Sauce/Dressing | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler

When I was younger and we went out to a sushi restaurant, my parents would make us order a salad. This salad was usually mostly iceberg lettuce, topped with a neon-orange clumpy dressing, and I loved it. I loved how crunchy and bright it was. I hadn’t really thought about that dressing until a year or two ago when Saveur‘s recipe for it popped up on my Facebook feed. I made it immediately and was SO HAPPY.

These days there is always a jar of the stuff in my fridge since it can be used for pretty much anything. How do I use it? Most often to top my grain bowls with whatever random assortment of vegetables and proteins I’ve got around. I love using it to dress a simple salad with whatever greens I have in my fridge (romaine, baby kale, and baby spinach are the usual suspects) and topping it with sesame seeds. Or I drizzle it over my lazy breakfast of crisped leftover rice and a fried egg, plus some hot sauce and everything bagel seasoning. The point is, if there is an opportunity to use this dressing, I do.

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Peanut-Butter Filled Chocolate Cookies | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler

Peanut-Butter Filled Chocolate Cookies

Peanut-Butter Filled Chocolate Cookies | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler
Peanut-Butter Filled Chocolate Cookies | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler
Peanut-Butter Filled Chocolate Cookies | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler
Peanut-Butter Filled Chocolate Cookies | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler

To say I have been feeling uninspired would be an understatement. Ever since our fridge stopped working 2 months ago (it was finally replaced. That’s correct, we were without a working refrigerator for almost 2 months) I have just not been itching to be in the kitchen like usual. I think of a recipe and start to research, and I feel like I see it in twenty places and it doesn’t seem worth me developing it myself. When I do think of a recipe that I can’t seem to find, I can never quite get myself to actually make it. Other things intrude into my kitchen time. I decide I would rather paint or read or nap.

So I decided to wade back in with someone else’s cookies. Deb Perelman’s cookies, to be exact. I feel like since she started doing press for her most recent cookbook, Smitten Kitchen Every Day, she has been on fire. There was a time when I would go to Smitten Kitchen and nothing would quite catch my eye, but these days? These days I feel like everything she posts is just for me. I kid you not, a couple of weeks ago I googled “Korean short ribs instant pot” and the next day – THE NEXT DAY – she posted exactly. what. I. was. looking. for. It was bizarre, I felt like she was a god that had heard my prayers!

Her siren voice was calling and I decided to answer in the form of these peanut butter filled chocolate cookies. I agree, it’s a weird thing when a blogger posts another blogger’s recipe. But I needed to get back in the kitchen, and these were the ticket. I had a sunny afternoon alone in my house, so I turned on my favorite baking Pandora station and enjoyed myself for the first time in a while. Sometimes all it takes are some really good cookies, you know?

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Rooibos Tahini Ice Cream | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler

Rooibos Tahini Ice Cream

Rooibos Tahini Ice Cream | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler

Rooibos Tahini Ice Cream | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler
Rooibos Tahini Ice Cream | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler
Rooibos Tahini Ice Cream | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler
Rooibos Tahini Ice Cream | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler
Rooibos Tahini Ice Cream | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler

A week before Christmas I almost cut off a large chunk of the tip of my thumb. I won’t get into the gory details, but here’s what I’ll say: don’t rush, and be careful when it comes to the combination of frozen produce and very sharp new knives. Ok? The next day, our refrigerator broke. It took two days to get someone to come look at it, and now we are waiting until January 8th for a part to come which will hopefully (please please please) fix it. In the meantime, we had two coolers outside plus a very mini fridge in our basement, plus a kind-of working refrigerator that our friend graciously gave to us. Did I mention that we were not only hosting Christmas dinner but also had my in-laws staying with us for the week?

Anyway, we got through all of this just fine. We got through it well, in fact. There were no stitches or trips to the emergency room, just lots of gauze and finger cots and trips up and down our basement stairs and re-freezing ice packs. And at the end of all of this (well, technically it’s not the end since our fridge is still busted and my finger is still bandaged up), an ice cream maker appeared on our doorstep. It was one of those times when you rack your brain to remember, “What the heck was my latest Amazon purchase?” But no, it was just my wonderful father-in-law. Maybe it was an additional Christmas present or a very nice host gift. My mother-in-law is one of my only family members who religiously reads this blog, so I’m sure she’ll show this to him, and hopefully, it will make him smile.

Of course, then I had my in-laws in mind when I was thinking of what recipe would be the first in my newest kitchen addition. I was researching and researching recipe ideas, feeling frustrated that I couldn’t quite find what I wanted, and then this one popped into mind. You see, my mother-in-law was the one who got me drinking rooibos tea. I had tried it before, but it wasn’t until my regular trips to Chicago, sitting around sharing a pot, using her cute little strainer, that I started really liking it. It’s now a staple in my tea collection and one that we drank a lot of while they were here. And because I can’t leave anything alone, I decided to add tahini, bringing a sweet nuttiness to the earthy flavor of the tea. You can make this without the tahini, and it would be good. But I recommend trying the combination – I think they suit each other.

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Farro Stuffed Delicata Squash | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler

Farro Stuffed Delicata Squash

Farro Stuffed Delicata Squash | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler

Farro Stuffed Delicata Squash | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler
Farro Stuffed Delicata Squash | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler
Farro Stuffed Delicata Squash | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler
Farro Stuffed Delicata Squash | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler
Farro Stuffed Delicata Squash | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler

There are meals that sit in my head for a while. Rolling around, popping up every now and again, asking to be made. Some of them never come to light – either I can’t figure out what it’s missing or what it needs to make it pop, or maybe I think it’s a really original idea only to search the internet and find a handful of recipes just like it already in existence.

There are plenty of stuffed squash recipes out there. You need only do a quick search to be overwhelmed by the various types of squash, fillings, toppings, mix ins. But maybe this one will happen to contain a bunch of things you already in your fridge. That’s how it happened in my kitchen, anyway. I had been thinking about stuffed squash – it had been one of those ideas rolling around in my head, poking at me every time I brought home a squash from the store. And it took a few weeks to really figure out what I wanted to fill it with. And really it came down to necessity – we needed dinner, I’d been saving the squash and we didn’t have much else in the house. So I dug around the pantry and the fridge, rustled up some soyrizo, farro, manchego, dried cherries, and parsley. It sounds like an odd combination of things, but I promise they all fall into place quite nicely – a little bite from the farro, sweetness and creaminess from the squash, a little heat from the soyrizo.

It’s an easy meal that comes together quickly, though I will warn you it uses a handful of dishes. But for a filling, comforting fall meal, it’s worth it.

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Miso Caramel Apple Cake | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler

Miso Caramel Apple Cake

Miso Caramel Apple Cake | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler
Miso Caramel Apple Cake | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler
Miso Caramel Apple Cake | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler
Miso Caramel Apple Cake | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler
Miso Caramel Apple Cake | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler
Miso Caramel Apple Cake | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler
Miso Caramel Apple Cake | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler

We decided not to go to a pumpkin patch this year. I have some regrets, but mostly we wanted to spend our time doing things other than driving half an hour to a patch just to pick a pumpkin, something we easily could have done at our local grocery store. I’ve been really impressed by the homes in our new neighborhood. There’s one down the street that has no fewer than seven of those large inflatable, light up creatures: two spiders on their roof, one weiner dog with a mask, a couple pumpkins, and more. They even hung a little ghost from the telephone wire! There are pumpkins galore, gravestones, lights, and those faux cobwebs everywhere. I like how Halloween has really been embraced and so many people decorate and get in the holiday spirit. I like that it has such a sense of humor about it, a lightheartedness.

What did we do instead of the pumpkin patch? Well, we did get pumpkins, and we carved them. We got a skeleton named Gary who looks like he’s emerging from our garden beds. We threw a murder mystery dinner party. And tomorrow we hope to be handing out a lot of candy (seriously, we have two very large bags) to kiddos dressed up in costume, hauling pillowcases or plastic pumpkins or whatever the kids use these days. And as for the adults? We’ll likely be munching on this cake (if there’s any left by then), sipping mulled wine or mulled cider spiked with rum, maybe watching Stranger Things (if we don’t finish that by then too) or The Nightmare Before Christmas or some other movie that is equal parts Halloween and nostalgia. Sometimes certain holidays can be weird as adults, but I’m feeling pretty good about this one.

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Kale & Sweet Potato Soup | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler

Kale & Sweet Potato Soup

Kale & Sweet Potato Soup | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler

Kale & Sweet Potato Soup | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler
Kale & Sweet Potato Soup | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler

We’ve turned on the heat. On the afternoons when the cold is seeping into my bones I nudge the thermostat up a couple of degrees. We’ve had four fires in our fireplace. Jonah even acquired one third of a cord of wood (which is a lot). I am drinking tea most mornings. The leaves are fiery red, more neon than I remember them being in years past. I think I’m so excited about all of this because I missed fall last year. I’ve always loved fall for many of the usual reasons: sweaters, tea, cozy gatherings with family and friends. But this year it all seems bigger. Last year we went pretty much straight from summer in Portland to more summer in Thailand, and then straight into winter in Germany. I missed my favorite season and some of my favorite ingredients.

But having more appreciation isn’t the only thing that’s different. There have been little things in our day to day lives that have altered since we started making this home. It seems silly, but I used to be very particular about leftovers, and often didn’t really like eating them very much. These days I am a leftover guru: combining bits from different meals to make something completely new and also really good (if I do say so myself). I am working on going with the flow more, and am getting better every day. And this season I am determined to confront my mediocre feelings toward soup. It’s not that I hate soup at all – I don’t even dislike it. But there is always something I would rather eat (the exception to this is matzoh ball soup). But with a new kitchen, a new dutch oven, and a new perspective on leftovers, I’m going to conquer soup.

I made this decision over a month ago when we arrived in Chicago for our wedding. Once we hauled our suitcases into the living room at Jonah’s parents’ house after a long day of travel, my mother-in-law asked if we wanted something to eat. She scooped rice into a bowl and topped it with this light coconut broth, simmered kale, and sweet potatoes. There was a healthy pinch of cilantro, and she got out the hot sauce for us to liberally drizzle over. I took one bite and was convinced that I needed to re-examine my relationship with soup. I ate this for the next three days for lunch, secretly sneaking into the kitchen for a slightly early lunch so I would get to it before Jonah’s family finished it off. It was selfish, but I couldn’t help myself.

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Brown Butter Pumpkin Bread | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler

Brown Butter Pumpkin Bread

Brown Butter Pumpkin Bread | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler
Brown Butter Pumpkin Bread | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler
Brown Butter Pumpkin Bread | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler
Brown Butter Pumpkin Bread | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler
Brown Butter Pumpkin Bread | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler
Brown Butter Pumpkin Bread | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler
Brown Butter Pumpkin Bread | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler

It has been a time of changes around here lately. Just as the fall weather peeked its head in Portland, Jonah and I were off to Chicago, where summer raged. There we got married: in his parents’ backyard, under the chuppa, crying and laughing and dancing. It was everything that a wedding is supposed to be. The days before and after were packed with events, with tooling around the city seeing friends and gathering with family. The sense of joy and celebration, the high from all the love, felt like it would last forever.

And then, two days after the wedding, it came to a halt: we got a call that Jonah’s grandmother had passed away. At the wedding she had looked so beautiful and strong. She sat chatting with the other grandmothers and blowing bubbles. She stuck to her values, walking right past the dance floor and saying to my now sister-in-law, “Did you see that? I’m a good Mennonite.” The morning after the wedding, we sat with her and unwrapped a beautiful quilt that she had been saving for us, called “Around the World.” We hugged and kissed her goodbye and said we’d see her at Christmas. You see, Jonah’s grandparents lived in a small town in Minnesota and, despite over seven years together and many Christmases with his family, I had never been. Jonah wanted me to see it, to see the town covered in snow, to take part in the holiday traditions his family holds so dear. I told him that this would be the year to go, since I didn’t know how much longer Grandma would be with us.

We balanced the rest of our time in Chicago – friends distracted us, even continued the celebration while being sensitive to the loss. We made plans with Jonah’s family – when was the service? Should we go straight from Chicago? We decided, in the end, to fly home on our previously scheduled flight, and then flew out to Minnesota a couple of days later. I didn’t know what to do, how to help. In situations like this, when I feel helpless, I turn to the kitchen, to something I can have some control over. I went back to my traditions: when we celebrate, we eat; when we mourn, we eat. The slight nip in the air in those two days at home settled in my belly, and while I picked the last hauls of sungold tomatoes from our garden, I started to crave soups, roasted chicken, and squash in all forms. So I decided to bake this pumpkin bread. It is a bread of changes too: pale gold butter becomes a caramel, nutty, liquid. A soft, sparkly batter turns into a moist, dense loaf with a perfect crunch on top. It may not have been much, but it was what I could offer. Grandma, I promise to keep my new family well-fed.

When we heard the news, I emailed our wedding photographer to see if she could send any photos of Grandma from the wedding. She sent a handful of beautiful pictures, but this for some reason stands out to me. That’s her on the right, talking to Jonah’s other grandmother, as they watch the dancing.
Photo credit: Anna Zajac.

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Peach Parfait | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler

Parfait Parfait: Peach Parfait with Graham Cracker Crumbs

Peach Parfait | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler

Peach Parfait | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler
Peach Parfait | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler

We give each other a hard time in my family. Really. Nothing is off limits, and boy do we know how to push each others’ buttons. My sisters, for example, can get me more angry than anyone in the world. But the other side of this is that when we give each other compliments, it really is the most heartwarming thing. Getting a sincere compliment from my sisters or my parents is one of those things that gives me the warm and fuzzies. But back to the giving each other a hard time thing. My dad has all these -isms. These things he says and we give him quite a hard time for. I won’t share all of them here because he might kill me (if he happens to read this post), but one of my favorites that is relevant to this story is when he says, “You know, it wasn’t actually that hard.” This is almost always in reference to some intricate, fantastic dish he has cooked. It goes like this: either we are on the phone or sitting down to dinner, and he tells me all of the steps it took to make the dish in front of me or that he made for dinner last week. And then, no matter what I say, he follows it up with, “You know, it wasn’t actually that hard.”

When I was in Seattle last month, he and I were at the store shopping for dinner, and he mentioned he wanted to pick up whipping cream for leftovers of a dessert he had made a couple days before that, you guessed it, “wasn’t actually that hard.” I, of course, did not believe him. Especially when he claimed it was called a parfait parfait, which in his often jumbled speech, became farpait farpait. Imagine the two of us, wheeling our cart up and down the aisles of the store, giggling and spouting “farpait farpait” at each other – it was a sight. But we got home, ate dinner, and then were treated to this dessert. The sautéed fruit topped with salty, sweet, buttery graham cracker crumbles, and freshly whipped cream convinced me quickly that this dessert was worth whatever effort it required. It was so tasty that I made it for a dinner party last week to find that he was right: it really was one of the simplest desserts I’ve ever made. Did you hear that Dad? YOU WERE RIGHT.

The beauties of this recipe are two-fold. First, it can be easily adapted with whatever seasonal fruit you have on hand. In the coming weeks, I’ll be making it with plums, then apples, then maybe even some grapefruit wedges, rhubarb, berries, you get the idea. Second, having this graham cracker crumb on hand, I’ve found is both tempting and useful. Being able to just sauté some fruit and whip some cream and voila, dessert, is pretty great. Plus it isn’t so bad sprinkling a tiny bit on my morning yogurt, fruit, and granola either.

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Carrots with Tahini Sauce + Hazelnuts | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler

Carrots with Tahini Sauce + Hazelnuts

Carrots with Tahini Sauce + Hazelnuts | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler

Carrots with Tahini Sauce + Hazelnuts | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler
Carrots with Tahini Sauce + Hazelnuts | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler
Carrots with Tahini Sauce + Hazelnuts | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler
Disney dinner | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler
Disney dinner | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler

It was a mashup. A mashup of colors: neon orange, sunset purple, creamy yellow. A mashup of recipes: lots of research, a few ideas, a smattering of ingredients already in the fridge. And a mashup of an event: bachelorette party meets Disney princess themed meets actual edible meal. My best friend’s bachelorette weekend was a whirlwind of events and cocktails (coming soon to the blog, don’t worry), celebrating this wonderful woman and her marriage to another one of my best friends. I’ll get all sappy about them in the next post though. I was tasked with throwing a Disney princess themed dinner party at my house – we dressed as Disney princesses, there was a photobooth, lots of Cinderella-blue (her favorite princess), pumpkins, and more. Above you can see the table and some of the princesses with Cinderella herself at the head of the table, plus the wonderful Moana using her oar to keep all the bees off our fish.

In my effort to create a feast that was edible and kind of went together, I fudged a little bit – Arial probably wouldn’t normally eat salmon, she’d be friends with the salmon. So this was my riff on Rapunzel’s carrots and hazelnuts (in the movie she eats parsnip and hazelnut soup) topped with Jasmine’s tahini sauce. It was my favorite dish at the dinner, and I was happy to find some of the tahini sauce leftover in my fridge a few days later. So I recreated it here – there may be less Disney flare, but there is just as much flavor.

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Asian Hot Sauce | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler

Asian Hot Sauce

Asian Hot Sauce | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler

Asian Hot Sauce | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler
Asian Hot Sauce | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler

My cooking these days feels torn. On the one hand, we’ve been having people over for dinner all the time and when we do, I take it as an opportunity to make those dishes that are just a bit too much of a production for any old night with me and Jonah (i.e. anything from my newest and also favorite cookbook Six Seasons). On the other hand, when it is just me and Jonah I tend to turn to what I have in the fridge. This is a great practice, but when I go to the grocery store, I generally buy the same things for weeknight dinner staples: I pick up some tofu, mushrooms, peppers, leafy greens, onions, occasionally some sweet potatoes, and a bulb of fennel if I’m feeling fancy. These ingredients most often turn themselves into a rice or soba noodle bowl because, well, we love Asian flavors, and it’s simple enough that we don’t have to think about it too much before it can become dinner. But the key to any good rice or noodle bowl is the right sauce.

In my recipe box that sits in my spice drawer, I’ve got at least 3 different asian marinades/sauces. They all have roughly the same ingredients, with a couple extras thrown in or substituted. They are ingredients that are used almost daily in my kitchen: soy sauce, rice vinegar, sriracha, garlic, lime juice. Occasionally there will be honey or maple syrup, sesame oil or miso. But this sauce, the one below, it’s different. Instead of being the base sauce for a meal, it’s a sauce that I keep in a small jar in the fridge. I drizzle it on a plate of food when it needs an extra kick, that beloved tingling on the lips, the gentle burning on the edges of your tongue. It’s not too hot – you can still taste all the ingredients in it because the heat is just at the right level where the flavors don’t get lost. I put it on noodles and rice bowls, but I also put it on fried eggs in the morning, orzo salads that need a little jazzing up after a few days in the fridge, and an afternoon snack of avocado. It has gotten to a point where I like to always have a jar on hand, should the need for it arise. And the need does arise. It always comes in handy.

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Hummus Three Ways: Basic, Balsamic, and Chipotle | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler

Hummus Three Ways: Basic, Balsamic, and Chipotle

Hummus Three Ways: Basic, Balsamic, and Chipotle | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler
Hummus Three Ways: Basic, Balsamic, and Chipotle | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler
Hummus Three Ways: Basic, Balsamic, and Chipotle | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler
Hummus Three Ways: Basic, Balsamic, and Chipotle | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler
Hummus Three Ways: Basic, Balsamic, and Chipotle | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler
Hummus Three Ways: Basic, Balsamic, and Chipotle | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler
Hummus Three Ways: Basic, Balsamic, and Chipotle | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler

There are some foods that have such a sense of place. For me, scallops take me back to the first time I gathered the courage to taste them – my dad had doused them in a carrot sauce – on the back patio of my childhood home. Deeper n’ ever pie takes me to my mom’s kitchen. Beer bread takes me to my apartment, senior year of college, my friend Rosie and I standing in the kitchen, waiting impatiently for the bread to cool so we could eat a slice. Annie’s mac n’ cheese takes me to the early days of my relationship with Jonah, standing in his college kitchen, scraping the pot of the tangy cheese sauce to procrastinate on our studies.

Hummus was never a food I loved growing up. I never understood why you would purée beans and then dip dry, bland pita chips in it. I would’ve rather eaten broccoli dipped in ranch, or Doritos, or almost anything else you would find hummus next to at the food table at whatever party you were at. It was cold, thick, and grainy, and seemed like a punishment to have to eat. I avoided eating it mostly until the past few years. I remember a hike that my dad and I went on, and we took a little tub of Sabra’s roasted garlic hummus to the top of Little Si outside Seattle and nearly polished the whole thing off. From then on, Sabra was the standard for me: rich, creamy, and smooth. At parties, I stopped avoiding hummus altogether, but I never really sought it out.

When I went to Israel a couple years ago, I knew I was going to eat the best hummus of my life. And I did, four times over. I ate hummus dusted with za’atar, hummus slathered in olive oil, hummus sprinkled with ground lamb and pine nuts, and hummus dolloped with roasted mushrooms. I would go back to Israel just for the hummus, eaten in the Jerusalem heat, watching the city bustle around me as I sat licking my fingers. When I got back from that trip, I started making my own hummus – I have become a snob about it, and I futzed with Ottolenghi’s recipe until it was as close as possible to the plates I scraped in Israel.

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