Cucumber Sesame Salsa

cucumber sesame salsa

The highlight of my day was hearing Francis Ford Coppola on KUOW this morning. I was stuck in the car for an hour and a half (long story--messed up my schedule) and decided a) I could be cranky and impatient or b) I could realize I'd been given some rare time alone and just relax into it.  I chose the latter, and split my time between prayer and public radio. Not too shabby.

He was engaging, sweet, and frank--the sort of person I'd love to spend a few hours and a few glasses of wine with. He's 70 and still constantly learning.  He said "I have no career, no future.  So now I can do what I really want to do. I'm like an old guy that golfs, except I make art films."  I love that.

This stayed with me all day--"You've got to stick your neck out in this life, otherwise you'll just do things the way everyone else has done them.  The things that get you fired now are the things that will earn you accolades later." I'm not risk-averse, but I could certainly take  more risks.  I took two today.  The first was some workplace coaching that I'm really proud of.  And the second (more pertinent) was to put sesame seeds in my salsa.  But I knew you wouldn't fire me for it.

Visiting Bellingham included a trip to Mediterranean Specialities, where they sell lots of delicious Lebanese foodstuffs, and I lounged around in my Mom's front yard reading Lebanese and Turkish cookbooks.  My mom is the sort of person who STUDIES UP on something like Lebanese cuisine, then makes a feast so mind-blowingly authentic people talk about it for years. I don't have the stamina or attention span for that.  Like I've said before, I am (regrettably) the sort of person who often prefers to know something rather than learn it.  

So I'm not making Lebanese feasts, but I did bring home a container of "Old World Lebanese Zaatar."  If you follow along with this blog, you may have to go find yourself some, because I am addicted.  It's gone into everything this week--hummus, on pita chips and sandwiches, and in this little salsa which I'm making for the second time this week.

There are lots of varieties of Zaatar, and it's used in Morocco, Israel, Palestine, Syria, Lebanon, etc.  It's toasted sesame seeds with dried oregano, thyme and salt, and sometimes cumin, fennel, or coriander.  I generally don't think to combine oregano and sesame, which is what I love about exploring other traditions.  With all my cooking experience, there are still so many uncharted waters. Okay--I guess I do like to learn things as long as there's a snack at the end.  Not too different from a kindergartner in that respect.

salsa juice

The first night, we put it over our savory galettes.  Tonight, we took it on our picnic with zaatar pita chips.  When the pita chips were gone, Yancey ate it straight out of the bowl.  If nothing else, I have a feeling I'll still be taking risks in the kitchen at 70.  And 80.  And until I can't stand at the stove anymore.

Yancey and Loretta

Cucumber Sesame Salsa
If you can't find zaatar (and PFI would be where I'd start), you can make your own by toasting some sesame seeds, then tossing them with dried oregano and some salt.  To toast sesame seeds, throw them in a hot, dry skillet and stir them around until they're golden, 1 or 2 minutes.  Watch them carefully!  I used fresh basil and cilantro from my garden (sorry. rubbing it in), but you could use just cilantro, and mint would also be delicious.  You could also throw in garlic and/or red onion.  I liked the mild taste without them, though...the better to taste the zaatar.

I large or 2 small cucumbers, peeled, seeded, and finely diced
3 roma tomatoes, finely diced
2 Tb. chopped fresh cilantro
1 Tb. chopped fresh basil
2 green onions, finely sliced
1 jalapeno, seeded and finely diced
1 Tb. zaatar
juice of one lime (or more to taste)
drizzle of extra virgin olive oil

Gently combine all ingredients in a bowl.

Zaatar Pita Chips
Heat oven to 350.  Take 3 or 4 stale pita breads, and cut them into triangles.  Toss with 1 Tb. olive oil and 2 ts. zaatar.  Spread on a baking sheet and bake for about 8 minutes, until golden and a mostly crunchy but with a little give still.

Hummus for Dinner

Yesterday was a hard day.  Yancey was gone for 24+ hours on his first firefighting shift (which went well, by the way), and I guess the kids and I weren't ready to be yanked out of vacation mode.  I know I wasn't, anyway.  And I felt lonely.  Also, impatient. Especially with Loretta, who was a little dictator all day.  A few times I seriously questioned my ability to hold it together until bedtime.  I went into my room at one point, shut the door, looked up to the sagging popcorn ceiling, and said, "Help."  It's funny how much that actually did help.  I waste energy by trying not to get so desperate sometimes.

Another thing that helped was making this hummus while Loretta was sleeping and Wyatt was playing computer games. Cooking really is soothing for me--it gets me out of my head, helps me feel productive, puts me closer to the nurturing parts of myself.  And often something smallish and easy like this hummus is more fun than trying to put dinner on the table when everyone is cranky and hungry.  There was no rush, it wasn't planned.  Okay.  Maybe a little bit planned, as I had cooked a crockpot of dried garbanzo beans (chickpeas) a few days ago.  I find if I cook beans or grains for no reason, it's much easier to be creative later in the week.  

I love canned chickpeas and always have them around.  Lately, though, I've been unsatisfied with hummus made from them. I know the culprit, too.  It's Trader Joe's Mediterranean hummus, which is the best purchased hummus I've ever had and leaves me disillusioned with mine.  So I thought I'd cook my own and see if I could teach TJ's a lesson.  If your crockpot is not your entertainment center, you could easily use canned ones here and be pretty satisfied, I think.

One of the rules I've made up for myself is "Go outside whenever possible."  Last night, after a long day with the kids, it was tempting to stay put, but I knew we'd all be happier if we walked down to the park with our dinner.  So I hauled out Wyatt's bike and Loretta's trike, found both helmets (miracle #1), and made a 10 minute picnic--hummus, carrots, cucumbers, celery, leftover spiced pecans (that's all Loretta ate for dinner, actually), a small wedge of Cambozola, and some whole wheat naan. I also tucked a couple lollipops in my basket in case I'd have to bribe the kids to keep riding their bikes on the way home. Turns out I didn't need them (miracle #2).  They were totally absorbed and happy in the warm evening, and so was I.  That was miracle #3.

There are at least two mistakes I've made with hummus in the past--putting too much garlic in and not putting enough liquid in.  As it sits, it gets more garlicky and sets up, so by the next day I'd have a brick of garlic, basically. I've learned to lighten up on the garlic and make it a little bit thinner than I think it needs to be.  Oh--another mistake was using too much medium-grade olive oil, which made it bitter.  I supplement with some canola oil now.  And pouring extra olive oil on the top is a must.

3 c. cooked chickpeas, drained (If you're cooking them yourself, soak them overnight first, then cook them in a crockpot the next night.  They take forever to cook.)
1 garlic clove
3 Tb. extra virgin olive oil
3 Tb. canola oil
quite a bit of salt
juice of one lemon and some of its zest
pinch of ground cumin
crushed red pepper flakes
1/2 c. hot water

Put garlic clove in the bowl of a food processor and pulse a couple times.  Add chickpeas, garlic, oils, salt, lemon juice, cumin, and red pepper flakes. Keep the food processor running for a good 3 0r 4 minutes, at least, and add the hot water as it's running. Don't add the full half cup unless you need to.  Stop and dip your finger in a couple times to taste for seasoning and texture.

Garnish with whole chickpeas, lemon zest, red pepper flakes, and extra olive oil.

Sweet and Spicy Pecans

Love of nuts runs in my family.  You may have noticed I'm not shy about them.  Our friend Richard (Mary's other spouse) always makes fun of me because I once put in Mary's recipe book, "Never underestimate the power of nuts."  He thinks that's hilarious.  It is a little hyperbolic.  Okay, Rich. It's funny.  For some reason, I manage to say the stupidest things around Richard, and he's got comedy material to last him for weeks.  

But these nuts...there's nothing funny about them.  They are seriously good.  I've been making spiced nuts of one sort or another for a long time and for lots of occasions--Christmas presents, parties.  They've almost always turned out tasting good, but I've never hit on the perfect combo of dry/oily (and I steer away from any recipe that looks like it will take longer than 10 minutes).  The ones calling for oil or butter end up too slick, and the ones with just an egg white are so sandpapery that I once rubbed all my fingertips off while bagging them up.  I've finally had the bright idea of doing both butter and egg white.  

Loretta likes these.  She wrinkles up her nose and says, "Can I have more spicy nut?"  It would really be a hardship if she developed a nut allergy in her life.  She likes to stand at the counter and watch me cook, and I always have a little bowl of toasted nuts up there.  She eats happily, which keeps her from spilling my olive oil or getting her fingers chopped off.

It's lucky for me that close-up food photos are the rage right now.  Otherwise, you'd be seeing a lot more of my kitchen table, which hosts every important and messy activity in this household.  My friend Jackie used to say, "I wish all the surfaces in my house were slanted.   That way I couldn't pile crap on top of everything."  

The opening photo in this post is staged, obviously.  Like I was drinking beer and watching T.V. at 2:00 in the afternoon. But I do think these nuts would be the perfect thing to have while watching the American Idol finale, for instance.  Not that I know anything about that competition.  I think it's a cheerleading competition?  Or poetry?  I don't know.  I've heard the young people are into it.  If I did watch, I probably couldn't decide if I wanted Adam or Chris to win.  My boss Michael is rooting for Chris.  Chris is predictably decent, but I think he's gotten the sweetheart vote a couple times.  

I'm going to grab another handful of nuts while I watch C-SPAN.

Sweet and Spicy Pecans

1 lb. pecans (4 or 5 cups)
1 egg white
4 Tb. butter
1 ts. cumin
pinch cayenne
1 ts. smoked paprika
1 Tb. brown sugar
1 ts. cinnamon
1/2 c. sugar
salt (at least 2 ts.)

Preheat oven to 300.

Put pecans in a medium bowl.  Add egg white and mix gently with your hands, making sure all nuts are evenly coated with the egg white.

Melt butter in small saucepan.  Take off heat, and add cumin, cayenne, smoked paprika, brown sugar, and cinnamon.  Add butter mixture to pecans, and mix gently with your hands.  Then add sugar and salt, mixing with your hands again until all nuts are evenly coated.

Spread out on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.  Toast for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Nuts won't be crackly when you pull them out, but they will be after they cool for a few minutes.  Put them into a bowl and continue watching American Idol C-SPAN.

Edamame Arugula Spread


What a beautiful green this is!  Don't you think?  Yancey calls this a statement question--"This is beautiful...isn't it?!"  He has to endure many of these statement questions.

This is something else for the party tonight--economical, spring-like and NOT hummus.  I like good hummus as much as the next person, but the color is so blah.  Even if I pretty it up with olive oil and paprika, the first person to dip their cracker messes it up.  Also, there's a lot of bad hummus out there, and I didn't want to risk that anyone would mistake mine for that stuff.

I found this recipe on Epicurious, and it was a no-brainer not to use the fava beans they call for.  I've made fava bean crostini before, and there are a few problems with it--1) Peeling the favas is too much work for the result 2) Fava beans are hard to find outside the farmers market 3) Fava beans are expensive.  So here's a way to get the color (and even better flavor, I think) from bags of frozen shelled soybeans (edamame) that ran me $1.47 a bag at Uwajimaya.

I brought some to book club last night where we talked about Malcolm Gladwell's Blink.  He writes about analytic versus intuitive decision-making, and ends up elevating the intuitive decision-making that's often maligned in Western culture.  He says practicing something a lot is actually what makes spontaneity possible--you have to know the rules before you can improvise.  A snap judgement about something you're experienced in is likely to be a good call.

So of course I thought about being in the kitchen. Improvisation in the kitchen is overwhelming for some of you because you haven't had a lot of practice or exposure in the first place.  When someone says, "Oh, I just threw this together!" you can't relate at all, and in fact, their enthusiasm kind of makes you want to puke.  I am a notorious recipe-changer or sometimes eschew them altogether, but the only reason I can do this is because I followed them (and followed my mom around) for a long time. I'm not sure there's a way around that.  I always joke that I want to know things, but don't necessarily want to learn them.  Learning involves lots of mistakes, and I don't like making mistakes.  So I've put this little phrase on my mirror:  Enjoy the workout of the learning curve.  It reminds me that learning is a workout--it's supposed to be hard, and it's good for me.  If I stop feeling sorry for my sweaty, tired-out self, I might actually enjoy being in a place of uncertainty and risk.  

I am so lucky to have a community that teaches me new things all the time and is patient while I learn.  A big part of that is my book club.  I had to miss for 3 months while Yancey was gone, and it was good to be back last night. Jordan took this photo of me laughing.  As my photographer father-in-law says (very bluntly), "Sarah, I can't get a good picture of you to save my life."  It's true--the camera does not like me.  But I like this photo because it's the posture I'm in all the time at book club--laughing.  In fact, if you're ever doing a public speaking gig and you want to plant someone in your audience who will think you're funny, I'm your gal. 

So here's to learning and improvisation and maybe not thinking about any of that while you enjoy the sunshine this weekend.

Edamame Arugula Spread
adapted from Epicurious

1 pound (one bag, generally) shelled frozen edamame 
1 garlic clove
1/4 c. olive oil plus extra for the top
1/4 c. finely grated pecorino or parmesan cheese
1/2 ts. finely grated lemon zest
juice of 1/2 lemon
1 c. baby arugula

Cook edamame in boiling water until tender, about 5 minutes.  Drain.

Pulse edamame in food processor until coarsely chopped, then transfer half the mixture to a large bowl.  To the other half still in the food processor, add olive oil, garlic, pecorino, lemon zest, lemon juice, and salt to taste.  Purée until smooth.  Add to bowl.  Coarsely chop arugula and gently fold into fava bean mixture.  Drizzle with more olive oil before serving and top with a little more pecorino if you want.

You can make this a day ahead and just leave the arugula out until right before you serve it.  Serve with crackers or crostini.

Priya's Tomato Lavender Chutney

Something short and sweet for today.  I'm catering Erika's 40th birthday tomorrow night--munchies for 75 karaoke-singing, beer-drinking folks.  In other words, they may not appreciate this sublime little concoction, but I thought maybe you would. Also, if the next 20 posts seems like cocktail food, they are.  This blog goes as my life goes, even if that means cabbage for 6 days in a row.

Priya brings this chutney to book club sometimes with triple cream brie and crackers.  If we had actually started talking about the book (doubtful), that conversation ceases when this appears.  I usually eat it quite quickly so as to get more than my friends.  Now they know.

I've copied it several times in my kitchen, but this time got the the official recipe from Priya.  It was better, mostly because I used shallots instead of onions.  I roll my eyes when people talk about the delicate flavor of shallots, but it's true (and they are cheap at MacPhersons).  As my mom discovered recently, there's something to be said for following the recipe.  She made Dara's oven-dried tomatoes and turned the oven way up for speediness.  She woke in the middle of the night to little charcoal briquettes.  I wish she had sent a photo.

I'm serving this tomorrow night with crackers and Cambozola, but have used it to fill galettes or as an accompaniment to pork. I've often made it without lavender, which I bought at PFI.  Loretta stuck her nose in the bag time after time--"Mommy, I want to smell again!"  

Happy 40th, Erika.  In five years that will be me, and I hope I'm half as hip and accomplished as you are.

Priya's Tomato Lavender Chutney

2 Tb. olive oil
3 Tb. minced shallots
2 Tb. minced garlic
3 Tb. minced ginger
2 ts. dried lavender
1 c. red wine vinegar
1 c. sugar
2 28 oz. cans whole tomatoes, drained and coarsely chopped (or whizzed quickly in food processor)
salt to taste

Heat olive oil in a medium sized pot over low heat.  Add garlilc, shallots and ginger.  Stir until soft and fragrant.  Add vinegar, sugar and lavender.  Reduce to half the volume.  Add tomatoes and stir on until thickened (about 40 minutes).  Season with salt. Chill.

Stalking Granola

[caption id="attachment_427" align="aligncenter" width="450" caption="Make it before you have to endure more photos"]Make it before you have to endure more photos


Here comes another bad metaphor.  If I'm the food paparazzi, granola must be the Jennifer Aniston of my food life, showing up EVERYWHERE and pretending to avoid the spotlight.  I've heard from other people that read trashy magazines like US and People that Jennifer Aniston is featured a lot.  I only read James Joyce and medical journals.

Made another batch of Eat-it-Every-Day Granola last weekend, ate it for breakfast this morning, and wasn't hungry at all until my late lunch.  That's the thing--not only is it delicious and as attractive (or more) than Jennifer Aniston--it will hold you over.  Put yourself out of your misery and make some.  And don't forget to share.

Fig Olive Tapenade

It tastes even better than it looks.  I was a little surprised, truthfully.  I volunteered to bring an appetizer for Easter brunch.  I have some crackers in the pantry and a log of goat cheese in the fridge, but was determined not to make a trip to the store.  By now, you know I always have nuts around.  I also found dried figs and half a jar of Kalamata olives.  I'm an olive-lover, but am not totally ga-ga over most olive tapenades I've had.  Too bitter, maybe?  Anyway, they don't tempt me the way you might expect an olive-lover to be tempted.

The addition of figs did the trick.  They add a sweet and chewy oomph that puts this spread in the "tempting" category.  I am sure there must be recipes for something quite similar floating around somewhere.  I did "make this up,"  but I've probably seen it somewhere.  One of my professors in grad school always used to say that we need to acknowledge the shoulders on which we stand.  In other words, the magazines Bon Appetit, Saveur, and Gourmet, my mother's encyclopedic knowledge of food and her accompanying library, and the never-fading kitchen celebrity, my old Cuisinart food processor.

Dump these ingredients in your trusty machine and have the crackers ready.  And you can take all the credit.  I don't mind.

Fig Olive Tapenade

3/4 c. Kalamata olives

3/4 c. dried figs, roughly chopped

1 small garlic clove

1/3 c. walnuts

1 Tb. lemon zest

1 Tb. orange zest

pinch of coarse salt

splash of orange juice

1 or 2 Tb. olive oil

Combine all ingredients except for orange  juice and olive oil in the bowl of a food processor.  Pulse a couple times, then add the OJ and olive oil.  Pulse again until mixture turns into a paste (but don't pulse the *%# out of it--you want it to be slightly chunky still.)  Add more liquid if you want to or you think it needs it.

Garnish with walnuts and lemon zest.  Serve with crackers and chevre, if you like.

Eat-it-Every-Day Granola

[caption id="attachment_788" align="aligncenter" width="550" caption="Beautiful Abundance"]Beautiful Abundance


So many of you have this recipe already or have received bags of this granola.  When I make it, I always give away half.  Usually, I'm not sure who I'm going to give it to, but something always comes up--one of my clients, one of Yancey's (back when he was building houses), someone that's feeling sad or stressed or just not receiving the benefits of a granola-filled life. Maybe now I'll be sending it along to the fire chief.  He seems like someone you want on your side.

My mom is Queen Granola, and was making granola back when it was considered strange.  I remember she used to send it to my grandfather for gifts--he was notoriously hard to shop for, and he always raved about it. During the week after Wyatt was born, my parents stayed here and Mom cooked for us.  Our first morning home, she made a big batch of granola and served it with strawberries and yogurt.  Nothing ever tasted so good.  Oh, to be on the nursing diet again. More recently, I gave some to my father-in-law and his girlfriend for Christmas.  They report not caring much about granola in their previous life, but ended up fighting over the last oats.  I love to hear that.   Kerri, now you can have some all to yourself.

I always eat mine with yogurt, and have it every morning (and sometimes for lunch) when it's around.  Occasionally I'm stingy with the fruit and nuts if I'm running low, but usually my freezer is Nut Central, and I throw in big handfuls of whatever is around.  I have never purchased nuts at the grocery store.  Rip-Off of the Century.  I get them at Costco, Trader Joes, or PFI, and use them in embarrassing amounts.  The batch pictured here has pumpkin seeds, hazelnuts, pecans, and cherries.

This week's extra bag is for my sister because I'm seeing her tomorrow and I love her.  Plus she comments on my blog.  Try it and see what good things happen for you.

Eat-it-Every-Day Granola

*The only thing this recipe has to have are the oats, oil, and sweetener.  Everything else is optional and mix/match depending on what you like (or your kids don't like) and what you have in your pantry.  I sometimes add finely chopped crystallized ginger as well.

6 c. old fashioned rolled oats
1/4 c. flaxseed meal, sesame seeds, wheat germ, or combination of any 3 or 4 cups nuts and seeds--almonds (whole, slivered, or sliced), sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, pepitas, hazelnuts, pecans, etc.
1 or 2 c. coconut
1 ts. salt.
3/4 c. vegetable oil
3/4 cup pure maple syrup, honey, brown sugar, or combination of any
2 or 3 cups dried, roughly chopped fruit--apricots, cherries, figs, dates, blueberries, cranberries
Put racks in upper and lower thirds of oven preheat oven to 350.

Stir everything except the dried fruit together in a big bowl.

Spread mixture evenly on two large baking sheets with sides.  If you have parchment paper, this would be a good time to use it.  Bake, stirring granola and switching positions of sheets halfway through baking, until mixture is golden brown, 25-30 minutes.  If you're worried about burning, bake them one at a time.

Cool granola completely on sheets, then stir in dried fruit.  Keep it in an airtight container and enjoy at least a week's worth of delicious breakfasts.  And give some away.  You'll start to have more friends on Facebook.