I always enjoy reading stories of why people began to cook. Why they fell in love with the act of blending ingredients together, sprinkling spices, mixing brownie batter and that glorious moment when you pull a perfectly puffed pan of muffins out of the oven. I feel like it can reveal an intimate slice of the trajectory of a person’s growth.
My own story started with the underlying desire to care for myself in a world where I didn’t quite fit in- college. As with a lot of us around that age and period of life, there was so much uncertainty, a lot of confusing identity formation, and that subconscious loneliness that comes from living away from your family for the first time. I started to comfort myself with the preparation of food- baking sweets that reminded me of home, teaching myself how to sauté and stew, all in a tiny dorm-room kitchen. Cooking was the little side project that I threw myself into when studies and social stresses got to be too overwhelming.
Afterwards, when I set out on my nomadic adventure, I found that making food for others is a perfect way to connect and show gratitude. I eagerly baked sweets for people whose couch I was crashing on at the time and made American pancake breakfasts for roommates and friends wherever I was living.
Finally, once settled a bit more in Morocco, my own story of cooking expanded as I used sharing a kitchen as a tool to connect deeper with a new culture, finding acceptance in the proper preparation of traditional dishes. It is a huge part of how I have bonded with my new family and has been a meeting point for gathering friends and new acquaintances from different backgrounds, sharing food over the same table.
It seems as if my growth through cooking has brought me into wider and wider circles, connecting with new souls and also reaching deeper within myself, learning more about self-care and energizing my own body. I think that this is still, really, only the beginning of my story.
Another love story that I have found beautiful to follow is that of Sonja and Alex Overhiser’s, newfound blogging friends and the hearts behind A Couple Cooks and their new cookbook, Pretty Simple Cooking. When they were first married, they lived off of microwave meals and takeout and have somehow woven and blossomed their way into writing a full-blown, beautiful, vegetarian cookbook (you can read more about the whole journey on their site).
Their passion for making cooking both accessible and lovable is apparent in their recipes, writing, and everything they create, including the brilliant idea of hosting a worldwide dinner party this past weekend in honor of their book launch. As soon as I heard about the #PrettySimpleDinnerParty, I knew I had to host my own in our little corner of Tangier. Because of where my food story has brought me, this idea of 350 hosts around the globe, connecting through the collective goal of creating a dinner from recipes in their book was something I fell in love with immediately. M and I hopped on board, inviting a seemingly random group of friends, those who speak different languages and come from different backgrounds, and we prepared a delicious and hearty menu that even the non-vegetarians would thoroughly enjoy.
Putting together the dinner was a team effort in our little household. M took on the role of cleaning, polishing and making apartment practically sparkle with light and fresh energy, while I danced my way around the kitchen, relishing every step of the process in cooking exactly what their cookbook boasts- pretty. simple. meals. I made a roasted tomato and almond dip, garlic herb white bean dip, what is aptly called the best veggie lasagna, and a flourless chocolate cake with macerated strawberries for dessert. Everything was bursting with flavor and enjoyed by all over conversation in three different languages, a lot of laughter, and those full moments of silence when no one speaks because they are too busy taking the first bites of something truly delicious.
This whole Pretty Simple Simple Dinner party idea has inspired me to open a new chapter of my cooking love affair. Perhaps hosting more gatherings, bringing people together in unexpected ways, and embracing every step of the process of making a large, loving meal for those who matter in my life. I may just even have to use this book again and do a Pretty Simple breakfast party. If you want to organize your own little gathering, or just want a beautiful book full of lovely and accessible recipes, you can order Pretty Simple Cooking here.
Because the event was all about sharing love through food, I wanted to share one of the recipes I made with you all. At the dinner party, I had to stop myself from filling up on this garlic herb white bean dip before bringing out the main dishes. It is creamy, rich, but lightened in flavor by the herbs and sprinkling of vinegar. When I was buying fresh herbs for this dip, all I could find at the local market were rosemary, chives and lemon thyme, so of course I decided to use them all. The lemon thyme ended up bringing this surprising bright pop of citrus-y flavor that I couldn’t get enough of, therefor changing the original a bit and adding "lemony" as an important descriptor. With the leftover spread, we have been putting it on sandwiches and wraps all week and can’t imagine getting tired of it. Make it, invite over some friends and family, and add a page to your own story of cooking, food, people, cultures, and how they can all be connected.
-If you can't find lemon thyme, but still want that lemony zing, you could add normal thyme and 1 tbsp of lemon zest.
-Also, you don't have to use the exact herbs that I did- use whatever is fresh and on hand for you. The original recipe calls for 1/2 cup packed herbs so I am sure it would be fabulous with anything!
In the bowl of a food processor, mix together the garlic and herbs until finely minced. Add the beans, olive oil, vinegar, salt and pepper and blend until completely smooth.
Serve with an extra drizzle of olive oil on top with pita bread or fresh veggies to dip. This keeps for about a week in the fridge.
- 30 oz (850g) white beans (I used freshly cooked, but you can easily use canned)
- 1 medium garlic clove
- 2 tbsp packed fresh lemon thyme leaves
- 1 1/2 tbsp chopped chives
- 1 tiny sprig of rosemary (about 1 loose tsp chopped)
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 2 tbsp white vinegar
- 1/2 tsp salt
- pepper to taste
*Excerpted from A Couple Cooks | Pretty Simple Cooking: 100 Delicious Vegetarian Recipes to Make You Fall in Love with Real Food by Sonja Overhiser and Alex Overhiser. Copyright © 2018. Available from Da Capo Lifelong Books, an imprint of Perseus Books, LLC, a subsidiary of Hachette Book Group, Inc.*