Sometimes the benefits of packaged products outweigh their home-cooked. Anchovy paste, for example, is a whole lot easier to squeeze out of a tube than to make yourself. (I know you still think I’m crazy, but just try these two anchovy recipes… you’ll change your mind.) It’s a whole lot easier to make Mexican food on a whim if you have a can of black beans on the shelf and don’t have to worry about overnight soaking and a 2-hour cooking time. Other times, though, making things yourself is both more cost-effective and delicious, not to mention better for your body when you ditch the sodium needed to extend the shelf life.
When out to eat at Mediterranean restaurants, I’m often faced with a Great Debate: hummus or baba ghanoush? Creamy chickpea spread, or smoky eggplant dip? Both are delicious on their own or with pita, falafel, and other delicious menu mezze… it’s so hard to choose. So when I stumbled upon Tribe’s Roasted Eggplant Hummus at the grocery store a couple weeks ago, I knew my prayers were answered.
I’ve gone through an embarrassing amount of this packaged goodness, which isn’t good for my wallet or my creative juices. So when yesterday turned out to be dark, cold and rainy- a perfect time for cozy cooking in the warmth of my own kitchen- I fired up my oven and got to work.
ROASTED EGGPLANT HUMMUS
Makes about 4 cups
- 1 15-oz can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
- 1 medium-sized eggplant
- 1/4 c. fresh lemon juice
- 1 T olive oil
- 2 T tahini
- 2 cloves garlic, chopped
- 1/2 t ground cumin
- 1/2 t sea salt, plus a smidge more for sprinkling on the eggplant
Wash your eggplant and stab all over with a fork (as you would a potato). Roast eggplant, whole, in oven at 400˚ until fork tender, about 40-50 minutes depending on the size of your eggplant. Allow to cool. Cut in half, scoop out seeds, and sprinkle flesh with sea salt. Let sit 30-45 minutes; this cuts the natural bitterness of the eggplant.
In a food processor, blend 1/3 of the chickpeas and 1/3 of the eggplant until creamy.
Add lemon juice and olive oil and blend until mixed.
Blend in another 1/3 of the chickpeas and 1/3 of the eggplant. Repeat, scraping down sides as needed.
Pulse in garlic, cumin, 1/2 t salt and tahini until smooth. If you want to go the fancy route, garnish your hummus with a splash of olive oil and a sprinkle of paprika before serving.
Store in the fridge in an airtight container; it will keep 5- 7 days.
Bring the hummus to your next pot-luck and serve with pita chips or crudités. Set it on the table on Sunday morning as a cream cheese alternative on toasted bagels. Spread it on your burgers and on sewet potatoes. Stir it into oatmeal for a savory breakfast. Chop root veggies into thin rectangles, coat ‘em in the hummus, and voila! Baba-hummus fries. Make my new favorite sandwich and layer it between toasted bread and scrambled eggs, then top with cheese. (See above.) I could- and have- eaten this thrice a day.
Then, when you come home at 10:30 after a weeknight viewing of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, throw everything you think you know about pasta out the window, and make this.
CREAMY CARROT PASTA
- 8 oz spaghetti
- 1 bunch hearty greens (kale, collards, chard, etc.)
- 1 c. roasted eggplant hummus
- 4 carrot, grated
- 1/2 t salt
- pepper to taste
- 1/2 t chili flakes
Cook pasta according to package directions. When water is just about to boil, add greens and blanch until bright, 2-3 minutes. Use tongs to remove greens and set aside. Add pasta to the water and cook until al dente. Drain.
Return pasta to pot and toss with remaining ingredients, mixing until the sauce is evenly distributed. Layer over cooked greens just before serving.
How do you feel about expiration dates? Below, please read the guest post by Emily Schorr Lesnick (you may remember her hilarious tales of megadosing on supplements). It will challenge your ideas about what and when you throw out food, who does- or doesn’t- get the dry goods you bring to your local food bank, and the impending apocalypse.
I grew up in a household where expiration dates were a cultural construct. Our refrigerator has mustard from my parent’s wedding (no, actually) and I take a multivitamin that expired September 2000. My family’s hoarding has yet to make me sick and has helped me look at expiration dates as a suggestion, rather than a rule.
A few months ago, I volunteered at a food pantry that hosted a large food drive. The pantry gave people a list of essentials to donate: canned tuna, pasta, soup, canned vegetables, cereal, etc. However, some people did not stick to their list, instead dumping the unused, dusty contents of their pantries into the donation bags. These bags were filled with classy ingredients like capers and hot fudge sundae sauce, as well as wheat germ from the 1990s. Concerned about legal liability, the food bank instructed me to discard all items that had expired and/or were set to expire within the year.
Although I find it to be disrespectful to give others my unwanted and discarded food items as “donations,” I was profoundly uncomfortable with all of the food waste. I come from a long line of hoarders and immigrants, and was raised never waste anything, especially food. What would happen if the garlic powder expired a few years ago? Probably nothing, right? Old Jell-O won’t kill! I could not convince the director of the food bank to hold onto these items, but he told me I was welcome to take food home. Filled with glee, I grabbed expired powdered guacamole mix, a jar of sauerkraut, fancy olive oil-made mayonnaise, peach salsa, and more. It felt like winning a supermarket sweepstakes! Who could have expected that showing up for a community service project would yield such nourishing rewards? As a young post-grad, the allure of free food is more intense than my smell of patchouli. But it certainly felt weird to leave a food pantry with more than I brought.
I know expiration dates for canned and dry goods exist for a reason: to save companies’ butts. And maybe those dates do coincide with when food will start to mold or cause illness. But I also think these are arbitrary and should be rethought. I mean, will my Wheat Thins, set to expire 11/26/14, really outlive the pending apocalypse on 12/21/12? Didn’t think so.
Emily Schorr Lesnick is an after school teacher, improviser, and former classmate of Katie’s. She lives in Queens with her expired food and loathes mushrooms. Find her on Twitter @ESchorrLesnick.
Do you eat anything past its expiration date? How do you decide what’s “safe” and what isn’t?
What do you buy pre-packaged and what do you make from scratch?