That’s how I started writing this post. Then I stopped, and started over, because I caught myself doing something that makes me cringe when I see others doing it.
Saying “Middle Eastern food” can be like saying “American food” or “Asian food.” It's not wrong, per se, but it's not really right, either. It’s lumping together so many cuisines under one umbrella, and not taking into account, understanding, or celebrating the differences of each region, or culture, or community. We do it when we go out to eat, or when we (bloggers) post new recipes, or when we talk about "ethnic" cuisine. I have fallen in love with “Middle Eastern food," but what does that even mean? I admittedly, and embarrassingly, know so little about that part of the world, of cultures that shouldn't be defined by one popular ingredient.
I’m not saying we shouldn’t appreciate and enjoy foods from other cultures, I really do love tahini and za’atar, and plan to continue making new recipes with them. I’m not saying we shouldn’t post about different cuisines on our blogs, or use techniques, ingredients, and ideas to make new dishes. Every time we eat falafel doesn’t need to be a lesson in cultural appropriation. But I do think it’s important to try to understand who the people are who brought these dishes or ingredients to the US (curiosity, by the way, is a good first step to empathy! A lesson that could do one unfortunate presidential candidate a lot of good). It’s important to talk about, to think about, and to be aware of. Especially when we see so much hate being directed at certain populations, by people with a disproportionate amount of power.
And especially for a food blogger or writer, with a public platform. This little site is a minuscule speck of sand in the grand world of food blogs--I know that I’m not influencing tons and tons of people on a daily basis. But we’re all, no matter how small our reach, contributing to a narrative about food and culture, and it’s important to realize that sometimes the recipes we post or the way we talk about food from cultures other than our own can be misleading, wrong, hurtful, and sometimes damaging. We should all try harder, and be more aware.
So, let me start over. Today I’m making a salad with za’atar, tahini, chickpeas, sumac, parsley--flavors I just can’t get enough of lately, thanks to an introduction from my Ottolenghi cookbooks, as well as food bloggers like Molly Yeh and Danielle Oron, who both know a lot about Israeli food, and restaurants that I can’t stop dreaming about like Mamnoon. While these ingredients are popular in that broad swath of “Middle Eastern cuisine," this salad is a random mish-mash of things I think taste good. Remember those sweet potato tacos I wrote about? And how I said I always make extra roasted sweet potatoes to eat throughout the week? Well, this quick salad is something that came about thanks to those extra sweet potatoes. We’re adding them to a bowl full of za’atar spiced chickpeas, a lemony, garlicky, sumac-dusted tahini dressing, and lots of parsley. I also added almonds for crunch, and a 7-minute egg, because it has the most perfect custardy yolk ever!
I was inspired to make the 7-minute egg by one of my favorite online food friends (just kidding, we’re not friends, but I pretend we are), Cara Nicoletti. She’s a blogger, author, butcher, badass. And she has the best Instagram captions that I wish I had thought of. My all-time favorite: she posted a food photo with the caption “Mike Will Made it. Just kidding, I did.” I want to steal that line every day. And she posted a pic of a glorious soft cooked egg, with the caption “7 minutes in heaven.” I’m still LOLing over that one. I sound like I’m stalking her don’t I? Maaaaybe let’s not tell Cara about this, ok?
Anyway, now I’ve been making 6.5-7 minutes eggs like a madwoman, and doing something so godawful I always swore I’d never be one of those people… you know, the ones who microwave a smelly egg at work! Some nerve, right? Orangette taught me that you can reheat a soft boiled egg in the shell, for about 20 seconds, and it works like a charm. Which means this salad is perfect for a workday lunch!
Sweet Potato and Chickpea Salad with Tahini Dressing and a 7-Minute Egg
Add as much arugula, etc as you desire.
1 can chickpeas, drained
1 heaping teaspoon za’atar
1 tablespoon olive oil
Roasted Sweet Potatoes (recipe here)
7 minute egg (below)
Tahini dressing (below)
Dry drained chickpeas (and peal them if you want them to be crispier), and toss with za’atar. Heat olive oil in a skillet over medium heat, and add chickpeas. Cook for about five minutes. Remove from heat, and let cool slightly.
In large bowls, layer in arugula, sweet potatoes, chickpeas, and avocado. Drizzle with dressing, and top with halved 7 minute eggs, chopped nuts, and feta.
Fill a saucepan with enough water to cover eggs. Bring to a boil. Gently lower eggs (using a slotted spoon) into water, and set timer for exactly 7 minutes. After 7 minutes, remove from heat, and drain water immediately. Run cold water into pot, over eggs until they come to room temperature (several minutes), or place immediately into an ice bath. For a runnier yolk, try 6.5 minutes.
½ cup water
¼ cup tahini
1 tablespoon olive oil
Juice from ½ a large lemon
1 garlic clove, minced
1 teaspoon sumac
Pinch aleppo pepper flakes
Salt and pepper to taste
Whisk ingredients together.
A quick run down about cultural appropriation of food.
One of my favorite articles ever, by the guy with the best bao ever (also, did I tell you about the time I ate at Baohaus and the place was empty other than Eddie Huang and his friends hanging out… I died. But was too shy to say hi.)
This: “Americans are increasingly interested in where food is sourced. Surely, that interest should extend to a meal’s cultural roots as well as its biological origins.”
And this: “When the “experts” of our food are people from outside our communities, that is a form of appropriation.”
And also, this: “The issue at hand isn’t complicated. Simply put, why label a dish as being a cultural element when it’s not?”
Also, my sister has a Masters in Cultural Studies, and recommended the following:
The Tourist Gaze - John Urry
Orientalism - Edward Said
The West and the Rest: Discourse and Power - Stuart Hall