NONE DARE CALL IT HUMMUS: substitutions and stretching


Well, we’re well in it now, and in between panic attacks I’m starting to feel a little more normal. Settling in. My town closed its hiking trails, which threw me for a loop emotionally (honestly that’s been the worst thing for me so far in terms of my equilibrium) but I have recovered from that bout of paralysis enough to cut some rectangles out of scrap cloth and old bandannas and start contemplating my next move. (Which, sadly, is hand-sewing, because I don’t have a sewing machine.)

I’ve been teaching myself cheese making, since it’s easy to get low-contact milk from several local dairies where I live, and I may have had in incident yesterday where I made yogurt, and then ricotta from the yogurt whey, and then mysost (which is basically crystallized lactose with a little cream stirred in) from the ricotta whey…

Possibly that was taking Waste Nothing a little too far.

Last night I cooked some yellow-eye beans with carrots and onions and dandelion greens, and they were delicious. Today, I took the leftovers and whizzed them up with salt and garlic and the last bit of tahini in the bottom of the jar and a quarter of a preserved lemon and some olive oil and a splash of anchovy oil. It’s not hummus, because my friend Amal would shake her finger at me if I called it hummus, but it’s… a hummus-adjacent situation and honestly it tastes really good.

That’s going to be supper tonight. I’m going to serve it with pitas, since I just made a big batch of sourdough that will also be bread and pizza over the next couple of days and some of that can just as easily be pitas tonight. We don’t have any cucumbers, but there’s some red onion, and the yogurt I made, and some purple daikon radish that can sort of fill the cucumber slot (crunchy and sweet), and there’s still carrots and a teeny bit of salad mix.

Well, I wanted hummus, and I didn’t have any chickpeas. We ate them all.

Not too long ago, people got really good at figuring out what you could use to replace something else in a recipe, because a lot of things were in short supply or couldn’t be got out of season. It’s a level of ingenuity that we’re all going to need for a while, whether it’s apple sauce in place of eggs or oil, or canned tomato soup as the secret ingredient in a chocolate cake.

Do you know how Irish-Americans wound up eating corned beef as a festival meal on St. Patrick’s Day?

The Irish ghetto was close to the Jewish ghetto, and a lot of the butcher shop owners were Jewish, and they corned their own brisket. When the Irish immigrants wandered into the local butcher shop looking for a ham or lamb shoulder to braise with their cabbage and potatoes, there was none to be had—but their friendly neighborhood butchers did have a cut of meat ideal for braising, and one that was so preserved and spiced it could season the whole pot.

That’s where traditions come from. Making do with what’s at hand. Cabbage and broccoli for traditional Chinese fresh vegetables, for example. Or purple daikon in place of cucumber slices.

Another thing we can learn from our ancestors is how to stretch food and still have it taste good. That’s where the carbohydrates come in, usually—the ones with fiber are better for you, and also make you more full—and the fat.

It fills you up. Better to have a little full-flavored soup ladled over a bowl of brown rice than a big bowl of watery soup that doesn’t taste like anything. Meatloaf stretches the meat out with bread crumbs or rolled oats or cracker crumbs.

My grandmother survived the Great Depression in abject poverty, and her whole life she liked a piece of bread and butter or a roll with her meals. Not only did she never forget that butter was a luxury—one that she greatly enjoyed having whenever she wanted it, along with milk and sugar in her coffee and in fact coffee at all—but she got into the habit when she was feeding a big family on a small budget. That piece of bread and butter makes the rest of food on the table stretch to feed an extra person or two.

She made her meatloaf with Ritz crackers, once they weren’t so poor.

I’m incredibly grateful to live in a place with a robust local farm community, where I can still get fresh vegetables, even if they aren’t the vegetables that fill up the supermarkets—out of season tomatoes and cucumbers, for example. I’m glad I have a yard and it’s the right time of year to go knife up some dandelion greens and hosta shoots (which I just learned are edible, and it turns out they’re delicious, cook them like asparagus) and I’m looking forward to the ramps (a wild allium) that grow in the back yard, and which I think I’m going to make a kind of scallion pancake situation with, in order to showcase their deliciousness.

Maybe there will be enough to use as a pizza topping, too.

Stay safe. Be resourceful.

And don’t let anybody shame you if what you feel like eating is Velveeta on Wasa bread, which is what I just had for lunch, along with a tangerine. Not every meal has to be Instagram-worthy.

What the hell, right? It’s a plague year.