Describe an early food experience that has influenced the way you think about food and/or cooking.
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Both my parents liked to cook when I was growing up. It was always quite interesting, because my mother was Finnish and my dad, Egyptian—both “off the boat,” so to speak. They moved to LA in their 40s, then soon after, I was born. I learned early on to think outside the box when it came to flavor combinations. I was exposed to really unique and different foods at a young age, and had to eat what they put in front of me, or I wouldn't eat at all. No special kids' meals in our household!
My dad was especially frugal because he was raised in a very small, poor village in Egypt, and had very little. Even after he was relatively successful, he still was extremely thrifty with money; he would do most of the grocery shopping and would buy a LOT of vegetables, lentils, and rice because they were inexpensive. On special occasions we would have meat, but this was rare. But the things he could make with these simple ingredients would blow everyone away. He could turn humble vegetables into dishes so fragrant, flavorful, and memorable—it always felt very decadent. He intuitively knew how to develop flavor. Being exposed to this helped me see the beauty in simple, humble ingredients, and learn to elevate them in the kitchen.
What's your least favorite kitchen task?
Your favorite kitchen tool?
My mother’s antique Finnish salt cellar, my cast iron skillet, and my zester.
What is your idea of comfort food?
To me, comfort food is made with ingredients that are at their peak of flavor, grown in close proximity to where I live, allowed to ripen on the vine or tree, and in their own season. This could simply be toast with my own vine-ripened tomatoes, a drizzle of olive oil, and sprinkle of salt, because we all know the best tomatoes are the ones grown in our own backyards. Or a pot of soup simmering on the stove with local, seasonal vegetables.
But more and more, I find it’s not necessarily what I’m cooking, but rather, the act of cooking itself to be comforting—and to me, this is what comfort food is: finding comfort in the the making of it.
What is your greatest kitchen disaster?
Hot soup in a blender led to an explosion of hot soup all over my newly painted white ceiling, hair, and clothes.
Photo of lentil meatballs by Alpha Smoot; photo of feastingathome provided by herself
The Food52 Vegan Cookbook is here! With this book from Gena Hamshaw, anyone can learn how to eat more plants (and along the way, how to cook with and love cashew cheese, tofu, and nutritional yeast).