Last week, I spied a bit of rabble-rousing on Twitter: criticism over a tartine recipe featured on a highly-popular lifestyle blog.
The sandwich in question is three ingredients—bread, hummus, tomato—and requires almost no methodology: Toast bread, spread hummus, lay down tomato slices, top with basil, salt, pepper. Maybe, given the ingredients, someone would figure out how to make it on her own.
It was a combination of the snack's simplicity in conjunction with the lack of comments on the blog pointing out that simplicity that drew some backlash. Tweets like...
the cult of this particular blogger is so strong that there is not a SINGLE comment saying "um, this is just hummus & tomato on toast"
Optimistically, I thought she would at least offer a recipe for homemade hummus... but not even?! What is this twilight zone
why didn't they break down "how to cut tomato" and "how to spread hummus" for those of us for whom three ingredients is TOO MANY!
Was it really the sandwich's straightforwardness that perturbed, or was it the claims—that this is a "recipe" for a "tartine"—that annoyed people? If it had been written as an idea or an outline (more like a Not(Recipe), let's say) would it have gone unnoticed? Must a combination of ingredients hit some undetermined marks of complexity and creativity to earn the title of "recipe"? And who determines those standards?
First, let's be fair to the blogger. It's not her recipe—it's republished, with permission, from a book that's intended for—and marketed as—time-saving strategies for stress-free cooking. Second, she writes explicitly that she's sharing the sandwich because it's her "on a normal day. Chickpeas. Target. Mom stuff." Neither the blogger nor the recipe writer make claims this open-faced sandwich is innovative.
The tomato sandwich flak reminded me of the feedback on Kenzi's avocado and egg tacos: Some readers were entertained by the idea that someone was getting paid to write about a meal that a 5-year-old could make; one said that it was "like reading an article by someone who thinks they invented toast."
All of this makes me wonder if there's a place for the everyday in cookbooks and food writing and lifestyle blogging. Why do some, like chefs who charge a premium for sliced figs, get to claim simplicity as purity while others are called out for silliness for putting a peak-season tomato on a hummus-smeared piece of bread?
Can a three-ingredient sandwich be called a recipe?
What's more snooty: to criticize someone for featuring a super simple, been-there-done-that "recipe" or to assume that the ingredient or flavor combination is well-known to everyone under the sun? How do you know when something is obvious to just you or to the world? And if the way the food is prepared or put together is inspiring or exciting or even day-brightening to one person, does it add value?
I do think it's important that there be enough self-awareness to know when a simple "recipe" (or idea, or outline) is not a revelatory invention (this blogger checks off that box)—and especially when it's existed elsewhere for decades, even centuries.
Still, there's room for both: for the wildly creative, the mind-bogglingly new, the fancifully inventive and for the everyday, the make-in-five-minutes, the feed-the-hungry-kids. Because while something might be old news to you, that might not be true for everyone; and, maybe seeing an easy-but-delicious combination gives a reader permission to play more in the kitchen—or permission to mix together something actually easy for dinner, to forgive herself for not being a capital C Cook all of the time, to find more delight and less solemnity in putting food on the table.
In that vein, here are some of our most basic (in a good way) recipes. Mock them as you see fit.
Does it annoy/offend/disturb you that a three-ingredient sandwich is a "tartine recipe"? Tell us in the comments below!