Two Dishes, Two Tastings: A Dinner Party with Simran, Michael, Samin and Josh

After listening to the food mavens and masters in our show on chasing "authentic" food, you might be mentally gathering tips on how to better enjoy food in your own home. So let's gather some tips for better eating in one place.

These guests took us through adventures through chocolate forests, on a genealogy trip to Africa, and to fine dining in California. Simran Sethi, Michael Twitty, Samin Nosrat and Josh Noel have different backgrounds and favorite foods. But they all love to inspire and encourage us as home cooks, as tasters and experiencers of this universal pleasure whether we travel the world or not. Here they each share something from their books that we can all try, wherever we are right now.

We’ll start with an appetizer of Black-Eyed-Pea Hummus from Michael Twitty’s book “The Cooking Gene: A Journey Through African-American Culinary History in the Old South.” Then we’ll delight in Samin Nosrat’s Persian Herb and Greens Frittata. “Kuku Sabzi,” from “Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat.” Josh Noel will teach us how to drink beer with the meal and Simran Sethi leads us through the art of eating chocolate, the final delicious part to the dinner.

Black-Eyed-Pea Hummus

From “The Cooking Gene: A Journey Through African American Culinary History in the Old South” by Michael Twitty

1 (15-ounce) can plain black-eyed peas, rinsed and drained, preferably organic

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling

1/3 cup sesame seed paste (tahini)

1/2 cup of freshly squeezed lemon juice

1 tablespoon of preserved lemon juice brine or 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt

4 minced or roughly chopped cloves fresh garlic

1 teaspoon mild or smoked ground paprika (save some for garnish)

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon ground coriander

1/2 teaspoon chili powder

1 teaspoon brown sugar or raw (turbinado) sugar

1 teaspoon hot sauce

2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley (flat-leaf preferred), for garnish

1 tablespoon sesame seeds, for garnish

Mash or process the black-eyed peas in a food processor. Mashing makes for a chunkier hummus, while processing makes for a smoother dip. If you are using the processor, pulse for about 15 seconds at a time, until the peas are broken down. Continually scrape the processor so that everything gets mixed in. (You may choose to reserve a few black-eyed peas as a garnish or to vary the texture. A few will work for a garnish, but for texture add a half a can of whole-black eyed peas to your mashed or processed mixture.)

Mix the olive oil and tahini together with a whisk. Turn the black-eyed pea hummus into a mixing bowl, and drizzle the tahini mixture in, a bit at a time, mixing between additions until everything is incorporated. Add the lemon juice, preserved lemon juice brine or salt, garlic, paprika, cumin, coriander, chili powder, sugar and hot sauce and mix well, adding more to taste if necessary. Remember, black-eyed pea hummus swallows flavors — so you may have to adjust to your or your guests’ tastes.

Transfer the black-eyed pea hummus to a bowl. Sprinkle with a bit of paprika, the fresh parsley and sesame seeds. Drizzle with extra olive oil if you so choose.

Persian Herb and Greens Frittata (Kuku Sabzi)

From “Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat: Mastering the Elements of Good Cooking” by Samin Nosrat

Extra-Virgin Olive Oil
2 bunches green chard, washed, or 2 pounds wild nettles or spinach, picked and washed
6 tablespoons butter
1 large leek, sliced thinly and washed, including green top
2 cups roughly chopped dill leaves and tender stems
4 cups roughly chopped cilantro leaves and tender stems
9 large eggs

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees if you do not want to flip your kuku partway through cooking.
  2. If using chard, strip the leaves: Gripping at the base of each stem with one hand, pinch the stem with the other hand and pull upward to strip the leaf. Repeat with remaining chard.
  3. Gently heat a large cast iron or nonstick frying pan over medium heat and add 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Add in the chard leaves, or other greens, and season with salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the leaves are wilted, about 4 to 5 minutes. Remove from the heat, set aside and allow to cool.
  4. If using chard, thinly slice the stems, discarding any tough bits at the base.
  5. Return the pan to the stove and heat over a medium flame. Add 2 tablespoons each of butter and olive oil. When the butter begins to foam, add the sliced leeks and chard stems, along with a pinch of salt. Cook until tender and translucent, 15 to 20 minutes. Stir from time to time, and if needed, add a splash of water, reduce the flame, or cover with a lid or a piece of parchment paper to entrap steam and keep color from developing.
  6. In the meantime, squeeze the cooked chard (or nettles or spinach) leaves dry, then chop them roughly. Put them in a large bowl with the cilantro and dill. When the leeks and chard stems are cooked, add them to the greens. Use your hands to mix everything up evenly. Taste the mixture and season generously with salt, knowing you’re about to add a bunch of eggs to the mixture.
  7. Add the eggs in, one at a time, until the mixture is just barely bound with egg — you might not need to use all nine eggs, depending on how wet your greens were and how large your eggs are. It should seem like a ridiculous amount of greens! I usually taste and adjust the mixture for salt at this point, but if you don’t want to taste raw egg, you can cook up a little test piece of kuku and adjust salt if needed.
  8. Wipe out and reheat your pan over medium-high heat. (This is an important step to prevent the kuku from sticking.) Add 4 tablespoons of butter and 2 tablespoons of olive oil, then stir to combine. When the butter begins to foam, carefully pack the kuku mixture into the pan.
  9. To help the kuku cook evenly, in the first few minutes of cooking, use a rubber spatula to gently pull the edges of the frittata into the center as they set. After about two minutes of this, reduce the heat to medium and let the kuku cook without touching it. You’ll know the pan is hot enough as long as the oil is gently bubbling up the sides of the kuku.
  10. Because this kuku is so thick, it’ll take a while for the center to set. The key here is to not let the crust burn before the center sets. Peek at the crust by lifting the kuku with a rubber spatula, and if it’s getting too dark, too soon, then reduce the heat. Rotate the pan a quarter turn every 3 or 4 minutes to ensure even browning.


How to Taste Chocolate

Adapted from “Bread, Wine, Chocolate: the Slow Loss of Foods We Love” by Simran Sethi

Hold the bar up to your ear and snap off a piece. Listen to how it breaks. Set a small piece into the crease between your index finger and thumb. Wait patiently for it to melt slightly. See how it feels. Through the warmth of your touch, the cocoa butter that was solid at room temperature is starting to melt.

Look at the chocolate. It’s not one color: A chocolate from Ghana has deep brown tones, while one from Madagascar will be more of a reddish- gold color. If the chocolate has milk in it, it will be even lighter. Keep the chocolate there in the crease of your hand and bring it toward your nose. Notice how the aroma increases as it gets closer. Create a small smell chamber by cupping your other hand lightly over the chocolate.

Pay attention to what thoughts arise, what memories surface. Allow for all of it. When Brad [Kintzer, head chocolate maker of TCHO in San Francisco] guided me through a tasting, he kept encouraging me to have what Buddhists call “beginner’s mind.” “Don’t even think of it as chocolate,” he said. Inhale. You know from our wine exploration that flavor is a combination of what we perceive in the retronasal cavity as well as on the tongue. What’s there? If you have Buddhist restraint, inhale again (quickly, in sniffs) Is the aroma strong or weak? Enduring or fleeting? Write down what you’re experiencing. Now— finally— put the chocolate in your mouth. Your tongue is an instrument of taste. Close your eyes. Let the magic happen.

Josh Noel demonstrates his tasting technique while sampling Goose Island Bourbon County Brand Stout (2014 and 2017) at the Funk Factory Geuzeria in Madison, Wisconsin. Mark Riechers (TTBOOK)

Josh Noel demonstrates his tasting technique while sampling Goose Island Bourbon County Brand Stout (2014 and 2017) at the Funk Factory Geuzeria in Madison, Wisconsin. Mark Riechers (TTBOOK)

How to Drink A Barrel-Aged Stout

Adapted from Josh Noel’s conversation with To the Best of Our Knowledge Executive Producer Steve Paulson in which they taste a 2014 and a 2017 Bourbon County Brand Stout from Goose Island.

Open and drink. You want these beers to be served probably in the 60 ish to 65 degree range. Beer comes out of the tap typically at 38 degrees and you want this far warmer than that to really let those flavors shine through.

The aroma is huge. Be sure to take a deep sniff (using your preferred nostril) to take in some of the flavors. Search for unusual notes. Pungent, deep, sort of malty. Definitely chocolate. Some oak, some bourbon.

That woodiness? That's the time in the barrel, about a year. You might also taste a little tartness and fruitiness.

Then take a sip. It will be smooth. And boozy. Definitely take it easy—it isn't a beer for after you mow the lawn. This is 13.8 percent alcohol, so the same as wine, booze-wise.

This is a beautiful beer, something to be savored.