Forgive the lengthy preamble, but I must set the stage…
Yesterday, the lovely Anne Sutton, mother of our dear friend Emily James, wondered what we missed most after being on the road for 11 weeks. “Our friends” was our first answer. “Cooking” ran a distant second.
I don’t want to wax long and sappily about our friends. I will only posit that a deep love (some may say a lust) for really good food has bonded us above everything else. There is music of course. And wine. And laughter. Lots of laughter. But food I think is way out in front. Remarkably, there is nary a wallflower in our bunch. Each and every one is a unique personality – vibrant, opinionated and riddled with eccentricities. We love them to pieces. In a city of transplants, they are our extended family.
Most of our dinner parties were potlucks. And while we bonded over cooking techniques and deliciousness – “slutty” became a popular description of the most decadent dishes – we are also a fairly…um… assertive bunch. In other words, we did our best to put everyone else’s dishes to shame. (Or maybe that was just me?) And thus, Competitive Potluck was born. We often warned newcomers that they had better bring their A-game when cooking a dish for a potluck because the field was intense and packed with star players. Last summer on Pine St., one of them remarked on how astounding the dinner had been. “How do you do it, throwing such an unbelievably delicious dinner for 25 people?!” I smiled and confessed, “Our friends cook their asses off.”
Competitive Potluck can be traced back to 2010 – that year I think we had 16 parties at Pine St. One bright spring day, Lei-Lani brought a bowl of what looked like garbanzo beans, feta and parsley. It was hearty, yet the flavors were bright, enlivening, and mutli-layered. With each bite you seemed to find something new. We all went gaga over it.
More than a few times one of us would ask Lei-Lani for the recipe, but she would just blaze her coyest smile and turn her attention to something else. Very quickly, this garbanzo bean salad became almost mythical. I looked for recipes online, but none of them seemed quite right. And I knew that Lei-Lani sometimes tried to perfect recipes, making them over and over and over again, tweaking them slightly each time. We all needed her to give us the goods. We made up stories, legends really, about why she wouldn’t.
Finally, Lei-Lani gave me a recipe. It was right before she left for Paris. Amongst a few succulents and gluten-free flours, she had included a dog-eared piece of paper on which a recipe for a garbanzo bean salad had been photocopied out of a book. It had a mysterious rune etched in ink on one corner. The first time I made it, I knew that it was just meant to placate me.
A few days ago, the aforementioned Emily asked me for the garbanzo bean salad recipe. This got me thinking about the parties of 2010 and missing our friends even more than I thought possible. What I gave her is copied below. I had to spend some time on it as it’s quite an amalgamation. It’s my best guess at Lei-Lani’s magic formula but it’s also pretty much a shot in the dark. That’s why many of the amounts are fungible. Perhaps LL will confirm or correct it. Or perhaps it will remain one of the Great Mysteries of Life. For me, it will always be Lei-Lani’s Work-in-Progress Chickpea Salad. Enjoy!
Lei-Lani’s WIP Chickpea Salad
- 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil (or more)
- 1 medium red onion, diced
- 1/4 cup finely chopped fresh garlic (or more)
- 1 jalapeno, cored, seeded and minced (add the seeds to the salad if you like it HOT)
- 2x 15-ounce cans chickpeas (aka, garbanzo beans), drained & rinsed (or 3 cups cooked chickpeas)
- 1/2 cup (packed) chopped fresh cilantro
- 3/4 cup (packed) chopped fresh flat leaf Italian parsley
- 1/4 cup chopped mint packed (optional, but I think this is her magic ingredient)
- 1 cup chopped green onions (scallions), green parts only
- 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice (sometimes more)
- 8-16oz crumbled feta cheese (I like it better with less cheese, you can taste the herbs better)
- Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Heat olive oil in a large frying pan and add the red onion, stirring to coat it with the oil. Cook the onion gently over medium or medium-low heat, stirring often, until it is soft and starting to brown, about 10 to 12 minutes.
Stir in the garlic and jalapeno and cook until fragrant, about one minute; don’t let the garlic brown. Remove from the heat and let cool.
In a large bowl, stir together the chick peas, cilantro, parsley, mint (if using) green onions, and lemon juice. Add the cooled onion garlic mixture. (If you’re impatient like I am, you can mix the onions and garlic into the beans while they’re still warm, and the other ingredients will help cool them down.)
Mix in the crumbled feta. Add salt and freshly ground pepper to taste (remember that the feta will be salty) and up to ½ cup more olive oil if desired.
This salad tastes best if made ahead and allowed to sit for several hours before serving. (I’d recommend making it a day ahead.)