As I’ve lamented before on the blog, Thanksgiving used to be our holiday. Meaning, it was the one holiday my small nuclear family, with my mother and I at the helm, would host in our home.
Our glorious ten-year reign including one disaster after another. There was the year the plumbing went hay wire, and we had to cook for 30 people (and clean up) without any running water. There was the year my grandmother had a stroke at the table somewhere around dessert and had to be rushed to the hospital. And finally, there was the year my father decided our family had outgrown the small barn they rent upstate and decided to host the holiday in our driveway.
That was the year everyone ate dinner in their coats and gloves. And as you might have guessed, that was also the year we lost Thanksgiving. My cousin Noah and his wife Holly, who had been offering for years to take the holiday off our hands, immediately swooped in to replace us.
At the time, being a deep creature of habit, I was devastated.
The stress and cooking burden was something I looked forward to every year. I thought November wouldn’t be the same without my father being critical of the quantity of string beans my mother had purchased and going out to buy double the amount. It wouldn’t be the same without my mom yelling at me for eating too many crispy onions out of the pan before they topped her semi-sweet potato mash. And it wouldn’t be the same without getting stuck with three weeks’ worth of string bean and sweet potato mash leftovers afterward.
But it turns out not having to host 50 people in your home is a downright delight. Who knew? Holly and Noah have a fabulous space, are calm and gracious hosts, and have experienced none of the disasters that our small tribe brought upon our larger one. (Which must just be coincidence, of course).
Now I add their ownership of the holiday to the long list of things I’m grateful for every November.
Still, a few years ago, the hostess in me started craving a segment of Thanksgiving to call my own. Which is how our little Friends in Food group began a few years ago with a Friendsgiving potluck at Maman.
Friendsgiving is a brilliant concept. You don’t have the pressure of family dynamics or the weight of tradition to uphold. You can be a little more selfish about doling out the labor, and rest assured that the dishes you do claim will escape scrutiny. No one will be breathing over your shoulder telling you there aren’t enough string beans. And even if there aren’t, it will hopefully be such a warm, boozy affair that no one will care.
Alex is an incredibly talented photographer and writer (and blogger behind The New Baguette). I was lucky enough to co-teach a class with her at the Natural Gourmet Institute last year on food photography and styling. Her new book, Friendsgiving, has a convenient timeline for getting it all done, tips for the pregame (so much less stuffy and little kid-crazed than my family’s 3pm cocktail hour!), and tons of menus for jazzing up the traditional Thanksgiving classics with Cuban, Southern and Italian flavors.
This addictive dip comes from the pregame chapter, and would be a welcome addition to any fall dinner party (not to mention regular old Thanksgiving). The ingredients are simple and streamlined, which is what you want from any dish that’s not one of the more labor-intensive stars of the show. It’s essentially sweet potato hummus: roasted yams, scooped out of their flesh and pureed with tahini paste and a homemade za’atar.
You can serve the sweet potato hummus dip alongside your favorite gluten-free crackers, crudites, or warm pita bread. If you close your eyes, it tastes a little bit like mashed sweet potatoes with healthy marshmallow fluff.
Read on for the recipe, and if you’re looking for a hostess gift for one of your friends, Friendsgiving makes the perfect one!
From one healthy hedonist, to another,
Sweet Potato Hummus with Tahini and Homemade Za-atar
- 2 small sweet potatoes about 1 pound, scrubbed
- 1 tablespoon raw sesame seeds
- 1 tablespoon minced fresh thyme
- 1 tablespoon sumac
- Coarse sea salt
- 2 tablespoons tahini
- 2 tablespoons filtered water
- 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice from about half a lemon
- A few dashes of your favorite hot sauce
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
Piece the sweet potatoes all over with a fork and wrap each one tightly in foil. Place on a baking sheet and roast until the flesh gives easily when pressed, about 1 hour. Unwrap and set aside to cool completely.
To make the za’atar, toast the sesame seeds in a small skillet over low heat until golden and fragrant, about 3 minutes. Transfer to a bowl and add the thyme, sumac, and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Stir and set aside.
Peel the sweet potatoes and place them in a food processor. Add the tahini, water, lemon juice, hot sauce, a few turns of pepper, and 2 teaspoons of the prepared za’atar. Puree until completely smooth. Taste and season with more salt and pepper if needed.
Scrape the dip into a small serving bowl, drizzle with the oil, and sprinkle with a teaspoon of the za’atar. Serve alongside crackers and crudités, or warm pita if that’s your bag!