Vegan Roasted Middle Eastern Tri-Color Carrot-Beet Spread

SideYield: approximately 1 cup

(for recipe, please scroll down)

Before my husband passed away in July, I never shopped at Whole Foods due to the expense, but it has become a little treat I give myself.

In some ways I find those activities and events that are exactly the same in his absence–like grocery shopping–more emotionally challenging even than the birthdays, holidays, and special occasions.  Perhaps it’s because I steel myself for the latter, shaping them in a way that plays to my strengths and minimizes my vulnerabilities.

But a couple of parties in both November and December required trips to Whole Foods.  The first was Joe’s posthumous birthday party that his sisters and I hosted at Total Wine for which we supplied the food (and decided that tapenade layered over hummus was our favorite new obsession).  He had purchased a wine tasting at a silent auction, but we never used it, and this seemed the perfect occasion.  The second event was my my annual all-girls Christmas, Chanukah, Curry & Cakes Party & Swap.  Joe wasn’t a part of it, but he always put in an appearance to everyone’s delight.

With my dear friend Donna Reiss in town to help me–emotionally and logistically–prepare for the fete, we chose a vegan menu that required a trip to Whole Foods.  With fond and tender memories of our outing, I decided that grocery shopping was a bit more bearable in the more “curated” environs of a store like WF who embraces, at least to some degree, my values. (Somewhere my museum curator friends just felt a stab in their sides because they deplore the way the word “curated” has been conscripted for marketing everything from groceries to jewelry to housewares.)

Now, I go most Saturdays and sometimes during my planning block at school to stock up on lunch items.  Sometimes I go with a list; most often I just respond to the aesthetics of the produce and purchase what catches my eye, figuring out what to do with it later.  I usually create new recipes though, occasionally and shamefully, I let some of it go to waste and end up composting it.  I would claim that it is because I am not accustomed for shopping and cooking for one, but who am I kidding?  I didn’t shop or cook for Joe in recent years, as he was a committed and unapologetic carnivore who eschewed most vegetables for more meat.  It’s more the case that I don’t consume nearly as much food as I used to.

But this carrot-beet spread is perfect for a mini-meal, as is my preference these days: healthy, beautiful, tasty, and satisfying.  It is worth trying to find the pomegranate or tamarind syrup and the sumac at a Middle Eastern or international market or even online.  But if you can’t, I provide substitutions below.  Sumac bushes produce red berries that are dried and ground to a powder that is used in Middle Eastern cuisines.  The flavor is lemony, but mellow, rounded and a hint earthy.  Lemon zest is a fine substitute, but definitely with zingier flavor notes. Similarly, maple syrup or agave nectar will contribute the desired sweetness and texture to the spread, but not deliver quite the desired authentic flavor of the Middle East.

If you or those for whom you cook think they are beet-haters, this recipe, along with some others here on The Blooming Platter, may change their minds.  But, if not, just substitute another couple of carrots.

PatsyRoasted Middle Eastern Carrot-Beet Spread

6-6 to 7-inch carrots, any color (I use a tri-color bunch), peeled and cut into 2-inch pieces

3 small golden (or red) beets, about the size of a plum or a half-fist, peeled and quartered

2 tablespoon + 1/4 cup olive oil

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

1 large garlic clove

1 teaspoon pomegranate, tamarind, or maple syrup or agave nectar

1/2 teaspoon ground sumac (or lemon zest)

1/4 teaspoon ground cumin

1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika

Garnish: 2 to 4 tablespoons of pistachios

Accompaniments: crackers, toasts, green and/or black olives, and finishing salt

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Toss carrots and beets with 1 tablespoon olive oil and a generous pinch of salt in a large baking pan.  Roast for 20 to 30 minutes or until tender and caramelized to your liking.  Remove from oven, place in the bowl of a food processor with all other ingredients and process until as smooth as desired, scraping down sides of bowl as necessary.  Taste and adjust all seasonings as desired.  Transfer to a bowl, drizzle with remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil, and sprinkle with pistachios.  Serve with crackers, toast, olives and finishing salt (I use a little salt cellar of coarse sea salt).

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Day 19: Kale & Sundried Tomato Pizza AND Sherried Mushroom Bruschetta–“Cooking ‘The Blooming Platter Cookbook’ Julie & Julia Style”

Kale Pizza(A sequential installment from Kim Hastings, my photographer friend and, along with her vet husband, owner of Independence Veterinary Hospital, who decided on her own to cook her way through The Blooming Platter Cookbook: A Harvest of Seasonal Vegan Recipes Julie & Julia Style for her omnivorous family as a strategy for more healthy eating.

Today I have a lot to write about, so grab a cup of coffee and get comfy. Tuesday night, Betsy DiJulio, the author of The Blooming Platter Cookbook, came to my house to cook with me!! So excited!!

Of course I did the usual when someone is coming over – vacuum up the dog hair, clean the bathroom (remember I have boys!) and clean my kitchen. But I wanted to impress so I chose an appetizer and a dessert from the book to make beforehand. I chose Orange-Espresso Chocolate Chip and Hazelnut Cookies. I followed the recipe exactly being super careful not to inadvertently put something non-vegan in them. Everything was going well until I went to get my coffee beans out to grind one teaspoon of espresso powder. I could not find them anywhere. I love those beans. I had bought them at a little coffee roasting shop on the way to Luray, VA – but they were nowhere. So I racked my brain to come up with an alternative. Finally I ripped open a little Keurig cup and ran it through my grinder to make it into powder. It worked! One teaspoon of “espresso” done!

Next step was the chocolate chips. That’s when I saw the word “vegan” before the words “chocolate chips”. Noooooo!! I had not even considered that my chips were not vegan. Since I didn’t have any idea where to start looking for vegan chips, I was not going to the store so I divided the dough in half. One half gets real chocolate chips and the other will be Orange “Coffee” Hazelnut Cookies. (Thankfully she brought an amazing dessert so we didn’t need them.) I did, however, bake a test batch before dinner and I must say that these cookies are incredible. I have a hard time believing that this dough does not have eggs. They bake up just like any other cookies. My son looked skeptical and politely declined them but later I found the half empty container on the counter so he must like them too.

Mushrooms with SherryThe appetizer I chose was Sherried Mushroom Bruschetta. I have been looking forward to trying this recipe for a while – it sounded so good! I loved putting this together with the obvious exception that I had to use my dumb food processor. Later in the evening I did learn that silken tofu is different than the refrigerated tofu I used but no matter – I think it came out great. [Betsy’s note: it was perfection!] I got a bit heavy handed with the red pepper flakes but no one seemed to mind. My son only had a problem with the gray color but once he tasted it, he was sold.

So now my preparations are done…until I sat down and read through the recipe we had chosen to make. The pizza dough for the Kale and Sundried Tomato Pizza takes two hours to rise! I decided if I didn’t take this part on by myself we would not be eating til 10 PM. Even though I have never made pizza dough, I put on the how-hard-can-it-be attitude and got busy. And it really wasn’t too hard. I did not cheat either. I really used wheat flour. I had bought this to make dog biscuits a while ago and it was sealed up in the back of my cabinet. Nothing flew out of it when I opened it so we were good to go.

As soon as I got the dough set up to rise, Betsy arrived. She came in with an amazing looking cake roll with salted caramel icing. OK we can skip dinner now! It turned out to be a girl’s night since my husband was out for the evening and my son left for his Krav Maga class. (Oh, before he left, he pulled out a container of pork BBQ leftovers from the fridge and starts eating it out of the container right there in the kitchen. I was cringing, hoping Betsy wouldn’t notice…but she did. She was so cool about though. And that’s my family!!).

Anyway we chose a wine and started cooking. She promised me I would love the kale but I was skeptical watching her cut it up. She insisted I try it raw. She ate hers, but mine ended up in the sink. Sorry! I couldn’t even pretend to like it raw. Not good! Next she started the “cheese.” This was not my area – you know how much I cheat with real cheese – so I stepped back and watched her make it. I loved it! Would I give up my cheese for it? No, but I really loved it.

Betsy Making Pizza CrustWhen the dough was done rising, she showed me how to press it out by hand into a circle. Then we prepared the pan to sauté the kale – I forgot to turn the burner on but that was the only glitch. We put the pizza together and got it into the oven. Then we got to just hang out, she met my turtle, Desiree, and we went outside to check out my herb garden. My dog Allie was already her best friend at this point. Before long the pizza was out of the oven and ready. We took some pictures (of course!) and then served it up.

My son was back from class at this point and joined us for dinner. We loved the pizza! Even with kale!! It was flavorful and salty and the kale was very tender. We agreed later it may have been too salty because I only had course sea salt and no grinder. [Betsy’s note: totally my fault; I cook with coarse sea salt and I just wasn’t careful–must have been the wine and the great conversation.]   My husband was quick to point out the saltiness too when he tried it later – this from a guy who snacks on bouillon cubes?! Really?

The time finally came when I could try the cake she brought. OMG! So good! As soon as she posts that recipe I will be lifting it right off her website.

We had so much fun cooking and laughing together but the time came when she did have to get back home to her puppies. I loved learning so many new ways of cooking healthier. I love that she is so non-judgmental about my family’s food choices and is supportive of how I am incorporating her amazing recipes into my way of life. She is one of the sweetest, most gracious people I know and I am glad I can call her my friend. It really was a great evening.

~Kim Hastings

Kim Hastings

 

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Day 17: Grilled Butternut Squash with White Beans and Olivada–“Cooking ‘The Blooming Platter Cookbook’ Julie & Julia Style”

Grilled Butternut Squash with White Beans and Olivada(A sequential installment from Kim Hastings, my photographer friend and, along with her vet husband, owner of Independence Veterinary Hospital, who decided on her own to cook her way through The Blooming Platter Cookbook: A Harvest of Seasonal Vegan Recipes Julie & Julia Style for her omnivorous family as a strategy for more healthy eating.)

Today’s recipe is the Grilled Butternut Squash with White Beans and Olivada. Spoiler alert: I will tell you now that this recipe got a rating of 4 in my book which is the highest rating possible.

To explain, my husband and I started this rating system during winery visits where we would write a number of 1-4 beside each wine we tasted. (The winery owners would get very excited thinking we were buying that many bottles!) Anyway this dish was so good I even packed up the leftovers to go on a trip so we could enjoy it again.

I always start by reading through the recipe and making sure I have everything. Check. Then I got started on the olivada so it would be ready when needed. I had purchased two tiny cans of olives thinking they were 6 ounce cans but no, they were 1.5 ounces. I have never been very good at estimating weights and measures clearly. So I used both cans but had to cut the other ingredients in half.

I went to my newly reorganized spice cabinet so proud that now I would be able to find everything I needed – but there was no oregano. How is that possible? I always have oregano. I tore through the cabinet from A to Z but there was none to be found. (Now I need to reorganize again.) No problem – I grow oregano in my herb garden. I have cultivated the same plant for 10 years and it has grown to be one of the largest plants I have. The leaves are dry now in winter but I can still use them. I grabbed my scissors and went out and…no oregano plant! Instead there was a huge hole! The dog had dug up my oregano plant and -ugh!!!!- replaced it with a gross toy! Are you kidding me?!! Things are going from bad to worse and I refuse to go to the grocery store for oregano. I finally decided to use a Greek seasoning I had on hand.

Once the olivada was done I took a taste and wow! I got some crackers out and started snacking while I started on the squash. The rest of the preparation was easy until I saw that I was supposed to have roasted the garlic. Too late – we are all hungry. So I just minced it and put it in the pan. One day I will try and roast a garlic but not today.

Arranging as instructed was like designing a work of art. It was beautiful when complete. I even used a cookie scoop to place the beans on the center of the fan of squash. Perfection!! Of course I got joked by the guys for taking the time to arrange a side dish, but one bite and they quickly stopped making fun of me. It goes without saying that this dish will be repeated many times in our household and I will definitely be making the olivada for parties.

~Kim Hastings

Kim Hastings

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Vegan Tropical Hummus–Hummus Just Got a Boost of Flavor AND Texture!

Tropical HummusYield:  approximately 2 cups

As most of you know, since my darling husband of 25 years passed away on July 30, 2015, my relationship to food has been profoundly impacted.  I no longer cook or eat as much as I did before.  And when I do, its meaning has been transformed.  You can read the long version here in an essay published by Alimentum, a literary and art journal devoted to food.  [Scroll down under “Throw Tradition to the Wind” (though you might enjoy it too) to “‘Til Death or Dinner Do Us Part.”

The short version is simply that, though I love and respect food–perhaps more than before–I now think of it as somewhat of a sacrament, as an outward sign of inward grace, more spiritual than it once was.

When this began to happen–which was, actually, almost immediately–I jokingly proclaimed this the year of the “mini meal.”  In that spirit, I offer this recipe, though it is really more of a formula, and a simple one at that.

It was inspired by a bite of something I tasted, coincidentally, at a Celebration of Life for a dear friend who passed away just before Christmas.  Called Tuscan Hummus, it was creamy, but with appealing chunks of tomato, basil, and ???  I have long been a fan of a layer of tapenade spread over hummus, but I found the idea of a “chunky” hummus ultra appealing.

Wanting to make this new creation quick and easy, I thought a salsa would be a fun twist and the tropical pineapple salsa at Whole Foods was their most enticing.  So, I stired a cup of it, drained, into a cup of their plain hummus and voila!  For extra crunch, I served it garnished with the little crispy bits and pieces at the bottom of the container of their vegan kale chips.  A brilliant lunch with a dab of lentil soup on the side.

Of course, you could make your own hummus and your own salsa.  But, after Christmas, I started teaching a 6th class and a 4th prep–AP Art History (a super-rewarding but time-consuming course)–so quick and easy without sacrificing flavor or nutrition earns an A+ in my book.

1 cup plain or garlic hummus, homemade or preapred

1 cup tropical pinapple salsa (or your favorite type), homemade or prepared, drained

Pinch sea salt

Pinch freshly ground black pepper

Optional garnish: crispy kale chip bits

Accompaniment: cracker or pita chip of your choice

 

Stir together hummus, salsa, sea salt and pepper.  Serve on crackers or pita chips garnished, if desired, with crispy kale chip bits.

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Vegan Ricecake Stack with Hummus, Pesto, Baby Greens, Fresh Figs, and Smoked Almonds

Ricecake with Hummus, Pesto, Baby Kale Salad and Fresh Figs

Yield: 4 servings

As many of you know, since July 30, I have not been cooking or eating much, though the urge is slowly coming back.

In terms of cooking, a bounty of vegan food gifts over the last two weeks made any food preparation I might do redundant.

And, in terms of eating, though I may not want much, when I do eat, I want my small meal to be beautiful, delicious, nutritious, and relatively quick and easy.  So, this simple stack gets a check in all of those boxes.

Granted, we all know, that ricecakes can be topped with darn near anything, but this is an especially good combination.  Very seasonal and satisfying.

4 ricecakes

1/2 cup hummus, homemade or prepared

1/4 cup vegan pesto, homemade or prepared

8 figs, stemmed and halved lengthwise

1/4 cup lightly dressed baby kale or spinach (I use a simple homemade vinaigrette)

4 smoked almonds

Sea salt

Spread each ricecake with 2 tablespoons hummus.  Top each with 1 tablespoon pesto and spread, leaving a border.  Divide greens among the ricecakes, and top eachwith 4 fig halves, 1 smoked almond, and a few grains of sea salt.  Serve immediately.

 

 

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Vegan Smokey Grilled Asparagus and White Bean Spread with Fresh Dill

Smokey Grilled Asparagus and White Bean SpreadYield: approximately 2+ cups

I am headed to an outdoor concert at The Hermitage Museum in Norfolk tomorrow evening and I think I’ll take along this crowd pleaser.  I took it to a party on Saturday night and everyone seemed to love it, even with a garnish of peanuts that the hostess accidentally spilled on top when we were moving the apps outdoors. 🙂

Different without being odd and elegant without being fussy, it travels well and looks fresh upon emerging from the backseat of your car.

While grilling the asparagus may seem like an unnecessary step, trust me it’s not.  The unique and addicting flavor of this spread is all about that grilled umami flavor boosted a bit with the addition of smoked almonds and offset by a burst of fresh lemon and “grassy” fresh dill.

 

1-15 ounce can white beans (like cannelini), rinsed and drained

1 tablespoon olive oil + 1/4 cup

Pinch sea salt or to taste

1 bunch asparagus, trimmed (*see note below)

1/4 cup smoked almonds

2 large cloves garlic

1 cup loosely packed fresh dill (I include the tender stalks)

Juice of 1/2 large lemon

Pinch freshly ground black pepper or to taste

Optional garnish: a couple of grilled asparagus tips, lemon slices or fresh dill sprigs

Place white beans in food processor.  Spray a grill pan with nonstick spray and place over medium-high.  Add asparagus in a single layer, drizzle with 1 tablespoon olive oil, roll to coat, and grill for about 10 to 15 minutes (depending on diameter of asparagus), rolling them over about halfway through or as needed to prevent burning.  Remove to cutting board, cut in half, and add to food processor along with all remaining ingredients, including 1/4 cup olive oil.  (If using asparagus tips as garnish, set a couple aside.)  Pulse until desired texture is reached.  I like it fairly smooth, but with a hint of texture and flecks of color.  Serve at room temperature or chilled with small toasts or crackers.

*To trim sparagus, hold one spear horizontally between the thumb and forefinger of each hand.  Bring hands down and toward each other causing the spear to bend and eventually snap.  Wherever it snaps is where all spears should be trimmed–use it as your measuring guide–for the most tender and freshest tasting asparagus.

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Vegan “Tuna” Salad with Sunflower Seeds, Apple, Capers, and Dill

Nutty TunaYield: approximately 4 cups “tuna” salad

On Mother’s Day, my phenomenal weekend yoga instructor, Angela Philips, mentioned after our morning class that she had prepared her “Nutty Tuna,” made with sunflower seeeds, for her Mother’s Day brunch.  She had given me that recipe years ago and at the mere mention, I began craving it.

So I made a batch on Monday, but it wasn’t quite right.  I hadn’t consulted the recipe, choosing to make it from memory instead, and, among other things, I went overboard on my substitution of Nori powder for dulce flakes and used an inferior mayo I had on hand that had been given to me.  Honestly, it was kind of a dud.  I ate a fair amount of it during the week so as not to be wasteful, but it was off the mark, and I discarded the remainder today with little remorse.

But, this past Saturday, I purchased the ingredients I needed, tried it again yesterday afternoon, and I am happy to report that it is delicious.  This time, I consulted the recipe just to see if I needed to adhere more closely and decided that I didn’t because, for example, I didn’t want to include the parsley it called for and I knew I wanted mayonnaise to adhere all of the ingredients together, while the original recipe relies only on the moistness of the celery, onion, parsley, soaked sunflower seeds and a tiny bit of lemon juice.

From the original recipe, I did decide to use the capers called for instead of the pickle relish I had added last week.   When I was a pre-vegan kid, we always added pickle relish to our tuna salad, but it didn’t work so well with this vegan version.  And I added fresh dill, which Angela has started doing too.  Though I associate dill more with “chicken” salad, it is widely known to be compatible with seafood, and it is really nice in this recipe.  In addition, I included some dried apple, as we often chopped up fresh apple in our childhood tuna salad.  Since it is not apple season here and I had some moist and plump dried ones in the pantry, I opted for them and am so glad I did, as they lend just a hint of sweetness.

In the end, this recipe is a little down-home with all the mayo and a little upscale with the addition of capers.  As such, I think it is the best of both worlds and hope you agree.

Be sure to begin soaking sunflower seeds the day before you plan to serve the salad.

 

14 ounces roasted sunflower seeds (salted or not, but the salt will be drained away after soaking)

1 Nori sheet torn in pieces (or 1 teaspoon Nori powder or dulce flakes)

2 cups warm water

4 celery hearts, trimmed and cut into 2-inch pieces

3 green onions, white and green parts, cut into 2-inch pieces

3 tablespoons drained fresh capers

1 cup lightly packed fresh dill fronds, stemmed and broken in half

Optional but very good: 1/3 cup dried apple pieces (be sure they are moist and plump)

1-2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice

8 to 10 tablespoons Vegenaise vegan mayonnaise (my favorite brand for this, but use the mayo of your choice)

Sea salt to taste

Freshly ground black pepper to taste

 

Place sunflower seeds and Nori sheet pieces in medium bowl and cover with warm water.  Cover and let stand 8 hours or over night.  Drain, pressing gently, to remove as much water as possible.  Place celery, green onions, capers, fresh dill, optional dried apple, and 1 teaspoon lemon juice in bowl of food processor and pulse until finely minced, scraping down sides of bowl as necessary.  Add drained and pressed sunflower seeds and continue pulsing until sunflower seeds are also finely minced.  Add mayonnaise, submerge into mixture with a spatula, and pulse until well combined.  I prefer almost a spread consistency, but still with lots of texture.  Taste and adjust seasoning with salt, pepper, and additional teaspoon of lemon juice, if desired.  Pulse just to distribute.  Serve immediately or chilled on a sandwich, toasted bagel, stuffed in a tomato, or on crackers.  Note: if you desire a more pronounced flavor of the sea and a darker color, use Nori powder or dulce flakes and add them to the mixture in the food processor rather than to the soaking water.

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Vegan Grilled Asparagus and White Bean Spread–so easy and elegant!

Grilled Asparagus and White Bean SpreadYield: approximately 2+ cups

1-15 ounce can white beans (like cannelini), rinsed and drained

1 tablespoon olive oil + 1/4 cup

Pinch sea salt or to taste

1 bunch asparagus, trimmed (*see note below)

2 large cloves garlic

1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh dill (or 1 teaspoon dried dill weed)

Optional: tiny pinch of red pepper flakes

Juice of 1/2 large lemon

Pinch freshly ground black pepper or to taste

Optional garnish: a couple of grilled asparagus tips, lemon slices or fresh dill sprigs

Place white beans in food processor.  Spray a grill pan with nonstick spray and place over medium-high.  Add asparagus in a single layer, drizzle with 1 tablespoon olive oil, roll to coat, and grill for about 10 to 15 minutes (depending on diameter of asparagus), rolling them over about halfway through or as needed to prevent burning.  Remove to cutting board, cut in half, and add to food processor along with all remaining ingredients, including 1/4 cup olive oil.  (If using asparagus tips as garnish, set a couple aside.)  Pulse until desired texture is reached.  I like it fairly smooth, but with a hint of texture and flecks of color.  Serve at room temperature or chilled with small toasts or crackers.

*To trim sparagus, hold one spear horizontally between the thumb and forefinger of each hand.  Bring hands down and toward each other causing the spear to bend and eventually snap.  Wherever it snaps is where all spears should be trimmed–use it as your measuring guide–for the most tender and freshest tasting asparagus.

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Vegan Lemony Agean Artichoke and Chickpea Spread–The World’s Easiest, Springiest, and Tastiest!

Lemony Agean Artichoke and Chickpea SpreadLast week, I was in Mississippi, aka the ‘Sip, visiting my family when we suddenly realized that we had three guests joining us for happy hour and nothing to serve them.  My parents–children of the depression, the canned food-centric ’50s and ’60s, and survivors of Hurricane Katrina–always have a well-stocked pantry with overflow in two remote locations that I know of.

So, I quickly surveyed the shelves, selected a can of chickpeas and of artichoke hearts, and moments later–thanks to a food processor and a little olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, Greek seasoning, salt and pepper–this crowd-pleasing appetizer was born.

Though each is a little different, commercial preparations of Greek seasoning–at least the two the I have taste-tested–are perfectly compatible with the other ingredients.  But feel free to flavor it with your favorite herbs and spices, fresh or dried.  In particular, I am eager to try this recipe with beau monde seasoning.

1-15 ounce can artichoke hearts, rinsed and drained

1-15 ounce can chick peas, rinsed and drained

2 large cloves garlic

3 to 4 tablespoons olive oil

2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice

1 rounded teaspoon Greek seasoning

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Optional garnish: fresh lemon slices/wedges and sprigs of fresh herbs

Accompaniments: crackers, crostini, toasted bagels/mini bagels

Place all ingredients, except sea salt, in a food processor and pulse until a creamy, but textured, consistency is reached, scraping down the sides of the bowl, as necessary.  Check for salt, season accordingly, and pulse again, just to combine. Chill, covered, and bring to room temperature before serving, or serve immediately with crackers, crostini, or toasted bagels, garnished as desired with fresh lemon slices/wedges and fresh herbs.  (In the photo, I used thyme.)

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