Have you heard the story about the lady who, while shopping at Neiman Marcus in Dallas with her daughter, stopped into the café for a few chocolate chip cookies? According to the story, she loved the cookies so much, she asked for the recipe, to which the waitress replied, “Only two-fifty.” The woman agreed and added the two-fifty to her total bill, which ended up hovering near $300. Turns out the cookie recipe was $250, not $2.50 as she had understood it. Zing!
Unfortunately, a little research shows that the tale of secret recipe hi-laria is absolute bunk (I know, it’s disappointing. I love a good secret recipe story, too). For one thing, there is (or at least at the time was) no Neiman Marcus café in the Dallas area. There also was no Neiman Marcus chocolate chip cookie at the time (there is one now, however, a recipe for which is super findable with a quick Google search). Still, people continue telling the story. And my guess is it’s because we’ve all come up against some recipe hoarders in our day.
You know what I’m talking about right? You go to someone’s house, eat something you love, and then at the end of the night when you ask for the recipe, they respond with something like, “Um, yeah, I don’t really give that out.” Wowza. So then you go home feeling like you just committed the greatest social faux pas in the history of dinner parties, and you try to get whatever they made out of your mind. But you can’t. Humph.
The good news is that makes it all the sweeter when you come across a recipe you love, at a friend’s house or a restaurant for that matter, and it’s happily passed along, no strings attached. And I’ve learned from experience that being able to make something at home by no means keeps you from setting foot inside the recipe-giver’s residence again. When you eat with a pal or head to your favorite restaurant, it’s about the company and experience, too. The food is just one part of it.
I bring all this up because for Christmas this year, my brother and sister-in-law gave me three little cookbooks from Avoca, a store where they are in Ireland that not only sells wool blankets, clothes and kitchen gizmos but also houses its own café with tons of delicious fare (so I’ve heard secondhand; alas, I have never been). They’re super cute little cookbooks with lots of great stuff inside, and I love the idea of café cuisine you can make at home. Sometimes a light lunch just hits the spot, you know?
Here’s the first recipe I’ve made from my Avoca cookbooks: It’s a roasted red pepper and chickpea salad, with garlic, parsley and scallions.
Roasted Red Pepper and Chickpea Salad
From Avoca Salads
• 3 red peppers, cut in thick strips
• 6 tablespoons olive oil
• 2 14-ounce cans chickpeas, rinsed and drained
• 2 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
• 2 teaspoons ground cumin
• 1 teaspoon ground coriander
• juice of 1 lemon
• 1 bunch flat-leaf parsley
• 1 bunch scallions, finely chopped
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Toss red pepper strips in 2 tablespoons olive oil, and roast for 10 to 15 minutes, turning occasionally. Transfer peppers to a bowl, and cover.
Heat remaining olive oil in a saucepan over medium heat, and add chickpeas. Toss in the oil, and heat through for 5 minutes. Add garlic and spices, and cook for another 2 to 3 minutes, or until spices lose their raw aroma. Season with salt and pepper as you go, and taste along the way.
Transfer chickpeas to a bowl, add pepper strips, and season with lemon juice. Add parsley and scallions, and toss.
We served this salad warm the night I made it, but I think it was equally delish cold the next day. Maybe it’s a cold pizza kind of thing. You dig it that way, or you don’t.
Overall, I was a happy camper with how it turned out. It has great flavor, great color and combines some of my favorite ingredients. A rousing success. Here, here!
Do you have a favorite restaurant salad that you can’t get enough of? Or a favorite that you make at home? Or maybe a secret recipe story that you’ve been itching to share? Do tell!