Okay, big time confession: in high school, I was (gulp) a cheerleader. Yes. I was. I was one of those high pony-tailed stiff-arm clapping cheer girls that dreamed up cheers in her sleep and wore the cheerleading outfit to school on game days. So yeah, even though I dropped out my senior year (and traded my letter jacket for a black leather motorcycle one–a la Linda Hamilton in Terminator 2), I was that girl, the cheerleader.
I worked hard at cheering. I went to cheer camp (yes, seriously). I tried really hard not to drop girls when tossing them into the air for the all-important basket toss (we dropped a few every now and then–our football team was never very good, so we considered it extra bang for our fans’ viewing pleasure. I mean picture us, two girls, arms clamped together to form a square, tossing some blonde featherweight 15 feet in the air–never straight up, mind you–and then following her shadow so we wouldn’t miss her, at least not very often, on her decent.). What I never really paid attention to was the game going on behind me. First and ten? I knew the cheer, but what did it all really mean? To this day, I don’t have a clue. Though I cheered for three years, I couldn’t tell you a foul from a goal (wait, is that even football?).
But I was good at cheering (and now, all of you who have seen me scream and cheer and hoot and whistle for people I don’t know running the NYC Marathon, you know where it all comes from). I was also good at cooking. There was many a time when, post Friday night lights, we’d find some deserted fast food parking lot to convene at, do something(s) illegal, and then retire to a home with no parentals present. While others were making out in closets and sucking down Milwaukee’s Best from funnels and plastic tubing, I’d often be in the kitchen making cookies. How I never burnt down a kitchen I’ll never know. And don’t ask me what anything tasted like. Who knows (I never even used a recipe–just threw stuff together in a bowl). I think we enjoyed whatever it was at the time. I mean, it wasn’t exactly like anyone had the brain power to complain.
All this to say that whatever the game of the day is, be it baseball, football, or Harry Potter Hogwarts Legos, I really could care because my mind is where the most important plays are being hatched anyway: the kitchen. And whether you’re into ball games or board games (such as 221 Baker Street, a super fun detective game like Clue but better), food is always a focal point. Buffalo wings, chili, a devilishly runny Robiola. They enhance the game play and keep you sated for the long stretch.
My absolute favorite dip is onion dip with potato chips. Oh man, if you serve that to me you better establish a ten-foot boundary around that bowl because like white on rice, I am on it and will eat the whole bowl. But do you know what makes onion dip so slammin’ good? Lots. Of. Fat. Not that I mind, but paired with potato chips and beer, it makes for a not-so-great post-game feeling. So I got to thinking. What’s a dip that feels as great to eat as it tastes?
And I recalled lentil-walnut pâté. Now quit your eye rolling, okay? It is honestly and truly delicious. In fact, the day after Thanksgiving, we visited some friends in Philly and they had a deli container of lentil-walnut pâté from the local coop. No sooner had the top been peeled back than the dip had disappeared. Just like that, it vanished. It was creamy and earthy and sweet and hearty and tasted right, especially after a ridiculously delicious yet insanely rich meal the day before.
Lentil-walnut dip is like hummus but softer, more mellow and earthy and honestly, more party-friendly since it doesn’t have the sharp garlicky-lemony hit that hummus can have. To keep the texture airy instead of heavy, I use very little oil and quite a bit of the lentil cooking liquid (note that it does solidify a bit in the fridge, so if you want to make it ahead of time and want it to retain its fluff, let it sit at room temp for a stretch before serving). I barely toast the walnuts, just letting them warm up in the oven to give them a surface gloss without heavy toasty notes that threaten the lentils’ softness. A little fresh garlic, some salt, and neutral oil (I use grapeseed), buzz away in the food processor and it’s done. As a dip or a sandwich spread it’s fantastically healthy, protein-packed, and nutritious.
If I only knew about lentil-walnut pâté when I was 17. But then again, with the blade of a food processor and boiling water to contend with, maybe it’s better that I didn’t.
For a touch of spice, I sometimes sprinkle it with a little za’atar, a Middle Eastern spice made from sumac, marjoram, thyme, toasted sesame seeds, and salt (see my version below). It gives it more of a hummus taste and looks pretty too. Double or triple the batch of dip and you won’t be sorry. Serve some at your game day event and save the rest for a wrap/sandwich or to snack on with pita chips or celery sticks.
- 1 cup dried lentils, rinsed under cold water
- 1 cup raw walnut halves
- 2 medium garlic cloves, roughly chopped
- 2 tablespoons grapeseed or canola oil
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
- Pita chips, seeded flatbread, crackers, or veg sticks for serving
- Bring 3 1/2 cups of water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Add the lentils, return to a boil, reduce the heat to medium-low, and gently simmer until the lentils are tender and creamy (scoop a few out with a fork to test them), 12 to 15 minutes.
- Place a sieve over a large bowl and drain the lentils through the sieve. Reserve 1/2 cup of the lentil water and set aside (freeze the remaining lentil liquid and use it like you would water or chicken broth for making rice, flavoring chili, or bean soup). Set the lentils aside to cool completely, about 1 hour (shake the sieve every so often to redistribute the lentils and let off some steam).
- Preheat the oven to 350°F. Place the walnuts on a rimmed baking sheet pan and toast just until they become glossy and slightly fragrant, 3 to 4 minutes. Remove from the oven, transfer to a large plate, and set aside to cool.
- Place the walnuts and garlic in the bowl of a food processor and process for 30 seconds to combine. Add the cooled lentils, canola oil, salt, and reserved lentil cooking liquid. Process until the pâté lightens in color and becomes very airy, about 2 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Transfer the dip to a bowl and serve with pita chips.
Makes about 1/4 cup
This ancient herb blend is obviously excellent sprinkled over Lentil-Walnut Pâté, hummus, babaghanouj, and grilled meats. But it’s also tasty in untraditional ways too: like sprinkled over deviled eggs, added to ground meat before making burgers, combined with oil and lemon juice to use as a simple salad dressing, or patted on to a creamy log of chèvre and drizzled with fruity olive oil for a cheese course.
- 1 1/2 teaspoons dried marjoram
- 3/4 teaspoon sumac
- 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
- 3 tablespoons sesame seeds
- 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt or sea salt
- Mix the marjoram, sumac, and thyme together in a small bowl.
- Heat a small skillet over medium heat and add the sesame seeds. Toast, shaking the skillet often, until the seeds are golden and fragrant, about 3 minutes. Add the salt and the marjoram mixture and toss to combine.
- Transfer to a rimmed plate to cool. Store in a glass jar and use within 1 month.