In my late teens and early twenties, I spent summers working for my cousin in Montreal, the only one in our family who ever “made it big” (ie, rich). Wealthy Cousin owned a major wholesale operation that supplied non-perishable items to convenience stores across the province. I remember being amazed the first time I toured the warehouse, its rows of boxes stacked higher than the Christmas tree in Rockefeller Center with cases upon cases of gummy bears, SweeTarts, Juicy Fruit gum (which used to come in long, thin, sticks and was still packed with sugar back then), Oh Henrys, Glossette Raisins . . . and non-food items, too, like toilet tissue, paper towels, or feminine hygiene products.
My actual job involved filing invoices, filling out forms, and what would today be called data entry in the secretaries’ office. In those days, their “modern” computer system took up almost half the room, and because I had excelled in dactylographie at my French immersion high school, I was a natural choice to use the keyboard-heavy equipment.
As with any workplace (okay, I’m going by The Office here since I’ve never had any other “real” office job from which to draw conclusions), there were in-house politics, personal baggage, and inter-office romance. I remember being scandalized when I found out that Mademoiselle Secretary was dating Monsieur Truck Driver (and Mr. TD was married! Gasp!). I attempted to get along with everyone, of course, but the three summers I spent working there also confirmed for me that I had no
knack ability patience for office politics, and so a regular 9-to-5 job really wasn’t in the stars.
One summer, I became friends with the only other secretary around my age, a young Greek beauty who was basically my polar opposite. Whereas I was quiet and reserved, Thea was brash, loud, and in-your-face. Whereas I remained shy around guys and wore relatively conservative attire, Thea flirted relentlessly, her smile outlined by thick carmine lipstick, her wardrobe replete with lace leggings, leather mini skirts, low-cut blouses and red stiletto heels.
And yet, we hit it off famously. Thea was hilariously funny, whip-smart and, despite looking like Pretty Woman before her makeover, incredibly down to earth and genuine behind her makeup. We regularly spent lunch hours giggling and squealing, sharing stories about our “outside” lives. So, understandably, when it was time for me to return to college at the end of the summer, we vowed to keep the friendship going. During my last weekend in town, Thea invited me to dinner at her house.
Almost immediately upon arrival, I ascertained that there are certain characteristics shared by all first generation immigrant homes: like ours, Thea’s sofas were cloaked in thick clear plastic; there was also a surfeit of doilies adorning every wooden surface; and an ever-so-slightly musty aroma infused the place, just like my great-aunt Irene’s home in Boston. I half expected to find the same antique doll collection in Thea’s living room.
More importantly, I was beyond excited to finally give authentic Greek food a try. Thea’s mother ushered me into the dining room, where the table groaned under dozens of plates filled with exotic looking dips and spreads; various cheeses; olives of all sizes and colors; trays heaped with sliced meat, cubed meat, ground meat, meatballs; still more trays piled with rice or potatoes; and across the room, lined up like wallflowers waiting for a dance at the prom, was a collection of desserts that all seemed to be topped with honey and pistachios.
By far, my favorite dish was a fantastic dip I had never tried before that night, which Thea’s mom told me was called “houmus.” It was a thick, creamy beige spread made from chickpeas, rife with garlic and fruity olive oil. I scooped it onto pita bread, piled it on my potatoes and even ate some straight off the fork.
In fact, I left that dinner with a new favorite food: authentic Greek houmus! I didn’t find out for several years that hummus is actually Middle Eastern, and for whatever reason, just happened to make an appearance on the table that night. I carried the misconception around until I moved to Toronto, a hub of all things multicultural, and one of my friends finally broke the news to me.
While my friendship with Thea didn’t make it past the end of summer, my love of hummus persists to this day. So, when I recently found myself with a small portion of chickpeas left over from a batch of Raw Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Truffles (recipe from Living Candida-Free–you can get it here), I decided to combine it with another favorite dip, baba ganouj, to see what I could come up with.
The result is a hearty, flavorful spread that’s not quite as creamy as regular hummus, with a lighter texture and brighter flavor profile. The sundried tomatoes add punch and color. I loved the spread on grain-free flatbreads served with olives on the side.
Of course, I have no illusions that this dish has any relation to Greek food, but it still somehow reminds me of that incredible dinner long ago, and a friendship worth remembering.
Eggplant and Chickpea Spread
Get a taste of the Middle East with this combination spread that uses the best of hummus and baba ganouj. Use as a dip, sandwich filling, or even a pizza topping.
1 medium eggplant
4 sundried tomato halves (see note)
1 cup (240 ml) well cooked and drained chickpeas
3 Tbsp (45 ml) fresh lemon juice
1 small cloves garlic, chopped
1/4 cup (60 ml) tahini (sesame seed paste)
2 Tbsp (30 ml) extra virgin olive oil, preferably organic
1/2 tsp (2.5 ml) cumin, or more, to taste
2 tsp (10 ml) smoked paprika
1/4 tsp (1 ml) fine sea salt, or more, to taste
Preheat oven to 400F (200 C). Line a cookie sheet with parchment and place the whole eggplant on it. Bake until the eggplant is soft, about 45 minutes. Allow to cool about 10 minutes, until cool enough to handle, then cut in half lengthwise and scoop the flesh into the bowl of a food processor.
While the eggplant bakes, soak the tomatoes in boiling water for 15 minutes; drain and chop. Add the chopped tomatoes to the processor with the remaining ingredients and process until smooth. Taste and adjust seasonings as desired. Serve immediately or store, covered, up to 4 days in the refrigerator. Makes about 2 cups (480 ml).
Note: for ACD stage one, use 4-6 oven-dried tomatoes instead of sundried tomatoes (recipe in this post).
Suitable for: ACD All stages; sugar-free, gluten-free, grain-free, dairy-free, egg free, soy-free, nut free, yeast-free, vegan, low glycemic.
“Mum, Chaser is my best friend, just like Thea! It’s true, Chaser is also pretty brash and a terrible flirt, but underneath it all she’s a good egg. . . she even got a blood test at the vet with me so I’d feel better. Say, is there any of that dip left? I bet that might help my paw to heal even more. . . ”
Never miss a recipe–or a comment from The Girls! Click here to subscribe to RickiHeller.com via email. You’ll get recipes as soon as they’re posted, plus cookbook updates and news about upcoming events! (“We love subscribers, Mum. . . almost as much as we love treats!”
[Disclosure: this post may contain affiliate links. If you buy using these links, at no cost to you, I will earn a small percentage of the sale.]