In recent weeks, much to my surprise, I've witnessed two references to sobremesa (not my company, but the Spanish concept) in American food-related happenings:
This article in Edible SF magazine was a double coincidence for me: not only does it explain sobremesa as a word we can only intuit in English, as "the lingering discourse around the table when our bellies and hearts are full", but it also talks about EatWith, now a worldwide affair, of which I happened to be one of the founding Barcelona hosts way back when they were still pretty small. I haven't been too active as a host here in Berkeley, though I do have some offerings up there.
Second, about a month ago, the aesthetically impeccable Brooklyn-based Sunday Suppers posted about a new project called Sobremesa by Sunday Suppers on her Instagram feed. Instead of getting frustrated that someone famous decided to use my name, I took it as a sign to respond to her call for hosts for this curated global dinner series. I applied, and was chosen among many applicants as a host for their first season of dinners this summer (thanks to the name, maybe?). I am super excited, as it will be a new type of experience for me, in which I will get to cook entirely with someone else's recipes. Tickets go on sale May 1 through their website, and we are sure they will sell out quickly. I will be hosting the event on June 22 (to celebrate the summer!), for a small select crowd at a secret venue that could not be more beautiful. More details on that soon.
Although sobremesa truly means the time we spend at the table after we've finished eating, I believe the spirit of sobremesa can be enjoyed throughout the meal, and even during its preparation. Sobremesa is time spent in conversation and lingering, communal bonding time. In fact, I like to think that the aperitivo, another favorite pass-time in Spain, is also part of sobremesa. Aperitivo, as compared to sobremesa, precedes the main meal rather than following it. Nevertheless, it is also social time, and in that stretched-out, cozy, and flexible Mediterranean way of enjoying mealtimes, it's sometimes very difficult to distinguish one part from the next. (The French equivalent might be hors d'oeuvre, which we know as appetizers, but translates literally as "outside of the main work".)
Historically, the custom of aperitivo entailed drinking a vermouth after attending mass on Sundays. In modern times, not that many people attend mass anymore, but aperitivo on weekends in Spain is a must, and it usually starts at around 1pm (which means that the main meal doesn't happen until much later). Laziness is part of the event; not rushing, taking it very slow. That dwelling in enjoyment is the same lingering at the table we find in sobremesa; Mediterraneans never want a meal to be done, and have found ways to stretch it out on either end. The main meal itself thus gets lost into the before and after: you can imagine a late breakfast turning into aperitivo, then the meal, and then a long sobremesa, just in time to turn into dinner. And one never got up from the table, or just barely enough to bring over some more food. Yes, this has actually happened to me, among a large group of friends with lots to talk about.
This has been a long winter in California, and I'm so looking forward to being able to eat outside again. As soon as the warmth hits, many alfresco aperitivos and sobremesas shall be enjoyed. I look forward to sharing my table with many of you soon.
Because my readers keep insisting on recipes, here are two I made as an aperitivo for a recent intimate dinner event (a small group of girlfriends celebrating a birthday). I am a huge fan of all kinds of colorful spreads and dips, and these baby rainbow carrots from Berkeley Bowl were begging to be served at my table.
Muhammara (Roasted Red Pepper Dip)
Based on a recipe by Heidi Swanson
red bell peppers, 3, char-roasted
red pepper flakes, 1 teaspoon
walnuts, 1 cup, lightly toasted
EVOO, 1/4-1/3 cup
pomegranate molasses, 2 Tb
warm water, as needed to thin
tomato paste, 2 Tb
ground cumin, 1/2 tsp
sea salt, to taste
Maldon salt, for garnish
Start by char-roasting the peppers. I like to do this by placing the whole peppers directly on the gas stovetop, using tongs to rotate until they are really black all around. Then place them in a large bowl and cover with cling film so that they can finish steaming on the inside. Let sit about 15 min. (Alternately you can broil them in the oven, especially if making large amounts).
Remove peppers and peel off the outer black char (doing this under the tap is helpful, but make sure to place a strainer in the sink). It's ok if there is a bit of color left on them. Open up the peppers and remove the seeds. Rough chop.
Add peppers, pepper flakes, almost all the walnuts (reserve some for garnish), pomegranate molasses, tomato paste, cumin and 1/2 tsp salt to a food processor. Pulse to desired consistency (I like to leave it a bit chunky) and add olive oil. If you think it's too thick you can add some water (I like this one quite thick.). Taste for seasoning. Serve in a bowl for dipping, with some rough chopped walnuts, another drizzle of fruity olive oil, and Maldon salt on top. Serve with flat bread, crackers, or crudités.
red beets, 1 bunch (or 3-4 large beets), roasted
olive or coconut oil, 1 tsp
lemon zest, 1 tsp
tahini, 1 Tb (or other nut or seed butter)
umeboshi paste, 1 tsp
white miso, 1 tsp
Start by roasting the beets, which I do like this: Preheat the oven to 425ºF. Scrub the beets with a vegetable brush and rub some coconut or olive oil on them with your hands.
Place in a pyrex or other oven-proof pan with a tiny bit of water. Cover with aluminum foil (or first a layer of parchment, then aluminum). Roast until fork tender, 45 min-1 hour depending on the size of your beets.
Once cool enough to handle, peel beets (you might want to wear gloves for this; in general I hate wearing rubber gloves in the kitchen, much as I love putting my hands in the feel of things, but this is the one occasion where I do take advantage of them because those pink beet stains are notoriously hard to get rid of!).
Place beets in the food processor with the rest of the ingredients and process until you achieve desired consistency (I like this one smooth). Add a couple of teaspoons of warm water to thin out as needed. Garnish with a drizzle of olive oil and, optionally, with some fresh mint torn with your hands (mint can brown when you put a knife to it). Serve with flatbread, crackers or crudités.