One of the less savory parts of traveling across the world is dealing with the stresses and chaos of modern air travel. Due to a flight from Maun being 5+ hours delayed and an inability for anyone to help us, my family found ourselves stranded in Johannesburg, South Africa, frantically trying to get booked on a new route home. Finally, after hours spent on the phone and fruitlessly talking to agents (and lots of $s in roaming cell phone bills), we were able to get booked on a new flight – over 24 hours later than when were supposed to leave. We got a room at an airport hotel, with no bags (they were lost and would take hours the next day to track down), sweaty and cranky and hungry.
The next day my mom (who is from South Africa) gave a childhood friend a phone call telling her we had a day to kill in Johannesburg, and her friend graciously offered to host us for lunch at her house.We arrived at Louise’s to an incredible lunch of exactly the kind of nourishing food I love to eat: salads (baby gem with avocados and chives, tomatoes and feta..), thick juicy local asparagus, perfect roast chicken, apricot cake, and the kind of fruit you only get in South Africa – and within the couple hours we spent there, I felt the weight and the stress of the travel fade away.
This is what hospitality can be – the power of food to immediately restore our guests by grounding them and making them feel at ease. I think it’s important to remember this in a time when cooking has become so complex and curated, and we’re all trying to get our tables to match those of Instagram, that the most welcoming of environments are those where we eat the food that makes us feel at home, walk around the garden barefoot, and laugh with old friends. Here is the kind of unfussy dish I might throw together if you were coming over.
Roasted za’atar carrots with lemon yogurt and herbs
Cooking soundtrack: Bury Me At Makeout Creek – Mitski
- 1 bunch of carrots (mine contained 10), greens removed
- 1 tablespoon za’atar
- 2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 cup of greek yogurt (or use non dairy if vegan)
- 1/2 lemon, zested
- salt and pepper
- 1/2 cup chopped herbs (I used basil and parsley, but dill and mint would also work)
- Handful of crumbled firm feta cheese (optional) and/or toasted pistachios.
- Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Prepare a baking sheet with parchment paper.
- Wash and peel the carrots. Cut the thicker carrots horizontally and keep whole if on the smaller side. Lay on the baking sheet, sprinkle with olive oil, za’atar and salt and pepper. Toss with your hands until coated.
- Roast until nicely browned and cooked (a little charring is good!), about 30 minutes.
- Take out to cool slightly on the baking sheet. Meanwhile mix the yogurt with the lemon zest, a squeeze of lemon, and salt and pepper. Chop the herbs finely.
- Plate: in a big wide bowl or plate, smear the yogurt sauce, top with the carrots, herbs, and feta and/or nuts. Serve warm or cold – whatever is easiest!