Ever had an impromptu gathering? Inviting people to stay for dinner seems like a grand idea after a few glasses of wine. As you traipse merrily into what passes for a kitchen at you price point and browse through what could be considered a pantry in the broad sense of the word, it still seems like an ok idea. It isn’t until you open the fridge and you eyes settle on its only contents: a shrivelled bunch of buk choy and half a tub of greek yogurt that you realise there isn’t anything in your house that a normal person would consider dinner. And that’s when you panic. Or have another glass of wine.

It’s in these situations that a well-stocked pantry, although seemingly bereft of food can save the day. Tins of chick peas, oils, spices and some ancient pita bread from the freezer can come together so that you have something resembling those wanky chucky dips and pita chips that cost about $5 a pop in the supermarket.

But the truth is, at impromptu gatherings no one cares what they eat. When people weren’t expecting a meal, anything you give them is a bonus. This recipe has saved me many a time in such situations. It’s a great snack to crunch on while you peruse the takeaway pizza menu and open that next bottle of vino…

Pita Shards
2-3 pita bread
Olive oil
Salt
Za’atar (use dried oregano if you can’t find za’atar)

Turn on the oven to a reasonable temperature. Spray or brush one side of each pita with oil, sprinkle liberally with salt and za’atar and place, topping side up in the oven. Bake about 5 minutes. When dried but not too brown, turn over, spray/brush and sprinkle again and cook the other side.

Repeat with all pitas. When they are cool, smash them into shards. Store in an airtight container, not that you’ll have any leftovers.

Chunky Three Bean Dip
In a food processor, place:
About ½-1 cup salted cashews (or add some salt if they’re raw). Most nuts will work.
2 cloves of garlic, roughly chopped
A small handful of parsley (optional)

Blend until cashews are fine but still have texture.

Add:
1 can 3 bean mix (drained) – you can really use any can of beans you like
The juice of half a lemon
About a teaspoon of ground sumac
A slosh of extra virgin olive oil

Blend until thick and creamy.

At this point, taste the mixture. It’s probably too garlicky. I would add, while the processor is running:
2 spoonfulls of greek yogurt or sour cream if you don’t have any.
Cracked pepper
More olive oil
A dash of balsamic vinegar
A pinch of sugar or a teaspoon
Blend for a bit. Just make sure the mix stays thick, almost stiff and all will be dandy.

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One of my favourite things to eat in Spain at the dingy tapas bars we frequented was the kind of aioli that tastes like plastic-y American mayo with some garlic thrown in for good measure. I could drink the stuff, in fact, I’m pretty sure I bought some in a Portuguese supermarket post-Spain and inhaled the whole tub. So any time I had a go at making aioli, I’d just mix mass-produced mayo and garlic. And now that aioli is trendy here, that’s usually what’s served in pubs all around Australia.

I have always shied away from scientific-sounding processes like ‘emulsification’ in cooking so you’ll forgive me if I only got around to making ‘proper’ aioli from scratch about a month ago. I figured it wouldn’t be worth the effort but boy, was I wrong. And what’s more, it goes with pretty much anything savoury – fish, chicken, polenta-crusted potatoes, the list goes on.

To make an aioli you basically do what you would do for a mayonnaise, only using extra virgin olive oil. You blend or mix egg yolks with garlic or herbs until creamy and then, while still mixing, add a large amount of olive oil drop by drop, finishing with a touch of acid like lemon or vinegar. The result is a thick creamy emulsion that will have you licking your fingers with glee, I promise you.

This is a recipe that lends itself to immersion blenders and food processors because the aioli must be constantly in motion or it won’t emulsify. Other than that, it is damn near impossible to stuff it up. You could make it too thick but I’m pretty sure no one would complain if you did and anyway you could just add more lemon, vinegar or water.

Classic Aioli
4 cloves garlic, chopped
2 egg yolks
2/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
½ teaspoon salt
1 Tablespoon of Lemon juice (more if desired)

Turn food processor on to medium. Add garlic and egg yolks and puree until garlic is extremely fine and egg yolks are very creamy.

Add salt and once dissolved, pour the oil, drop by drop or in a very slow stream into the still running food processor. You may want to use a measuring jug to pour from. It should take a full 5 minutes to add the 2/3 cup oil to the egg and garlic blend.

Add the lemon and blend some more. Transfer to a bowl, chill and serve.

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