Snackcrafting: Super-savory party spread

So, I'm going to be honest. I never actually call this "super-savory party spread"—I call it vegan pâté.

But please! Hear me out. This is not one of those annoying vegan health-nut betrayal recipes: "just substitute the sugar with wheat grass, it tastes exactly the same!" No, this spread is filled with rich, fatty, salty, delicious ingredients that should only be enjoyed in moderation (though I like to enjoy them in gluttonous indulgence, personally). None of them happen to be animal-derived, but there's no agenda.

So I called it super-savory party spread to avoid losing your attention, but it's still an accurate name. The days are getting shorter, and "eat a lot of unhealthy food at inside parties" season is just around the corner. It's a really great spread to have on your appetizer plate for all of your fall and winter face-stuffing engagements for family, friends, and colleagues alike.

Why? Because it's a "lowest common denominator" snack. What I mean is that most people can eat it—your vegan cousin, your aunt with the weird meat allergy from that tick bite. Hell, even your sister's kids with their real or imagined gluten allergies would be fine as long as you seek out gluten-free miso and black bean paste. And the irresistible salty richness even makes it good for picky eaters who might pass on a liver pâté.

And yet, despite how accessible it is, it doesn't taste like a cheap substitute for something else you wish you were eating. Nobody puts it on a special plate for the food weirdos while everyone else eats "real food." It's like, you know how even your racist old uncle is down with hummus now? (Official dip of the NFL!) This is basically hummus, but better.

I served this alongside regular old pork pâté when I made bánh mì for my family, and it was by far the more popular choice. When I brought it to a recent meeting of the Baltimore Food Swap, I was told by several (non-vegan) people that it was the best thing there. Salt and fat, yo.

Unfortunately, this recipe doesn't have the ease of chucking Velveeta and Rotel in a slow cooker. There are some ingredients that will require a trip to H-Mart or Great Wall—miso, black bean paste, umeboshi pickled plums, mirin—but they're necessary to build up the rich umami flavor. It's also a somewhat fiddly multi-step process of cooking and cooling separate components, and involves washing the goddamn food processor afterward. But it's worth it, I promise.

 

Super-Savory Party Spread (Vegan Pâté)

Adapted from Lentil Walnut Pâté by the Bojon Gourmet

Equipment:
food processor

Ingredients:
3/4 cup brown lentils
3 cups water
1 bay leaf
1/2 cup pecan pieces (if you have pecan halves, use a heaping 1/2 cup)
Heaping 1/2 cup cashews
1 small onion, chopped
6 cloves garlic, chopped
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 tablespoon mirin (Japanese cooking wine)
4 umeboshi pickled plums, pits removed (or 1 1/2 tablespoons umeboshi paste)
1 1/2 tablespoons white or yellow miso
2 heaping tablespoons Korean fermented black bean paste (chunjang)
3/4-1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Put lentils, water, and bay leaf in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce heat to maintain a simmer. Perch a lid on it slightly askew to let the steam vent. Simmer for 20-30 minutes, until lentils are completely soft but not falling apart. When done, drain the excess water and spread them on a plate to cool.

Meanwhile, heat your oven to 350 F. Spread pecans and cashews in a single layer on a baking sheet. Roast for 10-12 minutes, perhaps halfheartedly shaking the pan a few times to prevent burning. Set aside to cool.

Put 2 tablespoons of olive oil on a medium pan over medium heat. Add onions, garlic, and a pinch of salt and stir to coat. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 15-20 minutes. You want them to be softened and browned with some good darker brown bits on the bottom of the pan. Cut the heat, then dump in your mirin to deglaze the pan (i.e. scrape up all those crispy brown bits). Spread out on a plate to cool like you did with your lentils.

Put the cooled nuts in the bowl of your food processor, and let 'er rip. You're basically going to let the nuts become nut butter. Watch it go from chopped, to crumbly ground, to fine ground—keep waiting, be patient. Eventually, it'll start to clump together in a large ball and then all of a sudden, magic! The oils will release and it'll become smooth and creamy.

Add your cooled lentils and onion mixture and process again until smooth and combined.

Add the umeboshi, miso, black bean paste, black pepper, and an additional 1 tablespoon of olive oil and process yet again. Really let this one go for longer than you'd think to make sure you get it very smooth and creamy. If you need to give your cheap-ass food processor a break so it doesn't overheat, just do it.

Taste for seasoning. If it's not salty enough, add more black bean paste or miso to taste. If you'd like it a bit looser, add more olive oil or a bit of water. When it's to your taste, cover and refrigerate until chilled.

Keep refrigerated for up to three weeks. Or put in a freezer-safe container and top with a thin layer of olive oil. Freeze for up to three months, then thaw in the refrigerator and stir well before using. To serve with crackers or crudités, put in a pretty bowl and top with a glug of olive oil.

Snackcrafting is a blog series about culinary creativity with a dash of arts-and-crafts panache. Fill your pantry, fridge, and freezer with homemade goodies to eat and share.

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