How do you start the day?
With two kids under 3, mornings aren’t exactly zen... But, I do try to remind myself that there’s beauty in the chaos (as I clean oatmeal from the kitchen floor...)
Caffeine of choice: A matcha latte – love you, CAP matcha! – with fresh cashew milk (I prefer cashews because they make a neutral, versatile milk). That plus a regimen of daily vitamins that could basically raise the dead: Athletic Greens, multivitamin, iron, B12, Omega 3s, Vitamin D and probiotics.
Then I head to the bathroom and apply some Noto or Activist face oil and perform a very quick face massage with a gua sha stone or rose quartz roller to get me all hydrated and glowy. I finish that off with some Ilia mascara to help me appear more awake (whether I feel it yet or not).
What is your food philosophy?
Cook with the seasons, mostly vegetables. Provision locally and keep a global pantry. Everything in moderation (including moderation), except for herbs and spices!
How did you get into cooking?
I’ve been cooking forever; there was just something inside me that directed me towards food and cooking from an early age. My brain is wired to catalog flavors and dishes – and I was fortunate enough to have a family that exposed me to a ton of flavor via our culinary heritage (Lebanese), travel, living in India, and they even humored my interest in cooking from international cookbooks as an elementary schooler. Food is how I connect to a place and a culture; it’s my creative practice; it’s simply the thing that makes my spirit the most engaged and energized. I feel pretty damn fortunate that I’ve been able to direct that passion into meaningful work.
What's always in your fridge?
Farm eggs, vegetables, lettuces & herbs from the garden, kimchi (especially white kimchi), multiple types of miso (South River miso is so great), a batch of beans (I cook a pot of them weekly!), Ghia (for zero-proof spritzes), Spanish vermouth (for boozy spritzes), Botanica hummus and preserved lemons, and approximately 437 condiments (small-batch hot sauces, jams, mustards, a myriad of sauces and ferments for Japanese and Southeast Asian cooking, and a few types of ketchup because…kids).
What’s always in your pantry?
Spices from Diaspora Co. and Villa Jerada, heirloom beans, nuts/seeds and nut/seed butters, at least a dozen vinegars, tinned fish, masa (for fresh tortillas), coconut milk, Japanese pantry goods from Toiro, Taiwanese pantry goods from Yun Hai, and a 9L box of Séka Hills extra-virgin olive oil from northern California. I cook with So. Much. Olive. Oil. and having a restaurant-size box of a wonderful and versatile oil on hand is my most essential culinary life hack. I transfer it to 750ml bottles for storing on the counter.
What do you turn to, to make you feel your best: food and all the other practices?
There’s nothing I love to cook or eat more than a beautiful, colorful feast made from local vegetables. There’s something extra special, extra satisfying about focusing all your creative energy on cooking dishes that are as nourishing as they are delicious. Spending a day provisioning from the farmers market, harvesting from the garden, cooking, and gathering friends around a table of vegetables and natural wine really fills my cup. Even when I’m absolutely beat from a week of work and kids and life, I have a reserve battery somewhere inside that gets turned on for cooking and gathering. It’s genuinely what revives me.
Favorite kitchen tool?
Japanese mandoline for shaving vegetables, microplane zester (citrus zest goes with everything!), and my mortars & pestles – my super heavy granite molcajete for serious pounding, my small ceramic one for quick grinding, and my Permanent Collection suribachi for making sauces and vinaigrettes and a whole lot of salsa verde. Also, while they aren’t tools, my collection of serving utensils sparks major joy. If you’re going to put love, thought and care into cooking a dish, you should have beautiful things to serve it with!
What are some of your favorite cookbooks?
I have a massive cookbook library; I stash a few favorites under the kitchen island. Claudia Roden, Madhur Jaffrey and Najmieh Batmanglij are the culinary godmothers whose books I turn to again and again. The Ducksoup cookbook from one of my favorite London restaurants. Donabe, Japanese Farm Food and Washoku for Japanese cooking (which we do a lot of at home). David Tanis Market Cooking is a beautiful book that I recommend to anyone who will listen!
Go-to meal that you make for yourself more often than not?
Vegetable tacos! Beans (I LOVE BEANS — hence the recipe below), cumin-y roasted mushrooms and onions, a lime-y shaved fennel and cilantro slaw, hot sauce/salsa macha, and fresh tortillas (hence that masa always in the pantry!) is a meal I crave often.
I love how you marry food and activism. What about women owned business do you feel most passionate about?
The culture and character of our industry is not one that has been shaped or dominated by women, and women are still underrepresented to this day. Thankfully that’s starting to change; and the importance of being a part of that change is what keeps me motivated in this complex, challenging line of work. I believe that the more women there are in the culinary industry, the more thoughtful, sustainable and equitable it will be.
My co-owner, Emily and I work ceaselessly to foster an environment in which respect, equality and accountability are foundational and non-negotiable. We prioritize sustainability and positivity, and are hyper-conscious of the role our business plays in the broader community and economy. This holistic approach to business is something I see far more often in women-owned businesses in the food and hospitality space. And so it’s hugely important to me to do everything I can to support and uplift women in food, whether it’s via Botanica’s market (which is stocked with women-made culinary goods) or Regarding Her, the non-profit I helped start in 2020.
How did time spent working as a food writer and consultant impact the way you see the food industry?
For 10 years, I ate for a living. It taught me a lot about what was working in restaurants and what wasn’t. Ultimately it was because I had seen (and eaten and drunk and experienced) so much that I felt confident that I could build a business that did things a bit differently – i.e. more consciously, sustainably, fairly, kindly.
The Magic Spice is beyond delicious and electric! How did your Lebanese background inspire this beautiful collaboration with CAP Beauty?
My love for olive oil-drenched vegetable cookery is innate, passed down from the Lebanese side of my family – and since moving to Southern California, it has become fanatical (in the best way). When Kerrilynn and I first chatted about a collaboration, she mentioned that she is constantly roasting vegetables…so Zarah and I decided to make something that helps coax maximum flavor from any vegetable it touches!
How do you end your day?
BEANS WITH CARAMELIZED ONIONS AND THE MAGIC SPICE
By Heather Sperling
The salty, savory, fragrant, citrusy profile of The Magic Spice is wonderful with beans! This is a simple dish with big flavor, thanks to the caramelized onions and the spice blend. It’s lovely as is, and also excellent tucked into tortillas as the base of vegetable tacos.
1 cup dried heirloom beans, soaked overnight (or 1 15oz. can of unsalted beans)
1 piece kombu
2 medium yellow onions
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 heaping teaspoon Magic Spice
A handful of fresh cilantro
If starting with dried beans, strain the beans from their soaking water and put in a put with kombu and ½ an onion. Cover with 3 inches of water and simmer until soft, then drain. Reserve the bean cooking liquid for another use, like cooking rice or making soup! (If using canned beans, skip this step and just strain and rinse your beans.)
Thinly slice the remaining 1½ onions; warm the olive oil in a large saute pan over medium heat and cook the onions, stirring occasionally, until nicely caramelized but not cooked all the way down. Pull the leaves from your cilantro stems and mince the stems.
Add beans and cilantro stems to the onions and stir to combine. Add Magic Spice, stir, and transfer to a serving plate. Squeeze some lime over everything and garnish with the cilantro leaves.