I imagine many people consider California the dream. Are you one of them? Would living in perpetual sunshine feel like you were on an endless vacation? Perhaps it’s the proximity to the beach that you’d love or the idea of having a citrus tree in your background (okay, actually that sounds pretty nice to me as well).
I am decidedly in the minority here as I can’t envision myself living in California. I’d miss the seasons so desperately: the cold prick of sleet against your cheeks in a winter storm, the particular hush of the woods covered in just-fallen snow, the crunch of leaves under your feet in October. I’d miss the magic of that specific kind of rain that happens for just a few days in spring: fresh and cold and green.
Although I don’t want to move there, I like traveling in California because it feels so unfamiliar to me, like a country I’m visiting where I’m clearly a foreigner. Los Angeles gives me this sensation with a particular intensely—I feel out of place, but in a nice way that adds a frisson of excitement to daily things like ordering coffee (wellness tonics everywhere!) and driving on the highway (4,856,745,876,945 cars!).
In Los Angeles, I can swan about pretending I’m a movie star, or about to hang out with one at any moment. I can hike in Malibu, and then casually drop phrases like “oh, last week when I was hiking in Malibu” into conversation. Once, on a trip years ago, I hung out with a friend from high school who was living with his aunt in the hills above the city. He picked me up in a tiny vintage-looking red convertible. We bought iced green teas from The Coffee Bean and cruised around Mulholland Drive with the top down and the sun on our faces.
And then on that same trip, there was my first visit to Gjelina. We walked around Venice Beach in the late afternoon, watching the skateboarders flip tricks on half-pipes. Couples wandered the sand as the sun sank down, casting a syrupy amber glow across the ocean and the hazy horizon. It was hot; I wore a long sundress and sandals and red lipstick. I had freckles starting to dot the bridge of my nose, my skin flushed from the beginnings of a sunburn.
After walking the few blocks from the beach, we found the restaurant which is highly recommended by pretty much anyone ever.
We pushed open the doors and stepped into the warm room. The place was packed and buzzing with conversation. A beautiful bar takes up the center of the restaurant; the floor is brick, the walls and ceiling are paneled in a rich, worn wood, and the rest is all dark steel. It’s cozy but edgy, and everything smells like pizza.
That’s because the specialty here is pizza—specifically, wood-fired pizza. The kind you can’t find just anywhere with deeply flavorful crusts that bear the puffy, blistered char you can only achieve with super high heat. We did, of course, order pizza: a white pie topped with wilted squash blossoms, baby zucchini, and burrata; then another with thyme, lemon, melted leeks, and beet greens. I eyed the mushroom pizza at the table next to us, and hungrily glanced at the one next to that, which was strewn with grilled radicchio leaves and chunks of crispy bacon.
Despite how superlative the pizza was, and how memorable the wine (I had my first glass of pét-nat wine that night—a funky sparkling wine that tasted like a cross between Champagne and kombucha), and how much everyone swoons over the butterscotch budino for dessert (worth it), it was the vegetables that won us over.
Vegetables take up their own section of the menu, rightfully so. They aren’t treated as starters or obligatory salads to warm you up for pizza—they’re a series of spectacularly thoughtful small plates. Most are roasted or grilled. All have interesting spices and contrasting textures. You could make an entire meal of them, starting with eggplant with tahini, sumac, and mint, followed by meltingly soft roasted fennel with orange and bee pollen, then grilled turnips bathed in bagna cauda and splashed with lemon juice, then roasted beets hidden beneath dollops of goat’s milk yogurt, fronds of dill, and crunchy pistachios.
One of their most excellent vegetable plates isn’t one you’d gravitate towards. It’s listed on the menu as simply “roasted Japanese sweet potato, jalapeño yogurt, scallion”.
Okay. Potatoes and yogurt, I’m not swooning. But it’ll take you by surprise—which is obviously why they decided to include the recipe in the Gjelina cookbook, and why the very wise Deb Perelman of Smitten Kitchen decided to make it and write about it.
She’s especially wise because she didn’t stop at sweet potatoes, but added crispy paprika-rubbed chickpeas to the plate. Not only does this turn it into a suitably substantial dinner recipe, but it also takes advantage of the fact that your oven is already on to roast the yams so you may as well just throw in the chickpeas too.
The sweet potatoes are roasted with olive oil, red pepper flakes, and honey, turning them into something miraculous: sticky and crisp on the edges, soft and creamy on the inside, with a sweet-spicy flavor.
The parsley is optional but I like a little bit of green to the dish along with the lime zest.
One clever home cook, upon seeing me make this on Instagram, sent me a note to say that she often adds harissa to the yogurt and tops the dish with fried or grilled halloumi. YES PLEASE.
I also think a 6-minute egg would be a nice addition for dinner too, if you were especially hungry.
Recipe Notes: In theory, this dish serves 4, but the leftovers are amazing—so you can easily make it for two, or even one, and have it for a few meals. I go heavier on the sweet potatoes, but you could always make more of the chickpea mixture if you find you like a more equal ratio. And of course, the yogurt doubles easily if you’re extra into sauce!
Roasted Sweet Potatoes and Chickpeas with Lime Yogurt
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen + Gjelina
4 medium sweet potatoes, cut into large wedges
2 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon crushed red pepper flakes (use less if you don’t like heat)
1 3/4 cups (1 15-ounce can) chickpeas
5 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup plain whole-milk Greek yogurt
zest and juice of 2 limes
handful of flat-leaf parsley, to garnish
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F, and line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
In a medium bowl, mix the sweet potato wedges with the honey, 2 tablespoons olive oil, and half of the red pepper flakes. Set aside, then in small bowl, mix the chickpeas with 1 tablespoon olive oil, the paprika and a sprinkling of salt, and coat well.
Spread the potatoes on one baking sheet, drizzle with a little more olive oil (if you like, I say YES MORE YES), and sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper.
Bake the potatoes for about 30 minutes, turning once, then turn them again and cook for about 10 more minutes. You want them to be soft and have some color to them, so they might need even a few more minutes.
Spread the chickpeas on the other parchment-lined sheet and bake for 20 minutes, turning them all once or twice with a spatula. They should be crispy on the outside.
Make the yogurt sauce by whisking together the yogurt with the lime juice and 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Season with salt and pepper.
When ready to serve, place a few potato slices on each plate, top with the chickpeas, and a few dollops of the yogurt mixture. Top it with some lime zest, more red pepper flakes (if you like heat), and the parsley.