How Yasmin Fahr Improvises
The Great Ones is a celebration of humans we admire — and an exploration of why they cook, not just how. Yasmin Fahr is an author and recipe developer known for warm and unfussy dishes, like her now-iconic sheet-pan feta recipe. While she whipped up an easy, cheesy pasta bake in her apartment in the West Village, she spoke to us about her career trajectory and what to do when you’re staring at your own fridge in desperation an hour before dinner.
We would gather around the dinner table growing up, and I always knew food was important to me, but I didn’t have a straightforward career path toward it. In college, I was premed and going to be a doctor. It was one of those things that you know is not right, but it’s scary to abandon what’s familiar and do something new.
It’s scary to abandon what’s familiar and do something new.
I worked in a hospital when I first graduated, but I’d made a list of what I actually wanted to do — food and writing kept coming up. I took a leap and started a master’s in the food-science program at NYU. My parents sold our childhood home a few years ago, and I was looking through old journals then. I found an entry in which I’d put down “food and travel writer?” as something I might want to do one day. All these years later, it’s been an incredible experience, and I’ve met so many wonderful people along the way.
I love cooking because I love making people feel happy. Our family meals are some of my happiest memories. It feels good to connect to others through food, and I love seeing everyone make my recipes and adapt them. Hopefully, I made their day better in some way. These recipes have an impact of their own out in the world. It’s an honor to be a part of someone’s home and life in this way, and I always feel a sense of thank you for trusting me.
I love cooking because I love making people feel happy.
I live alone, and usually I cook for friends. But nowadays [in early 2021], it’s mostly for myself or my best friend who lives down the street. We’re in a little bubble, so we have dinner parties for each other.
My recipes reflect how I eat. It really depends on my mood — I’m a big fan of roasted veggies, pasta, and soups. When you’re cooking for yourself, it’s not often that you want to make an elaborate meal. If I want to make it feel special, I’ll add in some seafood or meat.
My recipes reflect how I eat.
I love cooking, whether for work or myself, but I have different approaches to each. Recipe development is more methodical, and cooking for myself is experimental with its own freedom. These do overlap and intersect, though, because the recipes I publish are also what I would cook for myself.
You can make the same dish over and over with new variations just by altering the spices. I always want to mix pantry staples, like canned tomatoes or coconut milk, with fresh ingredients. I keep fresh herbs and easy greens (like spinach) on hand to bring some color and freshness. And don’t forget the acid — a splash of lemon to brighten up a dish goes a long way.
Don’t forget the acid — a splash of lemon to brighten up a dish goes a long way.
Today, I made a pasta bake that I’ve been making variations of for as long as I’ve been cooking. It’s gooey and cheesy and super comforting. The base is vegetarian, but you can always add meat or build up the spice with harissa or chili flakes. It’s so versatile — perfect for dinner with a group of friends or yourself if you live solo (the leftovers are so good!).
It feels good to connect in this way, especially when we can’t see each other.
Looking forward, I’m excited to experiment with clay-pot cooking. It’s such an old way of cooking found in so many cultures, but I’m just beginning to learn about it and experiment. I’m also learning how to make some of the Persian dishes I grew up eating. I’ve always incorporated many of the ingredients (like cumin or saffron) into my cooking, but I’ve been FaceTiming with my parents more, and they’re teaching me some traditional dishes. It feels good to connect in this way, especially when we can’t see each other.
Photos by Adam Friedlander.