“The hardest thing you’ll do is cut an onion,” says Yasmin Fahr of her new cookbook, "Boards and Spreads: Shareable, Simple Arrangements for Every Meal." It’s an antithetical claim to make about a cookbook—the promise of a cookbook is usually to learn something novel, new techniques and revelatory recipes.
But Fahr, a recipe developer and writer whose work has appeared in The New York Times, Serious Eats, and Taste, isn’t out to reinvent the wheel. Rather, her recipes are designed to help burgeoning home cooks develop skills that are practical and get dinner on the table before midnight. “You want things to be different and interesting in a way that's not boring to people, but I want it to fit into their lives seamlessly, not be like, ‘Oh my God, I have to learn this new thing.’”
As I read more of Fahr’s work for this story, I realized just how many of her recipes, over countless websites, I’ve either made or flagged for later because they felt exciting yet achievable—I knew I could make them and not run to the store to buy a new ingredient or kitchen tool I’d never use again.
Chatting over Zoom, Fahr affirms this is how she approached "Boards and Spreads," a collection of recipes that celebrates the choose-your-own-adventure excitement of a board or spread beyond the traditional cheese or charcuterie platters. Dips, spreads, accouterments—you name it—are laid in front of you to design your own dining journey and remind you that food should be easy, fun, and always a party.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
What about boards excites you?
I love cooking or serving food in a way that's easy and approachable for people, but also takes the burden off the cook—I think serving dishes on a board does that. The book takes this effortless serving style and applies it to everyday meals.
I’ve always been inspired by making people’s lives easier in the kitchen. My first cookbook was about one-pot recipes, and I thought, “What if you want to have some friends over—how can you do that in a way that’s easy and communal and encourages sharing?” Many of us are already used to boards: we’ve seen them served with cheese or charcuterie. Boards can add an element of play and adventure to any food, and they’re good for kids and adults.
Boards seem to invite a different energy to eating.
It makes everything feel festive! And it’s also super easy to put together, especially if you’re serving on the cutting board you use to prep vegetables. Even toast looks nice on a board.
How do you construct a board?
I think with most traditional boards, like cheese or charcuterie, it's more about layout: do you put the meat in the middle and then build around it? Some of the boards in my book mimic that style. Many of my boards start with one main item and everything else supports it.
For example, we have a recipe for chicken sliders. You can put the chicken patties in the middle and then put whatever condiments or add-ons around them. Or maybe your main thing—and another recipe in the book—is chili. You can put a pot of chili on a table and think of the toppings as a board. The main point is that I don't want people to think or work too hard to create a complete dish. It's more about creating something that feels fun.
I like that you mentioned the chili recipe because it might seem like boards are novel or are only used for things like cheese and meat, but lots of foods are presented this way.
Yeah! Boards aren't new—serving food mezze-style is very common in some parts of the world. Rather, I'm trying to name it and say you can do this for anything. It doesn't matter what the food is.
Your book includes so many recipes for add-ons—like dips, spreads, and condiments—that show up on more than one board, like they are a collection of puzzle pieces with infinite combinations.
I’m glad you realized that. I wasn’t sure how to articulate it, but that’s what the book is. Some of the folks on the photo shoot playfully joked that you never know when a recipe is going to show up again. I wanted to provide basic recipes that can be transformed and used over and over.
I have this herby green sauce that shows up again and again. It’s used to marinate salmon, it goes on sandwiches, and it’s used as a dip. It's so nice to have a recipe that can kind of go anywhere and still work with everything. Even if I design a board to include certain elements, but you don’t want to make a particular sauce or item, you don’t have to listen to me. You can make it your own.
There are a lot of moments in your book where it feels like experimentation and exploration are encouraged.
Recently, I was looking at a meme or a Tweet about provolone: the person said they’d eaten the cheese all their life and realized recently they don't even like provolone. I think we've all done that—we eat things out of habit without asking, "Do I like that?" I believe serving a meal as a spread allows people to ask themselves what they like since they have to pick.
I love when someone makes up a plate, and you look over and say, "Ooh, I would never have thought of that combination." Plate number two doesn't have to be like plate number one. It can be something totally different.
But it goes beyond that. Boards create a communal, sharing environment. Whenever I go to a party, and I don't know anyone, I'll just go to the cheeseboard and make an awkward joke. Boards foster conversations, whether with new people or people you see daily—it's nice to have something to interact with and over or around.