literary food blog, for readers with good taste.

NW & Caramelized Onion, Gruyere and Bacon Dip

NW & Caramelized Onion, Gruyere and Bacon Dip

As a native Washington who grew up in a forest but now engages in a torrid love affair with metropolitan grit, it’s easy for me to find the power in both. So, excuse me if this is morning yoga talking, but I believe nature is about breath. It will make you gasp; it will force you to exhale. Cities, meanwhile, are surely heartbeats. From throbbing panicky beats to the slow tap of a seasoned machine, city movements keep you feeling alive. There is no one more capable of monitoring these heartbeats than the painfully chic, emotionally savant, jazz-singing-rap-saavy urbanite Zadie Smith. Like many of her works, NW explores the tensions and complexities of race, this time through four fascinating characters: Leah, Natalie (formerly “Keisha”), Nathan and Felix.

All grew up in the projects of London, and are overwhelmed by the complexity and sorrow of urban life. Leah is a half-Irish-half-English white woman married to a half-Alegerian-half-Guadeloupean man. She envies her best friend, resists her husband’s respectable cookie cutter plan of popping out some babies, lusts after a female con artist, and is obsessed and confused by the concept of time. We spend a short time with Felix, and he takes us on a very ordinary and pleasant (though full of drugs) kind of day. Natalie was named “Keisha” in the projects, and that name change encapsulates her constant climb up the social and financial ladder. She makes a pattern of choosing religion, higher education, and career over love and excitement – but ultimately being all work and no play backfires. We are with Natalie as she mixes up with no-goods like ex-classmate Nathan, and cracks, drips, and erodes like a city sidewalk.

One of Zadie Smith’s trademarks is to allow her narrative to follow the whims of her characters and not vice versa. In NW, she does not weave a constant thread of a story – the novel is full of stop and start stream of consciousness, with uneven attention to the lead characters, and a style that is sometimes journalistic, sometimes poetic, and sometimes childlike. Any more fluidity would feel incongruous with the story; Smith’s disjointed tale is true to the strange hemiolic percussiveness of the cast, and London itself.

Because this is a tale about paths crossing, it seemed only natural to feature a communal food. And because NW is no sweet fairy tale, let’s play around with strong, smoky, even pungent flavors, shall we?

Caramelized onion Gruyere and bacon unmixed
Caramelized onion Gruyere and bacon dip



  • Cooking spray
  • 3 1/2 cups chopped onion
  • 2oz Gruyere cheese (shredded)
  • 2 tablespoons smoked Gouda
  • 2 tablespoons fresh chives (chopped)
  • 1/3 cup mayonnaise
  • 1/3 cup fat-free sour cream
  • Pinch salt
  • Dash black pepper
  • 4 bacon slices (cooked and crumbled)


First step: caramelize your onions! That means starting with a saute, then turning your heat way down and stirring every once in a while for about 20 minutes.

Combine the Gruyere cheese, caramelized onion, 1 tablespoon chives, and the remaining ingredients in a medium bowl. Transfer the mixture to a 1-quart glass or ceramic baking dish. Sprinkle with the Gouda.

Bake at 425°F for 20 minutes or until browned and bubbly. Sprinkle with remaining 1 tablespoon chives. Serve with chips, crackers, or bread.

I know it’s nippy out there, my friends, but I encourage city-dwellers to crack a door open and bask in the sounds of a crazy-beautiful concrete jungle.

Source: Bought this book off of Amazon.

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