Hummus – revisited
My daughter Ashley and I laughed the other day about one of her childhood memories. She remembers gazing into the refrigerator, many more times than once, standing there long enough to get goosebumps, and concluding: there’s nothing, absolutely nothing, to eat here! She said that the only things we always had in the fridge were lemons and eggs. And though we had a genuine laugh over this the other day, I’m seeing the refrigerator through my little daughter’s eyes now and it’s something I so wish I could do over! It’s not that the refrigerator was near-empty. Aside from the fruit in the crisper though, it was never a storehouse of delights and ready-to-eats. I didn’t see it at the time, but I do now: our refrigerator was not a kid-friendly place. It wasn’t that there was nothing to eat in there, but that just about everything required a Mama to put it together. Grocery shopping was for me one of those things I’d procrastinate over. I think that reluctance to shop made me more resourceful in the kitchen; but it didn’t make it easy on my girls. Neither did the fact that I didn’t buy junk food. About the time Ashley would sink her head though, sigh and walk away from the refrigerator, I’d jump to. I’d become a dervish, and pulling things from the pantry and the refrigerator (things she hadn’t recognized as real food – and probably no kid would have) I’d manage to concoct something colorful and nummy…most of the time. I always tried to put love on the table…but I’m wishing now I’d put a little more of it in the fridge, within reach of my kids’ little hands.
I’ve learned and grown some since then (though I still always have those eggs and lemons.) Like everyone, I have some stand-bys that, when the refrigerator begins to yawn, I employ. One of our favorites is hummus. Why? you ask. The first and best reason is simply that we really like it, a lot! But there’s another good reason (and you’ve already guessed it haven’t you!) I always have on hand what it takes to make it. What can we do with hummus? A generous scoop on the plate, a crater in the middle, a good drizzle of olive oil. Whole-grain crackers or pita. A hard-cooked egg (clever, huh?), or maybe paired with some leftovers from the night before. A beautiful green salad, a little wedge of good cheese, a few olives, a glass of wine. No one complains. It’s what we do at our house when the cupboard is bare.
As good as hummus can be as part of a vegetarian meal, it’s also good as part of a vegetable appetizer; or with fish, or kebobs, or as a spread in a vegetarian sandwich. I’m saving what I like best about hummus for last though. It ‘s a dip-able, scoop-able, ready-to-eat-able bowlful that kids know JUST what to do with. (What’s more, it’s the perfect consistency for drawing smily-faces.)
There’s lots of ways to vary hummus, but I’ll give you two of my favorite ways to prepare it. First, the traditional puree from the Middle East, flavored generously with tahini (sesame seed paste ) and (ta-da!) lemon. The second version deviates from the traditional. It has an earthy, fragrant spiciness, thanks to the addition of cilantro and a variety of toasted seeds, which are then ground. The latter version probably has more of a flavor kick, if that’s what you’re after, but honestly they’re both very delicious. If pressed to choose, I’d give the nudge to the first, but only by a nose:
Hummus with Tahini
(serves 4 to 6)
- 1-1/4 cups dried chickpeas, soaked in cold water overnight (see NOTE)
- Juice of 2 – 2-1/2 lemons, or to taste
- 2 to 3 cloves garlic, crushed
- 4-5 Tbl. tahina (sesame paste – I like the toasted variety)
(NOTE on chickpeas – if you keep cans of chickpeas in your pantry, and haven’t the time to soak and cook the dried, use 2 cans. Drain & rinse. You’ll probably need to add a little water or a bit more lemon to achieve a smooth puree.)
Drain and boil the soaked chickpeas in fresh water for about 1-1/2 hours, or until they are very soft. Drain them, reserving the cooking water. Blend to a puree in the food processor and then add the remaining ingredients along with a little of the cooking water – just enough to attain a velvety, creamy paste. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Add more lemon juice, garlic, or salt if necessary. Garnish with olive oil, paprika, and whole cooked chickpeas. Or with a sprinkling of green herbs – parsley or cilantro.
(The above recipe comes from another of those favorite cookbooks of mine, The New Book of Middle Eastern Food, by Claudia Roden. I’ll vary this version sometimes with the addition of cumin, or cumin and coriander, or I’ll add a little olive oil. Hummus is endlessly adaptable.)
Spicy Chickpea Puree
- 1 t. cumin seeds
- 1/2 t. coriander seeds
- 1/4 t. fennel seeds
- 1 to cloves garlic
- Salt to taste
- 1/8 to 1/4 t. cayenne
- 1-1/2 cups cooked chickpeas (or one 15 oz. can, rinsed and drained)
- 2 T. olive oil (plus extra to finish)
- 1/2 cup cilantro leaves
- Juice of 1 lemon
Toast the cumin, coriander and and fennel seeds in a small skillet over low heat, shaking or stirring the pan frequently. As soon as they release their aroma, turn them out on a plate to cool. Either in a mortar and pestle or in a spice grinder, grind the seeds. Chop the garlic. Put into the bowl of the food processor: the chickpeas, cilantro, garlic, ground seeds, salt, cayenne, olive oil and lemon juice and puree until smooth. Add a little extra olive oil or lemon juice until right consistency is reached.
Pile the puree into a dish, make a depression in the middle and add a spoonful of olive oil and a light sprinkling of cilantro.
(I like to add at least one tablespoon of tahini to this version too, or I’ll toast 1 tablespoon of sesame seeds with the other seeds and grind together.)
(This recipe adapted from one by Deborah Madison in Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone.)
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