Thursday, April 19, 2012

A Puree By Any Other Name

Hummus, Pure and Simple

As a professional chef I like to potchkey with recipes, tweaking and fussing, reshaping and designing all in an effort to modernize and recreate a classic. I rarely use recipes and view them basically as a suggestion or just “words on paper”, begging to be reimagined. I have been working in and running kitchens for a long time and feel as though it is my right to “mess” around, nothing is sacred, and it is a big free for all except when it comes to hummus.

 I love Hummus and make, from scratch, upwards of 100 pounds a week. I have soaked and slogged my way through thousands of pounds of chick peas and tons of tubs of tahini. I have toasted more than my share of cumin seeds and freshly juiced a gazillion lemons all in an effort to make the best “butter of the Middle East”.

 I produce more “chip and dip” platters than any woman in the tri-state region (that is a big region for those readers not local) or probably east of the Mississippi. I make my schmear with pride and never skimp. I do not go the canned chick pea route and would never cheat the flavor with anything less than tasty extra virgin olive oil. I have made hummus so many times; I can make it in my sleep and probably have many times. I have taught non-Jewish catering sales people to properly say the word and never to say HUM-ISS. New cooks in my kitchen are quickly indoctrinated into the kitchen culture with several tasks including the sacred task of making the hummus under my watchful eye and overly sensitive palate.

At home, I make much smaller batches of hummus and take the same care and pride in preparation. Recently, I stopped to look at the small open cooler at the end of an aisle, at the upscale grocery store near my home. Usually I just breeze by the cooler, but for some reason the case jam packed full of the flavored dip caught my eye. I was mystified by the concocted varieties of hummus. I practically laughed out loud at some of the flavors. WHAT WERE THEY THINKING? I demanded to know out loud to no one in particular.

A million questions came to mind, the major one being, WHO BUYS THEIR HUMMUS WITH BASIL IN IT? Or with horseradish? Really? Yuck! I think people feel they can mess around with hummus because it is simple and they regard it as a blank slate, just waiting for embellishment. Sometimes remakes are a good thing. Like movies and songs redone with a new vibe and beat. That is fun and cool. But I am staunchly conservative when it comes to my hummus. I like it the way it was intended. Just regular!

A fellow chef called me today and asked me for some tips on making Fava Bean Hummus. I was completely caught off guard. Hummus made without chick peas? Is that even possible? Would that not just be a PUREE, I suggested to my colleague? Well, yeah, but hummus just sounds better on the menu, he confessed, and especially with lamb. I gulped back my sarcastic response and gave my best “words on paper” advice and then hung up. A flood of stereotypic sayings came to mind; Why mess with perfection and if it’s not broke, don’t fix it etc…Maybe it is my sense of Israeli patriotism, but I am not messing around with my hummus, at least not the hummus itself….

My Best Hummus with Spicy Lamb Tidbits and Fresh Fava Beans, ON THE SIDE!

 I never garnish my hummus with paprika which doesn’t add much to the character of the hummus. I prefer to add a lemony tang with the attractive addition of Sumac. Ground Sumac is made from the fruit of the Sumac tree, where it is dried and ground into a lemony-fragrant powder.
 1/2 pound dried chickpeas
7 large garlic cloves, unpeeled
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 teaspoon toasted ground cumin,
1/2 cup tahini, at room temperature
1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice Kosher Salt
Suggested garnishes: extra virgin olive oil, za’atar, sumac and fresh chopped parsley

 1. In a medium bowl, cover the dried chickpeas with 2 inches of water and refrigerate overnight. Drain the chickpeas and rinse them under cold water.

 2. In a medium saucepan, cover the chickpeas with 2 inches of fresh water and bring to a boil. Simmer over moderately low heat until the chickpeas are very tender, about 50 minutes. Drain, reserving 1/2 cup of the hot cooking water. Rinse the chickpeas under cold water.

 3. In a food processor, puree the chickpeas with the reserved cooking water, olive oil and garlic cloves. Add the cumin, tahini and lemon juice and process until creamy. Season the hummus with salt and transfer to a serving bowl. Garnish with extra virgin olive oil, za’atar, sumac and fresh chopped parsley and Spicy Lamb tidbits and fresh Fava Beans (see recipes below)

Spicy Lamb Tidbits

 1 pound ground lamb
 3 tablespoons grated onion

 4 garlic cloves, freshly grated on a microplane
1 tablespoon or more favorite hot sauce
¼ cup chopped fresh mint
¼ cup chopped fresh parsley
Kosher salt
 Freshly cracked pepper
 Extra virgin olive oil

1. Mix all of the ingredients together in a bowl.

 2. Lightly grease a medium sauté pan and heat it over medium heat. Add the lamb into pan and cook, occasionally breaking up the clumps, until the lamb is cooked through (about 5 minutes).

 3. Serve the lamb with My Best Hummus, as a side!

 Fresh Fava Beans with Mint

One of the first signs of spring, Fava beans are a delicious side and addition to my best Hummus, as a side!

3 pounds fresh fava beans, shelled and peeled
¼ cup chopped fresh mint
Extra virgin olive oil
Kosher salt
Freshly cracked pepper

1. Bring a medium pot of salted water to a boil. Add the fava beans and cook for 2 minutes.

 2. Plunge the cooked fava beans into ice water to stop the cooking process.

3. Dry the beans and toss with olive oil, mint and salt and pepper to taste.