Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Nearly all hummus recipes use exactly the same ingredients: chickpeas, tahini, lemon juice, garlic, spices (paprika, cayenne pepper, and/or cumin), water or bean cooking liquid, and salt. However, hummus can vastly differ in taste, consistency, and creaminess. The difference is due primarily technique.
  • For a better flavor and a satiny smooth texture  cook your own dried chickpeas instead of using canned chickpeas. Cooking chickpeas is actually very simple and cheap to do. As long as I preplan the night before to soak the beans, I actually find it easier to use dried chickpeas than canned cooked chickpeas since they take much less space to store (this is important for tiny kitchens with tiny storage) so I always have some dried chickpeas in my pantry.
  • For the smoothest hummus, remove all skins from the chickpeas (or as many as you have attention or time for). If you don't want to spend the time, the hummus will turn out fine if you leave the skins on (and many quicker hummus recipes don't bother removing the skins) though it will be less smooth.
  • Dissolve the spices and salt in the lemon juice, water, or bean cooking liquid first so that they mix and distribute evenly. If you have to add more salt or spices later, dissolve it in a little bit of water or lemon juice before mixing it to the dip.
  • Mix the tahini in the jar to reincorporate any oil which has separated before measuring it. When you make the hummus, mix the tahini with the liquids (water/bean cooking liquid and lemon juice but not the olive oil) before you add the chickpeas so that the liquids dilute the tahini. If you don't mix it with the liquids first, then the tahini won't integrate well into the dip since tahini is very thick. It is okay to not mix all the liquid into the tahini (especially if you don't know how much water you'll need to get the right consistency); the important part is that you mix enough liquid into the tahini so that it becomes fluid.
  • Add the olive oil in last. Slowly drizzle it into the chickpea mixture into a food processor or blender while the motor is running so that it emulsifies and make the mixture even creamier.
Thus, hummus is best if you make it using several blending steps instead of simply grinding everything all at once. The order that you should make your hummus is: Remove skins from chickpeas and save cooking water. Put water, lemon juice, spices, and salt in a blender. Blend. Add tahini. Blend. Add chickpeas. Blend. Slowly drizzle in olive oil while blending.

Recipe: Modified and expanded with my own notes and suggestions from "Stupendous Hummus" in "Cook This Now" by Melissa Clark which she says is based on a hummus recipe from "Kitchen Sense" by Mitchell Davis.
Rating: Great! This is now my go-to hummus recipe.
Status: Made many times.
Yield: The recipe makes enough for 4 to 6 people (about 3 1/2 cups). The quantities can be halved to serve 2 to 3; use 1 cup of dried chickpeas for the full quantity or use 1/2 cup for the half quantity.

  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 1 tsp Diamond crystal kosher salt (I used 1-1/4 tsp)
  • 1/2 tsp toasted ground cumin (either store bought, or make your own from raw cumin seeds using the recipe below)
  • 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 fat garlic clove, minced (optional *)
  • pinch of cayenne
  • 1/3 cup tahini (stir to reincorporate any oil that has separated in the jar before measuring)
  • 1 cup dried chickpeas, which makes about 2 to 3 cups of cooked chickpeas (about two 15 oz cans)
Optional Toppings: (pick your favorites)
  • olive oil for drizzling
  • lemon juice
  • additional spices (such as toasted ground cumin, za'atar, paprika, cayenne pepper)
  • whole toasted pine nuts
  • kosher salt

To Cook Chickpeas:

Cover dried chickpeas by 2 inches of cold water. Let soak overnight.

Drain and discard the soaking water (it has some nutrients but it also has many of the components from the beans that make you gassy). Place chickpeas in a pot, and cover with 2 inches of fresh water. Bring to a simmer.

Check the beans as they cook and replenish with hot water if enough cooking water has boiled off to uncover the beans. Older beans and beans that aren't covered by water during cooking are harder to peel.

Cook until soft and the raw taste is gone, which can anywhere from 40 minutes to 2 1/2 hours or more, though I find 1.5 hours is the most common for me. They are cooked when you can easily break one with your fingers and the raw taste is gone; the chickpeas will still be whole intact beans. Older beans take longer to cook. Optionally, in the last 10 minutes of cooking, add 1 tsp salt.

Don't wash the cooked chickpeas, regardless of whether they are freshly cooked chickpeas or canned chickpeas--this washes away flavor.

To Remove Chickpea Skin:

Wait for the chickpeas to cool enough to comfortably handle. Firmly pinch them (don't worry if you crush the chickpea a little, since it will soon be ground up), and the bean will slide out of the skin. It can be hard to see the skin since it is transparent (the blue pot in the pictures below has cooked chickpeas with their skin on) but if it is there, firmly pinching them should loosen the skin and the bean will easily pop out.

Discard or compost the skin. Reserve the de-skinned chickpeas. If you plan to use the cooking water in the dip, then strain it and reserve.

To Blend Hummus:

Wait until the chickpeas are cool before you blend the hummus. Grinding the chickpeas when they are warm can make the dip pasty since the starch crystals in the chickpeas break down more easily when they are warm.

Combine the lemon juice, cumin, black pepper, garlic, cayenne, and salt in a food processor or blender; pulse a few times to blend.

Add tahini and 1/2 cup strained bean cooking liquid or water or a mixture of both. Blend until smooth and creamy and the tahini has loosened and dissolved.

Add the chickpeas and puree until smooth and creamy. You may need to stop the machine and push the mixture down with a spatula a few times. It may take a few minutes to blend. If the mixture is too thick to blend, then you can add a few tablespoons of water to loosen it, but be careful to not add so much that the mixture becomes runny.

With the motor running, slowly drizzle in the olive oil so that it emulsifies into the mixture.

Taste and adjust the flavors. If the hummus tastes a bit bland after it is blended, try mixing in a bit more lemon juice to perk it up. If you need to add additional salt or spices, dissolve them in a small amount of water or lemon juice first, so that they will combine evenly. The mixture should have the consistency of a very thick dip; if it is too thick you can thin it with some additional water or lemon juice if you want more acidity.

Spread and swirl hummus on a plate (see directions below) or place in a bowl. Cover with plastic wrap before refrigerating, since if you don't, a hard crust can develop on top. The hummus will becomes sightly more flavorful and thicker after being in the fridge for a few hours.

To Serve:

Melissa Clark says that she never serves her hummus in a bowl--just like in Middle Eastern restaurants, she always spreads a thick layer on a plate and drizzles olive oil, lemon juice, and cumin salt on top. This is a great idea! It does indeed make hummus look more enticing than just plopping it in a bowl with a puddle of olive oil and spices on top and she's right that it makes it tastier since each bite will have some of the toppings. The lemon juice is a a great addition; it perks up the hummus but use it in moderation.

You can spread the hummus on a plate either before or after refrigerating it. If you make the full recipe quantity, I suggest dividing it and spreading it on two dessert-sized plates. Use a table knife to make a swirl-shaped indent (see picture to the right) into the plated hummus to give texture and ridges for the drizzled olive oil to rest in.

Top with olive oil and your choice of spices (e.g. toasted ground cumin, za'atar, paprika, whole toasted pine nuts) and optionally salt or lemon juice just before serving. I love Melissa Clark's combination of olive oil, lemon juice (squeeze the juice of just one lemon slice over, don't go overboard), ground toasted cumin, and kosher salt.

* I prefer only a small amount of garlic flavor in my hummus and sometimes I even leave out the raw garlic since I don't like having garlic breath. Increase the amount of raw garlic if you love it, but keep the amount small since SmittenKitchen says that the garlic taste increases once the hummus is refrigerated overnight. Another variation is to use roasted garlic instead of raw garlic.

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To Toast and Grind Cumin Seeds:

If you plan to also sprinkle cumin seeds on top of the hummus, toast extra cumin seeds, about 2 tsp total.

To toast whole cumin seeds, preheat a small pan on medium. Add cumin seeds and toast for 1 minute, or until the cumin seeds start to brown and smell fragrant. Immediately place cumin seeds into a small bowl (leaving them in the pan will cause them to burn). Let cool and then use a spice grinder (or coffee mill reserved for spices) to grind.

Winter Salad with Fennel, Radicchio, Walnuts and Manchego or Parmesan

Monday, January 30, 2012

This is a very pleasing salad. I like the crunchiness of the fennel. The slightly bitter radicchio and walnuts contrasts with and brings out the sweetness of the fennel, and it has pretty white/pink/red colors.

Recipe: Modified and reworded from "Winter Salad with Fennel, Radicchio, Walnuts and Manchego" from Melissa Clark's "Cook This Now". The radishes and poached egg, and a few other minor details are my own input.
Rating: Great!
Status: Made a few times.
Yield: 4 servings. The recipe can easily be halved to make 2 servings.

Vinaigrette Ingredients:
  • 1 juice from lemon
  • 1/2 tsp Diamond Crystal kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp ground black pepper
  • 1 garlic clove, finely minced
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil (or optionally replace half the olive oil with walnut oil; using 100% walnut oil is too cloying)
  • 2 oz aged manchego or Parmesan cheese, grated with a Microplane or other grater (about 1.2 cups)
  • 1/3 cup toasted walnuts, finely chopped
Salad Ingredients:
  • 1 small head radicchio (about the size of a baseball; don't use too much more than this because it will make the salad too bitter), quartered lengthwise and cored
  • 1 small fennel bulb, fronds removed
  • (optional) 8 to 12 French radishes
  • A small handful of toasted walnuts, either whole or very coarsely chopped
  • 2 oz aged manchego or Parmesan cheese, shaved with a vegetable peeler into curls
  • (optional) 1 poached egg per person

Mix the Vinaigrette:

Add 1-1/2 Tbsp lemon juice into a small bowl; reserve the rest. Mix salt, pepper, and garlic into the bowl. Slowly whisk in the oil to emulsify the vinaigrette. Mix in the grated cheese and finely chopped walnuts; do try to include both of these in the vinaigrette since they give it a rich full flavor. The vinaigrette will be fairly thick.

Taste the vinaigrette. Add salt, to taste if necessary. If it is not acidic enough, then add a little bit of the reserved lemon juice to taste (often I end up using the juice from a whole lemon).

The vinaigrette can be made up to a few days beforehand. Store separately from the salad ingredients.

Prepare the Salad Ingredients:

Trim the stems from the fennel and remove the outer layers; save the fronds for another usage. Cut the fennel bulb in lengthwise in half (from top to bottom). Shave the fennel widthwise into paper thin slices using a mandolin; the slices should be thin but not too thin--they should still be crunchy.

Either rip the leaves of each radicchio wedge into bite sized pieces or thinly slice crosswise.

If using French radishes, cut them into thin slices with a mandoline.

The salad ingredients can be kept prepared for a few hours and perhaps up to 1 day in a tightly sealed container in the refrigerator. Keep the fennel and radicchio unprepared to keep them fresh for longer, and prepare just before serving.

To Serve:

Toss the salad ingredients with some of the vinaigrette just before serving. Adjust the amount of salad vinaigrette that you need to taste. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary.

Use a vegetable peeler to shave the cheese into curls. Garnish with cheese curls and toasted walnuts; do try to use both garnishes since they emphasize the cheese and walnut flavors in the vinaigrette.

Optionally you can top the salad with 1 poached egg per person.

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