Roasted Fennel Hummus

by Maja Lukic in


FennelHummus11

I am a hummus fiend and always have some in the fridge for snacks or an impromptu dinner. Much like tahini, avocados, and bananas, hummus satisfies that need for a creamy element in a dairy-free diet. Today, I am sharing my current favorite flavor: roasted fennel. I am obsessed with this hummus and will be until next month when I roll out my other hummus experiments. Fennel - it's a divisive vegetable. Much like cilantro, people seem to either really love it or hate it. I personally adore fennel, licorice, and anise-flavored liqueurs but I realize that anise flavors are actually pretty difficult for a lot of people.

FennelHummus08

But even if you don't particularly love fennel, I suspect that you might like this hummus. The roasting process brings out fennel's natural sweetness, making it far less offensive than it is in its raw state. In fact, I think roasting is the best way to prepare any strongly disliked vegetable. (I plan to roast some okra one of these days to prove this theory.).

Fennel is an extremely efficient vegetable and, for a long time, I wasted much of it, using only the bulb. But the entire thing can and should be used. The fronds are delicate and decorative - save them for salads or garnish. The long stalks remind me of celery and are perfectly edible as long as they're not too fibrous. I actually include them here when I roast the fennel. And the core of the fennel is my favorite part because I'm weird and I like to crunch on vegetable cores (cabbage and cauliflower are favorites). The core can also be sliced up and tossed into a salad.

FennelHummus16

As for the chickpeas, you are welcome to use either dried or canned beans but I prefer dried. The flavor is better and they're easier to carry home from the grocery store. Also, if you cook them up with baking soda, as described below, they will be perfectly cooked in no time.

There is some debate on whether or not chickpeas have to be meticulously peeled in order to obtain a perfectly smooth hummus. I will leave you with two solid methods of preparing the chickpeas and you can decide whether or not you want to bother with the peeling process.

FennelHummus18

First, according to Smitten Kitchen, whether or not you use dried or canned chickpeas, you should peel them because it makes for a much smoother hummus. And when you look at her hummus, it's a pretty convincing argument. I have done it in the past and would have to agree that it does indeed make for a smoother, creamier hummus product. (Full disclosure: I did not peel the chickpeas here because I followed Ottolenghi's cooking method below. Also, the addition of chunks of roasted fennel here would probably prevent a completely smooth hummus but you get the idea.). SK claims this entire process takes only nine minutes. Peeling is pretty simple, too: take a chickpea between your thumb and next two fingers, with the pointy end facing in towards your palm, and slip the chickpea out of its skin. Discard the skin.

On the other hand, Yotam Ottolenghi's hummus recipe in the very excellent Jerusalem requires no peeling. My adoration of Ottolenghi is pretty well documented by now so you can guess which method I followed. See below for cooking instructions.

FennelHummus09

That's it. Start making your own hummus. Don't settle for those $1.99 tubs at Whole Foods, which I have to admit are pretty decent, but don't settle. Homemade hummus is so much more flavorful and vibrant, and because the recipe contains minimal oil, tahini, and garlic, the end result is creamy, subtle, and completely refreshing. Perfect for summer. And parties. Summer parties. I beg you to try it.

Roasted Fennel Hummus (v/gf)

Makes 4 cups

Hummus:

1 cup dried chickpeas, soaked overnight, or 2 cans low-sodium chickpeas

2 cups Roasted Fennel (see below)

1/4 cup tahini

1-2 garlic cloves, minced

3 tbsp lemon juice

2-4 tbsp water

sea salt, to taste

reserved fennel fronds, dried fennel seeds, olive oil (for garnish)

Roasted Fennel:

2 large fennel bulbs

1/2 tsp dried oregano

olive oil, sea salt, freshly ground black pepper

If using dried chickpeas, place the chickpeas in a bowl the night before and cover them with plenty of cold water. Allow them to soak on the counter overnight. The next day, simply drain and rinse well.

To cook the chickpeas, add 6 cups of water, bring to a boil, and then let the chickpeas simmer for about 1 to 1 1/2 hours, or until very tender. When they're cooked, drain, and peel per SK's instructions, if you wish. Alternatively, to cook the chickpeas per Ottolenghi's (genius) method, add the drained chickpeas and 1 teaspoon of baking soda to a medium saucepan. Cook over high heat for about three minutes, stirring constantly. Add about 6 cups of water and bring to a boil. Cook, skimming off any foam or skins that float to the surface. This should take anywhere from 20 to 40 minutes, depending on the type and freshness of your chickpeas. Once done, they should be very tender and almost but not quite mushy. When cooked like this, the chickpeas are impossible to peel because they're so tender, so I usually do not bother peeling them.

If using canned chickpeas, drain, and rinse well. Peel the chickpeas per SK's instructions, if you wish. If you do not mind a more rustic look, skip the peeling.

To prepare the roasted fennel, preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Trim the stalks and greens from the fennel bulbs. Save the greens for garnish. If the outer thick leaves of the bulbs are fibrous and tough, remove them and set them aside for another use (soup stock?). Slice each bulb in half lengthwise and cut each half crosswise into 1/2" thick slices. If the stalks are not too fibrous, slice the stalks into 1/2" thick coins and add them to the mix. Spread the sliced fennel out on a large baking sheet in a single layer and add just enough olive oil so that it doesn't stick to the baking sheet. Sprinkle with the dried oregano and a little bit of sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Roast for about 20 minutes or until the fennel is completely soft and lightly browned. Set aside to cool and try not to devour it.

Once the fennel and chickpeas have cooled, place the vegetables in a food processor and process until you have a smooth paste. Add the tahini, garlic, and lemon juice. With the machine running, add water, one tablespoon at a time, until the mixture becomes creamy and smooth. Taste for seasoning, adding more salt or lemon juice, if needed.

Transfer the hummus to a bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let it rest in the fridge for at least 30 minutes. Store in the fridge until you are ready to serve. Make sure to take the hummus out of the fridge at least 30 minutes before serving. For optional garnish, drizzle with olive oil, and scatter reserved fennel fronds and dried fennel seeds on top. 

This makes a lot of hummus but hummus freezes very well. Throw 1-cup or 1/2-cup portions into small freezer bags or wrap up in little wax paper or Press'n'Seal packages. Left in the fridge, though, it should be consumed within a few days.


Ottolenghi's Burnt Eggplant w/Tahini & Pomegranate

by Maja Lukic in


DSC02187.JPG

Today, I am sharing one of my absolute favorite recipes from Yotam Ottolenghi's Plenty. Plenty, if you haven't read it yet, is a completely inspiring, gorgeous cookbook that features some of Ottolenghi's best vegetarian recipes. I can't rave about it enough. In my very humble opinion, Ottolenghi sets the standard for what vegetarian/vegan cooking should be: seasonal, inventive, beautiful, and delicious.

The recipe combines roasted eggplant flesh with a delicious mix of tahini, parsley, lemon juice, garlic, and pomegranate molasses. The end result is an addictive, creamy, smoky, tart, sweet, salty, and aromatic spread. It can stand on its own as a dip or condiment (far superior to any hummus I've ever had) or as a side to meat or fish. Or, as Ottolenghi suggests (and I highly recommend), it can be served as a refreshing Middle Eastern inspired salad with some chopped tomatoes and cucumbers.

DSC02208.JPG

The only downside to this recipe is that it requires the use of a broiler in the middle of summer. (If you have a grill, you can certainly char the eggplant that way. I live in a studio in New York so that was not really an option.). Fortunately, the weather has been entirely unpredictable as of late. I took advantage of a chilly night in late July to char some eggplants under the broiler.

The salad hits you with a refreshing sweet/sour double dose of pomegranate. First, through the use of pomegranate molasses in the eggplant spread itself. (If you are unfamiliar with pomegranate molasses, as I was, do yourself a favor and pick up a bottle. Obsessed.). To finish, it's topped off with arils (or seeds) from a fresh pomegranate.

DSC02181.JPG
DSC02176.JPG
DSC02191.JPG

I know what you're thinking. The pomegranate seems like one of those foods where the end result doesn't really justify the effort required to extract the edible portions (I'm putting grapefruit in this category, too). But it works so beautifully here that it would be a shame to leave it out. Removing the seeds can actually be pretty simple and, in fact, there are at least two easy methods for doing so.

The first is my own, gentler method. Fill a large bowl with water. Cut the pomegranate in half horizontally. Then dunk each half of the pomegranate into the water, cut side facing down, and use your fingers to separate the arils from the membrane. Discard the hard red pomegranate skin. The arils will sink to the bottom while the loose bits of white membrane will float to the surface. Use your hands or a small strainer to skim the white membrane bits from the surface of the water and discard them. You should be left with a bowl full of clean little red jewels. Strain the remaining water and arils and if there are bits of white pith membrane left on any of the seeds, gently remove them. I like this method because it's quick, clean, and will not bruise or damage the pomegranate seeds.

The second is Ottolenghi's more aggressive approach. Cut the pomegranate in half horizontally. Hold one half over a bowl, with the cut side against your palm, and use the back of a wooden spoon or rolling pin to knock the pomegranate skin. Continue beating until the seeds start coming out naturally and falling through your fingers into the bowl. Once all of the seeds are out, sift through the seeds to remove any bits of white skin or membrane.

You choose.

DSC02198.JPG

I ended up making a double batch of this. I advise you to do the same.

Ottolenghi's Burnt Eggplant w/Pomegranate and Tahini (v/gf)

Adapted from Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi

Serves 4 as an appetizer/salad

1 large eggplant

1/3 cup organic tahini paste

1/4 cup water

2 tsp pomegranate molasses

1 tbsp lemon juice

1 garlic clove, crushed

3 tbsp chopped parsley

sea salt and black pepper

seeds from 1 pomegranate

Optional: a handful of mini cucumbers, sliced in half moons (peeled if not organic), 1 cup organic cherry tomatoes, halved, olive oil to finish

First, you will need to roast or char the eggplant. You have some options here. To cook the eggplant on a gas stovetop, line the area around the burner with foil to protect it. Put the eggplant directly on a moderate flame and roast for 12-15 minutes, turning frequently with metal tongs, until the flesh is soft and smoky and the skin is burnt all over. Ottolenghi suggests you keep an eye on it the whole time so it doesn't catch fire. I concur.

Alternatively, if you have an electric stove, you can broil them. First, pierce the eggplant skin all over with a sharp knife (if you skip this step, you will have exploding eggplants - I am just saying). Then, place the eggplant in a foil-lined tray directly under a hot broiler for 1 full hour, turning it every 15 minutes or so. It will be done when it is completely deflated and the skin is broken and burnt.

When it's cool enough to handle, cut the eggplant open and scoop out the flesh and drain (the eggplant will release a lot of water as it cools). Ottolenghi suggests letting it drain for at least 30 minutes but there's no reason to time it so precisely. Basically, just make sure it's fairly dry before you proceed.

Then chop the eggplant flesh roughly and transfer to a large mixing bowl. Add tahini, lemon juice, water, pomegranate molasses, garlic, parsley, and some salt and pepper. Mix well with a whisk. Alternatively, you can take the easier route (like me) and pulse everything together in a food processor. Taste and adjust seasoning, adding more garlic, lemon juice or molasses, as needed. The salad should be a delightful balance of sweet and sour flavors.

At this point, you can serve as is, topped with pomegranate seeds. Or you can go further (you should go further) and add sliced cucumbers and tomatoes to the eggplant mix. Then, top everything with pomegranate seeds and drizzle with olive oil. Devour. 

And your song to cook to? This awesome track by Sam Smith that I cannot get out of my head.