Plain Hummus with Za'atar and Paprika

by Maja Lukic

Sometimes, I feel that if my recipe is not a complex multi-step endeavor or at least somewhat inspired and original, I should refrain from posting it -- even if it's something I legitimately prepare and enjoy at home on a regular basis. This way of thinking serves as a decent gatekeeper most of the time -- i.e., I will never post a green smoothie or oatmeal unless there's something entirely innovative about the recipe (I make no promises about kale, though. I live for kale.). But, on occasion, I neglect a good, substantial recipe simply because I worry that it's not exciting or attractive enough. This hummus is one of those recipes. 

At some point, I realized that every food blogger/cookbook chef worth her/his salt has a basic hummus recipe. It took a lot of nerve to restrain myself from adding unusual flavors (jars of harissa and smoked paprika beckoning, open bags of sundried tomatoes resting on the counter, fresh herbs idling in glass jars in the fridge), but I said: "No, Maja. No. We're going to keep it lo-fi this time." And so, this is my plain, basic good hummus recipe, culled from the excellent Deborah Madison and Yotam Ottolenghi versions but refined through months (years!) of my own trial and error. 

It's a good one. To dress it up, I like to top it with whole chickpeas, fragrant extra virgin olive oil, paprika, and za'atar. Za'atar, if you're not familiar with it, is a Middle Eastern spice blend and my new favorite ingredient. It's kind of all over the place now in food magazines and on food blogs and there is good reason for that -- za'atar is delicious, infusing dishes with a bright, almost lemony flavor, which is a remarkable quality for a ground spice blend. The basic elements vary but the blends may include sumac, sesame seeds, sea salt, coriander, thyme, cumin, fennel seed, oregano, etc. I source it at Kalustyan's in my neighborhood but I've seen it at Whole Foods and various online spice shops. It's a great match for eggs and roasted vegetables. I find that it burns easily so it's best to use it fresh at the end of a meal but it can withstand a short cooking/baking time at lower temperatures. 

And now, the hummus. Sage advice from a lifetime of hummus preparation: you will always need more lemon juice, more tahini, more sea salt, and more chickpea cooking liquid than you think. Dried chickpeas far surpass their canned counterparts and, when you rely on canned chickpeas, you deprive yourself of the flavorful, starchy chickpea cooking liquid (do not use the vile canning liquid). Peeling the chickpeas (for instructions, see here) yields a creamier, smoother hummus but it's entirely optional. Notably, neither Madison nor Ottolenghi peel their chickpeas. My personal stance is that I do it when I have the energy/motivation to do so, which is only about 50% of the time. And if the prospect of peeling chickpeas is the only thing keeping you from making your own hummus, don't bother peeling. For a creamier hummus, you should always add more water, not oil -- save the oil to drizzle on top.

By the way, Veggies & Gin can now be found on Instagram (veggiesandgin) and Twitter (@veggiesandgin). Never miss an update. 

Plain Hummus with Za'atar and Paprika (v/gf)

Adapted from Plenty and Vegetable Literacy

Makes 3 cups approx.

1 cup dried chickpeas (or 2 cans)

2 large garlic cloves, minced

1-2 lemons

1/3 cup tahini

reserved chickpea cooking liquid



extra virgin olive oil

sea salt

If using dried chickpeas, place the chickpeas in a bowl the night before and cover with an inch of cold water. Soak on the counter overnight. The following day, drain and rinse well. To cook the chickpeas, cover the chickpeas with about 6 cups of water in a large pot, bring to a boil, and simmer on low for about 1 to 1 1/2 hours, or until very tender. When cooked, turn off the heat, and add a tablespoon of sea salt to the cooking liquid. Cool slightly and then drain the chickpeas but reserve the cooking liquid. Peel, if desired. For canned chickpeas, drain and rinse well, and peel, if desired.

Reserve a few whole chickpeas to finish. Transfer the remainder to a large food processor and pulse until broken up. Add the juice of a lemon, garlic, and tahini and process until smooth. With the motor running, add as much chickpea cooking liquid (or plain water) as needed to reach a creamy, smooth consistency (about three to six tablespoons). Season with sea salt and more lemon juice, to taste. 

Turn the hummus out into a wide shallow bowl and spread it out. Sprinkle with paprika and za'atar. Finish with the reserved chickpeas and a healthy drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. Serve with pita bread or vegetables. 

The hummus can be stored in the fridge for a few days or in the freezer for up to a month.

Lemon Roasted Shrimp & Romesco Sauce

by Maja Lukic


This is a pretty standard light dinner for me: some form of seafood + smoky, spicy romesco sauce. With a glass of wine (or a G&T) and a green salad, it's a complete meal.


I love romesco and never get tired of its smoky, tart edge. Romesco sauce, if you're not familiar with it, is a Spanish roasted red pepper-based condiment. As with most traditional dishes, there are an infinite number of variations but the basic elements are roasted red peppers, almonds, garlic, smoked paprika, olive oil, herbs, and sherry vinegar. From there, some recipes also include hazelnuts, pine nuts, roasted tomatoes, tomato paste, bread, and other types of vinegar. This is my own interpretation with gluten-free bread and a double dose of tomatoes. 


It's an indispensable sauce that basically complements everything from egg dishes to sandwiches to grilled vegetables. Sometimes I stir it into cooked grains, such as millet, and soups. This recipe makes a few cups and leftovers can be stored in the freezer so it's an amazing staple to have on hand for flavorful impromptu lunches and dinners.


As for the seafood, I chose shrimp but feel free to substitute whatever looks fresh at the market. I like to roast the shrimp for added flavor -- I've never understood the appeal of shrimp cocktail but perhaps I've only been exposed to bad shrimp cocktail. And no, you don't necessarily need a recipe for basic roasted shrimp but I needed an excuse to mention Ina Garten. Why? Because Ina is great and I've been addicted to her show for years. She is, in my opinion, the queen of hosting/entertaining and gourmet dining (sorry, Martha -- my loyalties lie elsewhere).  


That's it -- hope you enjoy this light and healthy reprieve before the next round of aggressive holiday dining. 

Romesco Sauce (v/gf)

Adapted from Bon Appétit and Vegetable Literacy

Makes 3 cups

4 red bell peppers, roasted and seeded (see below)

4 Roma tomatoes, roasted (see below)

1/2 cup Marcona almonds, raw

2 slices stale gluten-free bread (or 1 slice other bread)

1 tbsp tomato paste

1 garlic clove

1/4 cup Italian parsley

1 tsp sweet smoked paprika 

1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes

1 tsp fresh thyme

1/4 cup olive oil

2 tbsp sherry vinegar

1 tsp sea salt

Roasted peppers: Turn on the broiler. Place whole peppers on a large baking sheet lined with foil or parchment paper. Broil the peppers, turning them every 10 minutes or so until the skin is completely charred on all sides and the peppers have collapsed. Transfer the peppers to a bowl and cover with plastic wrap for about 20 minutes or so. When the peppers are cool enough to handle, peel them -- the skin should slip right off. (Another method). Discard the stem and seeds.

Roasted tomatoes: Preheat the oven to 350 F degrees. Slice each tomato in half lengthwise and squeeze out the seeds and pulp. Toss the tomatoes with a little bit of olive oil (just enough to lightly coat) and lay them flat on a baking sheet, cut side up. Roast for 25 to 30 minutes until soft and fully cooked through. Allow the tomatoes to cool for 10 minutes or so, and then peel them (again, the skin should slip right off). 

If your bread is not stale, toast it in a dry skillet for a few minutes. Alternatively, you can dry it out in the oven at 350 F degrees for a few minutes. Deborah Madison recommends frying the bread in a little bit of olive oil until crisp -- that's an option, too. Be sure to allow the bread to cool before you process the sauce. 

Toast the almonds in a dry skillet over medium heat for about 10 minutes or until fragrant and lightly brown. Watch the almonds carefully. 

Grind the almonds, bread, and garlic in a large food processor. Add the peppers, tomatoes, parsley, tomato paste, smoked paprika, thyme, red pepper flakes, and sea salt, and process until smooth. With the motor running, slow pour in the sherry vinegar and then the olive oil in a slow, steady stream. Taste for seasoning, adding additional vinegar, salt, or heat, as needed.

Serve with Lemon Roasted Shrimp (see below for recipe) or in other dishes. Leftover romesco can be stored in the fridge for up to a week or in the freezer for a month.

Note: The peppers require more time to cool so I typically broil the peppers first and then roast the tomatoes while the peppers are cooling. To save time, you can substitute store-bought roasted red peppers. I use sweet smoked paprika in this recipe and adjust the heat with crushed chili flakes. If using hot smoked paprika, omit the chili flakes. You can substitute regular almonds for the Marcona almonds. 

This meals calls for a lot of roasting. I find it easiest to prepare the romesco sauce in advance and then roast shrimp (or vegetables or whatever) just before you'd like to serve it. 

Lemon Roasted Shrimp (gf)

Adapted from Ina Garten

Serves 3-4

2 lbs. shrimp, peeled and deveined

1 tbsp olive oil

sea salt & freshly ground black pepper

juice of 1/2 lemon

Preheat the oven to 400 F degrees. Toss the shrimp with the olive oil, salt and pepper and arrange in a single layer on a large baking sheet. 

Roast for about 8 to 10 minutes, or until fully cooked through. Squeeze the juice of half a lemon over the shrimp while still warm and toss. Serve with romesco sauce. 

Mustard Roasted Cauliflower

by Maja Lukic

Keep this elegant dish in mind for your holiday table - or any table, really. Because it's pretty awesome.

My natural tendency is to downplay everything -- my standard response is a mixture of aloofness and indifference. And by nature, I am an insane perfectionist. I will shoot and reshoot food photographs. I will write, rewrite, revise, rewrite the revision, revise again, and, if I'm dissatisfied, delete everything and start over. I mean, #selective. It goes without saying that it's very hard for me to be effusive or excited about anything. But this cauliflower thing? This is actually pretty good. 

I love this recipe so much that I "tested" it more times than I needed to to actually get the quantities down. It's indescribably delicious, with a double dose of mustard, warm and pungent vinaigrette, sweet and lightly-pickled shallots, crunchy roasted cauliflower, briny olives, and chewy pistachios. My advice: you can never add too many pistachios to a dish. In fact, disregard the stated quantity and add as many as you like. That's not to even speak of the tiny cauliflower florets that naturally break off and become perfectly crisp in the oven. Those little cauliflower bits are the best part -- they soak up the vinaigrette and become sour and salty. I mean, it's pure lechery. 

All different colors and varieties of cauliflower are now on display at the local markets. Know that if you buy purple, orange or lime green cauliflower, it will retain its beautiful color throughout the cooking process. According to Deborah Madison (my unassailable authority on all vegetable-related matters), the different-colored varieties offer different antioxidants, too. For example, the purple cauliflower produces anthocyanins and the orange heads contain much more vitamin A than the white.

The flavor of this dish consists of three essential elements: spicy and pungent mustard, a sweet vinegar, and a roasted cruciferous vegetable. Beyond that basic formula, you can take the recipe in several different directions. Instead of, or in addition to, cauliflower, try broccoli, cabbage, or Brussels sprouts. For a sweeter dish, leave out the grainy mustard and the green olives. If you don't like pistachios, substitute walnuts or pecans. If you don't like olives, omit them and try capers or nothing at all. If you don't have white balsamic vinegar, try red wine or champagne vinegar. It's a terrifically adaptable recipe. 

Happy roasting. 

Mustard Roasted Cauliflower (v/gf)

Serves 4

1 large head cauliflower

2 tbsp olive oil, divided

1 tbsp Dijon mustard

1 tsp wholegrain mustard 

2 tbsp white balsamic vinegar

1 large shallot, finely chopped

1/3 cup pistachios, raw and unsalted

1/3 cup green olives, sliced

sea salt and black pepper

Preheat the oven to 425 F degrees.  

Prepare the vinaigrette. Whisk together the shallot, Dijon mustard, wholegrain mustard, and white balsamic vinegar. Let the vinaigrette sit for at least 15 minutes and preferably while the cauliflower is roasting. 

Optional move: dry roast the pistachios for 5 to 7 minutes or so in the oven or in a skillet over medium-low heat. (I prefer to eat them raw). 

Cut the cauliflower into medium-sized florets and peel and slice the stem into 1-inch pieces. Spread the cauliflower out evenly on a large baking sheet. Toss with 1 tablespoon of olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Roast the cauliflower for 25 to 30 minutes, stirring and rotating the pan halfway. 

Whisk the remaining tablespoon of olive oil into the vinaigrette and toss with the cauliflower as soon as it comes out of the oven. (It's important to dress the cauliflower while it is still warm.) Add the pistachios and green olives and season with additional salt and pepper, if necessary. Serve immediately.


Note:  I used two heads of cauliflower for the photos and doubled the vinaigrette -- always an option if you're serving a crowd. If you do not have white balsamic vinegar, substitute red wine or champagne vinegar. For a sweeter dish, omit the wholegrain mustard and the green olives.