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

za'atar

paprika

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.


Winter Squash and Chickpea Soup w/Sage, Harissa, and Hazelnuts

by Maja Lukic


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This soup may be the result of cooking too many Yotam Ottolenghi recipes over the years and the fact that I now love to add specialty Middle Eastern ingredients to all of my vegetable dishes. Or it came about because I needed to exercise some pseudo painterly inclinations and play with bright colors and pure aesthetics while stuck inside during a snowstorm. I don't know. Probably, it's some combination of the two. 

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The upside of all the miserable weather we've had in NYC as of late is that I have been reading a lot -- anything within reach, basically, but cookbooks and poetry in particular. Recently, I stumbled on Cuisine Nicoise: Sun-kissed Cooking From the French Riviera by Hillary Davis (the blogger behind Marche Dimanche). Davis covers Niçoise cooking specifically, which feels both new and oddly familiar, and in so doing, she touches on two of my favorite topics -- rustic French cooking and the French Riviera. 

The beauty of this book is startling on many levels. The photography/food styling is simple, elegant, and effortless. The recipes are creative and evocative of both a different time and a different place. And it contains some of the most gorgeous and poetic cookbook writing I have ever read. She describes a seafood lunch at Hotel Belles Rives where F. Scott Fitzgerald worked on "Tender Is The Night." She describes her travels through the local villages, shopping at the local markets, and the recipes and meals that inspired her cooking along the way. (In case you're wondering, yes, there is a recipe for a traditional Salade Niçoise, and no, potatoes and string beans are not traditional ingredients).

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This recipe was inspired by the Creamless Creamy Chickpea and Sage Purée from Cuisine Nicoise. I played with the concept of a blended chickpea soup until it took a shape of its own, quite altered from the original. But mentioning the original gives me an excuse to rave about Davis's cookbook and so here we are. 

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The most surprising thing about this soup is that it actually tastes good. I'm being candid here -- it's such a confluence of seemingly contradictory flavors that I was a little concerned about the end result. But the subtle flavors meld together into a mellow smoky-sweet bisque. For the harissa, you are welcome to use any brand you like but I chose the Mina Mild Harissa for its subdued flavor and gorgeous color. (You can check out the other flavors here: http://www.casablancafoods.com/index.php?/).* 

I love that it's a fresh interpretation of something tired and tried, like the squash-sage pairing (or even squash-sage-hazelnut). Squash and sage is a favored combination because it works but the addition of harissa and chickpeas here offers a nuanced experience. 

We're still a few weeks away from spring -- stay warm. 

Winter Squash and Chickpea Soup w/Sage, Harissa, and Hazelnuts

Inspired by Cuisine Nicoise: Sun-Kissed Cooking From the French Riviera

Serves 4 generously

1 kabocha or butternut squash (approx. 2-3 lbs.)

1 cup dried or 2 cans chickpeas

1 bay leaf

1 tbsp avocado oil (or other cooking oil)

1 red onion, chopped

4-5 sage leaves, rolled tightly and sliced into thin strips

1 tsp. fresh thyme

1 garlic clove, minced

4-6 cups chickpea cooking liquid or vegetable stock (or water)

1 lemon, juiced

garnish: 1/4 cup harissa, 1/2 cup whole hazelnuts, raw, 8 sage leaves

olive oil, for frying sage leaves

sea salt and black pepper

If using dried chickpeas, soak the chickpeas overnight. Drain and rinse well. In a large soup pot, cover the chickpeas with an inch or two of cold water, add in 1 bay leaf, and bring to a boil. Simmer over medium heat for about an hour to an hour and a half or until tender. Season with 1/2 tsp of sea salt. If you're not cooking the soup right away, store the chickpeas in their cooking liquid in the fridge for a few days. Otherwise, drain the chickpeas and reserve the cooking liquid but discard the bay leaf. If using canned chickpeas, drain the beans and rinse them well. Discard canning liquid. 

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Peel and slice the squash into 1-inch cubes. Drizzle with avocado oil (or other cooking oil) and season lightly with sea salt and black pepper. Roast for about 35 to 40 minutes or until soft and lightly browned, stirring halfway. 

In a medium skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of avocado oil over medium high heat. Sautee the onion for a few minutes until translucent and fully cooked through. Add garlic, sage, and thyme and sautee for another minute or two. Add the cooked chickpeas to the pan and heat them through.  

Blend the chickpea mixture and the roasted squash together with 4 to 6 cups of chickpea cooking liquid and/or vegetable stock. The amount of liquid you need will depend on how thick you'd like your soup to be. 

Pour the blended soup into a large pot and cook over low heat until it comes to a gentle simmer. Stir in the juice of 1 lemon and season with additional sea salt and black pepper, to taste. 

Toast the hazelnuts in a skillet over medium heat for about 5 to 10 minutes or until they're fragrant and the skin starts to crack. Transfer the roasted hazelnuts to a clean kitchen towel and allow them to cool. Then gather the towel into a little bundle and massage the hazelnuts to remove the skin. Most, though not all, of the skin will flake off. Once peeled, roughly chop the hazelnuts.

Fry 8 fresh sage leaves in very hot olive oil for a few seconds to crisp them up. Remove them with a slotted spoon or spatula to a paper towel and sprinkle with sea salt. 

Portion the soup into four bowls (or more, depending on the amount of stock and squash you used). Swirl a tablespoon of harissa into each bowl of soup and top each bowl with two fried sage leaves and a few toasted hazelnuts. Serve. 

Suggested Shortcut:  Instead of 1 cup dried chickpeas, use 2 cans of chickpeas. Roast the squash, onions, sage, and thyme together in the oven. Blend everything together with 4 to 6 cups of vegetable stock (or water) and proceed with seasoning and garnish as above. 

Notes: If you don't want to use squash, feel free to swap carrots or sweet potatoes or any other root vegetable. Please don't buy the pre-sliced squash -- it's bad for the environment and unnecessary. Buy a whole squash and break it down yourself with Food52's help. Be careful when reheating the soup because it has a tendency to bubble and boil.

Full Disclosure: From time to time, I may mention products on the blog but all opinions expressed are my own. I will not promote a product I do not like and/or use in my own household. In this instance, I created a recipe with Mina Mild Harissa before the kind folks at Mina reached out to me. 


Roasted Fennel Hummus

by Maja Lukic in


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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.