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.


Spiced Apple Cider & Gin

by Maja Lukic


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As the temperatures continue to hover in the mid-20s at night, it's becoming harder and harder to drink ice cold gin cocktails. I made a heroic effort this past weekend, Winter Storm Electra notwithstanding. Even so, there are freezing Manhattan nights when I would much rather sip warming spirits and drinks.

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And while I've lately taken an interest in bourbon, there is absolutely no reason to call for a moratorium on gin consumption over a snowflake or two. The intelligent thing to do is to drink heated cocktails like this spiced apple cider. Plus, sipping my gin out of a mug has a certain Prohibition feel to it and reminds me of much loved cocktail bars like The Back Room on the Lower East Side. 

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The nice thing about this spiced cider is that it pairs well with both gin and bourbon but it can also stand on its own without any alcohol at all. Reducing the cider for an hour -- a brilliant move from Bon Appétit -- results in a syrupy, concentrated apple flavor. No additional sweetener is necessary but a little maple syrup accentuates the spices and rounds out the flavors nicely. It's pretty respectable on its own, actually. 

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The gin of choice here, Martin Miller's Gin, came to me sort of randomly when the lovely folks at the Reformed Spirits Company in the UK generously offered to send me a bottle to sample. As a self-described gin connoisseur, I was more than a little surprised and incredibly embarrassed to admit that a) I had never tried Martin Miller's Gin before, and b) I had never even heard of it. But I love clean, clear spirits and this is one of the better ones out there. Martin Miller's Gin combines pure Icelandic spring water with the traditional juniper, coriander, and angelica, plus an assortment of less common botanicals and citruses such as cassia, cinnamon bark, liquorice, Seville orange peel, lime rind, and cucumber. Their gin is packaged in this stunning crystalline bottle that begs to be placed on display.

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The most surprising quality about Martin Miller's Gin is how well it pairs with apple and warming spices, probably owing to the addition of cinnamon bark. It provided the inspiration for this soothing, comforting cocktail. Hope you give it a chance. 

Stay warm out there. Cheers! 

Spiced Apple Cider & Gin Cocktails (v/gf)

Technique adapted from Bon Appétit

Makes 2 drinks

4 cups apple cider (or pear cider)

1 cinnamon stick

1" by 3" inch slice orange peel (white pith removed)

1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise

1/4 tsp ground nutmeg

1/8 tsp ground allspice 

pinch of ground clove

1 tsp maple syrup, or more to taste (optional)

2 oz. gin (or other spirits)

optional garnish: cinnamon sticks, vanilla beans, orange slices

Combine the cider, cinnamon, orange peel, nutmeg, allspice, and clove in a small pot over medium heat. Split the vanilla bean lengthwise and scrape out the seeds. Add the seeds and the vanilla bean to the pot. Bring the cider to a simmer over medium heat but do not let it boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook, uncovered, just below a simmer for about 1 hour.

Strain the cider through a fine-mesh sieve into another pot or bowl and discard the solids. Sweeten with a little maple syrup, if desired. Add gin (or other spirits). Serve in large tea or coffee mugs with additional cinnamon sticks, vanilla beans, or citrus slices for garnish. 

Note: Use a thick, dark, good quality apple cider -- I like Red Jacket Orchards' plain apple cider. For a slightly different flavor, try a nice pear cider. You may also substitute other spirits, such as bourbon, or other brands of gin. When preparing the orange peel, remove as much of the bitter white pith as possible or it will leave a bitter taste in the cider. Also, feel free to substitute whole spices for the ground allspice and clove.