A loyal Jewish Exponent reader approached me recently at the gym.
“Keri,” she said, “I am obsessed with the Exponent’s food column. It has inspired me to cook again!”
Talk about making a girl’s day!
We spoke a bit about recently featured recipes, and then she made a request: “Can you do an article on hummus and tzatziki? I really want to learn how to make them.”
So, Barbara, after you tear it up on the front row of the Zumba class, you can tear it up in your kitchen. Thanks for reading the Exponent. This one’s for you.
To prepare for this article, I researched hummus, valiantly ate lots of it, asked around and concluded that the gold standard seems to be the Solomonov version served at both Zahav and Dizengoff.
Their preferred technique involves making your own tahini dressing by blending lemon juice with a whole head of garlic, skins and all, then straining out the flavored liquid to mix with jarred tahini. This seemed inconvenient and cumbersome, but, as I researched the method, the step was explained: By straining out the solid garlic and just using the essence, you lengthen the shelf life of the hummus.
I also ended up using whole lemons in this step, rind and all, figuring that if the solids were strained anyway, it didn’t matter. The rind gave a sharper lemon taste, which I liked, but if you prefer a mellower lemon flavor, just use the juice. This recipe made a lot — probably 10 cups of hummus — so if that is too much for your group, you can easily half the recipe.
The addition of baking soda, according to many sources, ensures tender chickpeas because, as an alkali, it weakens their pectic bonds.
If you are short on time and inclination, you can use canned chickpeas; just be sure to drain and rinse them well.
Here’s what I did, which more or less follows the technique described in the Zahav cookbook.
Hummus for a Crowd
1 pound dried chickpeas
Baking soda for soaking
2 cups tahini
1 head garlic
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon pepper
About ¾ cups cold water
⅓ cup fresh parsley
1 tablespoon best-quality olive oil
Soak the chickpeas. Quick method: Place the rinsed chickpeas and a pinch of baking soda in a large pot; cover with water. Heat to a boil and remove it from the heat. Allow it to soak for an hour. Slow method: Place the rinsed chickpeas in a large pot with a pinch of baking soda and cover with water. Soak overnight.
Cook the chickpeas: Drain the chickpeas, place them back in a pot, add a pinch of baking soda and cover with water. Cover the pot, heat to a boil and lower to a simmer, cooking for about two hours until the chickpeas are very soft and the outer skins begin to separate. Drain and set aside.
While the chickpeas cook, make the tahini dressing: Place 1½ lemons (you will use the last half later) into a blender or food processor. Add a whole head of garlic, skin and all, and add enough water to allow the contents to move around in the blender. Allow the mixture to sit for a few minutes, and then strain, pressing down on solids to extract as much liquid as possible.
Wipe out the blender, and dump in the liquid along with the tahini, salt, pepper and enough cold water to create a smooth sauce. It should be the texture of salad dressing.
Mix the tahini dressing with the cooked chickpeas and puree, using a traditional blender (you may need to do so in batches), a food processor or an immersion blender. The hummus should be smooth. Taste; add the juice of the remaining lemon half, and salt and pepper to taste.
To serve, place the hummus in a shallow dish and top with a drizzle of olive oil, a sprinkle of paprika and a handful of freshly chopped parsley. Offer with warm pita, crudité and pickled vegetables. Or just a spoon.
Makes about 8 cups
This dish is light, healthy and versatile. It can take the place of a side dish in a meal, can be a delightfully flavorful sauce on roasted or grilled fish, used as a salad and/or salad dressing and can serve as a cold soup as a light luncheon.
Tzatziki offers a cool contrast to spicy foods, so it is nice to serve with robust flavors. Regardless of how you use it, tzatziki is simple to prepare and packs a healthy punch.
If a thicker consistency is desired, be sure to use Greek yogurt and drain the cucumbers after grating them. The cukes give off quite a bit of water, but please don’t dump it.
Cucumber water is a great ingredient in cocktails, juices and salad dressing, and it is delicious and refreshing consumed by itself. If you don’t have Greek yogurt on hand, regular plain yogurt works fine; it will just produce a thinner consistency.
Not a fan of dill? Substitute cilantro, mint or parsley. Don’t love lemon? Use lime. Hate garlic? Skip it or use a minced shallot, scallion or small amount of onion.
See, I told you it was versatile.
2 cups Greek yogurt (I used nonfat in a nod to calorie conservation, but if this is not a concern, whole milk yogurt is creamy and delicious)
2 cucumbers, peeled, grated and drained (if desired)
⅓ cup fresh dill (or preferred herb), finely chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon pepper
Juice of ½ lemon
Mix all the ingredients in a bowl.
Chill until ready to serve.
Makes about 3 cups