Saturday, October 01, 2005

Hummus Among Us

It all started with a pita the size of a car tire. No. It started before that, in Target, where I'd taken the kids on an errand, even though it was such a beautiful Sunday morning, and driving to the mall was a strange and guilty pleasure. But a "quick" trip to Target is about as likely a "quick" trip to Kathmandu. Finding what we were looking for was easy--though I have to be cagey about it, since it's for Michael, and no, it's not barbeque-related, but, yes, there was plenty of barbeque-related merchandise laid out for people like us to buy for people like him for a particular upcoming necktie-themed holiday, if you know what I'm saying. It's the things we weren't looking for that took so long--the toy aisle, which sings its siren song to the kids, and where they remained for years on end while solar-powered strings of patio tree lights sang their own special siren song to me (too expensive, sigh) until I finally plopped down into a comfy demo lawn chair and waited for them while my beard grew down past the outdoor furniture aisle and through electronics and finally out into Joann's Fabrics next door. By the time the kids were done ("Save your money," I counseled wisely, "and if you wake up still thinking about those pet shop critters, we'll come back.") we were all starving to death.

Food shopping while starving to death--now that's as sensible, really, as a "quick" trip to Target on a glorious spring day. Nevertheless, there we were, in the Turkish market that I had been meaning to investigate since it opened a few months ago. Everything looked good to us--from the Armenian string cheese to the dill-flecked tzatkiki to the barrel-sized jars of pickled peppers (okay, those looked good only to me). Instead, we got a quart of local strawberries, a jar of roasted-pepper relish (see picture at right) and a still-warm pita bread the size of a car tire. The kids grew a bit unravelish in line, and suggested we get some hummus (there was a sample out, and it was, indeed excellent)--but hummus? I can make hummus with both hands tied behind my back and a pair of hungry children watching hungrily.

And so, inspired by the Wheel-of-Fortune pita and our beckoning picnic table and the children's "utter starvaciousness," as Ben put it, that little chip off the exaggerative block, I did. Homemade hummus is both excellent and wildly inexpensive. Plus, you can keep all the ingredients on-hand, and you can make it just the way you like it. For me, and I realize this is heresy, that means no tahini. Tahini is a middle-Eastern sesame paste, and while I love everything middle Eastern when middle Eastern folks make it for me, tahini in my own home always tastes exactly like the dust that has been scraped off of a fossil of prehistoric cave-dwelling sesame seeds. I dutifully added it to my hummus years ago, as it was called for in every recipe, but have been secretly winnowing down the amount ever since until I have finally come up with my ideal measurement: zero tablespoons. I know.

But I do use plenty of olive oil and lemon juice and garlic and salt, because if it's not super-vibrantly seasoned, then hummus, even without tahini, tastes like the dust you scraped off of a fossilized can of chickpeas. And if I have fresh mint, I use that too (if I don't, I add a bit of lemon zest instead). Plus, I add a tablespoon of pomegranate molasses, which is a deliciously tart syrup you can buy at middle-Eastern markets or even at Whole Foods, and which can be stirred into seltzer to make a refreshing drink (but if you don't have any, just use more lemon to taste). The other hummus trick is to make sure you move past the super-grainy stage to the super-creamy one, which you do by adding a bit of warm water. Easy.

Homemade hummus is zingy and wholesome, and it makes an ideal lunch-box addition with a handful of carrot sticks and pita chips. Our kids love it (which is more than they could say about the red-pepper relish), but if yours are squeamish about trying it, well, you know what I'm going to say: Butt-pea Paste. What could sound better?

Hummus Among Us
Makes about 2 cups
Total time: 5 minutes

1 15-ounce can chickpeas, drained
1 clove garlic, smashed and peeled
1 teaspoon kosher salt (use more or less, depending on how bland your chickpeas start out)
Juice of half a lemon (plus some of its grated zest if you don't have any herbs)
1 tablespoon pomegranate molasses (or skip it and add more lemon juice to taste--just don't substitute regular molasses, which is nothing like it!)
A few fresh mint sprigs, finely chopped (parsley is good too, but I didn't have any)
1/3 cup flavorful olive oil
Hot water (about 2 tablespoons)

In the bowl of a food processor with the metal blade, whir together the chickpeas, garlic, salt, lemon juice (and zest), pomegranate syrup, and mint, stopping to scrape down the bowl with a rubber spatula, until the mixture makes a coarse mash. With the motor running, drizzle the olive oil through the feed tube until the mixture is smooth. Scrape down the sides with a rubber spatula, then, with the motor running again, drizzle in hot water, tablespoon at a time (up to 3 tablespoons), until the mixture turns very creamy.

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