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Tuesday, April 2, 2013

The Best Hummus

In the summer of 1987 our little family left United States for our first overseas assignment in the Air Force. Until that time, I hadn't been exposed to much foreign food. Of course, I ate at Mexican restaurants and cooked a few "Mexican" things myself; but they weren't really Mexican. Moving to Bahrain, the small island country in the Persian Gulf which has long been an international port and home to a variety of cultures, introduced me to a large variety of new foods. Living in Bahrain changed me profoundly in a number of ways but one of the most enjoyable changes was in the way I cook and eat.

I was a den-mother for a group of boys most of whom attended the Department of Defense school Betsy and Tom were enrolled in. There was a boy named Tareq (son of a Chinese-American mother and Egyptian father) who joined us although he went to another school. The kids and I were evacuated from Bahrain just after Iraq invaded Kuwait and, in the chaos of quick preparations, I was unable to gather contact information for some friends and I "lost" this family. Time has helped complete the loss and I've forgotten Tareq's last name and his mother's first. Otherwise I'd give her credit for the best hummus I've ever tasted.


The Best Hummus 

1  16-oz can chickpeas, drained (or 2 c cooked chickpeas)
1/4 c tahini (sesame paste, available in many supermarkets or in a Middle Eastern shop)
1/6 c warm water (measure this by filling a 1/3 c measure half full)
1/6 c olive oil
juice of 1 lemon (or 3 T)
1-2 cloves of garlic, depending on size and your preference
heaping 1/2 teas salt
1 teas cumin seed, coarsely ground
freshly ground pepper to taste

Blend the ingredients in a blender or food processor until smooth.

Notes from Colette:

If you don't have a mortar and pestle to grind the cumin seed, crush the seeds under a cast iron skillet. Although the original recipe doesn't suggest it, to make this even better, toast the seeds in a small skillet over medium heat until they release some of their volatile oils and become fragrant.

The skins on chickpeas make hummus somewhat grainy. I don't mind the texture but if you prefer a silkier finish, here are some hot-off-the presses instructions from the May 2013 issue of Cook's Illustrated:

"For our method, toss the rinsed and drained chickpeas with baking soda (1½ teaspoons per 14-ounce can) and then heat them in the microwave or in a skillet over medium heat for 2 to 3 minutes until the beans are hot. Transfer the beans to a large bowl and wash with three or four changes of cold water, all the while agitating the beans vigorously between your hands to release the skins, which will float easily away."

Note from Betsy: I haven't been able to find cumin seed lately, so I've used a heaping teaspoon of ground cumin. Cumin seeds taste better, in my opinion, but ground cumin is an acceptable substitute.

Note from Colette: If you are having trouble finding cumin seed, shop at an International grocery or a Mexican market. They'll likely be available as well as much more affordable than in a supermarket or online.

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