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Hummus a staple for the Jewish High Holidays

A staple for the Jewish High Holidays
Published 10:13 am, Wednesday, September 16, 2009
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My husband recently asked me what I thought was the most popular hors d'oeuvre. This was a no-brainer. It's hummus. To prove my point I went to the local supermarket and counted the kinds sold there, but stopped when I reached 38. While it may not have its own aisle, like breakfast cereal, I find it fascinating that there are nearly as many kinds of hummus as potato chips.

Because hummus is so acclaimed do I even need to tell you that it is a dip made from pureed chickpeas and that the recipe comes from the Middle East (the name is a derivation of the Arabic word for chickpea)? Or that it is considered the "new Jewish chopped liver," having practically all but replaced that once ubiquitous dish at Jewish family functions -- a not unimportant fact considering the approaching High Holidays, which begin with Rosh Hashana, at sundown Friday, and end with Yom Kippur, which starts at sundown on Sept. 27.

Like most Jewish holidays, Rosh Hashana and the Yom Kippur break-the-fast have their traditional foods. Hummus is sure to figure in.

The next question is, with 38-plus kinds of hummus handy at the store, why would anyone make it at home?

The answer is that you do it for the same reason you make soup or cookies or salsa, even though these come canned and packaged, too. Homemade tastes better. It's also fresher, not packed and sitting on some shelf for weeks. You can make it thick or thin, spicy or mild, plain or seasoned and augmented -- with marinated artichokes or toasted almonds, for example --

the way you like it.

Besides, it's easy. Making hummus mostly involves putting some ingredients into a food

processor and watching the stuff whirl away to

a fare-thee-well.

The main ingredient is, of course, chickpeas, which are also known as garbanzo beans and ceci beans. You can buy them cooked, in cans, or dried. If you make hummus using the canned kind, the recipe should take less than 15 minutes. Reconstituted dried chickpeas have a richer, nuttier, almost buttery flavor, but you'll have to soak them for several hours before cooking them (which takes just under an hour). For recipes, use two cups of cooked-from-dried peas for each one-pound can.

To make classic hummus combine the chickpeas with tahini, a crushed sesame seed paste that has a consistency somewhat like peanut butter. Other traditional ingredients include lemon juice, olive oil, salt and garlic. Put all of them in a food processor or blender, whip them up until they reach the desired consistency, and that's all there is to it.

The recipe is very forgiving. If you don't like tahini, leave it out. There is no substitute for it, although I've seen recipes that include peanut butter. Hummus minus the tahini will be milder.

There are dozens of ways to customize hummus. Include a habanero or jalapeno chili or sprinkle in cayenne powder, paprika, Aleppo pepper or dried chili flakes to make it spicy. Use more lemon juice or garlic. Season the dish with fresh parsley, thyme or coriander, or include zatar, a blend of dried spices (typically thyme and marjoram) plus sesame seeds.

Or add extra ingredients. I've made variations on hummus that included sun-dried tomatoes, olives, artichoke hearts, toasted nuts, roasted red peppers and caramelized garlic. Most often I leave a small portion of the enhancements out of the puree so that I can place them on top of the dip for serving. Plain hummus is beige and dull looking, making the garnish important. If you make the classic version, decorate the top with a scattering of fresh chopped parsley or cilantro or a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkle of zahtar (a spice blend of sesame seeds mixed with powdered sumac and dried thyme) or paprika.

I usually serve hummus as a dip, accompanied by warm pita bread or lavash crackers. It's the first bit of food my guests are offered at our Yom Kippur break-the-fast.

But there is always a bowl of hummus in my refrigerator, holiday or not. It's more than just a handy dip. It's also healthy, a good source of fiber and low on the glycemic index. And it is lower in fat and calories than mayonnaise, so we use it as a sandwich spread for chicken, cheese, grilled vegetables, sliced tomatoes and the like. Think about combining hummus, goat cheese, olive and tomato on multi-grain bread for lunch during the holidays. Or making a hummus-feta cheese-grilled eggplant and sun-dried tomato wrap. Hummus can go a long, long way.

Lemon-Pepper Hummus with Tahini

15-16 oz. can chickpeas

1„2 cup fresh lemon juice

1„4 cup tahini

1„4 cup olive oil

3 cloves garlic

1 teaspoon paprika

3„4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1„2 teaspoon salt

1„2 teaspoon ground cumin

Chopped fresh parsley, optional

Pita bread

Drain the chickpeas, but reserve the liquid. Place the chickpeas, lemon juice, tahini, olive oil, garlic, paprika, cayenne, salt and cumin in a food processor. Add 4 tablespoons to 1„2 cup reserved bean liquid, depending on desired texture (start with the minimum). Process until well blended. Garnish with chopped parsley if desired. Serve with cut up pita wedges. Makes about 21„4 cups

Hummus with Pine Nuts and Zahtar

1„3 cup pine nuts

15-16 oz. can chickpeas

1„4 cup fresh lemon juice

1„4 cup tahini

11„2 tablespoons olive oil

1 clove garlic

1„2 teaspoon salt

1„4 teaspoon ground cumin

2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

Zahtar

Pita bread

Toast the pine nuts until lightly browned. Set aside. Drain the chickpeas, but reserve the liquid. Place the chickpeas, lemon juice, tahini, 1 tablespoon olive oil, garlic, salt, cumin, parsley and all but 1 tablespoon pine nuts in a food processor. Add 4 tablespoons to 2„3 cup reserved bean liquid, depending on desired texture (start with the minimum). Process until well blended. Place the hummus in a serving dish and make a well in the center. Spoon the remaining 1„2 tablespoon olive oil in the center. Sprinkle the remaining pine nuts over the olive oil. Sprinkle with zahtar. Serve with cut-up pita wedges. Makes about 21„4 cups

Hummus with Kalamata Olives

15-16 oz. can chickpeas

1„2 cup pitted kalamata olives

1„3 cup tahini

1„4 cup fresh lemon juice

11„2 tablespoons olive oil

1 clove garlic

1„2 teaspoon salt

1„8-1„4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1„4 teaspoon ground cumin

1 tablespoon chopped parsley

Pita bread

Drain the chickpeas, but reserve the liquid. Place the chickpeas, all but 4-5 olives, tahini, lemon juice, 1 tablespoon olive oil, garlic, salt, cayenne and cumin in a food processor. Add 4 tablespoons to 2„3 cup reserved bean liquid, depending on desired texture (start with the minimum). Process until well blended. Place the hummus in a serving dish and make a well in the center. Spoon the remaining 1„2 tablespoon olive oil in the center. Chop the remaining olives slightly and scatter them over the olive oil. Sprinkle with the parsley. Serve with cut-up pita wedges. Makes about 21„4 cups