Friday, July 17, 2009
My Venture into Hummus and Hooker Bars
I love hummus and I make it nearly every week. One time, on a trip to the Middle East, an Egyptian businessman came to my hotel for a meeting. Egyptians are very hospitable and he wanted to warmly welcome me to Egypt by taking me out. In heavily accented English, he said, "I want to take you to my favorite hookah bar." I said, "HOOKER bar?! Oh, no, no. Thanks. I really can't, you know, go to a hooker bar." He insisted and said, "No, no, we must go. They serve the world's best hummus." The world's best hummus, you say? He needn't say more. I grabbed him by the beard, dragged him out of the hotel, and hailed a taxi. Within seconds, we were going warp speed through the narrow streets of Cairo on anywhere from two to four wheels. I just knew that I was going to be killed in that speeding taxi and the headline in the morning newspaper would have read "American Killed on Way to Hooker Bar."
We screeched to a halt in front of the bar and I ripped out my fingers from the car seat that I had been clinging to for dear life. I threw open the front door of the bar and gazed upon a well-lit room full of men smoking who-knows-what from a bunch of decorative bongs. I thought, "What the..?! What is this? The '60's?!" This was no hooker bar. Trust me. I know. I get Cinemax.
The businessman explained that we were going to be smoking flavored tobacco from these bong-looking things called "hookahs" and we had to choose what flavor we wanted to smoke. Embarrassed, I then realized that this whole experience had been one misunderstanding after another. Not being a smoker, I let him choose the flavor for the hookah but, what I really wanted, was some of the world's best hummus. The waiter got the hookah started and we both shared some strawberry-flavored hookah smoke. I gotta tell you. Hookah is not my thing. As you can see, the guy on the right is enjoying some smoke from his hookah. He makes inhaling scented tobacco from a water bong look so suave and sexy, doesn't he?
Soon thereafter, the hummus arrived. It looked smooth and inviting. It was tinted green from the copious amount of olive oil that they had used in making it. It was silky. It was airy. I wanted to put both hands on the table, bend over, and lick the hummus straight from the plate. It was, without a doubt, the world's best hummus. My rendition, although made with a lot less olive oil, might rank as the world's second-best hummus recipe. Unless, of course, you ask my mother. I made some for her one time and she said "It's alright, I guess." Whatever. Anyway, every time I make this hummus, I think of the great time I had in Egypt. Enjoy – and happy eating!
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The World's Second-Best Hummus Recipe
2 15-oz cans of garbanzo beans (chick peas)
4 cloves garlic, roughly chopped (less if you're dating a vampire)
1 tsp kosher salt (or 1/2 tsp of table salt) or to taste
3 TBSP lemon juice
3 TBSP tahini*
2 TBSP good-quality, extra-virgin olive oil
About 4 to 8 TBSP of water
Olive oil and paprika (for garnish)
Drain and discard the juice from the garbanzo beans. You might also consider rinsing the beans as well since some store brands of garbanzo beans are oppressively salty and have a metallic aftertaste. Reserve a couple of tablespoons of garbanzo beans for garnish later. Add the remaining garbanzo beans to a food processor (or blender). Add the salt and garlic cloves. Turn on the food processor and let it run for about 15 seconds. Turn it off, scrape the bowl, and let it run another 15 seconds. The mixture will be thick and slightly chunky and will not yet want to process smoothly.
Add the lemon juice, tahini, and olive oil. Whiz this mixture for about 30 seconds. Turn the processor off, scrape the bowl (including the bottom), and whiz another 30 seconds. If it still looks chunky, repeat until it is smooth. It's important to get it relatively smooth now before adding the water. Add 4 TBSP of water and whiz it for 30 to 60 seconds and scrape the bowl.
Here is when the inner-chef in you needs to come out. Is it too thick? If so, add another tablespoon of water (or olive oil) and rewhiz. Still too thick? Add another tablespoon of water at a time, rewhizing until you achieve the desired consistency. Not enough salt? Add more salt. The sodium content of garbanzo beans varies greatly from brand-to-brand so you may need to add more salt – or you may not.
After you get your hummus the way you like it, scrape it into a serving bowl or platter. Use the back of a spoon to "pretty-up" the top. Drizzle the hummus with some olive oil and top with the reserved garbanzo beans. If desired, sprinkle a little paprika on top. Serve with pita bread, tortillas (yes, tortillas work great!), or vegetables.
*Tahini is sesame paste and can usually be found in the ethnic aisle of larger grocery stores. By itself, it is very strongly flavored but adds interesting depth to hummus.
Posted by Cooking Ventures at 6:23 AM