One of my favorite hot weather dishes is hummus. I first became addicted to hummus in Syria, where it was served as an appetizer at every restaurant. In fact, I used to blame hummus for the twenty pounds I gained during my four month study abroad there, but I’ve since admitted that the more likely offender was the copious quantities of baklava I devoured during our lengthy bus rides.
Hummus is one of those felicitously simple combinations that sounds weird (garbanzo beans + tahini [sesame seed paste] + garlic + lemon juice + blender) but is actually delicious. It also has just the right overtones of hip, exotic, and healthy to end up in the salad bar at La Jolla Whole Foods in six different permutations (red pepper, roasted garlic, green herb, etc.). Not to mention that it’s the perfect potluck food even for a vegan, because it serves equally well as an appetizer on chips or pita bread, and as a full-on protein-packed main course.
For all these reasons (and the fact that my children will eat it as long as I go light on the raw garlic), I made up a large pot of garbanzo beans and keep them in hummus-sized portions in my freezer. This is more or less the recipe I make, although instead of parsley I sprinkle on some paprika and cumin. For even quicker preparation, you can just use canned beans. Make sure to reserve the liquid and pour it in the blender little by little until your blender handles the mixture easily. I have also used cannellini, which makes an even silkier version, with a milder flavor. One time I even tried it with black beans, but it was pretty gross, like peanut butter mixed with Mexican food.
A slightly more sophisticated cousin of hummus is the sultry and enigmatic baba ghanoush, in which eggplant replaces the garbanzo beans. I have always thought it was too much work to make, but somehow this week forgot, and decided it was actually easy. Then I discovered that my oven didn’t work. When we peered in to see what was the problem, we noticed two things. First, it is impeccably clean inside. Second, it’s impeccably clean because it’s never been used. The tube that brings the gas in from the pipe is not attached to anything. So it just spews gas out into the interior of the oven.
Technically, I guess if you left it closed for long enough and then somehow found a way to introduce a spark without opening the oven door, the gas would catch on fire. But it would be a somewhat more dramatic fire than the one necessary to bake a sheet of cookies, or an eggplant. (Don’t worry, we didn’t try it. And we had the windows open during this entire discovery process.) I guess the lady who lived here before was not a big baker.
So I had to cook it over at our old apartment, which was still vacant, and to which we retain the key, since our washing machine doesn’t work either (but I still love my landlord. . . . really). It was a bad beginning to my baba ghanoush experiement, especially after I had to run back to our new apartment half a dozen times for things I’d forgotten, like oven mitts and spatula and lighter). And then my cooked eggplant not only refused to be mashed by a fork but then proceeded in twisting around my blender blade in long fibrous strips. I finally attacked it with my hands and squished it into some semblance of a paste, but the skins wouldn’t come off either, so the result was not exactly mouthwatering. I’m forced to admit that my original assessment was accurate. My advice is, enjoy baba ghanoush next time you visit a Greek or Middle Eastern restaurant.
I did, however, have a brilliant success with yet another gazpacho, this time the regular red kind. The last (and previously only) time I made gazpacho, Tony and I hadn’t been married long, and I was a pretty awful cook. I committed the barely mentionable travesty of using canned tomatoes in my gazpacho. We both hated the result, and I concluded that perhaps gazpacho was only possible to make in Spain. This week, though, the summer tomatoes are getting so good that I thought I might give it another try.
My slightly snooty epicurious recipe informed me that cucumber and pepper were “ingredients that have fallen out of favor with chefs who prefer to allow the pure taste of the tomatoes, Sherry vinegar, and olive oil to shine through.” I like to get more nutritional bang for my buck, so I went ahead and included the offending vegetables. I guess I’m more of a mommy than a chef, because I’m not about to pass up an opportunity to give my children as many disguised pureed vegetables as possible. I also didn’t have sherry vinegar on hand (let alone Spanish “reserva”), so I substituted a really excellent apple cider vinegar that Tony found for me the other day when I asked for red wine or balsamic vinegar (I can’t be too choosy or specific when I go shopping at the corner store in Tunisia. It’s always an adventure!). Nor did I have Andalusian hojiblanc olive oil, so we had to be contented with regular old Tunisian (Al Jazira brand, though) extra virgin. The gazpacho was terrific, I have to say, like summer in a bowl, if that’s not too schmalzy . If you have tomatoes in your garden this year, you just must try it when you start to have too many.
I also found another great use for my tahini and frozen garbanzo beans in this Butternut Squash and Chickpea Salad from Smitten Kitchen. I know she says it’s supposed to be served warm, but I chilled it anyway. And it was delicious. I even tried blending some up later, and it made a sort of squash hummus (the Whole Foods salad bar staff would be proud). To balance it out, we had this cool, refreshing, and very easy Raita (cucumber yoghurt salad). Even though I lazily used ground cumin and coriander (as opposed to toasted whole and fresh, respectively), and only had dried mint, it was a keeper. In fact, I made it again today.
But my most exciting culinary discovery this week comes through Amira, who blogs from Kyrgystan at The Golden Road to Samarqand. She introduced me to an Uzbek Cooking Blog. I have never tasted Uzbek (or any other Central Asian) cuisine before, so I thought I’d give it a try. Today I baked Karamli pompoqcha somsa (a sort of cabbage pastry).
So the picture is actually a Cornish pasty, but I couldn’t find any pictures of somsa, especially any that also included swans. My somsa looked like a miniature version of this. And I think Cornish pasties are yummy too.
This still counts as summer fare, since I baked it at our old house while I was doing laundry, so my house didn’t get heated up (lemonade out of lemons, O.K.?). And it only took 15 minutes to bake, since I made them really small. They would be ideal toaster oven fare, for those lucky enough to have toaster ovens, my favorite baking solution for a hot day. I think they’d work nicely in the solar cooker too, mom. Anyway, however you bake them, they were really yummy. I wouldn’t have thought cabbage and bread could taste so good.
So there you have it! If anyone wants to share some favorite summer recipes with me, I’d love to hear about them.