Friday, May 19, 2006

The Beans Hummus is Made of: Chickpeas

Looking for something nice to eat yesterday, I looked at the zuccini drawer, disappointed to see that there were not as many left as I thought. It's funny to think that we were concerned whether we'd be able to finish off our Chubeza vegetable box every week. Then, my gaze fell on a jar of chickpeas, just standing there on the shelf and asking to be used. The word "hummus" came to mind, immediately, but then I started to think.

Hummus is a staple in Middle Eastern cuisine, and has many local and excellent variations. Several regions in the country are well known for the quality of their hummus; those "in the know" can argue the merits and shortcomings of hummus for hours. Some of the best places to eat hummus in Israel are the village of Abu Ghosh, which also holds beautiful music festivals (one of them coming up soon); the city of Jaffa, sporting Ali Karavan's legendary hummus eatery; and several places in the Gallillee, including the old city of Akko (Acre). One of Israel's online portals, Ynet, even polled its readers to find out where the best ten places for hummus were located. Yes, Israelis are obsessed with hummus; the city of Tel Aviv even holds an annual Hummus Festival, featuring the best places from all over the country. This year, the city has announced the festival will take place on the 23rd and 24th of August (and will receive live coverage from yours truly).

Which is why, attempting to make hummus at home is no easy feat, competing with all those culinary giants making it at their restaurants. I tried once; the result was grainy, and decent enough to be called "chickpea dip", but certainly not hummus. In fact, what I'd made reminded me of the stuff they sell in the US, which is nothing like really good hummus at all, and includes such yuppified transgressions as 'roasted pepper hummus', and garlic-overdosed varieties. Hebrew readers, read all about hummus abroad, and try to maintain your calm. All ye American folks eating what you think passes as hummus, you've been wronged, and I suggest you come visit the Middle East and taste what hummus should really be like. My friend Holi, who lives in Leeds, in his anguish and despair, learned to make magnificent Hummus, so I know it can be produced outside the Middle East; but until I can get him to divulge the secret, my hummus remains an incomplete feat. If your curiosity can't be appeased, and you can read Hebrew, here's a recipe that looks promising, paying appropriate attention to the alchemy of hummus, too.

So, for now, what I made with my hummus was a nice little chickpea think with tomatoes, onions, chilis, and Biriyani Masala. I shudder to call it "chana Masala", particularly following my recent complaints about the transgressions of hummus' cultural transplants; nevertheless, it was good and nourishing. Chickpeas contain a generous amount of both starch and protein, and when cooked right, are extremely tasty.

Chickpeas with Tomatoes and Onions

5 cups of cooked chickpeas (to cook'em: place chickpeas in a large bowl and cover with water; discard after an hour. Add new water and let soak overnight. Then, discard water again, place in pot, add fresh water to cover, and cook for about an hour or so, occasionally lifting the strange white foam that keeps rising to the surface. Drain and keep the cooking liquid).
3 fresh, ripe tomatoes
1 medium-sized onion
1 tbsp ground chili pepper
1/4 cup Biriyani Masala spice mix
1 generous tablespoon organic tomato paste

Cover bottom of large wok with olive oil. When oil is hot, add chopped onion, chili, and Biriyani Masala. Cook until onions are golden and kitchen is fragrant and happy. Then, add the tomatoes and drained chickpeas. Mix up and cook for a while; then, add tomato paste and some water from the chickpeas. Let simmer about twenty minutes, then eat with great joy.

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