While cooking, listen to this: Matanot Ktanot (Little Gifts) by Rami Kleinstein
I've been on a travel high for the past week. Ten days in Israel will do that to you. A country seen too-often for for the bad press it gets and conflict it seems to sustain, it's not until you travel there that you realize how truly magnificent the place is.
It was my eighth time visiting Israel - I suppose I'm what some might consider a seasoned pro. But this time was different than the rest. We explored the country in a way that was unlike any other itinerary I'd had. My mom and her childhood friend Lisa spent months planning the most incredible trip for us. From a graffiti tour in the hipster district in Tel Aviv to a frenzied foodventure and cooking activity with the incredible Chefs for Peace in the Old City. From family dinners to peaceful dialogue groups. From the West Bank to Jordan and back to Israel proper. This trip completely opened my eyes to new truths, new histories, new beauty, new culture and, of course, new food.
Hummus and baba ghanoush are nothing new. Even if you've never traveled to the Middle East and live under a rock, odds are you've had one or the other in your lifetime. While I'm all for Trader Joe's snack packs, there's nothing quite like the creamy delectable taste of warm, freshly made hummus.
My family has a secret superpower - we're really good at eating. We sought out some of the best restaurants in Israel, taste-tested from two dozen local and regional wines, on tap, ate in the homes of both Israelis and Palestinians and cooked our own food, fresh, side-by-side with a both a Palestinian and an Israeli chef. Needless to say, we ate our way through Israel.
Mid-way through our trip, we stuffed ourselves silly at the home of Esther, a local Moroccan-Israeli who graciously cooked up a storm for us, stopping for nothing and no one. Besides overstuffing us like one of her cabbage rolls, Esther told us about her childhood - her upbringing in Marakesh and the stealthy way her parents had to sneak into Israel after a terrifying German occupation during WWII. Being the only Hebrew speaker of the group, I translated for everyone, occasionally turning to Yogi, the most patient Israeli you'll ever meet, to translate words I'd missed.
Sweet talking Esther into giving me her baba recipe, wasn't easy, but I'm pretty charming. Her recipe yielded the creamiest, most flavorful baba ghanoush I'd ever had. I'm not usually a fan of smoky things, but Esther has converted me totally and completely. The verbal recipe she gave me had no measurements and required roasting the eggplants over an open flame, something I had no experience with until making a slightly different (but equally as delicious) version of baba ghanoush with Odeh, one of our Masterchefs from Chefs for Peace.
The hummus recipe comes from our beloved tour guide Yogi, who stuck with us despite an endless rapid fire of questions directed his way.tGiving us his full attention, and always keeping an eye on my 92 year old grandpa, Yogi was the best sport, and it was certainly hard to say goodbye to him. Yogi, if you're reading this, you always have family in Detroit, LA or New York.
Before I even left for the states, Yogi shared a handful of recipes with me, most notably being this hummus recipe. It is completely, authentically Israeli, confusing metric system measurements and all. It came to the point where I just eyeballed the recipe. Israelis are more the fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants kind anyway. God, I miss Isarel.
I always questioned the need for soaking chickpeas, but this recipe has me wondering why I was so damn lazy in the past. Soaking the chickpeas takes zero additional work, and only a bit of thinking ahead. What you're rewarded with is the creamiest, most life-sustaining hummus ever, something you can (and should!) slather on everything from homemade pita to a sabich sandwich. When it comes to food, Israelis don't mess around. And neither should you.
NOTE: Israelis are notorious for their DGAF attitudes, so keep in mind these amounts are eyeballed for a reason. If you're nervous, remember, you can always add more, so start off light-handed and add ingredients to taste.
Serves: 10-12 noshers
Total Cook Time: 25 hours, inactive; 10 minutes active
Category: Snacks, Mediterranean, Vegan, Gluten-Free
Source: tweaked from Yogi, Alyssa's tour guide
Special Equipment: high-speed food processor or blender is a must! Dull blades will only cause frustration and gloopy hummus.
½ pound dried chickpeas, rinsed
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup tahina
1-2 Tablespoon scumin
1 medium lemon, juiced
4-5 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Soak the chickpeas: In a large mixing bowl, cover rinsed chickpeas with about an inch of cold water. Let them soak overnight.
Cook chickpeas: In a medium saucepan, bring chickpeas to a boil with a pinch of salt. Once boiling, allow to simmer for an hour and a half. Drain, reserving a cup or so of cooking water.
In a high-speed food processor or blender, grind the chickpeas until smooth, adding cooking water one tablespoon at a time, if it's dry.
Add tahini, cumin, lemon. Blend well. Drizzle in olive oil while blending.
Taste and adjust, as needed.
To serve: Smooth hummus onto a plate, creating a swirl in the center (see photos). Pour olive oil into the swirl. Top with chopped parsley and paprika.
Optional toppings: chickpeas sautéed with garlic, pan fried mushrooms, extra garlic, roasted red pepper, olives.
To keep: this hummus will keep in a sealed container for a few days. If it dries out, simply drizzle with olive oil.
Serves: 10-12 noshers
Total Cook Time: 30 minutes
Category: Snacks, Mediterranean, Vegan, Gluten-Free
Source: Esther, the lovely Moroccan Ima who opened her home to Alyssa's family and Odeh the brilliant Masterchef from Chefs for Peace
Special Equipment: Gas stove or grill is preferred, but if you don't have you can roast in the oven.
2 medium eggplants
2 garlic cloves, crushed
4 heaping Tablespoons of tahina or mayo *
1-2 Tablespoons cumin
Salt, to taste
Optional add in: chopped parsley
Grill your eggplant over an open flame, until the skins are blistered and charred black, rotating with a pair of tongs, about 20-30 minutes. Don't stop too early - the blacker your eggplant gets, the more flavorful your baba will be. Odeh, the Palestinian chef I worked with at Chef's for Peace told me that anyone who roasts their eggplant in the oven is kicked out of his kitchen. Admittedly, Odeh is a professional chef. For those who have electric stoves and no grills, you can roast your eggplant in the oven, skin on, at 375 for 20-25 minutes.
Skin your eggplant, using your hands. Allow your eggplant to cool just so they're touchable. I like to hold the eggplant by the stem and remove the skin while running under cool water. Odeh also told me you can use the skins to make pesto. We haven't tried that one yet, but if you do, let us know!
Chop your eggplant. Of course, you can blend your eggplant, but Odeh recommends chopping your eggplant with a sharp knife. I chopped mine - I like the consistency better. However you choose to execute this step, chop/blend until creamy.
Stir in tahini/mayo, garlic, cumin and parsley, if using. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Serve in a bowl with lots of homemade pita bread.
To store, keep in an air-tight container for up to five days, or so.
* Rina has an aversion to mayo, and I respect that (and sometimes feel the same way), but I'm convinced the secret to Esther's magical baba is the mayo. Give it a try and let me know how it goes (I won't tell Rina).