An Israel excursion – Hummus and pita
I just returned from a short excursion to Israel. It’s a long way from Western Canada where I live and I don’t usually make such a long trip for just a couple of weeks. Circumstances this time dictated that I had to be there on a short notice and in Montreal soon after for another event so two weeks it was. I was not travelling to explore food this time but in Israel (and with me) no matter what, it is about food. Israel is definitely a food culture.
After spending a couple of nights in Haifa at a Dan hotel on Panorama Street I changed my mind about the location and moved to the Leonardo hotel on the beach where I stayed in my “usual” suite on the eighteenth floor with three walls of windows overlooking the Mediterranean below and the carmel mountains behind. I stay at this hotel because of the view and the beach access, although I think the hotel is tired looking and could use a face lift. The hotel is situated right on the Carmel beach next to a beautiful sheltered bay and along a paved path extending several miles where hundreds of Israelis walk, run and stroll all day long. Where the paved path ends the sandy beach begins and you can literally walk the beach all the way to Caesarea. In early morning you join a long snaking line of people on their morning walk, usually ending at a beach cafe with a coffee, freshly pressed pomegranate juice and an Israeli breakfast in one form or another.
My first encounter with the food this time was at breakfast at the hotel and if you have heard of the “Israeli breakfast” you know what I mean. It is an enormous all dairy affair that makes your head spin and your heart beat faster. Anything and everything from eggs to crepes to French toast to an incredible selection of local cheese to cured fish, fresh salads, roasted vegetables, pickled vegetables, fresh, stewed and roasted fruits, yogurts, cereals, pastries, and of course breads of every kind. I am sure I am missing half the stuff that was on those tables. I distinctly remember though 4 kinds of roasted eggplant dishes and some incredible hummus and tahini. A post is in the making about the Israeli breakfast but as soon as I came home I begun to crave the Israeli hummus with the special small pita breads they have there. These breads are nothing like the dry disks we get here, not even close. These pita bread are like little fluffy clouds that you tear into bits and dip into the hummus and lose yourself to the flavours. As they say in Yiddish, OYE.
So first on my list when I came back was the hummus and pita and I am glad to report blog worthy success on both counts. The hummus was silky and full of flavour with some tahini added to it and the little puffed pita rounds were as light as clouds. To get the hummus as smooth I used a Vitamix blender, the food processor didn’t quite get the smooth texture I wanted, but if you don’t mind a little texture then any blending method would do, even an immersion blender.
You can make the hummus with dried chickpeas that you soak and then cook until tender, or if it’s too much work you can make it with organic canned chickpeas. I have made it both ways and both are good. To cook the dried chickpeas soak them overnight with a little baking soda, it helps soften them, and then cook a few hours until they are tender, adding more water as necessary to keep them submerged. A pressure cooker also works for cooking chickpeas.
Serve the hummus drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with cooked chickpeas and pine nuts if you have them. Add a little paprika and chopped parsley and you have a delicious and authentic Israeli dish. Enjoy.
2 cups dried chickpeas or 4 cups cooked (see note above, you can use 2 cans organic chickpeas)
1 onion, peeled and cut in half
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2-2/3 cup tahini paste
Juice of 1 lemon
1 clove garlic, minced with a knife (grating it changes the flavour and intensifies it too much to my taste)
1 teaspoon salt
Water or chickpeas cooking liquid as needed to get the right consistency
1/4 cup pine nuts, cooked in a skillet until golden (can add a teaspoon of olive oil)
!/4 cup chopped flat leaf parsley
Olive oil for drizzling
If you use dried chickpeas place 2 cups of chickpeas in a bowl, add a teaspoon of baking soda and cover with cold water. Let soak at room temperature overnight, adding water as necessary to make sure they are always submerged. The next day rinse the chickpeas, place in a pot with a whole peeled onion cut in half and bring to a boil. Lower to a steady simmer and cook a few hours, adding more water as necessary, until the chickpeas are cooked through. Drain, reserving a cup of the cooking liquid. You can discard the onion or add it to a soup.
Place 4 cups of the cooked chickpeas in a good blender (you may have some chickpeas leftover, use them in other recipes or freeze for later).
Add garlic, lemon juice, salt and olive oil and begin blending until the chickpeas are chopped.
Add the tahini and continue blending, adding just enough of the water or cooking liquid to reach the desired consistency.
You can use the hummus right away or leave in the fridge until needed. It will thicken a little as it sits.
Spoon the hummus onto a serving plate making circular motions with the back of the spoon to spread the hummus on the plate. Create a little circular crater in the middle to drizzle the oil into.
Scatter a few chickpeas and pine nuts on top, drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with paprika and chopped flat leaf parsley.
Serve with pita bread.