Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Hummus – Middle East Meal, Part 3

Traditional hummus, made from the eponymous chickpea, is easy to make at home and more delicious than you'll find in any supermarket.

My dear husband woke me up with coffee in bed last Wednesday and the words, “Time to wake up!  Time to go to work!”  I cannot tell you the last time I heard those words, but I am guessing 1987.

We were living in Abu Dhabi and I was working for a publishing company/advertising agency called Apex Publishing.  We did the artwork for print ads, glossy four-color annual reports, published the British Club magazine, among other jobs. It was a tiny enterprise with a sales manager, a couple of salesmen, one accountant (who also answered the phones), one art director and one editor, which was me.

Or perhaps it was 1988. Still in Abu Dhabi but I had changed jobs and was working at the InterContinental Hotel as public relations officer.  Yep, that, friends, was the last time I was paid for work. (But it was also the time I discovered the joys of hummus.)

For the last two Wednesdays I have been volunteering at the gift shop in the Community Service Association’s facility in Maadi and it is great fun! I get to rearrange the merchandise (local craft items made by charities and non-government agencies to raise money for their programs), chat with all the shoppers and run the cash register, which is really a money drawer with a tiny key, and a computer with an Excel file. If you know me, you know what my favorite part of that job is.

Check it out!  My desk with computer and my very own ID badge.

Isn't it a lovely little shop?!
Anyway, back to Abu Dhabi and hummus - the final part of the three part series, Middle East Meal, which started with shish tawook and tabouli. I was saving the best for last because hummus has been one of my favorite things to eat for 25 years.  It's not hard so anyone can make it. 

12 oz or 340g dried chickpeas
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon flakey sea salt (plus more to taste)
3 large cloves garlic, peeled
1/3 cup or 80ml tahini (sesame seed paste)
1/3 cup or 80ml extra virgin olive oil (plus extra for serving)
4 tablespoons fresh lemon or lime juice

Either soak your chickpeas overnight or, in a metal or heat-resistant bowl, cover them with twice their depth of boiling water and then cover the bowl with a plate to keep the heat in.  Let them soak for at least one hour.

After either soaking method, drain the water and put the chickpeas in a pot with fresh water and bring to a boil.  Cover the pot and simmer for about 1 1/2 hours or until the chickpeas are tender. 

If you want really smooth hummus, you can gently squeeze the chickpeas and remove the thin skins.   If I have some time on my hands and something good to watch on television, I do this because it is a tedious, mindless task that goes perfectly with some Ellen or perhaps a rerun of Friends, and it will get you the smoothest hummus possible.

If you can’t be bothered, as I can’t most of the time, drain your chickpeas, reserving a  few to garnish the serving bowl, and put them into a bowl deep enough for a hand blender to work without spewing the bowl contents all over you and the kitchen.  (Or you can use a food processor, if you prefer.)

Add in 1 teaspoon of flakey sea salt, your garlic, tahini, olive oil, lemon juice and about a half cup of water. 

 Using the hand blender, mix until you get a nice smooth paste.  

Add a little more water if necessary.  Taste the hummus and add more salt if it needs it.

This should be served in a shallow bowl with an indention in the hummus for some extra olive oil.  Scatter the reserved chickpeas about.  (As you can see from the photos, I forgot this step.)  Serve with some fresh Lebanese flatbread.   (Or even crudités like carrots, broccoli or cauliflower to dip.)

Sorry about the shadows!


Looking for part one and two or the Middle East meal?

Part 1, Shish Tawook  

Part 2, Tabouli

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Tabouli - Middle East Meal, Part 2

Bulgur wheat, fresh herbs and tomatoes in a garlicky vinaigrette, tabouli is the perfect salad to bring for potlucks or picnics because it can be made ahead and travels well.

I’ve mentioned before that we lived in Abu Dhabi for a couple of years, way back when.  And that is where we first ate shawarmas and falafel and hummus.  (A freshly fried falafel is a tender-inside, crispy-outside bite of toothsome heaven.  As we would wait for the shawarma guy to build our sandwiches, the falafel guy would hand us each one to eat while we waited – on the house.  As you can imagine we went back often!)  But I honestly don’t remember tabouli from those times.   I know that seems crazy and I must have eaten it – how could I not? – but I just don’t remember. My earliest memory of tabouli is from Macaé, Brazil.   

Anyone who has ever lived in a little oilfield town knows how close friends can get. We become like family. We are each others’ entertainment and we help raise each others’ children. This expat life is full of the joy of newcomers being welcomed into the family and the sadness of departing friends wrenched away from our tight circle.

In Macaé, one of the members of that circle was my friend, Jenny.  The mother of two daughters very close to the ages of my girls, we spent a lot of time together. She was raised in Jerusalem, in a family of Greek heritage so I believe she spoke Greek as well as Arabic, Portuguese and impeccable English. Possibly other languages. She is very smart.

Jenny taught me how to make tabouli and I am forever grateful. She said that back home, all the women in the family would get together and make massive amounts of tabouli together. It was a social event.Sounds like my kind of good time!  Now that I live only a two-hour flight from Jenny’s current home, I hope to get to see her again soon. Meanwhile I just think of her fondly whenever I make tabouli. Even after all these years.
For the salad: 
3/4 cup or 130g bulgur wheat
1 bunch green onions
1 very large bunch of cilantro (coriander) or flat leafed parsley or a mixture of the two (If my memory serves, Jenny’s husband wasn’t fond of cilantro so she used all parsley.  Parsley is not my favorite so I tend to use all cilantro.  You can mix and match as you see fit.)
1 large bunch of fresh mint
About 13 oz or 375g tomatoes

For the dressing: 
3 tablespoons or 45ml fresh lime or lemon juice
1-2 cloves garlic
Sea salt
Black pepper
6 tablespoons or 90ml olive oil

In metal or heatproof bowl, cover your bulgur wheat with 1 1/2 cups of boiling water and cover the bowl with a bit of cling film.  Set aside.

Chop your green onions finely and set aside.

Pick the mint leaves off the stalks and cut most of the stalks off of the cilantro/parsley.  (The tender, narrow stalks near the leaves are fine to leave in.) Wash the herbs several times and dry in a salad spinner or a dry dishcloth. 

Chop them thoroughly, rocking your big knife back and forth on a cutting board. 

Cut the tomatoes in half and cut out and discard the inner core.  Squeeze out the seeds and discard them.  Chop the tomatoes into little pieces. 

Once the bulgur wheat has absorbed all of the water it can, drain it in a strainer and push down on the top to get rid of any excess water.   Put it in a big salad bowl with plenty of room to stir. 

Add in the green onions and squeeze them into the warm bulgur wheat with your hands.  Jenny said it helps the onions release their flavor into the wheat. Or something like that.  Just do it. You do not argue with the wisdom of Greek mothers.

Next add in the tomatoes and then the herbs.  Stir well. 

Mince your garlic cloves and add them to a bowl with the fresh lime juice and about a 1/2 teaspoon of sea salt (or to taste) and a few generous grinds of fresh black pepper. 

Add in the olive oil and whisk until the dressing is thoroughly mixed. 

Pour this over your salad and stir well and you are ready to eat!  

This tabouli gets better and better as it sits so you can make it ahead without any problems.  It is the only salad I have been known to eat for a day or two after.  Sometimes three, if it lasts that long.


Looking for parts one and three of the Middle East meal?

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Chicken and Black Bean Enchiladas

These chicken and black bean enchiladas are made with corn tortillas are wrapped around tender chicken, black beans and cheese and smothered with spicy homemade enchilada sauce, then baked till the cheese is all bubbly and more-ish. Never use that packet or canned enchilada sauce again! Homemade is simple and way more delicious. 

Ladies and gentlemen, we interrupt your scheduled Middle Eastern meal, part 2, to celebrate Cinco de Mayo!  Which, by the way, is in no way the celebration of Mexico’s independence from anywhere.  Historically, it commemorates the Mexican Army’s unexpected victory over French forces in 1862.  Guess which date?  But in the southern United States, it has become a day to honor and celebrate Mexican heritage and culture.  We held our own little celebration with margaritas and chicken enchiladas right here in Cairo.  Just like the American Association of Malaysia used to have a Cinco de Mayo party.  (Remind me to tell you of the time we made a HUGE soccer ball piñata and I cooked Spanish rice for 100 - in a Styrofoam cooler.  It’s a great recipe!)  It is what expats do.   Any excuse for a celebration that reminds us of home.

For the sauce:
2 tablespoons dark chili (seasoning) powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin powder
2 medium onions
1 14 oz or 398g can crushed tomatoes
Olive oil

For the filling:
1 teaspoon sea salt
18oz or 520g skinless boneless chicken breasts
140g cheddar and/or Monterey Jack cheeses
1 14 oz or 398g can black or pinto beans
(3/4 cup or 180ml of the sauce)

To assemble:
12 fresh soft white corn tortillas
140g Cheddar and/or Jack cheeses

Fill a pot with enough water to cover your chicken breasts.  Bring it to the boil and add the chicken breasts and the sea salt.  

Once it begins to boil again, turn it down to simmer and cover.  Cook gently for about 10-15 minutes or until the chicken breasts are cooked through.  Take them out and allow them to cool.  (This can be done a day ahead.)

Next, chop your onions and sauté them in a generous amount of olive oil.   

Once the onions have softened, add in the chili powder, the cumin and the crushed tomatoes.  

Add an extra tomato can of water to the pot.  Bring to the boil and then simmer, covered, stirring occasionally, while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.

Grate your cheese/cheeses and set aside.

Rinse the canned beans.

Chop the cooled chicken up into small pieces.

When the sauce has simmered for about 20-30 minutes, give it a last good stir and take it off the fire.  

Add 3/4 cup or 180ml of the sauce to the chicken.  Stir thoroughly then add 140g (or half the total) cheese and stir again.  Add in the rinsed beans and mix once more.

Preheat oven to 350°F or 180°C.

Spread some sauce in the bottom of your baking dish.

Taking one soft tortilla at a time (I covered the others with a damp cloth to keep them from drying out.) add the filling and fold in the sides.  Place seam side down in the baking pan.  Continue until all the tortillas are filled. 

Pour the rest of the sauce over the enchiladas and spread it around. 

If there is any filling left over, this can be sprinkled on the top the sauce.  Top with the remaining cheese. 

Cover with foil and bake for 30 minutes.  Remove the foil and brown the cheese under the broiler or grill for a further 10 minutes or until the cheese is golden brown.

Serve with a side of sliced avocado with a little lemon juice, sea salt, black pepper and a drizzle of olive oil.  And a margarita. Don’t forget the margarita!