One great thing about teaching international cuisine is that
I get to scout out of the ethnic markets in our area. There are not many, that I can assure you.
The first time that I walked into an Asian market in my
youth (Chinatown, D.C.) I was at a loss for words. The selection of unknown foods and indecipherable labels was
staggering. Not much changed when
I walked into an Asian market as a young adult. I wasn’t fluent in the culture and foodstuffs of the
Orient. Now in my middle age. I still don’t speak Mandarin, something
I’ve been meaning to undertake, so I have to rely on the miniscule English
print on the added labels required to get products through customs.
When we leave what most people think of as Asia (the Orient)
we head to India where we are countered with countless new herbs and
spices. After this short jaunt we
trek over to the Middle East (Southwest Asia) where we see some of my favorite
The perfume of the spices rises above the kitchen as we move
into the Middle East, and the food does not tend to be as complex as many
Indian dishes. There is still a
fair amount of preparation but overall this is a cuisine worth investigating.
Probably my favorite dish to come out of the Middle East is
hummus, the ubiquitous chickpea dip made with extra virgin olive oil, garlic,
lemon juice and tahini (sesame paste). You can find everything you need to make this at most
local stores. For the tahini, and
it is critical for a good hummus, look in the natural foods aisle.
When I make hummus I make it for the week. To me it’s just not worth breaking out
the food processor for a small amount.
Food processors get messy, or I’m lazy, or both.
The health benefits of this dip are many. Extra virgin olive oil is gaining more
positive press at every waking moment, chickpeas are great sources of protein
and fiber and everyone can do without scurvy, right? That’s where the lemons come in.
One of the more popular garnish for hummus is roasted bell
pepper. This is simple to do,
especially if you have open flame on your stove. If you do, simply place the whole pepper on the flame until
it is charred. Turn the pepper
over until all sides are done.
While it is still hot, simply place it in a size-appropriate bowl or
container and cover tightly.
Let it steam for 10 minutes and then peel the skin. Then remove the seed and stem and you
have the best roasted peppers money can buy.
Another garnish for our enchanted chickpea chow is an
important ingredient throughout the Middle East and Africa; Sumac. No, it’s not poison sumac, it’s sumac
("soo-mock") and it is a dried and ground tart berry that add a
lovely flavor to many dishes including dips, stews and the like.
If you decide that you want to work with sumac, see Mohamed
over at the Mediterranean Market on Division Street in Salisbury. He has everything from Turkish Ukler
chocolates to gyro meat and what you may need to prepare a traditional
meal. Plus Mohamed’s service is
impeccable. He has always been
more than willing to help me work my way through his store.
So with the dip ready to go I start to cut some raw
vegetables for serving. This also
goes great with pita chips and bagel chips; the choice is yours. As you cook your way through the Middle
East, you need to make sure that Hummus plays a starring role in the menu.
Hummus for the Week
4 cans (about 8 cups)
1/4 c. minced garlic
3 Tbsp. Tahini, or
more if preferred
1/4 – 1/2 c. EV olive
oil, or as needed
Juice and zest of 2
Roasted red pepper
Salt to taste
Cilantro, minced for
Parsley, minced for
Habanero Hot Sauce(recipe follows)
Drain the garbanzos and place in a food
Add the garlic, tahini, olive oil and lemon
Process until you have a smooth paste
Adjust your seasoning and add salt as needed
Place the hummus in a bowl and top with sumac
and olive oil. The oil can either
be drizzled or pooled in the middle
Serve with pita crackers or my favorite; fresh
4 cloves garlic
1 c. Red onion,
Bell peppers, same
color as the habanero
1 dozen habanero,
seeds and stems removed
1 c. Champagne
Heat the garlic in a small amount of vegetable
oil until it starts to roast just a touch
Add the onion, habanero, bell pepper and vinegar
Simmer for about 10 minutes, covered
Carefully place into a good blender and very
carefully puree your sauce
Adjust the seasoning accordingly, adding sugar if your palate demands it