Sunday, October 21, 2007

Hummus and Kibbeh

A few people have recently asked me what I think of the vegetarian dining-out options in St. Louis. I am just starting to find out, actually. We moved here from NYC with zero expectations, and if every restaurant in town had been selling barbecue, I would not have blinked en eyelid. So it has been a pleasant surprise to find that almost every weekend, we are able to find a new place to try. I have no idea if any St. Louis residents actually read this blog, but more for my own record than anything else, I have started a small restaurant list here (there is a link in the right side-bar as well). Anyway, last weekend, we particularly enjoyed a dinner at a very cute local restaurant called "Stellina Pasta Cafe". It had been one of those exhausting weeks where the days went by in a blur, and with the rush between work and school and household chores and dog-rearing, V and I barely got a chance to have a normal conversation. A relaxed dinner with good food really cheered us up that Saturday evening! Grilled pita served with hummus and olives is probably the most common appetizer on restaurant menus in this country today, but this cafe did an exceptional job with it. I've made hummus once or twice before at home, it never really turned out well, and as we drove home, I reminded myself to give it another shot.

I happened to be thumbing through Suvir Saran's new book American Masala the next day (many thanks to the publishers for sending me a review copy), and lo and behold, came upon a recipe for toasted garlic hummus. I took it as a sign, and ended up making the hummus last night for dinner.
AmericanMasala This is a very interesting cookbook- rather than focusing on one region, one course or one genre, it embraces the multifaceted nature of us home cooks. Like curious magpies hoarding shiny objects, cooking enthusiasts seem to collect recipes as they go along in their culinary lives. No matter what food we grew up eating and what cuisine we normally cook, our repertoire evolves into a unique collection that tells the story of our life- whom we met, where we have travelled, what tastes we lean towards. One recipe may be the hallmark of a local festival that we have started to celebrate; another may be learnt years ago from Grandma. Yet another may be from some out-of-print cookbook that we found at a garage sale. Well, this cookbook is essentially like taking a peek into Saran's personal recipe file- except that, instead of yellowing lined notepaper with ball-point scribblings (I only imagine his notebook looks like this because mine does!), it is a lush cookbook with vibrant photographs in jewel tones. This tendency of developing a wildly assorted recipe collection is especially true of those of us who live in foreign lands, and especially true of the US where so many cultures live and eat together. A single chapter in Saran's cookbook has dishes ranging from enchiladas to lasagna, from paella to biryani. Isn't this just the crazy way many of us eat today? Many of the dishes reminded me of the same things that so many bloggers tend to do: take a dish, apply a unique twist and make it your own. In this cookbook, for instance, I came across unusual flavor pairings such as cardamom-roasted cauliflower and chocolate-hazelnut torte with ginger, cloves and cayenne. The book has both vegetarian and meat-seafood dishes, everything from breakfast to desserts.

Coming back to the hummus: it is commonly made with canned chickpeas. In my hands, that does not work so well for some reason and I feel like the resulting hummus tastes "pasty" and "raw". This time, I soaked the chickpeas and pressure-cooked them, with much better results. I used way more (1 whole head) roasted garlic than what Saran suggested (2 cloves). Roasted garlic has a mellow flavor and I like using it generously. Also, he suggests using a broiler to toast the garlic- and I just used my toaster oven. The combination of toasted cumin and roasted garlic is so delicious here.

Roasted Garlic Hummus

(adapted from Suvir Saran's American Masala)
1. Roast 1 head of garlic until the cloves are soft (see methods here and here). Peel the skin off.
2. In a food processor bowl fitted with the metal blade, place 2 C chickpeas (preferably home-cooked, but canned should work too), 2 heaped T tahini (sesame seed paste), 2 T extra-virgin olive oil, juice of 1 lemon, peeled roasted garlic, 1 t toasted cumin seeds, red chilli flakes to taste, and salt and pepper to taste.
3. Process, adding a little water if required, to a smooth paste. Taste and add more salt or lemon juice if required. Serve with olives (I bought some delicious marinated olives from the olive bar at Whole Foods) and wedges of toasted pitas.

I wanted a hearty main course to go with this hummus platter, and decided to try a recipe that had been long book-marked: Potato Kibbeh from Vegan Feast Kitchen. The post gives a lot of interesting information about kibbeh- delicious morsels of potato and bulgur wheat. The recipe is easy easy- olive oil and sliced onions layered in a baking pan, a mashed potato-soaked bulgur (uncooked)-cinnamon-herb mixture layered on top, drizzled with more olive oil and baked until golden. Cinnamom gives a unique aroma to this dish, for sure.

I halved the recipe but loved it so much that I will definitely be making it again, especially when I have hungry hordes to feed! I used coarse bulgur because that was what I had on hand- but will look for a fine one next time I make this. I was also a big bore, as usual, and reduced the oil in the recipe, but it was delicious anyway. To serve with the baked kibbeh squares, I made an impromptu tzatziki-inspired sauce with yogurt, minced garlic, minced cucumber, cilantro and salt, and the combination was delicious.

P. S. You know that fall/winter is here when my food photos take a nosedive :D When supper-time rolls along, it is already dark outside and I have to take pictures in artificial light. Hence that awful yellow glow on the pictures. I need to learn how to take pictures in artificial light. Have a great week, everyone!


  1. Both look delicious Nupur! I've been less than happy with my attempts at hummus as well, but I love the stuff. I usually buy the "zesty garlic" variety at Whole Foods, so I'm with you on adding more garlic. Now that I'm cooking my own chickpeas, guess I should revisit homemade hummus too! I also love the sounds of the second recipe, bulgur is something had sort of forgotten about until recently and I really do enjoy it.

  2. Nupur:

    Garlic hummus is my favorite! and Kibbeh is yummy, isn't it! Looks like you had a real feast :).

    Oh, and as for the pictures, i know what you mean! I take all my pictures past 9:30 or 10:00 PM, and can't avoid "the rich golden hues" :-D.

  3. How nice to have a kibbeh that doesn't have meat! I'm definitely going to try this recipe. I've been making hummus for years, and I think each batch has more garlic than the next. Another nice addition is roasted red peppers.

  4. I'm going to try your hummus, Nupur and the books sounds very interesting. Check out this blog, the author loves hummus and has many flavours, I have so many of them bookmarked to try. Here is the link:

  5. Loved both the dishes. I will try ur version of hummus next time.

  6. Until you pointed out, I didn't even notice your pictures were taken in night light. Trust me, the pictures came out very good....especially the one of baked kibbeh.

  7. Both the dishes look delicious!!!
    Esp the Kibbeh.. and that too a vegetarian one :)
    I must try it soon!

  8. noticed the yellow pictures and wondered abt it till you mentioned. I remember coming across the construction of a white box on some blog. will look it up and pass on the link when I get the chance.
    Meanwhile , have you tried the pic editing options on the mac. Most of my pics have been taken well past sundown. Having white serving ware helped a lot.
    best of luck with the pics till then .

  9. Found you at Anali's the sound of Suvir Saran's new recipe book, am going to have to pick it u p and browse through it.

  10. Hi Nupur,
    The hummus sounds pretty easy to make. BTW do u know the easiest way to make pita bread,,would love to hv some recipt from you. AS always a lovely post..Raakhee

  11. Bookmarked to try. Who can resist garlic hummus?

  12. Nupur, I am facing the same issue of fast fading light these days! Also, I don't see your posts on the Food Blog Desam these days...or am I missing it?

  13. nupur..i saw ur post yesterday but could not comment at that time...but i was craving hummus..that i ordered it from the nearby middle-eastern place ;)..i will try ur version next

  14. Love Garlic hummus!! Kibbeh is new to me, but sounds delicious!
    I take almost all my photos around dinner time.. and cannot avoid the lighting issue (apart from the fact that I am a lousy photographer!!LOL!!)

  15. Loved the garlic hummus recipe...will try it out sometime. The kibbeh is new to me ...looks very filling and yummy! Your pictures are good...but i know how they look so different from the ones taken in natural light. I am in the same boat and I hate the lighting in my house ;)

  16. Roasted Garlic Hummus looks extremely delicious Nupur! I must try this. Will let you know.

  17. The roasted garlic hummus sounds yum...I have this before and I usually serve it with roughly chopped kalamata tastes yum:)

  18. If you get to know how to take pics in artificial light, throw some pointers at people like us. By the time I am done, there is little light to take pics for me too.

  19. Hi Nupur, the hummous looks great and the cumin is a different twist. I had a lovely neighbor from Lebanon for a number of years -- I still remember her bringing a bowl of hummous, still warm from the pressure-cooked chickpeas, across the street and her husband would always go to a special shop for the freshest pita bread... oh, yum! What a treat that was. Now I should try making it myself. Thanks for this!

  20. Cathy, you too? I feel puzzled, because hummus seems to be just about the easiest thing to make :( Anyway, with your new pressure cooker, you could give it a try with freshly cooked chickpeas! If you like bulgur, you will love the kibbeh for sure :)

    Musical, yeah, it took so little time to make, and did end up as quite a feast :) "rich golden hues" is a nice way to put it ;) maybe I can pretend that I was going for that look??

    Lydia, that kibbeh recipe is totally worth trying...I enjoyed it so much. Roasted red peppers sounds like a delicious variation!

    Peridot, why, dear?

    Cynthia, I do know that blog, and yes, there is a whole section on hummus! That is one hummus-lovin' blogger and I do hope to learn from her.

    Lakshmi, thanks so much!

    Nabeela, the baked kibbeh were really delicious with the golden crust.

    Cinnamon, do try it...and as a bonus, it has your name-cinnamon-in it ;)

    Bilbo, I know myself, and making a light box does not seem very likely :D although it would be the professional thing to do. The pic editing optios make the pic look "fake" somehow...I am not getting the hang of it (what else is new, eh?)

    Lotus Reads, welcome! Yes, the book is an interesting one.

    Raakhee, I have not yet figured out a way to make really good pita bread. But I think some other thick bread like naan would work well here! Will work on some pita recipes soon :) especially ones not needing an oven.

    Lakshmi, no one! And we should not even try :)

    Dhana, I have been able to see my posts on FBD. Maybe I am just posting a lot less frequently these days :)

    Rajitha, ah, those hummus cravings :) it is really easy to make at home, and a lot cheaper, of course. But I know, sometimes only take-out can satisfy!

  21. Manasi, I think you will like the hearty taste of kibbeh. And er, no, you are not a lousy photographer...don't be absurd! :)

    Tee, the kibbeh was so yummy that I have been devouring leftovers for brunch ;) a problem, na?

    Laavanya, do try it! I think you will enjoy it!

    Smita, olives and hummus are such a delicious match! I am also going to try making olive hummus next time.

    Sandeepa, if I do learn something, I will surely share it!

    Linda, the bits of roasted cumin were really tasty in this hummus. Your Lebanese friend used fresh-cooked chickpeas too?? Good to know, because I do think that makes a big difference! Now fresh pita bread...what wouldn't I give to have a source nearby??

    Raaga, thanks!

  22. Yum, Nupur! I just returned from a trip to Jordan, where I ate the most delicious food - the best hummus, baba ghanouj, pastries...and it was such a pleasure to come to your blog and rekindle some lovely memories. By the way, I have started a blog with short stories. Do drop by if and when you have the time! The URL is:
    Thanks, and a big hug to Dale. I think he would be perfect as a dashing pirate for Halloween!

  23. Wow never tried making HUmmus at home, but gota chance to taste it at my frens place with pita bread, was awesome. But ur garlicky version is prompting me to try one... You have such incredible collection of recipes and photos. You are doing a great JOb! and my source of inspiration

  24. I love making hummus and like you, the more garlic the better! Will definitely be giving the kibbeh a try!

  25. Nupur, i am trying this out over the weekend. P and i just love hummus and any kind of mediteranean fare.

  26. I like your vegetarian kibbeh recipe, I had my reservations about the original kibbeh which is made with raw beef and bulgur. I make hummus at home and sometimes I throw in a roasted red pepper, which enhances the flavour, color and adds a nutritional punch. Have you decided on Dale's halloween costume?

  27. Nupur, the garlic hummus looks delicious. I recently tried spinach garlic hummus from local store and that was pretty good too!

  28. I so agree with you on the canned chickpeas tasting raw, Nupur. And for that yellow glow, try using tungsten balance in yr camera when you are shooting in artificial light.

  29. Hi Nupur,
    Have been reading your blog for a couple months now and have tried and liked a few of the recipes (carrot cake, crunchy granola etc) on your blog. Would like to present you with an award to show my appreciation. Please collect it.

  30. I'll have to look for that cookbook at the library. Thanks for reviewing it!

    About taking photos with artificial light: I think we all stuggle with this at this time of year. I really hate the photos currently on my blogs front page and wish I'd saved a few natural light photos from the summer. Here's a trick that might help, though. Buy some of the blue-tinted light bulbs like GE Reveal and use them in a lamp placed beside the food you're shooting. That will help with the yellowish cast.

    (But even in artificial light, your food looks yummy!)

  31. I agree about the roasted garlic. The flavor is bold without being overpowering. I never tire of hummus. Ever.

  32. Kamini, are you serious??? You ate the real thing, then! And I'm heading off to your blog right now...

    Padma, it is sooo easy to make at home, do try it! And thank you for the sweet words, my dear :)

    Sasha, the kibbeh are *delicious*, a great addition to the mid-Eastern repertoire :)

    Priyanka, We love Mediterranean fare too! And both these were delicious and worth a try :)

    Bulbul, I'm definitely going to try the red pepper version next. Yup, Dale's costume is in the making...will post about it next week.

    Mandira, oooh, spinach garlic hummus sounds like a delicious variation, and I bet it was a lovely green hue as well! Thanks for the tip, Mandira!

    Suganya, oh good, you feel the same way about canned chickpeas in hummus! I thought I was going crazy, because the whole world uses canned ch. for hummus without a probem :D
    Thanks so much for the tip...I'm going to see if my camera has this function.

    AA_mom, thanks so much! I appreciate it :)

    SusanV, it was published just a month ago, so it may not be in the library yet. But maybe they will get it with some prompting from you :)
    ooh, thanks for the tip! I'm going to try it!

    Susan, I know, it is addictive stuff. We ate enormous quantities of it when I made it!

  33. Nupur - I have never tried making hummus at home.. but now will definetly try it out sometime soon!
    Liked your STl restaurant reviews too - I am from the same place too!!

  34. The hummus looks amazingly good Nupur! I am a true garlic addict!!

  35. looks yummy love to try the recipe

  36. Nupur, thanks for taking time to cook from the book, or at least be inspired to cook from the book and to blog about it.

    Your comments have touched me and made me happy about investing in writing the book.

    Your observations are quite spot on!

    Hope you try some of the other dishes as well... the enchiladas, perhaps? You may be surprised once you eat them.... some people that have now made them quite a few times, are calling them the "no heart burn enchiladas".

    I LOVE hummus and the roasted garlic makes the garlic flavor acceptable to me. I am not always impressed by garlic in Hummus, but when I make it, I feel roasting really helps. Thanks for sharing your variations.


    Suvir Saran

  37. Hey Nupur.. I just made this hummus. Really nice. Thanks for the recipe! Cheers!

  38. I am a new blogger and I share your views on taking photos in winter - havent reached that stage yet, but will get there.
    I also like Suvir Saran's recipes and have tried quite a few from American masala.
    I love your blog and am going to try the potato kibbeh with the bulgur that I haven't used yet, but was very eager to buy.


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