Saturday, July 31, 2010

Roasted Red Pepper Hummus


Like chocolate chip cookies and marinara sauce, hummus is one of those things that you can buy at the supermarket but you're far better off making it yourself. In fact, if all the hummus you've ever tried has come out of a small plastic tub, please . . . get ready for a revelation.

Hummus ~ or more properly, hummus bi tahina ~ has been around for a really, really long time. Just how long, however, is a matter of great speculation. This tasty dip has been credited to sources from Saladin to the ancient Egyptians. What we do know with a reasonable degree of certainty is that it originated somewhere in the "Middle East" (a pretty big swath of land) and that it is pretty dang yum.

Hummus recipes abound, differing slightly from country to country and even chef to chef, but the basic formula is this: cooked chickpeas (aka garbanzo beans or ceci) are mixed with tahini, garlic, lemon juice, olive or sesame oil, and salt. Beyond that, the basic hummus may be flavored with a vast array of herbs, spices, or vegetables. Popular additions include parsley, mint, red peppers, cumin, chilies, olives, sumac, paprika, and/or cilantro.

Hummus may be eaten as a dip, with lavash crackers, pita wedges, or cut vegetables; a sandwich spread; or a sauce for fish, chicken, or falafel. And it gets major bonus points for being not only delicious but virtuous, too. Hummus is a good source of protein and fiber (thank you, chick peas), it's high in iron (ditto), and it packs a significant amount of vitamins C, B6, and folate, too.

Now here's the even better thing . . . all this delicious healthfulness can be yours for about 20 seconds of labor. That's right ~ freshly made hummus, at the touch of a button on your blender (or food processor). Let's get this party started.

Roasted Red Pepper Hummus
This version of hummus relies on roasted sweet red pepper to add a subtle tanginess and a gorgeous pink-orange hue. Enjoy it with toasted pita triangles, lavash, or cut veggies.
  • 2 cups cooked garbanzo beans* ~ reserve 1/2 cup cooking liquid
  • 1/4 cup tahini
  • Juice of 1/2 lemon (or more to taste)
  • 1 whole roasted red pepper, seeded*
  • 1 large clove garlic, quartered
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • Kosher salt to taste
  1. Combine all ingredients except reserved liquid in blender canister or food processor. Add 1/4 cup reserved liquid. Process in pulses until smooth, adding more liquid, if necessary, 1 tablespoon at a time, until desired texture is reached.
  2. Taste for seasonings and adjust if necessary. Let chill for 1/2 hour before serving.
Recipe Notes:
*Canned garbanzo beans work fine in this recipe; be sure to reserve the liquid from the can to add to the hummus.
*You can make your own roasted red peppers or the use the jarred variety. Either will give excellent results.
*By request: Make-Your-Own Lavash ~ a recipe (pictured above)

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Velvety Avocado Dressing

It's no secret that I'm the secretary of the "Obsessed with Avocados" fan club. I love Every. Single. Thing about them. (Well, there is one quality I'm not crazy about: their price in New York in January could be a little more friendly.) But anyway, I can't get enough of avocados' taste, texture, the way the peel practically sheds itself, the one giant pit that gives itself up without a fight. They even have a saucy backstory that's fun to tell at cocktail parties!

If you regularly read either of my blogs, you know that I love avocados in both savory and sweet applications, and they're one of my favorite foods to experiment with. When I can get them, I buy the net bags that go on sale at my local Sam's Club for $3.50, making the price of each avocado an incredibly awesome 70 cents. And then . . . playtime in the kitchen!

It was, in fact, one of these net bags bags that yielded the following recipe. The last avocado in the bag was a bit soft, a little bruised and blotchy when I cut it open. Of course, it was perfectly fine. I could have eaten it straight away, sprinkled with lime juice and kosher salt. But I had salad in mind for dinner, and I was committed to that. Now, aesthetically, a bruised avocado is no one's idea of a good-looker, and if you're feeding the unobsessed, it's worth bearing this in mind. I decided to effect a little camouflage.

Blended into a gorgeous pale green dressing, this is even better as a dip (for pretzels, veggies, fingers) the next day, once the flavors have had a chance to develop. The avocado holds it's own against the more dominant flavors of shallot and garlic; and you can use lemon juice instead of lime if that's what you have on hand. Try this as a sandwich or burger spread too. Oh. Yeah.

Velvety Avocado Dressing
  • 1 large Haas avocado
  • Juice of 1 lime (about 2 tablespoons)
  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 1 large shallot, minced
  • 1 large clove garlic, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt, more to taste
  • 1/2 teaspoon Tabasco sauce (red or green, as preferred)
  1. Peel, pit, and slice avocado. Place slices in a medium mixing bowl and sprinkle with lime juice. Mash avocado with a fork or the back of a spoon.
  2. Add remaining ingredients to mashed avocado and blend using an immersion blender until smooth and creamy. (If you don't have an immersion blender, transfer avocado and remaining ingredients to a blender or food processor and process until smooth.) Chill until ready to serve.
Makes about 11/2 cups
Have some extra avocados ~ or the desire to eat some extra avocados? Check out these recipes:
From Eat Real:
 Avocado Panna Cotta with Mango Gelee
Savory Avocado Salad

From At the Baker's Bench:
Avocado Cake with Lime Browned Butter Icing

From other Foodie Blogs:
Feta Cheese and Avocado Mini-Frittata ~ from Kalyn's Kitchen 
Grilled Fish Tacos with Mango-Avocado Salsa ~ from Andrea's Recipes
Guacamole Hummus ~ from Gimme Some Oven!

Monday, July 5, 2010

Walnut Brittle with Orange Zest and Sea Salt

Walnuts, in my opinion, are the undersung heroes of the baking nut family. They lack the Euro-flair of hazelnuts, the blue-blood pedigree "pe-cahns," the visual drama of pistachios, or the sheer sexiness of those pricey little pignolias. But walnuts have their charms, and it's a short-sighted baker who fails to recognize them.

The Latin word for "walnut" is Juglans, which comes from Jupitar glans, which means something like "Jupiter's acorn" ~ a euphemism along the lines of "nut fit for a god." I'm not going to go that far, but I'm fond of walnuts, and I use them quite a bit in my home kitchen and my pastry work.

Walnuts are good right from the bag, tossed onto a bowl of yogurt or cereal, or straight into the mouth. That's fine and all, but it doesn't really allow this nutty little superstar to shine. All over the world, walnut-loving cultures have devised creative ways to enjoy them. Walnuts are preserved in vinegar in England and sugar syrup in Armenia and enjoyed as snacks. Those savvy Italian culinarians turn walnuts into pasta sauce and liqueurs. Walnuts figure prominently in the cuisines of India and the Middle East ~ in both sweet and savory applications.

And we've all heard much lately about the prodigious health benefits of the walnut, but since we'll be making candy here, I won't go too deeply into that ~ it makes me feel a little silly. But it does seem reasonable to mention that (according to the California Walnut Commission) in a quarter cup of walnuts, you can expect to find:
  • 4 grams of protein
  • 2.5 grams of ALA (a source of Omega-3 fatty acid)
  • 2 grams of fiber
  • Magnesium, phosphorus, and various antioxidants
Not too shabby.

So, while I've made brittle with every nut you can think of (and various seeds and crackers and other crunchies), I keep coming back to the walnut. Walnuts are rich and delicious, pair well with myriad other flavors, and are relatively inexpensive ~ which means you can make this candy any time you like . . . as often as you like.

This recipe is one of my rabbit-out-of-a-hat favorites that I go to when I need something very quick and nice for company or consolation. It is fairly impressive and will have complete strangers clutching your forearm, staring into your eyes, and saying in a low and imperative voice, "You simply must give me this recipe."

If you've never cooked with molten sugar before, please do read the recipe notes ~ nothing burns quite like boiling sugar. That said, don't be afraid . . . Set all your ingredients out in advance, prepare your workspace, and go for it. And get ready for contact.

Walnut Brittle with Orange Zest and Sea Salt
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 2/3 cup roughly chopped walnuts, toasted
  • 1 teaspoon orange zest
  • 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
  1. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and spray with nonstick pan spray; set aside.
  2. Place sugar in a small heavy-bottomed saucepan and add water; stir once just to moisten sugar. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat but do not stir. 
  3. Allow sugar to cook until light amber in color. If a portion begins to caramelize faster than the rest of the pot, swirl the pot gently but do not stir. Use a pastry brush dipped in water to brush down any sugar crystals that form on the side of the pot.
  4. Meanwhile, toss together walnuts, orange zest, and salt. When sugar is caramelized, add walnuts and give a brief stir to coat nuts with sugar syrup. Pour out onto baking sheet. Carefully, using a towel or oven mitt, tilt the sheet slightly (holding the parchment to anchor it) to allow sugar syrup and nuts to level out. (You can use a spatula, but your brittle may not be crystal clear ~ see Recipe Notes.) Allow to cool completely, then break into pieces and store in an airtight container.
Recipe Notes:
Caution ~ Cuidado! ~ Alert! ~ Warning! I can't emphasize this strongly enough. Boiling sugar is going to burn you (or anyone else who comes into contact with it) worse than boiling water will. Why? Because water cools down on your skin a lot faster than molten sugar does, which means that as long as it sits on your skin, it will keep burning it. You get the picture. So, please, PLEASE, play it safe with this stuff.  
  • It's a terrific idea to use long-handled implements (wooden spoons, heat-proof spatulas) when you're working with hot sugar. Also, you should prepare everything you need in advance so there's no scurrying around. Never, ever touch the surface of cooling brittle with your finger to see if it's set. (Why? If it's not, it will stick to your finger, burning, burning, etc.) If you must check it, lift the pan and touch the bottom. When the bottom is cool, your brittle is ready to break into chunks. 
  • I strongly suggest having a bowl of ice water at the ready. In the event that you do splatter some melted sugar on yourself, dip the offended body part into the water to cool the sugar down immediately. 
  • And finally, I keep my kids out from underfoot when I work with melted sugar. It's way too risky for me to have them there and risk their getting hurt. P.S. My kids are teenagers. 
  • Once you've stirred in the nuts and poured the mixture out onto the baking sheet, move it as little as possible if you want crystal-clear brittle. If you use your spatula to drag and distribute nuts around, it's likely that the sugar will begin to crystallize in your brittle, giving it a cloudy appearance. If this does happen, don't worry about it ~ it won't affect the taste at all, it's sheerly cosmetic.
Check out these other walnut recipes on my to-make list:
Chiles en Nogada (Chilies in Walnut Sauce) at Simply Recipes
Walnut Skordalia at Souvlaki for the Soul
Fesenjan: Persian Pomegranate Walnut Stew at She Simmers
Asparagus and Walnut Phyllo Pie at Closet Cooking
Cauliflower Tagine with Walnut and Mint Couscous

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