Mini tour of the Middle East, appetizer style

Friends, there are a lot of countries in the world (SPOILER). And while when I originally set out on my cooking project I thought I would cook each and every one of them, it soon became clear to me that I just didn’t have the stamina or the desire to do so. So many countries have similar cuisines that it just became apparent some would be skipped due to the potential for redundancy. (Not to mention the arbitrariness of borders.) With that in mind, today I present a “mini-tour” of the Middle East – particularly Lebanon, Syria, Israel, and Palestine.

What binds these countries together? Well, today at least, the answer is simple: Hummus.

Clearly, hummus doesn’t count as a whole meal, but it is something I’ve never actually prepared from scratch before. It required rather the same amount of time and effort as some of the other meals I’ve made recently, and so I decided, I would blog about it. In addition to the hummus, I also made pita bread (which I then toasted into pita chips).

Recipes:

Authentic Middle Eastern Hummus

Pita Bread (bread machine-dough cycle)

For the hummus, I used dried chickpeas. These required an overnight soak. The recipe calls for 3 cups, but I only used two. They took about 1 hour to cook after bringing them to a boil. The recipe suggests adding baking soda, which I did, though I’m not sure exactly what its purpose was.

2 cups of cooked chickpeas proved to be too much for my blender to take in one batch (how I long for a Vita-Mix), so I split it in half. I ended up using a fair amount of the reserved cooking liquid, as well as nearly double the amount of lemon juice. I also salted generously and used the cumin liberally.

When all was said and done, it looked like hummus and tasted like hummus, though with a much creamier consistency. Next time I make it, I’ll use less tahini for sure, but other than that, there isn’t much that needs to be changed. This is a recipe that requires some planning ahead, but I think the end result is worth it. It’s definitely tastier than the pre-made stuff you can buy.

For the pita, I used my bread machine. Let me digress for a moment to talk about my bread machine. I love it, but with a caveat. I don’t actually like the bread it makes. Bread machine bread is oddly shaped and has a texture that isn’t quite right. I think baking bread in the bread machine really serves only for sandwich bread (although I did make a brioche the other day for French toast that turned out well. Not pretty, but it served its purpose). The true value of the bread machine is in the dough cycle. This takes the more tedious and time consuming part of bread making (the mixing, the kneading, the rising) and does it for you. The bread is then cooked in the oven. I’ve made several recipes this way with great results. There really isn’t much better than fresh hot bread, and it is great knowing exactly what, and what isn’t, in it.

Okay, digression over. So, the recipe I used for the pita uses the dough cycle. I’ve made pita by hand and it isn’t that hard, but we were having a playdate and I wanted to make life easy for myself. This recipe is great. The dough is easy to work with and cooks quickly. I baked my pitas in the oven because I knew I would be toasting them later, but I really recommend doing them on the stove top in a cast-iron pan. When you do it this way, you get the nice toasty spots, which definitely adds depth to the flavor.

To toast the pitas, I simply cut them into wedges and arranged them on a baking sheet. Once they were drizzled with olive oil and sea salt, they went into the oven at 400 degrees for about 15 minutes (until starting to become golden brown). Once out, they continued to firm up until I was left with a pleasingly crunchy chip that tasted way better than what you can buy premade (and a lot cheaper).

All in all, two perfectly acceptable snacks. Hummus is so ubiquitous now, it is easy to forget that it comes from a more distant place and time than the local Safeway. It’s worth remembering.

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