Glorious garbanzo dips

Tastes in humous differ depending on people's backgrounds and experiences.

homous 88 248 (photo credit: Yakir Levy)
homous 88 248
(photo credit: Yakir Levy)
Tastes in humous, the quintessential Eastern Mediterranean chickpea spread, differ depending on people's backgrounds and experiences. Those of us with Israeli tastes tend to like humous with plenty of tehina - sesame paste - and with a little olive oil drizzled on top. Americans often like theirs more lemony and with olive oil mixed in, as is often found at Greek eateries. If you shaded a map of the eastern Mediterranean according to the proportion of tehina in the humous, the color would deepen from west to east, ranging from the lightest in Greece, where humous often has no tehina, to the deepest in Israel and her neighbors along the Mediterranean's eastern coast. Versions of humous that I tasted in Turkey were light in tehina. Ozcan Ozan, chef and author of The Sultan's Kitchen, makes his humous with equal amounts olive oil and tehina blended into the chickpeas, along with garlic and plenty of lemon juice. To vary the recipe, he recommends sprinkling the humous with toasted walnuts or with hot clarified butter mixed with Turkish hot red pepper, a popular topping in Turkey for other foods as well; I loved it on red lentil soup. Ozan notes that in eastern Turkey people like their humous hot. This is how humous was served to me in Acre, and it was wonderful. Turks also make chickpea spreads called "nohut ezmesi" that are not like Middle Eastern humous. One that appears in Binnur's Turkish Cookbook features seasonings that are decidedly unusual to the Israeli palate - in addition to olive oil and lemon juice, the humous is flavored with cinnamon and topped not only with pine nuts, but with currants as well. A few years ago, when we visited Gaziantep in southeast Turkey, our friend Filiz Hosukoglu took us to a chickpea sandwich shop - a booth inside a semi-outdoor produce market that was patronized by local workers. Everyone sat together on long benches and ate the same lunch - warm chickpea sandwiches, prepared as simply as could be. The chickpeas were coarsely mashed and came rolled up with a salad of chopped parsley, onion and red pepper, inside Turkish flat bread, with hot red pepper sauce if you wanted. It was delicious and healthy, and good to remember on those days when you're looking for something quick to make from a can of chickpeas. As a legume, chickpeas have healthy protein, are rich in fiber and low in fat. How to vary the flavors of humous also diverges according to people's origins. Israelis and Lebanese people enjoy humous topped with toasted pine nuts or whole chickpeas or, in restaurants, with warm cooked mushrooms, fava beans or sauteed ground beef. In addition to the basic flavorings of tehina, garlic, lemon juice and salt, some Israelis and other Mideasterners like their humous extra lemony or extra spicy, with the addition of hot pepper paste. A Jordanian woman I met several days ago told me she adds cumin to her humous. Humous has become so popular in Los Angeles that you can find it in just about every supermarket as well as in countless restaurants, whether or not they have a connection with the Mideast. And in many households, once people learned how easy it is to prepare homemade humous, it became a favorite spread to serve to guests. Americans like to introduce non-Middle Eastern flavors into their humous, like sun dried tomatoes and pesto. Recently my American neighbor Kristina Nieves made a creative version of humous flavored with roasted sweet red peppers and fresh basil. She garnished it attractively with strips of roasted peppers and basil sprigs. It was light, smooth and delicious, and is a useful way to sneak nutritious vegetables into sandwiches. FAIRLY LOW-FAT HUMOUS Humous makes an important contribution to low-fat cooking because you can keep it on hand as a light spread for bread instead of butter. By using canned chickpeas, you can whip it up in no time. If you like, garnish the humous with olives. If you have cooked dried chickpeas, the flavor will be even better; use their cooking liquid instead of water. 2 or 3 large garlic cloves, peeled Two 400-gram cans chickpeas (garbanzo beans), drained and rinsed 3 to 4 Tbsp. tehina (the paste, not the prepared sauce); or 2 Tbsp. tehina and 2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil 1⁄4 cup strained fresh lemon juice about 1⁄2 cup water salt to taste 1⁄2 tsp. ground cumin (optional) cayenne pepper (optional) Extra virgin olive oil (optional, for sprinkling) paprika (for sprinkling) 1 Tbsp. chopped parsley Mince garlic in food processor. Add chickpeas and process to chop. Add tehina, lemon juice and 1⁄4 cup water and puree until finely blended. Add more water if necessary so that mixture has consistency of a smooth spread. Season with salt, cumin and cayenne to taste. (Spread can be kept about four days in refrigerator.) To serve, spread humous on plates. Drizzle it very lightly with olive oil and sprinkle it with paprika and chopped parsley. Makes 2 1⁄2 cups, about 8 servings. Variation: Red Pepper Basil Humous: Add 2 roasted peeled red peppers - homemade (see Note below) or purchased to pureed chickpeas in food processor. Omit cumin. Add 1 to 2 tablespoons finely chopped basil to the finished spread. Serve garnished with strips of peeled roasted red peppers and basil sprigs. Note: To peel sweet or hot peppers: Preheat broiler with rack 2 to 4 inches from heat source, or far enough so peppers just fit; or heat grill. Broil sweet peppers, turning every few minutes with tongs, about 15 minutes, or hot peppers for a total of about 5 minutes, or until their skins are blistered and charred; do not let them burn. Put them in a plastic bag, close bag and let stand for 10 minutes. Peel using paring knife. Halve peppers; be careful because they may have hot juice inside. Discard seeds and ribs, and pat dry. Do not rinse. SPICY TOMATO HUMOUS This humous is flavored with tomato sauce instead of tehina. Make it as hot as you like. Roasted hot peppers give it a lovely flavor. For a quicker option, flavor it with s'hug (Yemenite hot pepper paste), harissa (North African hot pepper paste) or your favorite hot sauce, or with cayenne pepper. Use tomato sauce that doesn't contain sugar. 2 large garlic cloves, peeled two 400-gram cans chickpeas (garbanzo beans), drained 1 to 1 1⁄2 tsp. ground cumin (optional) 3 Tbsp olive oil 1⁄4 cup tomato sauce 2 Tbsp. lemon juice, or to taste about 1⁄4 cup water 2 or 3 large hot peppers, roasted and peeled (see Note above), minced, or about 2 tsp. hot sauce salt and freshly ground pepper Mince garlic in food processor. Add chickpeas and process to chop. Add cumin, oil, tomato sauce, 2 tablespoons lemon juice and 1⁄4 cup water and puree until finely blended. Add more water if necessary so that mixture has consistency of a smooth spread. Stir hot peppers into chickpea mixture. Add salt and pepper. Taste, and add more lemon juice, hot sauce, salt or pepper if needed. Makes 2 1⁄2 cups, about 8 servings. Faye Levy is the author of Feast from the Mideast.