Sunday, January 8, 2012

Middle eastern meal

A middle eastern meal, great for feeding vegetarians but with enough bulk, flavor, and textures for omnivores.
v Hummus- Hummus is a dip, a sauce, a meal, whatever you need it to be.  It’s like science fiction food- full of proteins and only the good types of fats and carbs, as far as I know.  It is made with three main ingredients- garbanzos, olive oil, and tahini (sesame paste).  You also want to add a bit of garlic for flavor and a few other spices.  If you have seen it in the grocery store, you know that western gourmets are always trying to improve it by adding a million different things, from roasted peppers to cilantro to the these-days ubiquitous curry.  I like basic hummus.
  Another favorite “improvement” is to grind the garbanzos coarsely or sometimes hardly at all.  I think this makes vegans and hippies think they are eating peasant food and therefore something more healthy.  Maybe they are.  But back in the day at the Falafel Hut in Knoxville where I first ate hummus, and later at Mona’s and Phoenecia in New Orleans, when I have had actual hummus made by actual middle-easterners, it is very smooth, on the verge of runny, and served on a plate with a bit of olive oil standing on its surface and a slice of lemon to squeeze on top if you like.  It may sound radical, but I trust Palestinians and Lebanese more than vegans and hippies on these matters.
   When I think of it, most the peasants I know like their food more processed than not.  Mexicans tend to like Bimbo bread, white trash like mac and cheese, hillbillies like oleo and karo syrup on white bread.  All these people like beans, corn, lots of other things, but few of them eat whole grains and bland pasty legumes in chunks.  They drink Co’cola a lot.  They tend not to like their beer to taste like yeast and rough grain, either. They like a lot of easy fat and starch, which burns off them like the summer dew, since they are working hard.
   None of which is in great praise of those foods, just saying that the peasantry isn’t really the final word on nutrition or taste, any more than nutritionists and gourmets and that one woman with her hair in a bun and a dog sleeping at her feet at the farmers market who delivers you a screed on the evils of eating anything she didn’t grow in her own fertilizer and offer to you at incredibly inflated prices.  That woman obviously has fertilizer to spare and doesn’t look healthier than anyone else wandering around at the mall to me.  Buy from the dude in the overalls but without a beard.  The one who doesn’t lecture you.
  Which brings us to our first important choice while preparing Hummus- canned garbanzos or dried garbanzos.  I think I might have already stated my lack of a preference for canned or dried beans.  Same with Garbanzos.  For me, it depends mostly on volume- if you are making hummus for two or three people, open a can or two, if you are cooking for a party, pressure cook a lot of them.  This recipe is for two cans of garbanzos, but some basic math will tell you how to change that around.
Chop up two cloves of garlic, add 4 tablespoons tahini, a teaspoon of salt, a few dashes of black pepper, 4 tablespoons of olive oil.  Put it all in the blender with two cans of chickpeas (garbanzos) , one can drained and the other undrained, and blend it up till it’s a nice creamy consistency.  Put it on a plate surrounded by warm pita bread cut into triangles.  Spill a little olive oil on top, quarter a lemon and put one quarter on each side of the dish to let people squeeze on at their discretion.

v Cucumber salad—
Use four medium cucumbers, preferably without bumps on the outside, since those form as the cucumber becomes more mature and a little bitter.  Peel the cucumbers and then slice them into rounds about a quarter inch or a bit less thick.  Lightly salt them and leave them in a covered bowl for about an hour and a half.  This should help them to shed any extra water and keep your salad from getting soggy.  Drain the cukes and add about a half cup of plain yoghurt.  Mix well.  Squeeze in the juice from a lemon.  Mix some more.  Now add the delicate lacey bits of some fresh dill, about a third cup or so of it, still largely intact rather than chopped.  Mix most of it straight in, then sprinkle the last of it over the top of the salad.  Put the whole thing in the fridge for about an hour or so then serve fresh and cold with your meal.

v Falafel— I think I mentioned before that I prefer a mix, but I use this recipe when I don’t have a mix:
Cook up a couple cups of chickpeas or open a couple cans.  Grind them up.  I use a corn grinder that clamps on to my counter that I bought in Mexico, but you can use a food processor or improvise, the main thing is that you want them ground and smooshed, but not turned into a paste.  Like a very dry cornbead batter almost.
  Now grind or blend or otherwise combine these spices.  I use a blender because I want them well mixed.  You can go anywhere from coarse to toothpaste consistency, but I recommend closer to coarse: three toes of garlic, a third of a cup of cilantro and also of parsley, two teaspoons of cumin, a tablespoon of salt, a tablespoon of baking powder.  Dice a medium onion very finely and mix it in. Now mix this blend in with the chickpeas using a spoon. Add a few tablespoons of unbleached all-purpose flour until the dough is no longer sticky.  Put the whole ting in the fridge for a couple hours while you cook other things for your Middle Eastern/Mediterranean meal.
Make into balls about the size of a small walnut and fry at about 375 in good cooking oil.  If they start to fall apart, add some more flour.  I have been so desperate that I added egg to hold it together, which doesn’t ruin the falafel, but it isn’t very authentic.  Then I learned the extra flour trick and it has worked well so far.
Serve these fried pieces rolled in either pita bread or flour tortillas.  Dress your roll with lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, cucmber salad, tahini sauce, yoghurt, whatever you like best.  I use cucumber salad like I made it above, lettuce, and a little salt.

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