Hummus has succumbed to the fusion evolution. You may now find hundreds of variations that have not a single ingredient common to the original puree of chic peas, tahini, garlic and lemon.
Hummus is the Arabic word for chic pea. So when someone from the Middle East - where the dish originates - says hummus, they always mean “with chic peas”. (Or garbanzo bean - same thing.) That could mean a dish with the whole legume as an ingredient or it could be the silky puree that has catapulted hummus onto the world stage as some kind of dip.
The transition of hummus to mean any pureed dip, where cooks take great liberties with the ingredients, is far from an unusual phenomenon in the culinary world. Look at curry, for example: it started as a sauce and has spawned an impressive worldwide lineage of variations that are far from its original self.
This is the nature of cuisine and a beautiful thing, if you ask me. Why not allow an accepted idea to morph and evolve through the contribution of innovative ingredients, flavors, techniques? When we approach food, and life, this way, our possibilities are forever expanding.
However, I do believe in maintaining some integrity of the original dish. When I am taking liberties with a traditional recipe, I will always include some key element of the original. So you will never find a hummus recipe from me with neither chic pea nor tahini. The tiny bit of Puritan in me insists.
Otherwise, anything is possible.
Winter squash as well as sweet potatoes make ideal substitutions for chic peas when reinventing hummus. The orange flesh of sweet potatoes, pumpkin or butternut bring a vibrancy that chic peas cannot. I love the sweetness and color they contribute. The rich, bitter silkiness of tahini shares an earthiness that bring the two into a harmony that just makes sense. I prefer these two together to chic pea hummus any day.
I love any recipe that calls for roasted squash or sweet potatoes. There are few easier tasks in the kitchen than throwing one of these onto a baking sheet and into the oven to be forgotten for a bit. (And no peeling required!) Roasting either of these two winter vegetables with the end goal of pureeing means an almost irreverence to the kitchen timer. Let them go awhile (up to an hour) until they’re so soft inside their skins, your job is mostly done for you. Let them cool to the touch, then scoop out the glossy flesh. Discard the skins.
Below is a recipe that simply uses sweet potatoes as a replacement for chic peas. Otherwise the tahini, garlic and lemon juice are standard. A little salt, of course. And a bit of cumin.
A further suggestion is given for taking the sweet potato hummus to the next level of exotic: a Persian incarnation. I’ll go this extra step when I am trying to impress someone. Pomegranate seeds are little jewels, anyway; so they alone make a huge impact. And they’re in season now.
Preheat oven to 350
On a baking sheet, place:
3 pounds sweet potatoes or any kind of sweet winter squash, like butternut
You can leave the sweet potatoes whole. Squash will need to be cut in half and baked cut side down. A little spray of olive oil on the pan will keep it from sticking.
Bake for 1 hour or so, until a fork pierces the skin easily.
Let the sweet potatoes cool slightly and then scoop out the flesh into a food processor or high speed blender.
¾ cup Tahini
2 cloves Garlic
Juice of 2 Lemons
2 ½ teaspoons Salt
½ teaspoon Cumin ground
Process until smooth. Taste and add more of any of the seasonings to your liking.
You could stop here and enjoy this version of the sweet potato hummus with a little olive oil on top, or swirl in some pesto.
Or to add the Persian influence, process the following with the ingredients above:
½ Roasted red pepper
1 teaspoon cinnamon
And then garnish with any combination of the following:
Drizzle of pomegranate molasses
Fresh mint, chopped or whole
Recipe copyright Rhona Bowles Kamar 2018
Working with tahini is an act of faith and perseverance. You must be able to hold fast to your conviction that everything will turn out fine.
When it's fresh, sesame seed butter is smooth and a bit runny. That can deceive you into believing that making a sauce with it will be a breeze. (Not-so fresh tahini can be dry and clumpy, like the last bit of peanut butter at the bottom of the jar. It will require extra patience.)
Jumping into the process of working with tahini will teach you things about yourself. Are you willing to keep going towards your destination or will you throw up your hands, give up? Will you cry and perceive yourself as a failure? Or will you declare yourself as capable as centuries of cooks who have made it through, and persevere?
Tahini is bitter on its own; so most recipes are going to call for the addition of water, citrus juice or oil. But when tahini meets liquid, it typically seizes up... appears to break.... becomes something scary, nothing like the lusciousness it was moments before.
Heed my advice: keep whisking. Don't take no for an answer.
Add a bit more of your liquid. Whisk some more. And watch the clumpy mess return to its former smooth self.
When working with tahini, always take the liberty to add more water or other liquid than the recipe calls for, but go slowly. Add a little at a time and then whisk. You get to decide how thin you want the sauce to be.
Arab-inspired Prana Bowl
The recipe below is a traditional Arabic tahini sauce that is often added to a salad of cucumbers and tomatoes or cooked chic peas. It can also be used to dress greens on a salad; like the Prana lunch bowl pictured below. To assemble the Prana Bowl: smear some hummus on the plate and throw in some cooked chic peas, dried figs or dates, cucumbers and tomatoes. Toss the creamy lemon mint dressing with fresh kale and/ or lettuce and pile the dressed greens in the middle. Some toasted pine nuts and zatar or sumac sprinkled on top would elevate the Middle Eastern vibe.
Serves 4 to 6
1 cup tahini
1 cup warm water
1 clove garlic
1/2 teaspoon salt
Juice of one lemon
2 tablespoons fresh herbs (mint, cilantro etc )
In a medium sized mixing bowl, add the tahini. Slowly whisk in the water, continually whisking until the tahini has returned to a smooth consistency. Whisk in the other ingredients. Taste and adjust any of the seasonings as you like.
Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to four days.
Product recommendation: organic tahini
When I make this sauce, it’s usually because I am making some kind of Middle Eastern or Indian rice and vegetable dish. It’s a dairy free version of an Indian raita or a Greek tzatziki sauce. The two are so similar. There are inevitably leftovers, which means for the next few days, I will put this stuff on everything else I eat: scrambled eggs, roasted vegetables, green salad. It’s so versatile; I should keep a batch made at all times.
And when you look at the ingredient list, that’s not such a bad idea. The fermented coconut or almond yogurt has probiotics. There’s vitamin c from the lemon juice. There’s the anti-inflammatory boost from the garlic (you could get crazy and add some fresh ginger too!) and cucumber. And fresh mint, like most fresh herbs, is full of antioxidants and other phytonutrients. Research here.
Veganizing a cucumber yogurt sauce has been pretty easy for a while with all the soy yogurt products on the market. But until recently, if you were vegan and soy free, it wasn’t an option. I love both the So Delicious brand of coconut yogurt and the Kite Hill almond yogurts that are readily available now. Look for plain, unsweetened varieties of any nondairy yogurt you choose for this recipe.
Coconut milk yogurt tends to be a little thicker and a brighter shade of white than almond milk yogurt. But those details are negligible. Experiment with both, as well as the other brands on the market, to discover which kind best suits you. Always look for brands without added preservatives like carrageenan. The only ingredients necessary are the nut milk, probiotics and something like guar or xanthum gum or pectin which are natural thickeners.
You could handle the cucumbers a number of ways for this sauce. You could leave the skins on. I sometimes do if I am fortunate enough to have an organic cucumber in my possession. You could peel and discard the skins. If the tiny seeds don’t bother you, leave them in. I tend to deseed most things: it’s a texture thing for me.
You could shred the cucumbers into the sauce. Or you can dice them. The size of the dice is also completely subjective. You can dice the cucumbers large, medium or small. How much of their presence do you want to feel in the sauce?
Lately I have been mincing the peeled and deseeded cucumbers with a micro grater so that the flesh melts into the sauce, contributing flavor but little of the normal crunch.
Serves 4 to 6
Two 5.3 ounce containers coconut or almond milk yogurt, unsweetened and plain
½ medium cucumber, peeled and finely grated
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
½ teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon ground cumin
4 to 6 sprigs fresh mint, chopped fine
Juice of half a lemon
Mix all the ingredients together. Taste and add more lemon, garlic, salt or cumin to your liking.
I would love to forage for ramps one day. I would do it more for the photo opportunity than for the fun of digging around the wet floor of the woods. I imagine the sun coming through the trees and hitting the little patches of graceful ramp leaves and how beautiful that would be.
I wonder how many times I might have walked over a crop playing in the woods as a child. My grandfather, a farmer, never talked about ramps or brought any home from the woods around the farm like he did persimmons and papaws. That leads me to believe ramps didn’t grow in that part of rural Kentucky. I had never heard of the precious wild spring onions until I was already grown.
And truthfully, I didn’t pay much attention when I did hear about them - at first. It’s one of those things in life that might stay on the periphery of your consciousness, then one day come into full focus. That’s when my devotion set in.
Ramps have a cult following. Here’s why: they grow wild (intrigue), they have a short season (rare) and they are in short supply (coveted). It’s as much these reasons as their flavor profile that has made them so hot in recent years. Though they are wild onions, I often forget that and call them wild garlic. The flavor suggests a hybrid of the two. It’s strong.
The leaves are what I really love about ramps. Otherwise, I would stick to my favorite green onion, the leek. Ramp leaves are beautiful. They’re long and triangular and elegant. You could use a small bunch to fan yourself, if temperatures were high in late April, early May. The bulbs are like a regular green onion, small, pungent. But the leaves are hearty in volume, delicate in texture, and can be prepared in countless ways. Their generous length means you can julienne them lengthwise and toss them with string pasta, like the recipe here.
It’s been so rainy here lately that I have skipped the farmers market, knowing that I was dangling on the edge of ramp season. This week, I scored a pound from a friend who had hoarded more than his share in his refrigerator. I took it as a sign that I should go ahead and share this recipe, despite being late in the season. I hope fate is as kind to you this weekend.
1 pound Jovial Gluten Free Tagliatelle or other string pasta of your choice
Butternut squash, about 1 pound
Ramps, 1 pound leaves and bulbs
Simple Mills Grain free Rosemary and sea salt crackers, 1 cup
Or substitute 1 cup any GF breadcrumbs + 1 tablespoon minced
rosemary + 1 teaspoon sea salt + 1 teaspoon olive oil
3 Tablespoons olive oil
2 cups vegetable or chicken stock
2 cloves garlic, finely minced.
Juice and zest of one lemon
¼ gram or generous pinch saffron, softened in half inch of warm water
1 ½ teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon white pepper
Preheat oven to 425 and slice the squash lengthwise in half. Spray a baking sheet with oil and lay the squash cut side down. Roast for 35 to 45 minutes or until soft. This can be done a day or two in advance.
Remove from the oven and scoop out and discard the seeds. Scoop the flesh into a blender and add half cup of the vegetable stock. Process until smooth.
Prep the Ramps
Cut and discard the thin stems, separating the white bulbs from the green leaves. Wash and dry both well. Finely mince the bulbs (this can be done super fast in a small food processor.) Set aside.
Julienne the leaves into long strips. Set aside.
Prep the Breadcrumbs
If you’re using the Simple Mills Rosemary crackers, process them into fine crumbs.
If you’re using gluten free breadcrumbs, toss them with the rosemary, lemon zest and olive oil and toast for a minute in a sauté pan on medium heat. Set aside.
Make the Sauce
Put a pot of water on to boil for the pasta. Meanwhile, heat a skillet to medium high and put in 1 tablespoon olive oil. Saute the ramp greens until they have wilted, about 3 minutes. Remove to a plate.
Add the other 2 tablespoons of olive oil and sauté 2 tablespoons of the minced ramp bulbs (reserve the others for another use) and 2 garlic cloves until soft, about 5 minutes. Deglaze the pan with the lemon juice/zest and the saffron/soaking liquid. Add the pureed squash and 1 cup of vegetable stock. Reserve the remaining half-cup of broth to thin out the sauce to your liking. Add the salt and pepper. Taste and adjust the seasonings, if needed.
Stir in the sautéed ramp greens. Add the pasta to the boiling water and cook 10 minutes or per the package instructions.
Remove the pasta with a slotted spoon to the sauce. Coat well with the sauce.
Garnish with the rosemary breadcrumbs.
Note about the pasta:
I used Jovial’s gluten free brown rice tagliatelle (made with eggs), because I wanted a pasta that would accommodate the long strands of ramp leaves. You can use any string pasta, of course. Jovial’s tagliatelle is as good as the handmade pappardelle I used to buy for this dish.
Note about the sauce:
The butternut squash gives this sauce structure and body. But it will thicken quickly, especially if reheated. You can add in extra vegetable stock to thin it out, if you like. Or even a little water.
Note about the breadcrumbs:
These are here purely for a textural punch and can be left out if you want. I’ve recently started keeping Simple Mills almond flour crackers (the rosemary is my current favorite) in the house at all times and discovered one night they make great breadcrumbs, with an easy whirl in the food processor. You can use any brand of gluten free breadcrumb and toast them with some chopped rosemary, lemon zest, sea salt and olive oil.
Note about Saffron:
Saffron is the arguably the most exotic and beautiful spice in the world. Words defy explanation of its flavor because there is no comparison. Its price point reflects its perceived value. It is beloved.
When cooking with saffron, you want to crush it between your fingertips and then soften it a bit in some liquid before adding it to a dish. A tiny bit of warm water or stock for three or four minutes is sufficient. Add the soaking liquid along with it. And never leave a single speck of it unused.
Click the link below to print the recipe:
prana is the common thread running through everything i love....the sun on my face...the sunlight through my camera.... breathing the ocean air... the sound of my breath...laughing with family + friends.