Sunday, April 2, 2017

Mediterranean medley

 I'm appalled to see how long it is since I've done a new post here. Of course I have been cooking, rather a lot, because my son needs decent dinners more than ever - he's juggling part-time teaching and university.  And I seem to have had more than usual to deal with - the groups I belong to have all sprung into action lately, requiring me to do things (all involving writing), rather than just being supportive. So I've had lots of practice at concocting appealing meals which don't require much effort. 
         Saturday night's dinner worked pretty well. I'm calling it "Mediterranean medley" as a kind of homage to those cringeworthy titles so beloved of 1970s magazine recipes stepping out into the then unknown (to most of us) world of foreign food. It was loosely based on Middle Eastern dishes - Jonathan's really keen on them, and I've loved them ever since I discovered Claudia Roden's Book of Middle Eastern Food in 1972. Here's what I wrote about it in my memoir:
Nancy Spain and Katharine Whitehorn had provided the absolute basics I needed to know, but there was much more to it than that: they were real writers who persuaded me that I could be, like them, a woman writer who cooked properly. In terms of food, Claudia Roden was on another plane altogether. She opened my eyes to a different kind of authenticity, based on intimate knowledge and love of what she was describing. For the first time, I began to understand fully what food, cooking and eating were about.
Only part of what I made on Saturday could be described as authentic, but taken as a whole it worked very well. We had hummus, Greek salad with feta, cucumber, tomato and olives, cucumber with garlic and yoghurt, and pita pockets spread with hummus and garlic mayo (bought) and filled with grilled Angus beef burgers and finely chopped cabbage salad. (Cabbage salad is entirely absent from Claudia Roden's book, but I had a large cabbage and no lettuce, so a bit of invention was called for.)

The hummus I usually make is the most basic kind - and the cheapest (much cheaper than bought hummus, and nicer). I see I've never put the recipe up on the blog, so here it is. Claudia's begins with cooking the chick peas, but thankfully there's no need to do that now - the tinned ones are fine, though you do need to rinse them well.

(Adapted from A New Book of Middle Eastern Food)

1 450g tin of chickpeas, drained and rinsed
2 tsp cumin (optional)
2 large cloves garlic
50-90 ml fresh lemon juice
50 ml olive oil
salt to taste
warm pita bread to serve

Put the garlic in a blender or food processor and process to chop it finely.
Scrape down the bowl and add the chickpeas, cumin, half the lemon juice, half the olive oil and a little salt. Process and taste.
Add more lemon juice, oil and salt until you have the texture and taste you like (it should taste both lemony and a little salty, but not too much so). If it's still a bit thick, you can add a dash of water.
You can serve it with little black olives, a dribble of olive oil or some finely chopped parsley on top.

You can experiment with adding other flavours - ginger, sun-dried tomato - but I really prefer it plain. People often think you need tahina (sesame seed paste)to make hummus, but it's fine (and a good bit cheaper) without it. (Tahina gets a rather rancid taste quite quickly in the fridge, so don't be tempted to save by buying a large amount,as I once did). If you do want to add it, here's a later version of Roden's recipe.

Hummus bi Tahina
From Arabesque, Clauda Roden

1 450g tin of chickpeas
2 lemons, juice of
3 Tbsps tahini
3 garlic cloves
4 Tbsps olive oil

1 Tbsp olive oil
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp ground cumin
2 sprigs parsley, finely chopped

Process the garlic in a blender or food processor until finely chopped.
Drain the chickpeas and rinse well.
Add to the garlic, then add the lemon juice, tahina, garlic, olive oil, and salt.
Process to form a smooth texture.
Taste to check. If it is too thick, or not well flavoured enough, add a little more lemon juice and/or olive oil or salt.
Serve on a flat plate, garnished with a dribble of olive oil, a dusting of paprika and ground cumin (this is usually done in the shape of a cross) and a little parsley.
Serve with warm pita bread for dipping.

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