HOW TO TEACH AN FBI AGENT TO MAKE HUMMOS

In THE NIGHT COUNTER, Fatima is baffled by the FBI agent that visits her at home and claims to have a Middle Eastern background but doesn’t know how to make hummos.  A couple of years ago I wrote an article for Saveur about hummos and my own mother’s bafflement at its Americanization of  hummos, i.e. the need of U.S. manufacturers to give everything a “flavor,” as if it didn’t have enough flavor on its own.  There’s really no need for wasabi, pesto, olive tapenade, and pimento hummos.  It’s at its finest when its just the four ingredients man originally intended it to be:  chickpeas, tahini, lemon juice, salt and MAYBE garlic.

Back when I wrote the article, I researched and learned a lot about hummos, but today I’m an expert on how to survive on it.  For my first year in Abu Dhabi, it’s been my main meal for probably 5 out of the 7 days of the week.  With everything being new to me, it became my comfort food and a staple that didn’t make me simutaneously overwhelmed and underwhelmed,  like a lot of the multi-ethnic dishes that mirror the multi-ethnic world of Abu Dhabi.  I’m a food adventurer,  but sometimes you don’t want adventure. Hummos is just simple and uncomplicated, unlike everything else during the day.  And its even comforting to know that the same guy will be at the cashier at the Lebanese Mill and you’ll chat Middle East politics while you wait for your order.  And it’s the cashier at the Lebanese Mill that told me one day, “You’ve been looking too pale lately—go get a blood test.”  Turned out, he was right, I was very anemeic.  Hummos is pretty nutritious, but you can’t –or probably shouldn’t–live on hummos alone.

Here’s how Fatima expected the FBI agent to make hummos:

3 C. boiled chickpeas (or four cups, if planning on removing skins or using food mill).
1/2 cup tahini
3 to 4 T. freshly squeezed lemon juice (to taste)
1 small clove of garlic, crushed in mortar and pestle with salt
Salt to taste
Paprika
Chopped parsley

Remove skins from chickpeas (optional).  Place chickpeas in food processor and puree until the beans form a smooth paste (or process in food mill).  Puree beans for at least two minutes, pausing to scrap down bowl.

In a large bowl, mix chickpea puree with tahini and lemon juice. If mixture is too thick, add a tablespoon of warm water.

Place the mixture in a soup bowl and swish the hummos up the sides, creating a wide  well in the center.  Drizzle generously with extra virgin olive oil, leaving a little extra in the well. Garnish with paprika.  Place a teaspoon or so of parsley in the well.

Serve with pita bread, pickles, and olives on the side.

A Recipe From the Night Counter: Foul Medamos

In The Night Counter, Laila goes to the Arabic grocery in Detroit and decides for the first time in her marriage not to buy the ingredients to make her Egyptian husband foul.
Whether you write it out from Arabic as “foul” or “fool,” I’ll grant you that it doesn’t sound very appetizing in English.  But foul medamos is actually a staple of much of the Middle East, particularly Egypt, and an appreciated breakfast or late night dinner served up with hot pita.  Also know as “people’s food” because of its affordability, foul can be made so many different ways.  The only absolutely necessary ingredient that Laila or anyone else making foul would definitely need is the foul itself, which is dried fava beans that have been boiled until soft.  (Fava beans are also a key ingredient of another “people’s food”: falafel)

Many shops in the Middle East ladle up the steaming hot beans in a bowl and let you decide how to dress them—lemon juice and olive oil are a given, as is garlic usually.  But from there, you can go a lot of different ways—some like to mix it up with green chilis, others like to stir in chickpeas, still others prefer a swirl of tahini or to scoop it up with raw onions, some like it warm, some like it hot.  Here’s the way I imagine Laila would make it.

Foul Medamos

Foul Medamos from The Night Counter

Foul Medamos from The Night Counter

1 16-oz can fava beans, drained and rinsed
1 small red bell pepper, finely diced
1 small green bell pepper, finely diced
1 bunch of green onions, sliced
1 Persian-style cucumber, seeded and diced (optional)
¼ c. of chopped flat leaf parsley
Juice of two lemons
6 T. olive oil
1 clove garlic, crushed.
1t ground cumin
¼ t. red pepper –or to taste
Salt to taste

Wisk together the lemon juice, olive oil, garlic, cumin, red pepper and salt into a dressing.  Add the fava beans, peppers, onions, and cucumber.  Mix together gently so that the beans don’t  fall apart.  Add in the parsley.  Serve at room temperature or chilled, but allow at least half an hour for flavors to mix.

I marked the cucumber as optional, but really it’s all optional.  In fact, I think I’ve been known to make the same thing but using black beans and corn instead of the fava beans and calling it a Mexican salad.  Of course, that brings me to my theory of the continents being connected once via the similarity in recipes that seem to be so dominant in both Egypt and Mexico.  Of course, war, occupation and conquistadors could also explain that away.  But I digress.