Brave New Kitchen: Mediterranean Dips for Summer

Do you find yourself eating appetizers, wishing they would last forever? Or watching trailers, secretly hoping the movie will never come? There’s something about sampling everything, about never having to press yourself to make a decision that is distinctly summery. That’s why I love the Mediterranean approach of mezze. It takes what was previously aimless snacking and makes it a proper meal just by changing the definition.

Baba Ghanoush is the simplest recipe and requires no special equipment and very little cooking skill. Plus, except for the half hour you let it sit in the oven, it takes about 5 minutes to prepare. Baba Ghanoush! The great democratizer!

You might be asking yourself why you should bother making your own hummus when it is so easy to buy at Trader Joe’s. The answer, which I’m sure you saw coming, is that it is simply a lot better. Homemade hummus will rock your world and still call you the next day. Nope, no three-day rule for homemade hummus! Also, I’m always afraid life or work will take me someplace that does not have a Trader Joe’s, and I want to be self-reliant enough to be able to make my own. I’m pretty sure Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote something about exactly this problem.

Both Hummus and Baba Ghanoush require tahini paste, which you may have seen in its watered down version in restaurants as a salad dressing. That’s not a value judgment, by the way, it’s actually watered down when you put it on salad. Anyway, good news is that means that tahini paste, although a specialty item, is available in most larger grocery stores. Sometimes it sits next to the peanut butter–fair, I guess, as it’s basically the sesame seed’s attempt at peanut butter. Sometimes it’s in the ambiguously named “Ethnic” section. For this reason, I recommend asking someone who works there.

Of these three dips, the Lebanese garlic dip toum is definitely the least well-known stateside. That is something I hope to change, starting now. Toum (literally, “garlic” in Arabic) is a light, airy, and intensely garlicky dip that can be eaten with pita bread, chips, vegetables, or meat–if you make kebabs this summer, you should have it around. I won’t lie, unimpressed parties will likely include people who don’t care for garlic (huge surprise) and those vampires everyone seems so into these days. But if garlic is your jam, toum is like biting into a little, private cloud of Garlic Heaven. America, I trust you’ll make the right choice.

Chloe majored in Arabic at Williams College and studied abroad in Egypt and Yemen. She describes the amount of hummus eaten in that time as roughly “a lot.” Read more

**Recipes**

Hummus
Serves 8

Ingredients
One 15.5 ounce can of chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2-3 medium garlic cloves (to taste)
1/2 cup tahini
1 tablespoon cumin powder
1 tablespoon coriander powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Drain and rinse the canned chickpeas.

Place the chickpeas, lemon juice, and salt in a blender. Process on medium for a minute, or until light and smooth.

Put the mixture in a mesh sieve over a bowl. Use a spatula to push the chickpea mixture through into the bowl, leaving the skins of the chickpeas in the sieve to be thrown out.

Rinse the blender to remove any skins left behind and return the chickpea puree to the blender.

Add garlic, tahini, cumin, coriander, and baking soda and blend until mixed.

While the blender runs, drizzle the olive oil into the hummus. Add extra salt and lemon to taste.

Place in serving bowl. Sprinkle with cumin and drizzle with extra olive oil.

Baba Ghanoush
Serves 4

Some Baba Ghanoush recipes call for grilled eggplant. It gives a smokier flavor, but I’ve put the cooked version here since more people have access to an oven than a charcoal grill. Feel free to substitute grilled eggplant into this recipe if desired.

Ingredients
1 large eggplant
1/4 cup tahini
3 medium garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
Salt to taste
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon chopped cilantro

Preheat oven to 400°F.

Wash the eggplant and pierce the skin in several places with a fork. Rub entire surface with a light covering of olive oil. Cook eggplant in oven for 30-40 minutes, or until very soft.

Remove from oven. Allow to cool, then peel off and throw out the skin. Cut the eggplant into small-medium pieces and place in a bowl. Use a fork to mash into a paste.

Add tahini, minced garlic, cumin and lemon juice to the eggplant and stir together. Add salt to taste.

Place in serving bowl, drizzle with olive oil, and sprinkle with cumin and cilantro.

Toum (Lebanese Garlic Dip)
Serves 4

Note that the safflower oil cannot be substituted with olive oil. Olive oil may be delicious and more likely to be in your kitchen, but it is too heavy and will not allow the texture of the toum to get as light and fluffy as it needs to. Safflower (or sunflower or grapeseed) oil is much lighter, and investing in a bottle only takes a couple bucks and a little planning.

Ingredients
4-5 garlic cloves, to taste
1 cup safflower oil
1/4 cup of fresh lemon juice
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 chilled egg white
1-2 tablespoons of ice water, to be added at the end if mixture does not bind (optional)

Put garlic and 1 tablespoon of the safflower oil in a blender and blend at medium until they become a paste. There should be no large chunks of garlic remaining.

Very slowly, drizzle 1/4 of the remaining safflower oil into the blender as it runs on medium.

Equally slowly, drizzle 1 tablespoon of the lemon juice into the blender, still on medium.

Repeat previous 2 steps two more times. This will leave you with roughly 1/4 cup of the safflower oil and a splash of the lemon juice, which will be added at the very end.

Add salt into the running blender.

Pour the chilled egg white into the blender. This will make the mixture suddenly very thick, so give the egg a minute in the running blender before moving onto the next step so the toum is properly whipped.

Slowly pour in the last of the safflower oil and lemon juice.

If mixture is still runny, add the ice water, one tablespoon at a time.

Originally posted on Wednesday, June 1st, 2011

2 Responses to “Brave New Kitchen: Mediterranean Dips for Summer”

  1. Julia

    June 6th, 2011

    I LOVE toum, and this recipe is great! I tried it a few years ago from a lebanese place back home but didn’t know what the “official” name for it was. I just made this tonight and found that neither my blender nor my food pro could get the raw garlic down to a paste consistency, so I opted to use about 3/4 tsp of crushed garlic from Trader Joe’s instead. Not quite as potently garlicy, but it did the trick!

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    May 15th, 2012

    [...] and the combinations, if you like, adding more or less of one ingredient, swapping guacamole for hummus, or really whatever strikes your fancy. That is the great thing about these little tartines. They [...]

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