Is it Ellen Gould Ventura? or Ellen Ventura Gould? I get so confused with multiple appellations. Do you know that Francisco Franco's complete name was "Francisco Paulino Hermenegildo Teódulo Franco y Bahamonde Salgado Pardo de Andrade"? Not too bad for a vicious little munchkin who was known around the palacio as "Paquito" and amongst the general population as "El Coño", "General Gilipolla" or in Catalunya "Don Capoll." Anyway the name is officially Ellen Ventura Gould and she is undoubtedly one of the best cooks I know. Given her predilection for all things holistic and homeopathic one might think that her cooking would skew towards sprouted wheat germ and mashed yeast but no... there is nothing overly beige or cardboardish in her chow. She's got major chops... in both cooking and singing because her day job is teaching people how to sing and leading her band Mashala. You see Ellen is a Canadian Sephardic Jew who 12 years ago convinced the family into packing up and move to her Sephardic homeland... España. Ellen's Sephardic roots are expressed in most everything she does and particularly her music and her cooking.
The quest was hummus. For me hummus is a set piece, a fundamental, a basic, a non-meat cornerstone that in no way leaves you wanting a little something more... something like say a nice fat pork chop. I decided that we'd explore the two extreme's of this dish. I would attempt the Israeli/Lebanese smooth and creamy version (coming in the next post) while Ellen would take us to the desert where the the ladies of the campamentos might not have food processors and robo vacuum cleaners but they do have heart, soul, good voodoo and forks... Warning: a mastery of this utensil will be required to execute this dish.
We'll talk about the history of hummus and garbanzos in a future post but for now let's get cooking... or in this case mashing.
So without further ado i present Ms. Ellen Gould and her Syrian "chunky style" Hummus.
- 1 500 gram (1 pint) jar or can of garbanzo beans (save the liquid). Yes you can soak and then simmer the beans and in my version we'll do it from scratch but there is no sin is using ready to eat garbanzos... it's works and tastes just fine. Just buy good ones.
- Reserved liquid from garbanzos
- 1 3rd of a cup (70 ml) of Tahini (If you can get some good stuff from the Middle East... also you could easily double this quanity... Tahini is actually a pretty subtle flavor.)
- A bunch of parsley
- 2 cloves of garlic (Again the amount is very subjective... but beware of the garlic "blooming" after you have stored it for awhile. I love garlic but it can work very well at a lower volume.)
- Juice of 1 lemon
- Extra virgin olive oil
- 2 tablespoons cumin seeds
- Salt to taste
- Pimentón (Spanish ground smoked red pepper from the pueblo of Vera is the best... look for "de la Vera") or a good paprika.
Over medium to high heat and stirring and or shaking pretty much constantly (the pan... not the cook) toast the seeds in a frying pan until they begin to pop. I should take less than a minute. It's a smell thing... when you can smell them they are ready... and an aural thing... and it sounds like this:
Finely chop the bunch of parsley. Insider info: Ellen sprinkles a little salt over the parsley as she's chopping it. In a later post we'll try to figure out what the science behind this and other "Grandama's Secrets."
Peel two cloves of garlic and then mash them until they are pretty pulpy in a mortar and pestle. Add a little olive oil to make it a bit more pasty. In lieu of a mortar and pestle you can just chop up the garlic finely... but the mortar a pestle really does a great job of this. Go ahead... get one, they're cheap.
Toss the beans, tahini, toasted seeds, parsley, garlic, the lemon juice and maybe a table spoon or two of olive oil into a large sturdy bowl and give it a hearty mix with your favorite wooden spoon, paddle or... your hands (more on this later). We are about to commence with our basic desert dweller food prep technology. First let's set the tone. Put on some Lebanese Arabic jazz from Toufic Farroukh or something from the amazing oud player Charbel Rouhana or Fairuz... OK I know this is supposed to be a chunky Syrian style hummus and I'm recommending Lebanese players to accompany it's creation but it's OK... the garbanzos will be none the wiser will make the trip from beans to hummus without problems. Wait a minute, what am I thinking about.... why not add some Ellen and her band Mashala to the mix? Well I would if I could but the band has not been digested by Spotify or I Tunes... Dang... I'll give you more info on Ellen and the band in a future post.
OK, now that we have that out of the way... take the a fore mentioned fork and begin to mash everything in the bowl. Basically your goal should be to turn these distinct ingredients into a lumpy oat meal like mass or mess as the case may be.
Take your time, it will take as long as it takes. Pay attention to the textures, the smells and the colors as you bond with the ingredients. Let your labor and senses transport you to the arid Middle East. If you can't begin to smell camels you are not trying hard enough.
At this point I want you try a little sensory experiment. We are actually going to touch our food. OK remove all clothes and physical ornamentation and wash and and dry your hands... I lied about the clothes... and return to the hummus in progress. Now I want you to do a little "mashifacation", with your hands. Get in there and squeeze that stuff until it's nice and smooth. Close your eyes. Listen to the music. Keep massaging your dinner. Habibi, can you smell the camels and the campfire? No... keep squeezing.
At some point you are probably going to decide that it's a little dry and not all that similar to the accompanying pictures. The solution to this is to gradually add as much of the reserved garbanzo liquid as needed to get to where you have to go. You may also add a bit more olive oil but beware, oil will not really make it smoother, only more oily... if push comes to shove you can always add a little of good old H2O.
OK come back to reality, breath deeply, wash your hands and put back on your clothes and let the hummus rest in the refrigerator for at least an hour.
To serve get out your most beautiful plate and apply the hummus in a inch to 2 inch circular swath. Drizzle with more olive oil and sprinkle on some pimentón. Or is it the other way around? Get out a nice chilled Abariño and pour yourself a glass. Toast/burn some middle eastern bread directly on the flames of your gas range if you have one... in the oven or toaster if you don't... in this case charcoal is our friend... now dip the bread in the hummus... eat... and smell the camels.