August 27, 2009

Homemade Hummus: Revised

Right now I'm coming off of a longer, more eventful and more relaxing break than I've had in a while. I was in Nantucket for a week hanging out, going to the beach, eating well and cooking some. My break ended with a lovely birthday dinner back here in St. Louis, which consisted of more eating well. Unfortunately, all I have to show for all these "good eats" is a revised version of an old favorite (and a few extra ice cream pounds)- not so new but definitely improved, hopefully like this year will turn out for me.

But onto the hummus...

I've been making homemade hummus for a long time. At first it was an attempt to save money and make something better tasting than the store-bought version, but unfortunately, it never quite surpassed my favorite stuff from the store. I fell into a rut of using the same ingredients (canned chickpeas, lemon juice, garlic, salt, tahini, olive oil, and water) in the same way time and time again and it was always fine but never great.

However, after a little fine-tuning and the wonderful addition of a Cuisinart, I think I've come up with a much better and only slightly more time consuming version of homemade hummus. My problems in the past consisted of overly pungent garlic, a not smooth enough consistency and a tinge of that not so pleasant canned food taste from the chickpeas. So this time I decided to sauté the garlic in some olive oil before adding it, employ the Cuisinart, and buy dried chickpeas, which I then soaked and boiled.

Sauteing the garlic reduced it's harsh and unrelenting aftertaste-leaving qualities while the Cusinart allowed for a kind of creaminess I never could achieve with a series of crappy blenders, and last but not least, using dried beans lent an aspect of freshness and flavor that's absent from canned varieties.

Homemade Hummus Revised

1 cup dried chickpeas, soaked for 24 hrs [overnight should be fine as well]
1 tablespoon sesame tahini
juice of half a large lemon
1/4- 1/3 cup reserved liquid (from boiling chickpeas)
3 cloves garlic (2 large, one small)
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
1/2 teaspoon salt
cayenne or hot paprika for sprinkling

Dump the soaked beans and the water they were soaked in, plus a little extra, into a large pot over high heat. Once the water begins to boil, reduce heat to medium to simmer the beans. Continue simmering until the beans have reached desired softness (about 30 minutes). While the beans are simmering pour the olive oil into a small saute pan over low heat and add the 2 large cloves of garlic. Saute until the garlic is golden in color and set aside.

Once the beans have reached desired softness, place a sieve over a pot to drain the beans and reserve their cooking liquid. Pour the beans into the Cuisinart along with the tahini, lemon juice, sauteed garlic and oil, raw garlic clove, salt and 1/4 cup cooking liquid. Blend until smooth, scraping sides as needed. Drizzle in more cooking liquid as the mixture blends to achieve desired consistency.

August 16, 2009

Unfussy Guacamole

I didn't start liking avocados until recently- come to think of it, I still don't know how much I actually like avocados; they don't have much flavor and are oddly creamy, but they are, however, a good ingredient. Because of their creaminess, avocados make a wonderful base for spreads and dips, but I've even seen them used in some raw food puddings (still a little too weird for me...).

I don't really have much else to say about avocados or this guacamole because we all know what guacamole is and what to do with it, but I'll leave you with a picture of the gorgeous heirloom tomatoes I used to make it.

Unfussy Guacamole
I like to make guacamole in small batches because the avocado oxidizes quickly and nobody likes brown guacamole. I've also found that lemon rather than lime, for whatever reason, helps slow this oxidation process substantially. I made 1 batch of guacamole with lemon and 1 with lime- the lemon one stayed green, while the lime on browned pretty quickly even with a plastic wrap seal flush with the top.

1 haas avocado, halved, seeded and peeled
1/4 of a large red onion, minced
handful grape or cherry tomatoes, quartered
1/4 yellow bell pepper, seeded and diced
1/2 jalapeño, seeded and minced
juice of half a lime or lemon
sprinkle of cumin (optional)
sprinkle of coriander (optional)
salt and pepper to taste

August 9, 2009

Raw Brownie Bites

Lately, I've been pretty curious about raw foods. I know this sounds kind health nutty of me but what can I say, I am kind of health nutty? But seriously, what raw foods promise is rather enticing: smoother digestion, enhanced energy, better health- sounds pretty good to me. Aside from all that, I'm also interested in the fact that raw foods move away from something we're all accustomed to doing: cooking our food. In addition, many of the raw dishes I've heard of strive to emulate, and often taste like, cooked food such as raw tacos, raw lasagna etc.

About a month ago I tried the raw tacos at Vegadeli (a vegan deli, as the name suggests) in St. Louis and though they weren't that much like real tacos, they were pretty good. I can't say I felt expcetionally energetic after eating them or any better than I feel when I eat cooked food, but maybe those effects take some time? Now that I think about it though, I definitely felt WAY better than I would have after eating real tacos. Anyway, the point is that these tacos piqued my interest in raw foods even more. Thus, I decided to experiment with some raw "cooking" at home (much more feasible now that I have a CUISINART- yes!).

I played it pretty safe and decided to make something I'd have the least chance of hating or messing up- a dessert of course! So I made these raw brownie bites and wow, they were so yummy, not to mention quick and easy. Just the dates and cocoa powder alone tasted like delicious brownie batter. Plus, you don't even have to turn on the oven or the stove- what more could you ask for in the summer?

Raw Brownie Bites
Adapted from Angela

1/2 cup dates, chopped and pitted
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder [come to think of it, I don't know if this is really raw]
1 tablespoon raw agave nectar
1/2 cup raw walnuts
1/2 cup raw almonds
~ 1/4 unsweetened shredded coconut, for rolling

Place the dates, cocoa powder and agave into the food processor and process until well blended. Next add the nuts and pulse a few times until the nuts are chopped into tiny pieces. Next, use your hands to roll the mixture into donut hole sized balls and then roll these balls in the shredded coconut. Store the brownie bites in the freezer until ready to eat.

August 2, 2009


I have to say, I love Ratatouille. Aside from it being particularly fitting when the times, both economic* and seasonal, are taken into consideration, it's absolutely delicious. The rich warm flavors of the stew make it taste like comfort food, but an ingredient list consisting of mostly fresh vegetables allows it to be anything but heavy.

I found these plum tomatoes (above), as well as most of the vegetables I used for this recipe, at the Tower Grove Farmers Market here in St. Louis. It's much smaller than the main farmers market in Soulard but nearly everything is locally sourced, which makes for a big plus in my book.

I'm not sure if you can tell from the picture, but these plum tomatoes are small- much smaller than any of the ones you'll find at the grocery store. And that's how a lot of the produce there was- small, irregularly shaped, real- it makes you wonder about the stuff we're so accustomed to buying in the grocery store.

But back to a less political and more gastronomical issue- Ratatouille. Removing the skin from the eggplant, I think, made an enormous difference in the dish because it allowed the small cubes of eggplant to break down as they sauteed and add both flavor and body to the stew. I served the finished product along with a dollop of goat cheese (not very traditional, but quite good), a sprinkling of fresh basil and a few hunks of good french bread and it quickly became one of the few hot dishes I've enjoyed eating in the depths of summer.

*Traditionally Ratatouille, which originated in Nice, France, was a peasant dish because of its cheap ingredients and ease of preparation

While I enjoyed this dish as a main course with goat cheese and baguette, you could easily have it as a side, serve it over pasta, use it as filling for an omelette, or as a topping for brusectta.
Adapted from a variety of sources, mostly Tartelette

1 medium onion, diced
4 cloves of garlic, 2 minced, 2 whole
1/2 large eggplant, skin removed and diced
1 zucchini, diced
1 red bell pepper, seeded and diced
1/2 yellow bell pepper, seeded and diced
about 2 cups tomatoes, roughly chopped [I used small plum tomatoes]
1/2 cup vegetable broth
1/3 cup tomato juice or V8
fresh basil
salt and pepper to taste
olive oil

goat cheese
french baguette

Prepare all the vegetables. In a large pot over medium heat saute the onion and garlic in olive oil until the onion is translucent. Then add the eggplant and more olive oil as needed and saute until golden in color. Then add the zucchini, then peppers, then tomatoes, salt and pepper and continue sautéing.

Next, add the broth and tomato juice, stir and cover to let stew for about 20 minutes. Add about a tablespoon chopped fresh basil, stir and replace the cover to let simmer on low for about 30 minutes. Uncover, stir and let simmer for a final 20- 30 minutes until most of the liquid has reduced.

Enjoy topped with goat cheese, fresh basil, and baguette.