There’s Hummus Among Us

As long as we’re talking about pitta breads, how about things to put on/in them?  Since my pitta bread don’t always puff up when I tell them to (even when I shout at them very loudly), I may have to admit that I often come down on the side of “on”-them-things out of necessity.  And, if you go to the trouble of making your own pitta in the first place, wouldn’t it be nice to have an “on”-them-thing worth raving about?  For me, that’s hummus.  Or when I’m feeling a bit less lazy, roasted eggplant and tahini dip.  But most of the time just hummus.

Now you may be wondering why hummus is rave-worthy.  After all, it’s kind of a boring beige color most of the time, and the stuff from the store can be hit or miss.  This is why making hummus at home is so worth it.  You can add sun-dried tomatoes, roasted peppers, or roasted garlic to jazz up the flavor.  And after the pulverizing is over, you have a blank beige canvas to decorate with everything from olive oil, to spices and herbs.

Unfortunately, as an avid practitioner of the non-recipe cooking approach, it’s a bit difficult for me to give you exact measurements for what you should put in your hummus, so please take the following recipe as a suggestion.  Google backs me up that there are a million different ingredient ratios for hummus, and that the following is a good middle-ground.  Perhaps more importantly, you should make a hummus that is delicious to you, so go wild!

Simple Hummus
2 cups cooked chickpeas (see below for cooking instructions)
1/2 cup chickpea water (from cooking)
1/4 cup tahini
2-3 medium cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
1/4 teaspoon salt or to taste
Juice of 1 lime or lemon
1 tablespoon olive oil
To garnish: olive oil, paprika, ground cumin, dried oregano, and diced fresh parsley.

First, in a mini food processor, pulverize the garlic, olive oil, and about 1/4 cup of chickpeas and 1/4 cup of chickpea water.  This should disperse the garlic better than just chopping and adding it in at the end.  Next I add the rest of the ingredients, except a bit less salt, and pulverize again.  At this point I taste the hummus.  It may need more salt, tahini, lime juice, or liquid.  I like my hummus to be smooth and not too dense, which means plenty of food processor action and sometimes extra liquid.  When you’re happy with your hummus, spoon it into a bowl and smooth out the top.  To garnish, drizzle some olive oil over the smooth top of the hummus; this helps keep the hummus from drying out.  Finally, sprinkle any or all of the spices on top.

Cooking Chickpeas
Chickpeas are some of the easiest beans to cook because it’s hard to overcook them.  The one thing you do have to remember to do (in addition to turning the stove off eventually) is soak them overnight first.  I recently started using just-cooked and still-warm chickpeas to make hummus, and I think the hummus was smoother than cold or canned chickpeas.  To soak the chickpeas, put them in a non-reactive bowl and cover them with at least twice their volume of water.  I usually cook 2-3 cups of dried chickpeas at a time and use them to make a few batches of hummus, chickpea patties (like non-deep fried felafel), or put them on salads.  To cook the chickpeas, drain the soaking water and rinse the chickpeas thoroughly.  Then in a medium or large pot, cover the chickpeas with two times their volume of water again and turn the heat on high until the water reaches a boil.  Then turn the heat down to maintain a simmer, and let the chickpeas cook until very soft.  This could take 1-2 hours depending on the freshness of your dried chickpeas and how long you’re willing to wait for softer chickpeas.  Save some of the cooking water for making hummus!

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Biscuits with Cheddar and Kale

This has got to be one of the crazier baked goods I’ve made lately.  Perhaps I’ll rationalize it by saying there’s pretty much nothing I won’t do to get rid of 2 cups of cooked greens.  I was also intrigued by the idea of biscuits that don’t contain butter (even if the reason they don’t contain butter is because they instead contain two cups of grated cheddar cheese).  Normally I try to only post recipes here that I know I would make again… this one?  Not so sure, at least not with kale.  The earlier versions of this recipe look more promising: the Cheddar and Mustard Greens version from Food in Jars and before that the Cheddar Scallion and Cheddar Chives recipes from Local Kitchen and Epicurious.  So while I will most likely never make these biscuits again with kale, I can’t get the thought of a caramelized onion and swiss chard version with a super-sharp cheddar out of my head.

Biscuits with Cheddar and Kale
(Makes 10-12 biscuits)
1 1/2 cups white flour
1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
2 teaspoons salt (or a bit less)
2 cups grated cheddar cheese
2 cups of cooked and finely chopped kale
1 cup milk + extra if needed

Begin by finely chopping the kale and cooking it in a little bit of oil until tender.  It is hard to know exactly how much raw kale will equal 2 cups cooked kale, so I just cooked a very large bunch of it and it was scarily close to 2 cups.  Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F before preparing the rest of the ingredients (grating cheese etc.).  Mix together the flours, baking powder, and salt and then add the grated cheese.  Next add the cooked kale and mix to distribute the greens evenly (they like to clump together).  Add the 1 cup of milk and mix the dough with your hands to try to form a single cohesive ball of dough.  Add more milk (1/4 to 1/2 cup) bit by bit if the dough doesn’t hold together.  When the dough is holding together nicely, use a spoon to scoop 10 to 12 portions of the dough onto a parchment paper-lined baking sheet.  Bake the biscuits for 18-20 minutes until golden brown.

Molasses Crinkles

It is almost the end of October and still the days are so hot as to drive me indoors during the middle of the day.  While this (what seems like abnormally hot) weather has been a near miracle for all the summer plants I started from seed in August, it does make for quite the shock when Christmas rolls around at just about the same time that my East Coast trained brain thinks it’s the beginning of Autumn.  So this year I’m flexing my holiday muscles by pulling out the molasses and pumpkin spice flavors ahead of schedule, starting with a recipe for molasses crinkle cookies from my Great Great Aunt given to me by my Grandma.

Aunt Madge’s Molasses Crinkles
1 cup brown sugar
1 egg
3/4 cup butter (1 1/2 sticks), at room temperature
4 tablespoons molasses
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon ginger
1/2 teaspoon cloves
2 1/4 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
Pinch of salt

The original instructions are as follows: “Drop by teaspoonsful on greased baking sheet.  Bake in a moderate oven.”  In case this isn’t quite enough direction, start by preheating the oven to 350 degrees F.  Cream the butter with the sugar and molasses, and then add the egg and mix it in.  Combine the dry ingredients (spices, flour, baking soda, and salt) in a separate bowl or on top of the wets, and mix the wet and the dry to combine.  Now drop the cookie dough in teaspoonsful on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper (or greased, if you prefer) and bake the cookies for 8-10 minutes depending on their size.  Eat with a mug of cold milk and think happy holiday thoughts.

Pecan Sandies

This is another installment in the Women in Physics cookie extravaganza.  Jen requested pecan sandies, and I was only too happy to oblige.  Unfortunately, I made them on a week when she was off gallivanting across California with her parents, so consider this “take 1”.  It’s probably good that I have an excuse to make these again because an accidental substitution of normal granulated sugar instead of powdered sugar had a surprisingly strong effect on the cookie’s structure: instead of adorable cookie mounds, they were flat as a pancake.  Thankfully, covering a cookie of any shape in sugar is a popular move, so no one cared that the cookies were the wrong shape.  Except for me.

This was the first time I could remember even eating pecan sandies, so in case you have suffered from cookie deprivation as I have, let me explain what you’re in for.  Pecan sandies are like sugar cookies, but more moist and with the added interest of buttery pecans.  Add to that a covering of granulated sugar on the outside that sort of caramelizes during baking.  This may be my cookie discovery of the year.

Pecan Sandies (An attempt on the recipe from Buns In My Oven)
1 cup butter (2 sticks), room temperature
1/2 cup granulated sugar (for less flat cookies, use powdered sugar)
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup chopped pecans
1/4-1/2 cup granulated sugar for coating the cookies
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  Beat the butter and sugars (not the sugar for coating the cookies) in a medium bowl.  Add the egg and vanilla and beat again.  If you aren’t as lazy as me, you can mix the dry ingredients (flour, baking soda, cream of tartar, and salt) in a separate bowl and add them to the butter mixture, or, if you’re me, you can pile all the dry ingredients on top of the butter mixture and give them a halfhearted stir before beating everything together.  Chop up the pecans and add them to the batter too.  Finally, roll the dough into balls about an inch wide.  Dunk each ball in the extra sugar and roll it around to coat it in sugar thoroughly.  Place the cookies on a parchment-lined cookie sheet and bake for 10-12 minutes.  The edges and bottoms of the cookies will just be golden and the smell will be divine.

Pitta Bread

There’s something wonderful about using bread as a spoon.  In Ethiopian food, for example, spongy rounds of teff flour “crepe” are used as a lining to the plate (in order to absorb any stray sauce) and as the utensil of choice.  Pitta bread seems equally versatile, as it is stuffable, scoopable, and (if you’re a pitta heathen like me) a quick “plate” for pizza toppings.  If you’re intimidated by large yeast-leavened breads, let me introduce you to a quick yeast-leavened bread that you cook on the stove-top.  That’s right, you don’t even need to turn on the oven.

This recipe is extremely flexible.  I have used white flour, whole wheat flour, white whole wheat flour, and am currently using half white and whole wheat.  The dough will act a little differently in each case.  Often with whole wheat dough you want to let the dough sit for 5-10 minutes before kneading or adding more water/flour in order to let the flour absorb the water.  You also may need to add a bit more or less water depending on the water content of the flour and the air humidity.  White flour is probably the easiest to work with the first time through.

As a final note, don’t be depressed if only some or even none of your pitta puff up.  They are still delicious without the gaping whole in the center.  I have made batches of these when they all puffed up and batches where only one or two puffed up.  The scientist in me would like to be able to say that I have tested the parameter space of pan temperature, flour composition, and dough hydration to be able to puff my pitta consistently.  Fortunately, there is absolutely no motivation to do this as the pitta disappear quickly in either case.

Pitta Bread (Adapted from The Complete Book of Greek Cooking)
(Makes 8 medium pitta bread)
2 cups flour (white, whole wheat, or a combination)
1 teaspoon active dry yeast
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon olive oil + a drizzle
1 cup slightly warm water

To make the dough:

  • Mix all the ingredients except for the extra drizzle of olive oil in a medium mixing bowl.  The dough should be slightly sticky, as in you touch it and dough sticks to your finger when you pull your finger away.
  • Let the dough rest for 30 minutes or so (sometimes I only wait 10 minutes when I’m feeling particularly impatient).
  • Then knead it for somewhere between 2 and 10 minutes (my kneading often falls closer to the 2 minute side).  By the end of the kneading, the dough should only be the slightest bit sticky and shouldn’t stick to your finger when you touch it, but it should be soft and easily stretched.
  • Form the dough into a ball and place in a clean bowl (or just make sure all the dough is removed from the bottom of the bowl you mixed everything up in).  Drizzle a bit of olive oil over the ball of dough and rub the olive oil around to keep the dough from drying out.  Put the oil-covered dough back in the bowl and cover the top with a damp kitchen towel.
  • Place the bowl of dough in a warm place in the house (ie. the kitchen counter by the stove) for about 1 hour, or until the dough has doubled in size.  Whole wheat flour dough may not quite double or it may take longer.

To cook the bread:

  • Use a clean kitchen counter or a sheet of parchment paper as a surface on which to roll out the dough.  Make a little pile of flour on the surface (~2 tablespoons).
  • Start by separating the dough into 8 pieces.
  • To roll out a piece of dough, roll it into a ball, squish the ball into a little bit of flour on either side, and then flatten the bread into a thin (1/4 inch thick) disk using your hands.  You could use a rolling pin if you wanted, but that’s just one more thing to wash.
  • As soon as you’ve rolled out 1 or 2 pitta breads, turn on a stove-top burner to medium under a heavy cast-iron skillet or frying pan.  I’m never quite sure when the skillet is hot enough so the first pitta bread is rarely perfect.
  • When the skillet might be hot enough, place a pitta bread on the skillet and let it cook for 30 seconds.
  • Then turn the pitta bread over and cook for 1 minute on the other side.  At some point around here air bubbles should start to form in the pitta.  You can help them spread throughout the cooking dough by putting a slight pressure on them using a spatula.  Be careful not to rip the surface of the dough though, because once that happens, the puffing is over.
  • When the air bubbles get big (or if the air bubbles never happen and the other side looks nice and browned in places), turn the pitta over again.  The total cooking time should be about 3 minutes, although it will be longer if the pan isn’t hot enough.
  • Keep the cooked pitta bread warm in a kitchen towel on a plate.  This also keeps hungry people from walking into the kitchen and eating them without you noticing (although in that case you may want to sew bells to the kitchen towel just to make sure).  I encourage the cook to eat the sacrificial first pitta bread slathered in butter and sprinkled with cardamom-sugar.

Hot Stuff! Sriracha and Hot Pepper Pickles

Over the last few weeks there have been an increasing number of hot pepper experiments.  After making a batch of salsa verde to can, I made another with extremely spicy jalapenos that turned out to be too intense for the intended purpose of making enchiladas verdes.  And then this weekend, I attempted to make Sriracha with a combination of mystery peppers and jalapenos/serranos.  Turned out some of the mystery peppers were habaneros, and the Sriracha sauce turned out more like a very delicious hot sauce that is only tolerable in extremely small doses.  Thank goodness I learned what a habanero looks like before making the pickled hot peppers or they might have been completely inedible to my weak taste buds.

Sriracha (hot pepper garlic sauce)
(Makes 2-5 half-pints)
I followed the directions for making Sriracha here pretty much to the letter, except I only ended up with 2.5 half-pints instead of the expected 5.  This may have been due to the fact that I had the heat up too high as I was cooking the sauce down, but this was absolutely necessary as I had a fan blowing air away from the pot and out of the kitchen so that we could breathe properly while preparing the ingredients for the hot pepper pickles.  So yes, a word of warning: the sauce will fill the air with awful pepper and vinegar fumes if you, like me, try using extremely hot peppers.  While I may be hot-peppered out for the moment, I do want to try making this recipe with only jalapenos, in which case the fumes may not be so bad.  As a hot sauce, this is one of the first I’ve really liked, so I foresee much tinkering with the recipe next summer.  Another thought on making sriracha: I’ve seen recipes that involve fermenting the peppers before the sauce is cooked and pureed, which may lead to a more authentic Rooster Sauce than the more simple recipe I tried.  And as always, an immersion blender makes it all so much easier, no matter what recipe you follow.

1 pound hot peppers
9 medium cloves garlic
2 teaspoons salt
1 cup distilled white vinegar (5% acidity)
1 cup apple cider vinegar (5% acidity)
3 tablespoons honey

To make the sauce:  Prepare the hot peppers by cutting off the stems and chopping them up into smallish pieces.  WEAR GLOVES to protect your hands from the hot pepper oils!  Leave in the seeds if you want to make the sauce spicier (perhaps if you only use jalapenos).  Prepare the garlic by peeling the cloves and crushing them with a flat knife.  In a medium pot, combine the chopped hot peppers, garlic, salt, and vinegars.  Bring the pot to a boil and simmer for 20-30 minutes.  Take the pot off the heat and blend the mixture until smooth with an immersion blender (easily done right in the pot) or traditional blender/food processor (harder, and it may be easier when the sauce has cooled a little bit).   With the sauce in the pot (again), bring it to a boil.  You are now ready to can it!

To can the sauce:  Follow the more detailed directions in the recipe for dilly beans, with the following specifications.  Fill the half-pint jars with sauce leaving 1/4 inch of headspace at the top of the jar.  To process, boil the half-pint jars in a hot water bath for 15 minutes.

Pickled Hot Peppers (Adapted from Canning for a New Generation)
(Makes 4 half-pints of pickles)
Enough hot pepper rings to fill 4 half-pint jars
1 1/2 cups distilled white vinegar (5% acidity)
1 1/2 cups apple cider vinegar (5% acidity)
3/4 cups water
1 tablespoon salt
1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
4 cloves garlic, peeled

To make the pickles:  Cut up the hot peppers into rings about 1/8 inch thick and discard the stems.  WEAR GLOVES when handling the hot peppers!  Rinse the pepper rings in cool water to get rid of some of the seeds and set aside for the canning stage.  Peel the garlic and set aside for the canning stage as well.  Bring the rest of the ingredients (vinegars, water, salt, and sugar) to a boil in a pot and then take off the heat and proceed to the canning stage.

To can the pickles: Follow the more detailed directions in the recipe for dilly beans, with the following specifications.  Fill each half-pint jar with a clove of garlic and one fourth of the hot pepper rings, leaving one inch of headspace at the top of the jar.  Pour the brine into the jar leaving 1/2 inch of headspace at the top of the jar.  To process, boil the half-pint jars in a hot water bath for 10 minutes.  The hot pepper rings will shrink as they cook in the hot water bath, leaving ample space in the half-pint jars that is only full of brine.  Cooking the hot pepper rings in the brine before packing the half-pint jars would help solve this problem, and for an example of this method see the recipe for banana pepper pickles.

Charred Tomato and Chile Salsa

To finish up the series of summer salsas, here is a tangy and slightly sweet tomato salsa that is just as easy to make as salsa verde: you roast everything and then blend it to death.  Peter wishes it had more smoky flavor, but I’m glad it didn’t.

Just when I thought I was cut-off from canning until holiday gift-giving, my grandma sent me 12 half-pint jars.  Thank you grandma!  Perusing Canning for a New Generation and Food in Jars, I’ve narrowed the future contents of these jars down to:

  1. Strawberry jam with Thai herbs
  2. Sweet red pepper relish
  3. Spiced apple butter
  4. Pear and ginger preserves
  5. Concord grape jam
  6. Peach-plum ginger jam
  7. Sweet-spicy cucumber pepper relish
  8. Pear ginger ginger jam
  9. Peppered balsamic fig jam
  10. Sriracha sauce

Clearly I have to decide between these 10(!) recipes eventually, but as the weekend is still a little ways away, I don’t have to commit just yet.  If you must know, my preference is slightly wavered towards Sriracha sauce (the amazing spicy chile condiment), pear and ginger preserves (I’ve promised myself that only one pear recipe this year is sufficient), and either sweet-spicy cucumber pepper relish (if I have enough cucumbers from the garden) or concord grape jam (if I happen upon concord grapes in a moment of weakness).

Charred Tomato and Chile Salsa (from Canning for a New Generation)
(Makes 5 pints of salsa)
5 pounds tomatoes
10 jalapeno peppers, preferably red (8 ounces)
12 cloves garlic (2 ounces)
3 small onions (1 pound 6 ounces)
1/2 cup cider vinegar (5% acidity)
1 tablespoon salt
2 tablespoons sugar

To make the salsa:   Prepare the tomatoes by cutting out the stems and cutting the tomatoes in half.  Prepare the jalapenos by cutting off the stems and cutting the jalapenos in half length-wise.  Peel the garlic cloves and cut the onions into quarters.  Set the broiler to “high” and line a rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil.  Place the tomatoes cut side down on the baking tray and broil for about 10 minutes, until the skins are blackened in patches.  Move the tomatoes to a heat-proof bowl.  Then broil the other veggies (jalapenos, onions, garlic) until black in places.  When the other veggies are done, put them in a pot large enough to hold all the ingredients.  Now comes the only annoying part: when the tomatoes are cool enough to handle, peel off the skins, keeping only the blackened parts of the skins (this adds flavor).  Combine all the other ingredients in the pot (tomatoes, black bits of tomato skins, vinegar, salt, and sugar) and mix.  If you have an immersion blender, use it to blend the salsa in the pot.  Otherwise, use a conventional blender or food processor to blend the salsa.  Whatever the blending method, return the salsa to the pot and bring it to a boil for 5 minutes.  The salsa is now ready to be canned!

To can the salsa: Follow the detailed instructions for canning in the recipe for dilly beans, with the following specifications.  Fill the sterilized pint jars with salsa leaving 1/2 inch of headspace at the top of the jar.  Process the jars in a hot water bath for 40 minutes.