Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Mama's Bakery: A Quick Course on Hummus 101

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the series of cooking classes being offered through the El Cajon Boulevard Business Improvement Association. I attended one of them recently--the class offered by Mama's Bakery owner Edward Haidar. This means I got to learn how to make their light and tangy Lebanese hummus.


Mama's has been around since 1988, but Haidar took it over from the original owners in 2004. A longtime customer, Haidar actually had no cooking experience--he was a computer guy--but he put in 15-hour days, seven days a week, using cookbooks and the guidance of his five sisters to learn the recipes that have made Mama's a favorite hangout in North Park. Clearly, he's up to speed.

My favorite dish is the fried eggplant wrap, which incorporates fried eggplant, luxuriant baba ganoush, and bright Lebanese pickles in the restaurant's homemade sajj flatbread. Then I alternate squirting on their tingling hot sauce (turns out it's just Louisiana brand Cajun Sauce) with taking big dripping bites until I reach the messy end. I also enjoy their chicken wraps and the crunchy falafel, served with a traditional garlic paste. In fact, Haidar explained how he makes this simple dip--boil potatoes until soft, let them cool and then peel, put in a blender with a lot of garlic cloves, mayonaise, and salt, then puree.


Eight people attended the class, which was held in the tiny house adjoining the restaurant. We squeezed in and Haidar gathered us around a little space where he had laid out his "mise en place."


He had already soaked and prepped dried garbanzo beans so all he needed to do was crush the garlic and add all the ingredients together in the robot coupe to puree the mixture. It took all of about five minutes and we had plates of hummus with warm sajj bread at tables in the restaurant patio. Haidar brought out little samples of the garlic paste for us to taste and big pots of tea with mint. So, a quick class, but fun--and tasty.

Mama's Bakery's Chick Pea Puree
(Hommus bi-Tahineh)
(printable recipe)

Hommus bi-Tahineh is one of the staples of our mezze and is served with a variety of toppings that distinguish our hommus from that of other Middle Eastern countries. In order to get the required smooth ivory mixture, cook the chick peas until very tender and grind them very fine.

Serves 4

1 cup dried chick peas
1 teaspoon baking soda
Scant cup of tahini
Juice of 2 lemons, or to taste
3 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
Salt to taste
Paprika, Cumin, and olive oil for garnish

The night before:
Put the chick peas to soak in three times their volume of water as they will double in size. Stir in one teaspoon baking soda; this should soften them and therefore help reduce the cooking time.

Preparation:
Rinse the chick peas under cold water. Put them in a saucepan, cover well with cold water, and place over high heat. Bring to the boil, reduce the heat to medium, cover the pan and cook for 1 1/2 hours or until very tender.

Drain the chick peas, keeping some of the water in case you need it later to thin the puree. Put the chick peas in a blender or food processor, reserving a few whole peas for the garnish. Process to a smooth puree and transfer to a mixing bowl.

Stir in the tahini. The color of the mixture will become lighter. Add salt to taste and blend well together. Pour in half of the lemon juice and add the rest gradually to reach the desired flavor and level of sourness. Add the crushed garlic and mix again.

If the puree is too thick, add in some of the soaking water to thin it down. The puree should be soft and creamy, but not runny. Taste, adjust the seasonings if necessary, then pour into a shallow round or oval bowl and spread across the dish, raising the puree slightly over the sides. Arrange the reserved chick peas in a little mound in the middle. Sprinkle the raised edges with paprika and cumin and trickle a little olive oil into the dip between the spices and the mound of whole chickpeas.


*Note: since posting this I got a request from a reader for Eddie's Baba Ganoush. He has generously given me the recipe and here it is:


Mama’s Bakery’s Baba Ganoush
 
Serves 4

3 large eggplants
3 tablespoons tahini
Juice of 1 lemon
2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
2 tablespoons salt

Prick eggplants in several places with a knife or a fork to stop them from bursting during cooking and cook whole on a hot grill for 30 minutes, turning them to expose all sides.

When cooked the eggplants should have shriveled to about have their size. They should be soft to the touch. You can also microwave them about 6 minutes, or in the oven at high 350 for about 45 minutes. However, if you use microwave, or oven you will not get the smoky charred taste of the open fire cooking.

Cool eggplant under cold running water, peel and discard skin. While they are still hot, put the flesh in a colander to drain for 10 minutes.

Cut off and discard the stalks before putting eggplant in wide mixing bowl and mashing them with a masher or fork.

(If you prefer to use a food processor, be careful not to liquidize the eggplant. That's where lot of people make a mistake. No more than 3 to four turn should be enough to get the right consistency.)

Put tahini and salt in food processor and turn processor. Or add tahini and lemon juice to the eggplant you’ve hand blended. For the food processor, you can add the eggplant at this point. You want to control the blender or food processor to no more than 3 to 4 turns. You want a thick texture with the eggplant seed showing.

Pour the puree in a serving bowl.

To garnish:
Add mint leaves, parsley, or pomegranate seeds.
Add paprika and olive oil.
Serve with pita bread.
 
Mama's Bakery is located at 4237 Alabama St., just south of El Cajon Blvd. To learn more about the series, visit the website. To sign up, contact Beryl Forman at beryl@theboulevard.org.

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