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 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.
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.
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 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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