Peas, Love, and Hummus

Hummus has been a historically divisive food, causing rifts between nations that have occasionally escalated into all-out wars. I’m not here to start a fight about who made it first or best, though. Today, I’d like to shine a light on how it can be just as powerfully unifying in the right hands. Pardon the pun, but it’s true; everyone just needs to give peas a chance.

Years ago when my dad took up residence overseas for his job, I thought for sure that this was the beginning of the end. What family could withstand such severe, prolonged separation? This was before the age of COVID quarantines of course, but still, it was hard to imagine how any relationship could survive the prolonged distance.

Before we had Zoom, we had Skype. Like clockwork, every weekend, I somehow convinced my omnivorous father to cook with me, creating a recipe simultaneously yet separately. I would make mine for lunch in Connecticut, while he would enjoy his for dinner in Germany. There were a few memorable gems that he still makes today, which is truly a feat for a man of few favorite foods and little interest in cooking. If I had to pick one single greatest hit, it would have to be hummus.

Both of us ate hummus by the gallon at the time, yet he had never so much as considered going straight to the source and starting from scratch. Now, years later, both of us are so thoroughly spoiled by homemade hummus that it’s become impossible to go back to store-bought. Just like that, one simple recipe brought us back together, in our isolated kitchens divided by thousands of miles and a number of time zones.

Recreating this basic bean dip together for the first time as an early Father’s Day celebration was probably more of a treat for me than him. Seeing how he took that essential formula and made it his own was even more gratifying than the rich, savory, and creamy taste.

Adding vegan chicken bouillon for an additional depth of flavor and all the salt it needs, he adds volumes of flavor with this concentrated umami bomb. From there, he adds a splash of liquid smoke to give the creamy mixture an uncanny baba ganoush character, without fussing with any roasted eggplant. A bare hint of spice creeps in on the back end, providing a subtle warmth that lingers after every bite. It’s a brilliant, harmonious combination that’s both simple on paper, yet stunningly complex on the palate.

To all the fathers and people who love them, Happy Father’s Day. I hope you’re all so lucky to have someone to make hummus with, virtually or in-person.

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Socca Punch

Is there anything that chickpeas can’t do? They’re the Swiss army knife of legumes, seamlessly working their way into dishes sweet and savory, from breakfast to midnight snacks, as the bold feature or silent base. Fresh, dried, or ground, every form of this humble bean opens up new culinary possibilities, each more innovative than the last. Of course, many of the best preparations are those tried-and-true formulas, having withstood the test of time through the hands of countless cooks. Such is the case for socca, alternately known as farinata depending on who you ask, and is the meal-sized enlargement of the crisply fried, well-salted bar snack, panisse.

Essentially a large, thick pancake made with chickpea flour and a touch of olive oil, it could be categorized as peasant fare for its humble ingredients. However, proving that the sum is greater than its parts, the taste is fit for a king (or queen.) Legend has it that the first socca was hastily whipped up in Nice, France, while under siege from invading Turkish forces, these pantry staples were the only sustenance available. Since then, it’s come a long way, especially in this lavish seasonal twist.

“Wholesome decadence” defines my sun-kissed ode to summer, featuring peak produce picks set atop this beguiling chickpea base. No longer the food of strife, but of victory and resilience, this socca still began life as the results of a pantry raid, but could ultimately grace a table set with fine linens, should the occasion arise.

Sweet corn, stripped from the cob in crisp rows, and peaches so explosively juicy they quiver at the mere sight of a knife, tangle together in a tender nest of baby kale. A bite of minced jalapeño warms the palate periodically, lending gentle heat without overwhelming the delicate flavors at play. Of course, there must be tomatoes, though I’d admit the assembly might be improved with fleshy heirlooms, rather than more toothsome cherry tomatoes, if you can get them.

Then again, there’s no wrong way to dress a socca, and no bad recipe for using chickpeas. Make it count while harvests are abundant. While the season will be gone in a flash, such a deeply satisfying taste memory will last forever.

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Spread Hope

Once relatively unheard of in the US, the popularity of hummus has risen to astronomic new heights within the condiment hierarchy. Now rivaling longtime champions ketchup and salsa for top honors, it’s more noteworthy when you can’t find this beloved dip at any establishment selling food. No where is the craze made clearer than in the mainstream marketplace, where even corner store bodegas are likely to carry at least one or two brands. For that matter, there’s a good chance you can even scrounge up a package of the creamy chickpea puree at your local drug store, right alongside the emergency rations of plain saltine crackers and white bread. It’s impossible to escape, as if anyone would ever want to, but such an overwhelming abundance of options does make it challenging to weed out the winners and losers in the field.

Hope Hummus sets itself apart from the pack by blending up unique yet approachable flavors that offer a delicious departure from the average bean dip. Sure, there’s still the austere plain and garlic options for the traditionalist, providing a solid standby for the pickiest palates, but greater gustatory adventures await the more intrepid eater. Heat things up with Thai Coconut Curry or Sriracha hummus, or explore new territory entirely with sweet Dark Chocolate hummus.

Though I can’t claim to have experienced the full range of inventive combinations, it’s only a matter of time before I can hunt them down, since my initial experiences have proven so gratifying. Picking favorites is never easy, but I need to give a special shout out to the Kale Pesto hummus, which combines everyone’s favorite leafy green superfood with basil pesto, lending vibrant, fresh flavor to this coarse blend. Primed for any party platter, it also strikes me as a promising candidate for enlivening creamy pasta sauce or topping a bowlful of piping hot tomato soup. Speaking of hot, Spicy Avocado hummus lights a smoldering savory flavor with piquant jalapeno peppers, tempered by creamy avocado. Though not nearly a five-alarm fire, it certainly boasted a well-defined spice that would appease any heat seekers in the crowd.

In this booming category, surprisingly few variations can be found on the classic staple, despite increasing demands. Hope Hummus is one company clearly thinking outside the plastic tub while always emphasizing high quality, organic ingredients. For a quick fix snack, consider branching out and trying their fresh twists on hummus next time.

Hip To Be Shared

Puffed snacks represent the pinnacle of junk food innovation and technology. No matter how hard you try, there’s simply no way to replicate that characteristically light, airy, yet impossibly crisp texture at home; trust me, I’ve gone through the ringer in my own kitchen, to no avail. Coated in powdered cheese of varying fluorescence hues, the salty morsels have been staining fingers since the 1930s but never gained much traction among the nutritionally conscious. That should come as no surprise, since questionable oils and highly processed dairy ingredients have long been the “best” that these salty treats could offer.

Hippeas is a new company set to change all that, turning away from the traditional corn base and towards one composed of everyone’s favorite legume: the chickpea.

Much more substantial than your typical puffed snack, each kernel boasts a sturdy, satisfying crunch, backed by impressive protein and fiber values. Unlike the Styrofoam whips of yore, one serving really will do… Although the tempting flavors might convince you keep munching.

Six unique seasonings offer a different taste for every craving. Cheese is the gold standard, the essential foundation of the puffed snack hierarchy, so the Vegan White Cheddar has very high expectations to live up to. While the overall effect doesn’t disappoint, it doesn’t entirely deliver either. Evoking the flavor profile of creamy mac and cheese, it will certainly scratch that savory itch, but an incongruous sweetness detracts from the experience. Simply put, they’re highly enjoyable, but would never fool an omnivore.

Where Hippeas shine is in their more creative offerings that make no allusions to imitation. Delicious within their own right as a completely unique snack, the Far Out Fajita was the stand-out winner by my account. Cumin and coriander ring clearest out of the seasoning melange, imparting a Tex-Mex vibe. Further munching evoked the flavors of crunchy falafel, which made me think they would pair brilliantly with a bold tahini dip.

Pepper Power presents a strong showing for the most basic option. Thoroughly flecked with ground black pepper, each bite provides a nice balance of spice and salt, creating a subtle warmth that doesn’t overwhelm. By contrast, Sriracha Sunshine takes a bolder approach, but falls far short of its scoville target. The initial taste is of vinegar, with a timid heat following quietly, slow to build up steam. Excess sweetness brings down the spice considerably for these morsels, but in the case of Happenin’ Hickory, that same quality creates a pleasing balance. Accented with tomato, onion, and garlic, the overall effect delivers the impression of barbecue sauce more than pure hickory smoke, but is highly munchable nonetheless.

For those with a sweet tooth, Hippeas has something for you, too! The taste of Maple Haze rings true for pancake syrup with subtle buttery undertones. Take a bag with you to the theater next time; I think they’d make delightful alternative to caramel corn.

The full line of Hippeas aren’t perfect across the board, but one thing is for sure: They’ve mastered the elusive ways of the puff, and taken the “junk” out of this particular junk food favorite. There’s a whole lot to savor if you stick with the top hits.

Ranch, Reinvented

“Obsession” is a good way to describe the level of devotion for many otherwise easy-going eaters across the US. Inspiring a following that borders on fanatic, it makes an appearance on over 25% of menus across the nation. That’s all restaurant menus, in all states, so while it may not sound especially impressive at first, consider the diverse number of cuisines found coast to coast, including the the chefs who wouldn’t touch the stuff with a 10-foot stalk of celery. I’m talking about ranch dressing; the tangy, herbaceous condiment that has become inextricably linked with edible Americana. Even back in the days of my vegetable-hating youth, I too succumbed to the creamy comfort of pale, iceberg salads smothered in enough ranch dressing to sink a ship. Stealthily consumed under the pretense of eating a healthy serving of vegetables, I could empty out those family-sized bottles at an alarming rate.

Ranch has been re-imagined and revitalized in striking new ways since then, appealing to many previous detractors with brighter, bolder flavors and countless bases that cater to more wholesome diets. The concept itself has become so prevalent in popular culture, in fact, that it’s transcended that original format to become a wholly unique flavor. No longer a mere condiment, anything can be ranch-flavored.

That’s where Biena Chickpea Snacks come in with the introduction of their new Rockin’ Ranch Chickpeas. Crunchy garbanzo beans are the new bacon, as far as I’m concerned, proliferating in the snack aisle and home kitchens alike in a rainbow of flavors. The key to their success is their versatility, not only as stand-alone snacks, but also components in other dishes. The most obvious approach to incorporating these nuggets of crunchy goodness into your daily diet is to simply throw a handful into any green salad, replacing those tired old croutons with invigorating new zest. Especially true of these particular gems, the ranch flavor is ideal for perking up even the barest bowl of leafy greens. Bold and tangy notes of vinegar provide the first wake-up call; assertive but not aggressive. Savory garlicky undertones come through with each and every crunch, appealing to a wide range of palates. Despite being generously coated with spices and seasonings, this flavorful dusting won’t cake on your fingers or turn them fluorescent colors should you choose to simply munch out of hand. Overall, the flavor is remarkably ranch-y, yet sure to appeal even if ranch isn’t exactly your dressing of choice.

It would have been easy to plow through a full bag (or two) as fuel for marathon study sessions, but I wanted to make more out of these crispy chickpea gems. My mind quickly went to the classic pairing of buffalo wings and ranch dressing, but with a heartier and more wholesome slant.

Simple and easy enough to suit the most hectic weekday dinner rush, this hearty stew combines all the best parts of a spicy buffalo wing marinade with a few basic pantry staples, elevating the concept well beyond standard bar fare. Thick and rich, each spoonful sparkles with just all the right spice to ring true. Who needs fried fast food when little more than a few humble beans can trump the whole flavor sensation? A cooling ranch creme serves to balance out the heat, and of course, a generous handful of those addictive crunchy ranch chickpeas adds the much-needed textural contrast to complete the picture.

Even as the days grow longer and warmer, this is one satisfying one-pot dish that will stay on my menu as a perennial favorite.

Yield: Makes 2 – 4 Servings

Buffalo-Ranch Chickpea Stew

Buffalo-Ranch Chickpea Stew

Simple and easy enough to suit the most hectic weekday dinner rush, this hearty stew combines all the best parts of a spicy buffalo wing marinade with a few basic pantry staples, elevating the concept well beyond standard bar fare. Thick and rich, each spoonful sparkles with just all the right spice to ring true. Who needs fried fast food when little more than a few humble beans can trump the whole flavor sensation? A cooling ranch creme serves to balance out the heat, and of course, a generous handful of those addictive crunchy ranch chickpeas adds the much-needed textural contrast to complete the picture.

Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 30 minutes
Total Time 40 minutes

Ingredients

Buffalo Chickpea Stew:

  • 2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
  • 1/2 Large Yellow Onion, Diced
  • 2 Cloves Garlic, Minced
  • 3 Stalks Celery, Diced
  • 3 Tablespoons Chickpea Flour
  • 1 Cup Low-Sodium Vegetable Broth
  • 1/2 Cup Tomato Puree
  • 1 14-Ounce Can (1 3/4 Cup Cooked) Chickpeas, Drained
  • 2 Tablespoons Hot Sauce, such as Frank’s Red Hot
  • Salt, to Taste

Ranch Crème:

  • 1/2 Cup Vegan Sour Cream
  • 1 Teaspoon Apple Cider Vinegar
  • 2 Tablespoons Fresh Parsley, Finely Minced
  • 1/2 Teaspoon Garlic Powder
  • 1/2 Teaspoon Onion Powder
  • 1/2 Teaspoon Salt
  • 1/4 Teaspoon Ground Black Pepper

To Serve:

Instructions

  1. Set a medium pot over moderate heat and add in the oil. Saute the onion, garlic, and celery together until softened, aromatic, and just beginning to caramelize around the edges.
  2. Sprinkle in the chickpea flour and stir well, coating the vegetables. Cook lightly, for just a minute or two, to gently toast and cook the raw flavor out of the flour. Slowly incorporate the vegetable broth, stirring constantly to ensure that it properly hydrates the flour without clumping.
  3. Once simmering, introduce the tomato puree, chickpeas, and hot sauce next, stirring well. Turn the heat down to medium-low and let simmer until the liquid has significantly thickened; about 10 – 15 minutes.
  4. Meanwhile, prepare the ranch crème by simply mixing together all of the ingredients in a separate bowl. Keep refrigerated until ready to serve.
  5. Once the stew is thick and bubbling away happily, add salt to taste and ladle it out into individual serving bowls. Top with dollops of ranch crème, crunchy chickpeas, and sliced scallions.

Nutrition Information:

Yield:

4

Serving Size:

1

Amount Per Serving: Calories: 224Total Fat: 14gSaturated Fat: 6gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 7gCholesterol: 0mgSodium: 708mgCarbohydrates: 21gFiber: 5gSugar: 8gProtein: 6g

Bread Meets Spread

“Have you heard of HUMMUS?” you might ask of a caveman recently unearthed after a million-year marathon nap. Now as ubiquitous as ketchup or salsa, hummus has managed to surpass all cultural boundaries, weaving its way into the homes and hearts of food lovers worldwide. What might be a more relevant question in this day and age is “Have you heard of MASABACHA?” Hummus’s lesser-know cousin should rank just as highly on the snacking scale, and yet somehow lacks the same renown, barely registering as a blip on the radar. Depending on your circle of friends, it might also be referred to as msabbaha, musabbaha, or even mashausha. Consider it deconstructed hummus, replete with whole chickpeas and a tangy lemon tahini sauce to bind them all together. From that base, the sky’s the limit; fancier, more fun renditions include everything from pine nuts and paprika to a smattering of herbs and hard-boiled eggs. When you can choose your own adventure with such savory results, what’s not to love about this chunky chickpea dip?

Although I would never be so bold as to say that there’s room to improve on the classic, I would venture to suggest that there’s always room to innovate. Instead of serving up the tried and true masabacha with bread and the standard accoutrements, let’s skip the middleman and combine the whole array of irresistible flavors. Bean-based bread is nothing new, but this particular yeast-risen loaf is a veritable ode to the humble legume, employing both chickpea flour and whole, seasoned and roasted garbanzo beans. Richly spiced with cumin, coriander, and my current favorite, smoked paprika, the aroma that engulfs the kitchen as it bakes is positively maddening. Just try not to tear into the hot, freshly baked loaf right away- it genuinely does improve with just a bit of patience. The spices take their sweet (and savory) time to mingle and for them to reach their collective peak of flavor, so it’s important to sit by and let it cool completely before diving in.

It is with great pleasure that I’m sharing this magnificent baked good in honor of the 9th Annual World Bread Day. I haven’t missed a single celebration since the birth of BitterSweet, and I don’t intend to sit out for one yet! Although I hate picking favorites amongst recipes, this entry definitely ranks highly on my list of most crave-worthy submissions thus far. Be sure to check out the roundup coming in the next few days for more yeasted inspiration.

World Bread Day 2014 (submit your loaf on October 16, 2014)

Masabacha Bread

3 Cups White Whole Wheat or All Purpose Flour
1/2 Cup Chickpea Flour
1 Teaspoon Lemon Zest
1 Teaspoon Smoked Paprika
1 Teaspoon Dried Parsley
1/2 Teaspoon Ground Cumin
1/2 Teaspoon Cumin Seeds
1/2 Teaspoon Ground Coriander
1/4 Teaspoon Dried Oregano
1 Tablespoon Light Agave Nectar
1 1/2 Teaspoons Salt
1 Packet Dry Active Yeast
1 1/4 Cups Warm Water
1/4 Cup Olive Oil
2 Tablespoons Tahini
1 Cup Crunchy Roasted Chickpeas, Store-Bought or Homemade
1/4 Cup Toasted Pine Nuts

Mix together both flours with all of the herbs and spices in a large bowl. Separately, whisk together the agave, salt, yeast, warm water, oil, and tahini. Once fully blended, let the mixture stand briefly until the yeast reawakens, becoming active and frothy. pour the liquid ingredients into the bowl of dry, and mix well. Now would be a great time to pull out the dough hook attachment on your stand mixer if you have one, but no matter your equipment, stir thoroughly to bring the dough together with no remaining dry patches. The resulting dough should be fairly soft, but continue to knead it until smooth, elastic, and somewhat tacky; about 15 – 20 minutes by hand or 10 – 15 minutes by hook, with the mixer on the lowest setting.

Lightly grease a large, clean bowl. Shape your kneaded dough into a smooth ball before dropping it in, rolling it around lightly to coat it with the oil. Cover loosely and and let it rest in a warm, draft-free place until doubled in volume. This could take anywhere from 45 minutes – 1 1/2 hours, depending on your climate.

Grease an 8 1/2 x 4 1/2-inch loaf pan and set aside. Once properly puffy, turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and use your knuckles to gently work through the air bubbles. Add in the chickpeas and pine nuts, kneading the whole loaf until the goodies are completely worked in and well-distributed. Work the dough into a rough rectangle no wider than the length of your pan, and roll the dough up into a neat cylinder. Place the dough log into the pan, seam side down, and let rest for another 30 – 60 minutes, until approximately doubled in size, or until it’s peeking about 1/4-inch over the rim of the pan. While you’re waiting, begin preheating your oven to 400 degrees.

When the loaf is fully risen and the oven has reached the proper temperature, slide the pan into the oven. Immediately drop the heat down to 375 degrees and bake for 30 – 40 minutes, until deeply golden brown all over. Let cool in the pan for about 10 – 15 minutes before turning it out onto a wire rack to finish cooling. No matter the temptation, all it to come all the way down to room temperature before slicing and enjoying.

Makes 1 Loaf

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