Years ago when I was going to school at Oregon State University, I dated a guy from Lebanon. While we dated, I obviously ate a lot of Lebanese food and loved it. The beauty of the cuisine to me is that it’s the essence of simplicity. Good, fresh ingredients and not a lot of fuss. My love of Lebanese food started with our frequent visits (3-4 times a week) to this fabulous restaurant in Portland called Nicholas. Looking at their Website, it looks like it got a total makeover. When I used to eat there, it was a complete dive like you would see on Diners, Drive-ins and Dives.
But regardless of the décor, or lack thereof, talk about amazing food! And the best part was we ate there so much, we didn’t need to order. Food would just appear – veggie mezza for two, a Coke and a Diet Coke.
After so many nights dining there, I began to think, “I could make this stuff”. So, my boyfriend and I went to Powell’s book store in the Hawthorne District (where we lived) and bought A Taste of Lebanon.
If I remember correctly, we had a light mezza for dinner that included hummus and pita bread, spinach pies and tabouli. All from scratch. The hummus is easy enough. All the ingredients in a blender they went. Done. The spinach pies were an entirely different matter altogether. I actually made the dough from scratch and the spinach filling. Making dough from scratch in a small kitchen with zero counter space isn’t ideal and the smell of spicy cooked spinach…well, let’s just say you could smell it in the hallway leading out of our apartment. Tabouli…hmmm. I liked the tabouli from Nicholas, and mine didn’t taste the same. To date, I’ve never been able to master this side dish, so thankfully the good folks at my local Costco have it in stock when I need a fix.
He loved it. The next morning his mom called from Lebanon and I overheard him say that I had made a homemade Lebanese dinner from scratch and it was like eating in Beirut. I have never been paid a more fabulous compliment. In addition, he always wanted me to sell my hummus at the local gourmet grocery store down the street. You know, quit my $8 an hour semi-management job at Banana Republic and become a stay-at-home hummus maker. That of course never happened.
While you can certainly buy store bought hummus, why would you? It’s so simple, and if you feel like adding a little zing to it, roast a red pepper and throw that into the blender as well (be sure to take off the skin and deseed it!)
The recipe that follows is from Taste of Lebanon
1 19 oz can chick peas or garbanzo beans (drain liquid and save)
¼ cup Tahini paste
1 clove garlic
½ tsp. salt
¼ cup lemon juice
Combine all the ingredients in a food processor or blender, adding only enough of the saved liquid to get the level of consistency you want – more liquid the dip will be thinner). Blend for 2-3 minutes to a smooth paste. Refrigerate for at least 2-3 hours or make the day ahead. The key here is the garlic, so it needs time to sit. I measure about 2 Tbsps to go with a piece of whole wheat pita bread, so (using my Living Cookbook software, and if I’m doing it correctly) you’re looking at 3.94 calories per serving).