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Avocado Tabbouleh in Little Gems
1/3 cup bulgur, #1 fine grade, softened for 30 minutes in cool water
3 bunches curly parsley, washed and thoroughly dried
1 pint cherry tomatoes, diced into 1/4-inch pieces
1 ripe avocado, diced into 1/4-inch pieces
5 scallions, thinly sliced crosswise
4 sprigs fresh mint leaves, finely chopped
juice of 2 lemons
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon granulated garlic powder
freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 heads Little Gem romaine, rinsed and dried
Pinch the curls of parsley from their stems. Chop the parsley in two or three batches with a large chef’s knife, gathering up the parsley as you chop to form a more compact mound, until it is finely chopped. In a medium bowl. combine the parsley, tomato, avocado, scallions, mint, and bulgur. Stir in the lemon juice, olive oil, salt, garlic powder, and pepper. Taste and adjust seasonings, adding more lemon and salt as needed. Pull the Little Gem leaves from their stems and arrange the nicest, cup-like leaves on a platter. Fill each cup with a big spoonful of the tabbouleh and serve immediately.
Whipped Hummus with Minced Lamb and Sumac
It started years ago, my quest for ultra-smooth, light hummus. For a time I added a spoonful of yogurt to give my hummus a lift, and then I discovered that the culprit of my grainy hummus texture was the skin on the chickpeas. From then on, the skins had to go—but this can be a painstaking task. You can imagine my excitement, then, when my friend Sofia mentioned, casually!, that she makes her hummus with pre-peeled chickpeas. You what?! I made her repeat every word, along with where I could get them so that I could share them with hummus makers everywhere (page 242). I’ve been hugging her ever since. Now my homemade hummus is always all that I knew it could be: luscious, whipped, and perfectly smooth. Topped with chewy spiced lamb and herbs, this becomes hummus kwarma (HUM-moos KWARma), a dish of succulent textural contrast and meaty flavor.
Makes 6 Servings
For the hummus:
2 cups / 300 g cooked skinless chickpeas (see below), cooking liquid reserved
1 garlic clove, minced
1⁄2 cup / 120 mL tahini (well-stirred before measuring)
1⁄2 teaspoon kosher salt
Juice of 1 lemon
1⁄2 to 1 cup / 120 to 240 mL chickpea cooking liquid, as needed, or cold water
For the lamb:
1 pound / 450 g lamb shoulder meat
Juice of 1 lemon
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3 tablespoons sumac, divided
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided, plus more for finishing
1 tablespoon salted butter
1⁄4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1⁄4 cup / 40 g pine nuts, toasted (see below)
Few sprigs chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
10 fresh mint leaves, cut in chiffonade
Thin pita or flatbread, for serving
In the bowl of a food processor, puree the chickpeas and garlic until a thick paste forms (the paste will ball up a bit). With the machine running, slowly add the tahini, 1⁄2 teaspoon salt, and lemon juice. Then slowly add the cooled cup of cooking water or cold tap water (use this if your chickpeas are canned) until the hummus is very smooth and light, holding back on a little water and tasting the hummus as you go; you may not need all of it.
Taste and add more salt and lemon if needed. Place the hummus in a bowl, cover, and refrigerate for up to a week. Bring the hummus back to room temperature for about 30 minutes before serving, reviving it with some lemon juice if needed.
For the minced lamb, chop the lamb shoulder into 1-inch / 2.5 cm pieces, cutting away excess fat and gristle. In a medium bowl, combine the lamb with the lemon juice, minced garlic, salt, 1 tablespoon of the sumac, and 1 tablespoon of the olive oil. Stir well and let the mixture marinate for 30 minutes at room temperature.
Drain the meat and dry it off by patting lightly with a paper towel. In a large skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of the oil and butter over medium-high heat until the butter melts and foams. Add the meat to the pan and sauté over high heat 5 to 10 minutes, or until the meat is completely browned and caramelized (the meat won’t caramelize if it’s crowded; brown it in batches if needed). Season the lamb with 1 tablespoon of the sumac and the cinnamon.
Taste and adjust the seasonings. Spoon the hummus onto six small (4- to 6-inch / 10 to 15 cm) plates, spreading the hummus with the back of the spoon to form a well in the center. Fill the well with a big spoonful of the lamb. Garnish the meat and hummus with the pine nuts, parsley, mint, the remaining sumac, and a drizzle of olive oil. Serve immediately with thin pita or flatbread.
It may seem like overkill to peel chickpeas, but they are a must-have for all kinds of recipes where the skins simply don’t belong. The skins cause grittiness and dampen flavor in hummus (page 49), and they fall off of chickpeas and are a nuisance in dishes like Freekeh with Tomato and Chickpeas (page 141) or Fava Beans and Chickpeas with Garlic, Lemon, and Olive Oil (page 145). Pre-peeled chickpeas are a game-changer because they eliminate the time and effort of peeling cooked chickpeas. Peeled chickpeas are available dried (page 242); they are par-cooked and don’t need to be soaked like dry beans, but they do need to be cooked. Note that this recipe is specifically for par-cooked peeled chickpeas, and the timing won’t work for their skin-on cousins.
Makes 2 cups / 300 g
1 cup / 200 g dry, peeled chickpeas
1 small yellow onion, peeled and quartered
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 bay leaf
In a 3- or 4-quart / 3 or 4 L pot, cover the chickpeas by about 6 inches / 15 cm with water. Add the onion, salt, and bay leaf. Cover the pot and bring the water to a boil, staying close by so it doesn’t boil over. Reduce the heat, remove the cover, and simmer on medium-low heat for about 90 minutes, or until the chickpeas are very tender to the bite, with a creamy quality. Add more water if it gets low at any point. If you’re making hummus, drain the chickpeas and discard the onion and bay leaf, reserving a cup of the cooking liquid. Use the chickpeas right away for any other dish, or refrigerate the chickpeas up to three days in their cooking liquid, so that they don’t dry out, until you’re ready to use them. At that point, drain the chickpeas, and reserve the cooking liquid if needed.
Butter Toasted Pine Nuts and Almonds
Nuts toasted in butter add so much richness and texture to any dish, especially Chicken Rice Pilaf with Butter Toasted Almonds (page 124), Spinach Pies (page 198), Open-Faced Lamb Pies (page 201), and to garnish grains, vegetables, and salads. I make at least a cup at a time and keep the nuts in an airtight container in the freezer, at the ready. Toasting the nuts in butter is a favorite way of the Lebanese, who often call them “fried nuts.” In addition to flavor, butter toasting imparts even, golden color.
Makes 1 cup / 110 g
1⁄2 tablespoon salted butter
1 cup / 110 g slivered almonds or whole pine nuts
Fine sea salt, to taste
Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the nuts and reduce the heat to medium-low. Stir the nuts to coat them with the butter and continue stirring constantly until the nuts are golden brown. Keep a close watch over the nuts; they can burn quickly once they begin to brown. Transfer the nuts to a bowl while they are still warm and salt them lightly. When they have cooled to room temperature, store the nuts in an airtight container in the refrigerator for a month or in the freezer for up to one year.
Za’atar Roasted Tomato Crostini with Labneh
The tomatoes take a couple of hours to roast, but they can be made ahead by several days and stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator; just don’t eat them all up before making these! It’s tempting, so I always roast a lot of tomatoes and keep them on hand for sandwiches, salads, pastas, and to eat just as they are. Assemble the crostini just before serving.
Makes 16 Crostini
1 long, narrow baguette
1⁄4 cup / 60 mL extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons za’atar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
Few grinds of black pepper
1 cup / 230 g labneh (see below), or substitute Greek yogurt
1 recipe Za’atar Roasted Tomatoes (see below)
To make the crostini, heat the oven to 350˚F / 175˚C. Thinly slice the baguette into 1⁄2-inch / 1.5 cm slices. Brush both sides of the bread slices with olive oil, and season them lightly with za’atar, salt, and pepper.
Arrange the slices on a sheet pan and bake for about 10 minutes, turning them over when the tops are light golden brown and continuing to bake until the reverse sides are also golden. Place a dollop of well-stirred labneh on each crostini. Top the labneh with two or three roasted tomato halves, then dust everything with more of the za’atar. Serve them immediately.
Labneh (Thick Yogurt)
Makes about 3 cups / 690 g
8 cups / 2 kg yogurt (laban), or 1 recipe of homemade yogurt (see bottom)
1⁄2 teaspoon kosher salt
Place a large colander in the sink or over a bowl to catch the dripping whey, and line the colander with a large sheer hankie, fine cheesecloth, a specialty draining bag, or an ink-free paper towel (a single layer).
Pour the yogurt into the lined colander. To encourage and speed up the draining process, gravity is your friend. If you’re using a large hankie or cheesecloth, tie together the opposite corners of the cloth, hobo-style, and hang it from the faucet (be sure you can do without running the water for several hours, ideally overnight) with the colander underneath to catch the bundle if it falls. Or hang the bundle from a long-handled wooden spoon suspended over a deep bowl or pot. If you’re using paper towels, cover the top of the yogurt with another towel; keep the colander in the sink, or place it over a deep bowl (double boiler-style) to catch the whey. The whey can then be discarded.
Drain the yogurt at least 4 to 6 hours, preferably overnight. It does not need to be refrigerated while draining.
When the labneh is thickened, scrape it from the lining of the colander with a rubber spatula or, if it pulls away cleanly as it tends to do when drained in paper towel, simply turn the labneh out into a bowl. Add the salt and whisk the labneh well to smooth out any lumps. Aunt Hilda was so devoted to smoothing her labneh that she used to whip it in the stand mixer for a smoothness that would meet her exacting standards. A paper towel can be tucked in over the top of the labneh in an airtight container to absorb the excess whey.
Cover and chill the labneh, ideally overnight, before serving. It will keep in an airtight container in the refrigerator for a couple of weeks.
Za’atar Roasted Tomatoes
Roasting cherry tomatoes coaxes their sweetness out of them and takes the flavor and texture of even less desirable winter tomatoes to entirely new heights. The addition of za’atar balances the tomatoes’ sweetness and acidity with a wonderful earthiness and tang. Use them on crostini topped with labneh (page 29), on sandwiches, in salads (such as Crunchy Fennel Salad, page 85), or straight up on their own. Store the roasted tomatoes drizzled with olive oil in an airtight container in the refrigerator for about a week.
Makes 1 Cup
1 pint / 300 g cherry or grape tomatoes
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste (about 5 grinds)
2 to 3 tablespoons za’atar, to taste
Line a heavy sheet pan with parchment paper. Slice the tomatoes in half. In a medium bowl, combine the tomatoes with the olive oil, salt, and pepper, and stir until they are well-coated.
Place the tomatoes on the sheet pan cut-side up, and top each with a pinch of za’atar. Arrange a rack in the center of the oven.
Turn the oven on to 275˚F/135˚C (no need to preheat when roasting like this), and roast the tomatoes for about 2 to 3 hours, depending on the size of the tomatoes.
The tomatoes are done when they are meltingly soft and slightly shriveled. They can be used warm or cooled to room temperature.