As much as possible, we focus on the process of preparing food in our "food appreciation" classes. I try to connect our kids with ancient techniques and ancient tools. Working with ingredients by hand--touching, feeling, smelling--makes an immediate connection and gives the kids a better appreciation for how different ingredients work and why food tastes the way it does in the end.
We've been working with whole grains lately. I wanted to try something ethnic, something easily recognizable, something that did not require power tools. Hummus with toasted whole wheat pita chips came to me in a flash.
I have strong feelings about hummus. Everyone has a favorite recipe, it seems. What I don't care for much are most grocery store versions. They taste like they were made in a factory and they have the consistency of baby food: overly processed. Worse, most stores now display huge arrays of hummus with exotic flavors--roasted pepper hummus, avocado hummus, smoked salmon hummus and I don't know what else. I say, until you can make the classic version, don't go improvising.
I confess, I normally make my hummus in a food processor. I also like to start with dried chickpeas that I find in the bulk section at Whole Foods. Somehow dried chickpeas soaked overnight and then cooked on the stovetop come out with a sweeter, more vibrant flavor than canned chickpeas. I also like some texture in my hummus, not baby food.
When I tried to imagine how the first person who ever made hummus actually made it, I conjured a picture of someone pounding the ingrediets with a mortar and pestle. So what I brought for the kids to use was my big, Mexican molcajete and tejolote.
The kids took turns, first grinding garlic and salt into a slush. Then pounding diced onion. Then whacking the chickpeas and gradually incorporating the other ingredients. When we had that under control, we split pita bread into chips, brushing them with olive oil and seasoning with a little salt. These baked in the oven while we read a story (Horton Hears a Who). When the reading was done, each kid got a plate with chips and hummus and dug in.
Mostly, I think they liked it.
Here's the recipe:
1 1/2 medium cloves garlic, peeled
1 teaspoon coarse salt
1/4 medium yellow onion, peeled and diced small
1 3/4 cups cooked chickpeas (or 1 14-ounce can, drained)
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil (preferably a Middle Eastern variety)
1/4 cup sesame tahini
3/4 teaspoon ground cumin
juice from 1/2 lemon
In a large mortar and pestle (or food processor), grind the garlic cloves with salt into a paste. Add onion and mash until slushy. Add chickpeas and mash and grind until pasty. Pour in olive oil and grind some more. Mix in tahini, cumin and lemon juice. Continue grinding (or processing) until hummus is smooth but still textured. If it seems dry, add a little more olive oil or water. Adjust seasoning as needed.
Meanwhile, slice whole wheat pita rounds into eight wedges each, about 1/2 pita per person for a small snack. Beginning from the point of each wedge, peel the wedges into two parts. Lay these flat on a baking sheet, rough side up. Using a pastry brush, dab each wedge with some extra-virgin olive oil. Sprinkle a little coarse salt onto each wedge. Place in a 375-degree oven and bake until the wedges are golden brown, about 15 minutes.
Serve hummus in a bowl, garnished with a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkle of sumac (available at Middle Eastern groceries) or paprika with toasted pita on the side for dipping.