Inside the Collection: The Cooking of the Eastern Mediterranean

Growing up, my exposure to the Cuisines of the World was what you might you call limited. Sure, I knew about Spanish/Cuban food, as I took Spanish all through elementary/middle/high school from teachers who were native speakers. Arroz con pollo es muy delicioso! Mexican made its appearance on the table every once in a while when dinner a la Old El Paso was on the menu. And Chinese was mostly relegated to occasional trips to the very exotic buffet restaurant (which is still there) up the street.

When I started dating The Mister lo those man years later, one of our favorite places for a lunch date was downtown – and featured Mediterranean cuisine. Something new! Fresh! Exciting! A real Cuisine of the World! He was a devotee of a dish on the menu called the Mediterranean sampler – it featured baba ghanoush, taboulleh and hummus. Being the eager-to-please girlfriend and burgeoning cook, I decided to try and replicate this at home, along with my favorite dish -- sharwarma. Damn, was that good. Fifteen years later, I can still remember it.

I got as far with my big plans as purchasing this cookbook:

It sat on my bookshelves for years, spine cracked only for a cursory look inside.

Until now. Welcome to the first installment of Inside the Collection , where I take a cookbook from my ridiculously large cookbook collection (to be known going forward as The Collection) and test drive a recipe from it.

After flipping through Paula Wolfert’s extraordinarily detailed book and perusing things, I decided to get back to basics and try one of the first entries.

Hummus. Oft made. Not always successfully.

This recipe is not a difficult one. There aren’t a lot of ingredients. It just takes a little planning, a bit of time and a smidge of that cook’s sixth sense to achieve balance. I usually just use my eyes and my pinky finger as a taste tester for that one. Nothing to it.

I asked The Mister, as official sampler, to describe this after I thought I got it right. He just used one word: fresh. Can’t beat that.

After making it a couple of times (much to the delight of the Official Sampler) I tinkered with things only a very little bit, adding some garlic on the front end. But that’s about it. This recipe shines just as it’s written.

Hummus (very very slightly adapted from The Cooking of the Eastern Mediterranean by Paula Wolfert)

1 cup dried chickpeas
1 small onion, peeled
2 small cloves garlic, peeled

¼ cup tahini
2 medium cloves garlic, peeled and crushed with ½ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ cup fresh lemon juice or more to taste

1-2 tablespoons olive oil
ground cumin, paprika or pomegranate seeds for garnish

Soak the chickpeas overnight (or for 8 hours) in water to cover. Drain, rinse and cook with onion and garlic in water to cover until the chickpeas are very soft. For me, this took around two hours. Keep checking after the hour mark to test the peas. You may need to add more water during the cooking process. Reserve ½-3/4 cup cooking liquid, then drain. Set aside ¼ cup chickpeas for garnish. Discard the onion and garlic.
Stir up the tahini with the oil in its container until well blended. Put tahini in blender or food processor and add garlic/salt mash and lemon juice. Blend/mix until mixture whitens. With machine running, add ½ cup cooking liquid. Add 1-3/4 cups chickpeas and process until well blended. You may want to add more cooking liquid depending on the consistency of the mixture. Taste and correct seasoning with salt and lemon juice as needed. Allow dip to mellow at room temperature for 1-2 hours.
To serve, spread on shallow serving dish. Use the back of a spoon to make a well in the center; drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with cumin, paprika or pomegranate seeds. Serve with as good quality pita bread as you can find.
This isn't your pre-packaged supermarket grab and go nosh. This is a dip worth savoring, so simple that each flavor is allowed to shine. So easy to prepare. The most difficult thing about it is remembering to start it in advance. But that may be more me than you.

Try this the next time you want a lovely accompaniment for a nice chilled white wine on a warm summer's eve. Trust me.

(By the way, I did the homemade pita bread thing for this as well. But we’ll save that little lesson for another day. It’s too hot to heat up the kitchen at the moment...)


  1. Sounds great! I'll have to try this one.

  2. Mmmm....sounds delicious. You know I love my hummus!