Middle Eastern Book Club

In that uniquely English way, A is a member of a book club and recently it was A's turn to host.  After deliberation about menu choices, A plumped for what was essentially a Middle Eastern lunch: home-made hummus, tabouleh, spiced lentil salad and some baked marinaded chicken served with laffa bread.

Lentils and laffah
A has been making these sorts of foods for as long as he can remember.  While A usually cooks by numbers, measuring everything out obsessively to the last gram, he made pretty much everything up to taste this time. C commented that his hummus and tabouleh were too good keep to himself so here is a brief exposition of the methods used to make them.

Hummus in the making (not enough oil here)

For the hummus, start with a pile of lemons, a few cloves of crushed garlic, a bottle of olive oil, a jar of light tahini, a can of chickpeas and a blender. Put the chickpeas in the blender and start whizzing, adding everything else to taste. When it comes to hummus production, there are two basic rules: be sparing with the tahini and be generous with the oil.  Too much tahini makes the hummus bitter, whereas too little oil makes the texture sandy and dry.  Once happy with the consistency and flavour, garnish with a drizzle of olive oil, a sprinkle of cumin powder and a few whole chickpeas (though this time A forgot to keep any back).

The finished hummus
Tabouleh is equally simple: take some cooked couscous, Israeli cousous or bulgur wheat and add several handfuls of rough chopped parsley, zataar (a kind of middle eastern spice blend fairly widely available - A gets his in a Polish supermarket near his parents' place in north London), sumac (this is quite easy to find - for example Bart Spices sell some and it should be available in any large supermarket), a few chili flakes (optional - A believes that a little mild chili is a flavour enhancer), olive oil, salt and pepper.  Some people like lots of parsley, but A doesn't like hunting around for the grain.  The only subtle bit is getting the balance of the spices right: you can be quite liberal with zataar but overdo the sumac and the tabouleh becomes rather too tart; underdo it, and the salad won't have that authentic Middle Eastern tang.

Hummus and Tabouleh

The real trick is to play around, keep tasting and enjoy the process. Get your hands dirty too: oil, parsley and spices feel rather pleasant between your fingers.


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