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Dip into flavor

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Go beyond chick peas for flavorful variations of hummus, veggie dips and spreads
Mark DuFrene/Contra Costa Times/TNSEdamame “pesto” can be served as a spread.
Jay L. Clendenin/Los Angeles Times/TNSAlternatives to hummus include "riha ezme" (dark brown in white bowl) and “hesandin" dip (light brown in blue bowl).
Doug Young/Newsday/TNSSubstitute white beans for chickpeas in this lemony hummus alternative with pita chips.

Comparing hummus to peanut butter seems so naive.

Seven years after my blog echoed that observation of a fellow food writer, hummus obviously needs no qualifier.

Although characterizing the chickpea spread as “the Middle East’s answer to peanut butter” may still lend context, the number of Americans gravitating to hummus arguably is outpacing growth of the longtime sandwich staple. That’s how common hummus has become in the United States amid the shift toward plant-based diets, more wholesome snacks and globally influenced foods.

If the trend between 2006 and 2014 — when hummus’ popularity grew 20% — held steady, more than half of American households should be consumers of hummus in 2021. Some sources project hummus’ growth at more than 30% annually.

Statistics aside, there’s no question the food industry has changed dramatically since 2016, when a quarter of Americans claimed ignorance of hummus. And therein lie my own love-hate sentiments.

I was in high school when hummus swept me off my feet. Visiting Ashland to watch a Shakespeare play with my classmates, I spent my meager food allowance on a Greek sampler plate at Greenleaf Restaurant, which made hummus and tzatziki, among other items, in house.

The garlicky, lemony dip with the earthy undertone of legumes was unlike anything I’d ever tasted growing up on Oregon’s south coast. For years afterward, I sought out Greek and Middle Eastern restaurants in larger cities and practiced making my own hummus and “baba ghanoush,” Lebanon’s eggplant-based cousin to hummus.

I noted that hummus often was the de facto spread for veggie sandwiches in restaurants serving a critical mass of vegetarians and vegans, as well as diners conscientious about their health. Chickpeas are good sources of fiber, protein, minerals and B vitamins.

Then hummus suddenly seemed to be everywhere, taking up inordinate amounts of real estate in grocers’ coolers, which stocked numerous flavors and sizes. It replaced ranch dip, onion dip and, ironically, old-school canned bean dip at parties and potlucks. For the first few years, I welcomed a plate of hummus and raw veggies on any occasion. And then my enthusiasm dropped off dramatically.

Take anything as ubiquitous as hummus has become, and commercially processed versions are poor imitators of time-honored recipes prepared at home. Tubs of hummus, furthermore, are marked up to prices that seem almost criminal to me, considering the cost of a pound of dried chickpeas.

I make a point to buy close-dated hummus at deep discounts and squirrel it away in my freezer for impromptu picnics and summer campouts. The tastier, more budget-friendly strategy, however, is to make big batches of hummus, portion it into smaller amounts and freeze them for future entertaining and snacking.

But why stick with chickpeas? I came to the realization that my digestion doesn’t share my palate’s appreciation of hummus. The solution is simply swapping other legumes: white beans, lentils, even edamame.

Or leave out legumes entirely for much silkier spreads akin to baba ghanoush that rely on vegetables, sometimes enhanced with pomegranate molasses. Hummus, in many Americans’ minds, may culinarily define an area of the globe. But there’s a wonderland of dips and spreads from Turkey, Persia, the Levant and other countries in the Eastern Mediterranean and Western Asia. These often compose traditional “mezze,” small dishes eaten as an appetizer or light meal.

Bell peppers are the base of Syria’s “muhammara,” similar to the Kurdish specialty “hesandin.” Incorporating tomato and lots of fresh herbs with roasted bell pepper is “riha ezme,” which would be delicious with baba ghanoush as a duo highlighting the summer garden’s bounty. Harissa, pomegranate molasses and Aleppo pepper generally are available at Middle Eastern markets and well-stocked supermarkets, as well as online.

Tune into these episodes of my podcast for more about making Lemony White Bean Dip, Red Lentil and Peanut Dip and Edamame Pesto (actually more of a spread).

www.mailtribune.com/the-whole-dish/2021/06/22/podcast-swap-white-beans-lentils-in-dips/

www.mailtribune.com/the-whole-dish/2019/12/27/podcast-green-dips-are-festive-hummus-alternative/

Hesandin Dip

4 to 6 red bell peppers

6 carrots, peeled and coarsely chopped

9 ounces (about 2-1/4 cups) walnuts

1 garlic clove, peeled and finely grated

3 tablespoons pomegranate molasses, or to taste

1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon salt, or to taste

1 tablespoon Aleppo pepper, or to taste

To roast the peppers, place on a rack set over a gas stove-top burner at high heat. Roast, turning frequently, until skin on all sides of each pepper is charred, for about 5 minutes. (Alternatively, roast peppers in oven using broiler setting until charred on all sides.)

Wrap each pepper in plastic wrap and set aside until cool enough to handle, then peel skin (skin should stick to plastic wrap). Rub plastic wrap against skin to loosen and remove it. Do not rinse peppers to remove skin, as rinsing will remove flavor. Stem and seed each pepper.

In bowl of a food processor, place peppers, along with the carrots and walnuts; pulse until mixture is finely chopped. Transfer pepper mixture to a bowl; stir in the garlic, molasses, oil, salt and Aleppo pepper. Taste and adjust seasoning and flavorings if desired.

This makes about 1 quart dip, which will keep, covered and refrigerated, for up to 5 days.

Riha Ezme

3 to 4 bell peppers, assorted colors

1/4 cup basil leaves

1/4 cup Italian parsley leaves

2 tablespoons fresh oregano leaves

4 fresh sage leaves (optional)

1/2 tablespoon harissa, or to taste (may substitute Sriracha)

1 tablespoon tomato paste, or to taste

1 clove garlic, peeled

1/4 cup chopped red onion

2 tablespoons pomegranate molasses

1/2 tablespoon chili powder

Salt, if desired

Place the peppers on a rack set over a gas stove-top burner at high heat or under oven broiler. Roast, turning frequently, until skin on all sides of each pepper is charred, for about 5 minutes.

(If you have an electric or ceramic stove top, roast peppers in oven using broiler setting until charred on all sides.) Wrap each pepper in plastic wrap and set aside until cool enough to handle, then peel skin (skin should stick to plastic wrap). Rub plastic wrap against skin to loosen and remove it. Do not rinse peppers to remove skin, as rinsing will remove flavor. Stem and seed each pepper.

Place peppers, the basil, parsley, oregano and sage in bowl of a food processor, along with the pepper and tomato paste, the garlic, onion, molasses and chili powder. Puree until smooth. Taste and adjust flavorings or seasoning if desired. This makes about 2 cups dip, which will keep, covered and refrigerated, for up to 5 days.

Recipe adapted by the Los Angeles Times from a recipe by Luqman Barwari, owner and chef of Nîroj Kurdish Cuisine in Agoura Hills, California.

Lemony White Bean Dip with Pita Chips

6 (6-inch) pita breads, split and cut into 8 wedges each

Nonstick cooking spray, as needed

2 teaspoons paprika

Salt, to taste

2 (15-ounce) cans white beans, drained and rinsed

2 garlic cloves, peeled coarsely chopped

1 cup tightly packed fresh parsley leaves

1/4 cup lemon juice

1/4 cup olive oil

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spread the pita wedges on baking sheets in a single layer and spray with some of the nonstick cooking spray. Sprinkle with the paprika and salt and bake until crisp and golden, about 15 minutes. Cool completely on baking sheets and store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 days.

Place the beans, garlic, parsley, lemon juice, oil and 2 tablespoons water in work bowl of a food processor and process until smooth, scraping down sides of bowl once or twice, as necessary. Scrape mixture into a small bowl and season with salt. Refrigerate until ready to serve, up to 1 day. Makes 2 cups.

Let dip come to room temperature and serve with pita chips and raw vegetables for dipping.

Edamame Pesto

1 garlic clove, peeled

1/4 cup Marcona almonds

1 cup frozen shelled edamame, defrosted

2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, grated

2 teaspoons grated lemon zest

1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Salt and black pepper, to taste

In a food processor, mince the garlic and almonds. Add the edamame, parsley, cheese and lemon zest; pulse until coarsely blended.

With motor running, add the olive oil a slow, steady stream, blending until emulsified but some texture remains. Season with the salt and pepper. Pesto may be prepared up to 1 week ahead, covered in an airtight container and refrigerated. Serve with crostini.

Makes 1-1/2 cups.

— Recipe from “Seriously Simple Parties,” by Diane Worthington.

Reach freelance writer Sarah Lemon at thewholedish@gmail.com.