Saturday, August 06, 2011

Let's Talk About Hummus

I was a chef at a restaurant, one of the greatest experiences of my life. The kind of experience that has left me in memory debt to someone I despise. I could not have done it without him. Why did he have to destroy it? Why could he not learn to understand the nature of work, of its necessity? When a father buys his son a restaurant to teach him about business, or the world in general, he also purchases the heartbreak of those who do the work, and love the work, and love each other in and through the work, who also, desperately, need the work, and there it is, that's the point at which the edifice crumbled. He didn't need the work. He knew all along he could cry, “Daddy!” and Daddy would come and rescue him, like a new father reaches under the armpits of his young child and lifts him up from a phantasm of danger. “There, there” he says, “It'll be all right.” Meanwhile real working people go a looking for another job.

But we had real customers too, and many of them remained loyal throughout, even when the idiot boss's idiot friends might have drunkenly hollered racial slurs across the dining room, or at other times, rolling on the floor, making threats, have then thrown an arm around the shoulders of a complete stranger, a father, with family, to tell him how sorry, how really, really sorry he is to have been such a problem.

One such loyal customer emailed me the other week to ask about my hummus. He loved my hummus. I was proud to reply, and such as it is, my reply to him lies below. There is no exact recipe there, but you won't need one.


Dear Matthew,

I'm always willing to talk hummus. Ah, Petra. I loved that place almost as much as I hated it.

The main thing to remember with hummus is that it is simple as hell. Garbanzo beans, tahini, lemon juice, garlic, salt, pepper and olive oil. The tahini is probably the biggest X factor. I think I probably put about two tablespoons to one can of beans, more or less. Tahini is a weird substance, and different brands will be very different, and it isn't cheap, but it goes a long way. Tahini will contribute hugely to the thickness and consistency of your hummus. It is also super good for you.

Other factors will be whether or not you use the liquid in the can to lube the spinning beans, or a little water. This will change depending on the brand of bean. Some of them are dryer out of the can than others. If you like very lemony hummus, the lemon juice will be enough to get the beans spinning.

Something very important is that you use fresh lemons. I have one of those Mexican citrus squeezers so I can just cut the lemons and squeeze them right into the hummus. The amount of lemon juice will be a huge flavor factor, and once you decide how much you tend to like in your hummus, will be a defining aspect. I like a good amount in mine, but I don't like to make it outright lemony. That being said, when I'm eating someone else's hummus that IS outright lemony, I tend to enjoy it a lot, but still, when I make it at home, I don't make lemony hummus.

Garlic can ruin the party, literally. You're putting it in raw, so consider that you want it to be there, but you don't want guests burping garlic in each other's faces all night. However, when I'm making hummus just for myself, when I plan to be at home alone, I put in a shit-ton of garlic.

You can add olive oil right to the mix, put it on top, or leave it out. A good fruity olive oil can absolutely put your hummus over the top. A less flavorful oil will just smooth it out a little without adding much flavor.

Here's something to try, and it might help you get your head around the flavors. Make tahini sauce. Put at least a tablespoon of tahini in a bowl. You're going to add water, lemon juice, garlic, salt and pepper in such a proportion that the tahini becomes smooth and a bit wet. You should be able to drizzle it. I think this is one of the most underrated sauces in the world. Good on meats, good on vegetables, good on the finger. Tahini sauce is essentially hummus without chick peas.

Do you have a food processor, or are you using a blender? Blenders make shitty hummus I hear. I have never tried to use one.

[additional notes: Tahini is a paste of ground sesame seeds. Also, if you can find ground sumac, sprinkle some on top. It adds a nice pungent, citrus flavor. It's also good for seasoning meat.]

Sunday, July 25, 2010

My lens

Five days of roiling torment and joy.  Five days since my last cigarette or any nicotine at all.  Five days locked up in here by myself, sweating, fumbling, reading, second guessing, searching.  Today begins the sixth day, but it won't count until tomorrow, and the day count only matters until the fourteenth day or so, which is apparently when my dopamine levels return to normal after years of bodily reliance on nicotine for emotional stability in the face of pain and stress.  After fourteen days, I have no excuse.  Two days ago, they say, the nicotine left my body.  Yesterday was a very bad day.  I managed to distract myself with this little computer my cousin gave me years ago.  I got a new hard drive into it, but I could not (can not yet) figure out how to get an operating system into the thing with no CD-ROM.  But I didn't smoke, though I did curse and sweat and eat and finally I, fitfully, slept.

It's all for a purpose.  I don't want to live forever.  Death awaits you, even if you don't smoke.  No, I'm looking for a new clarity that acknowledges this body of mine as a lens, both for looking out and for looking in.  Cigarettes, for me, are a bad way to treat the lens, more so lately.  It's twenty years or so since I first started to smoke, and to try and quit.  Something is different now, something predictable, something terrible and awful.  I can feel the effects on my body growing worse.  I smoked one cigarette last week and felt, without doubt, that my physical capacity was diminished.  More frightening was that I felt my mental capacity suffer also.  Of course, I wanted another cigarette.  That's how they work.  They seek to solve the problem of themselves, and they lead otherwise rational people such as myself to refer to them as feeling, thinking creatures.  Little friends, like elves.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Long Time No Post

It's been a while. I think as much as anything, I haven't been posting because I was unsure of my relationship to the concept. Still. After blogs have been around this long, I am unsure of my relationship to them. How boring.

So here's to maybe bloging some more. Who knows, I might actually do it this time. Again.

I know I have one good post in the past. Look it up while I think of something else to write.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Is this photo composed? Notice the ticket books placed symmetrically, and the, what is that, the menu? Or is it a textbook? Anyway, notice how the book passes through the "vaginal" opening created by the ticket books, and how the lines of the book create a parallel lane, down the end of which is you, drawing the eye to your face, which is not only at the center of the photo, but which is also at the end of the triangle created by the table. Also, the woman in the photo at the table with you is leaning in in a subtle position of submission to either show that she draws power from you like water from a well, or that she is your servant, and quite happy to be so.

You must have had only a few seconds or minutes to put all this together before the picture was taken. You are very crafty. Kudos.

Question: What is the significance of the kitchen window being precisely over your head? Is that an otherworldly reference? Does it allude to your obvious spiritual superiority?

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Recipe for Gina

One night, drunk, I made some late night food for friends. One of them, Gina, wants the recipe. Of course I don't know the recipe any longer, but apparently it was some sort of polenta with white beans. I have some idea of what I would have made, and so I'll attempt to reconstruct the recipe using my knowledge of myself and the things I am likely to cook when I'm drunk and it's late.

White Bean Polenta

1 can white beans drained and rinsed gently.
a pinch to a tablespoon of Chili flakes
1 small or half a big Red onion (yellow will do fine) chopped.
Olive oil
White wine (or water, or stock)
Polenta (not instant, and you could use plain corn meal. It's all the same shit. Just find the grind that you like and go with it. Keep in mind that the very fine polenta tends to "explode" meaning that you do not want to use too much or you will end up with a blob that will eat your pets and children.)
Parmesan cheese (if you have that "parmesan" in the green can, just do without and then go to confession.)
Butter (optional) (Butter is optional like love is optional. Of course, you might be lactose intolerant like Gina, but Gina, really, I don't think there is any lactose in butter. It's 99% fat. I could be wrong. Sorry. There is this stuff called Smart Balance that is as good as butter substitutes get and is about as healthy for you as any fat can be with omega 3's and shit like that.)
Salt and pepper freshly ground pepper please.

In a large enough pot, preferably one with a wide bottom, add about two tablespoons of Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO). I'd probably put more, but then I'm fat.

Put the heat on medium-high and add the chili flakes.

When the flakes begin to dance around add the Garlic.

Stir around for about twenty seconds and then add the onions.

Saute these until the onions are half-glassy. Please don't worry too hard over whether the onions are cooked right or not. I mean, please, the fuckers are good raw.

Now add the beans. If the pan is too dry, add a little water, but not too much because you want the beans to leave some tasty brown stuff on the bottom of the pan. All this would of course be better if you'd cooked the beans yourself, but we're talking about drunk late night food here. The beans are already done, so you really just need to heat them through, but let them get a little color in the pan, and then--

add about a cup of wine (or water or stock). Stir around, picking up all the tasty bits on the bottom of the pan. Salt and pepper to taste.

Now, I'm not entirely sure of the proportions here for this particular amount of beans, but I'm guessing you'll need about 1/2 a cup of dry polenta. I don't know because I typically just put in some and then add water as needed. The rule is 3:1 polenta to water, so with half a cup polenta you'll need 1 1/2 cups water. Don't count the water you used to deglase the pan. So put in your water and let it come to a good boil. Then, with a fork or whisk handy, start adding the polenta fairly slowly, stirring vigorously. Once all the polenta is in the pan, you'll need to keep stirring until it is all uniformily incorporated. Reduce the heat and let the bubbly mess cook, stirring infrequently, until the polenta is done, 10 to 20 to 30 minutes depending on the grind of the corn. The more slowly it cooks the more corny taste you'll have. But we're talking about late night drunk food here, so what you'll do is fill your measuring cup with water, crank up the heat and stir constantly for about 10 minutes, adding water as needed until the shit is done.

Serve topped with freshly ground pepper, Parmesan cheese, a bit of sea salt would be nice, and Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO).

Options: Anything green that you have (Not lettuce I don't think) you could chop into fine strips and add late in the process. Kale, mustard greens, etc...

Oh, top with parsley and put some in with the beans. See, I will have thought of this after the plates are in front of the guests so I'll likely be running around screaming, "Wait, wait, wait, wait! Wait, wait, wait. Hold on. Wait, wait, wait." Meanwhile chopping parsely and chasing people down to dash some on their food.

Voila! Gina, does this sound like what we had that night?

PS Oh yeah, the butter. Fuck it.