I don’t know why I do these sorts of things. I can’t just write about food I tell you! For some reason, every 6 months or so, the need to be in a commercial kitchen cooking for a large group of people takes over me. It started with my secret dinners at Element Bistro (to which I stupidly invited SMH Good Food Guide editor Joanna Savill – luckily she loved it!). That was followed by 2 secret dinners at Fix St James, and then a dinner at Bistrode CBD last year with the Merrivale Group, a week or so after my baby girl was born. This year, it’s no different and though I already have a million things to do before I leave for Lebanon, I’m getting really excited about this year’s event: a degustation dinner with Sydney’s finest Turkish chef, Somer Siviroglu of the wonderful Efendy in Balmain.
The great thing about this dinner is the central ingredient we’ve chosen for it: chickpeas! On my last trip to Lebanon I was inspired by an experience I had at a little water-side restaurant in the ancient city of Sidon. The restaurant’s menu was completely based on chickpeas, the humblest of ingredients. At first, I found that strange and didn’t know what to think, but when the food started coming out, oh boy! It was beyond excellent. The dishes included stunning renditions of balila, fatteh bi laban, fatteh bi tahini, hummus bi lahme, all Lebanese classics, and several other chickpea based specialties whose name I can’t recall but which were extremely delicious nevertheless. I was also blown away with how different each dish was, and it struck me how versatile chickpeas really are. That experience has been brewing in the back of my mind and I’ve been contemplating organising this event for over 2 years now. Luckily, chef Siviroglu didn’t knock the idea back, snickering at my petty chickpea dreams, but seemed even more excited about it than I was!
This dinner will to give Sydney siders a taste of Lebanon and Turkey that they wouldn’t usually experience unless they travel to that part of the world. Somer and I will stick to tradition and won’t attempt anything too “chefy”. It’s about being authentic and giving you guys something honest, real and cultural, a little taste of back home. Desserts might get a bit creative, though, but I promise, no sweet hummus!
I won’t leave you hanging for long and will give you the full details very soon, so you could get in and book early. The photo above is a sneak preview of one of the dishes which I plan to include on the night. It’s one of my favourite chickpea dishes, fatteh bi lahme (meat fatteh). Instead of the traditional mince, I slow cook brisket for around 4 or 5 hours. The result is too good for words.
What do you think about this event? Leave a comment and let me know (that it’s not a stupid idea).
OK. So let’s set a few things straight here. Hommous (also spelled hummus or hommos) , is not a dish, and under no circumstance should it be an ingredient of a kebab. In fact, hommous is the Lebanese and Arabic word for chickpeas. The chickpea dip known the world over is what we the Lebanese call hommous b tahini. This name tells us that the chickpea dish is made with tahini. Chickpeas are eaten fresh (green) or dried (soaked and boiled). You can also buy the canned variety, but it is much cheaper and tastier if you soak and then boil them yourself. On its own, the chickpea is quite bland, but its merit comes from its ability to carry flavours and also from its texture. This texture works perfectly when blended with another Lebanese staple, tahini.
Now tahini holds another point of contention. The product is the same whether it is spelled tahini or tahina. The word tahini itself denotes something that has been crushed, in this case, sesame seeds. The process is similar to making peanut butter, but the sesame seeds themselves are more oily and fragrant than peanuts, and crushing them results in a paste that is essential to the Lebanese cuisine, where it is used in more ways than you can imagine.
But back to chickpeas, having just returned from Lebanon, I was reminded of the versatility of the hommous bean itself and the importance it holds in our cuisine. During the trip, I had more than 10 dishes where chickpeas were a central ingredient, and at least 4 where they were pretty much the only ingredient other than the sauce and spices used alongside. I remembered how we used to buy bunches of green (fresh) chickpeas and spend hours chatting, shelling and eating. Somewhat like peas, a good green chickpea should be had within hours of being picked, otherwise it gets chalky. Of all the great recipes for chickpeas, I thought you would most benefit from making the following dish.
Hommous b Tahini (Chickpeas in Tahini Sauce) Recipe
The most common chickpea dish known to man (Indian curries aside), hummous b tahini is often murdered at the hands of chefs and home cooks alike. It is at its finest when it is super smooth, perfectly balanced with tahini and lemon juice, and with just enough garlic. A Lebanese mother would never measure the ingredients and give out a recipe, as it is made with constant tasting of the ingredients to ensure the right balance is achieved. Here is an “algorithm” for making hommous b tahini, with tips to ensure the right consistency:
1- Soak chickpeas overnight with a spoon or two of sodium bicarbonate
2- Boil the hell out of the chickpeas. You want to be able to turn it into mush by simply pressing on the grain between your index and thumb
3- Drain but keep the cooking liquid as you will need it
4- Put in a food processor with no other liquid and blend.
5- If the food processor is not blending properly, add tiny amounts of cooking water, and I mean by the tablespoon just to get it going
6- Keep blending until very smooth. If you put too much liquid, it will not get smooth enough, and remain yucky and grainy
7- Add garlic, salt and lemon juice, blend again and adjust to taste.
8- Add tahini paste (a bit at a time), blend and taste.
9- Tahini will make the dip seize up, so add a bit of cooking liquid (or lemon juice if it needs it) to loosen it all up, but not too much. It should be be thick and creamy, not liquidy in any way. Have a look at how it holds its grooves in the picture above.
10- Adjust garlic, salt and lemon juice, plate up, make a sort of well in the middle and fill it with good olive oil! Huzzah!