Delightful Middle East dips made easy


HUMMUS and baba ghanoush are everyday staples of the Middle East. They are usually served as a dip, spread or appetiser where diners scoop the mashed ingredients with a cracker or flatbread.

Hummus literally means chickpeas in Arabic. They are called garbanzo beans in Italian. I have cooked these from scratch before, and it requires overnight soaking and then boiling for about two hours.

It is very easy to transform these ordinary ingredients into extraordinary dips with a Middle Eastern flair. — Photos: YAP CHEE HONG/The StarIt is very easy to transform these ordinary ingredients into extraordinary dips with a Middle Eastern flair. — Photos: YAP CHEE HONG/The Star

I find that I get the same results with an inexpensive can of chickpeas, which is already salted and perfectly cooked. You just need to check the salt level and season accordingly.

Baba ghanoush is interpreted as “pampered daddy”, and it could have referred to a person who had indulged in this dish. It tastes almost like hummus except for the slight smokiness of roasted eggplant and the velvety texture of the blend.

Eggplant is roasted before its flesh is removed and blended to make baba ghanoush.Eggplant is roasted before its flesh is removed and blended to make baba ghanoush.

The main seasoning for these two dips is sesame seeds made into tahini. It is essentially sesame butter where toasted sesame seeds are blended with olive oil until it becomes a smooth liquid paste.

You may buy them ready-made in jars, but it is not very hard to make your own tahini. It also keeps well in the refrigerator for up to a year, with salt added as a preservative and topped with olive oil to keep it from drying out. You may also serve tahini as a dip.

Hummus is basically chickpeas or garbanzo beans blended into a paste with garlic, olive oil, tahini and cumin powder. Strain the beans from the liquid and use just enough of the liquid to blend.Hummus is basically chickpeas or garbanzo beans blended into a paste with garlic, olive oil, tahini and cumin powder. Strain the beans from the liquid and use just enough of the liquid to blend.

The other common flavouring ingredient is a clove of raw garlic, which adds a pleasantly piquant overtone to the dips. Some recipes add lemon juice to the dip but I find that this reduces the shelf life of the dips, so I recommend stirring in a few squeezes of lemon into the dish just before serving, if desired.A copious amount of extra virgin olive oil gives these dips a fruity essence evocative of the Mediterranean but they taste quite different. While hummus is spiced with cumin powder, baba ghanoush has coriander powder, and these distinct flavours keep the two dishes from tasting exactly the same.

I usually serve these dips as an appetiser with home-made tortilla chips. But you may serve them with any toasted or untoasted flatbread, pita bread or crackers.

Ingredients

Tahini

300g sesame seeds

½ cup extra virgin olive oil

½ tsp salt

Hummus

1 clove garlic

1 can boiled chickpeas, 400g

½ cup extra virgin olive oil

½ cup tahini

½ tsp cumin powder

Baba ghanoush

1 clove garlic

1 large brinjal, 250g

½ cup extra virgin olive oil

½ cup tahini

½ tsp coriander powder

½ tsp salt

Toasted flatbread

8 pieces tortilla wraps, 350g

A drizzle of extra virgin olive oil

Method

To make tahini, toast sesame seeds in a dry wok over medium heat until they turn light golden and seeds start to pop.

Pour into blender, add olive oil and salt, then blend until all the seeds are crushed. Add more olive oil if required to form a smooth liquid paste.

When making hummus, first strain the chickpeas with a wire mesh to separate the beans from the liquid. Save the liquid as it will be used later. In a blender, add all the hummus ingredients except the chickpea liquid. Blend until smooth, adding just enough chickpea liquid to form a thick paste.

Served as an appetiser with toasted flatbread, the hummus, baba ghanoush and tahini dips are garnished with a drizzle of olive oil to keep them from drying out.Served as an appetiser with toasted flatbread, the hummus, baba ghanoush and tahini dips are garnished with a drizzle of olive oil to keep them from drying out.

Taste and add salt only if necessary because the canned chickpeas are already salted. This can keep refrigerated for about a month in a jar, topped with a layer of olive oil to keep it from drying out.

To make baba ghanoush, place brinjal on a roasting pan and brush it all over with extra virgin olive oil. Roast in the oven for 20 minutes at 200°C until soft. Remove from oven, split the skin down the middle and scrape off the flesh of the brinjal. Discard the skin.

In a blender, add all the baba ghanoush ingredients and blend until smooth. This can keep refrigerated for about two weeks in a jar, topped with a layer of olive oil to keep it from drying out.

Tortilla chips can be made using flatbread that are cut into one-eighth wedges and baked with a drizzle of olive oil.Tortilla chips can be made using flatbread that are cut into one-eighth wedges and baked with a drizzle of olive oil.

For the tortillas, use kitchen shears to cut the wraps into one-eighth wedges. Take each wedge and cut them further into four triangles. Place the triangular chips of wrap in a single layer on a baking sheet and drizzle with a light coating of olive oil.

Bake in the oven for 10 to 15 minutes at 175°C until light golden and crispy. You will need to bake in a few batches. Allow to cool completely before storing in an airtight glass jar.

To serve, pour each of the dips into its own serving dish and drizzle with extra virgin olive oil as garnish.

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