Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Week 24 - From Scratch

The Week 24 "from scratch" challenge puzzled me. I wasn't sure what I could possibly make that would be entirely from scratch, and we both wondered how far the from scratch requirement went. Would I have to grind my own spices? What about olive oil? I wasn't the only one wondering, and after some clarification, it seemed like as long as you made something from scratch that you normally wouldn't, that should suffice. With that guidance, the logical choice seemed like hummus. We had never made that from scratch before, and A had been wanting to make his own hummus for some time, so no time like the present!

Starting from scratch for hummus!

We recently bought the Ottolenghi Jerusalem cookbook (finally) and decided to follow the hummus recipe from the book (which is also on Food52). To make it a full meal, we planned to top it with mushrooms and onions, similar to what you would get if you ordered a hummus entree at a Mediterranean restaurant. We were really, really excited about doing this challenge, both because we would finally be making our first Ottolenghi recipe and because we were going to try to make our own hummus.

The first step in making hummus from scratch was soaking the chickpeas (a little more than 1.25 cups) overnight. In total, they probably soaked for about 19 hours. A few hours into it, they started making popping noises, which I hadn't expected so I was wandering all over the apartment trying to figure out what was making random popping sounds until I realized it was coming from the bowl of chickpeas. They plumped up in size in just a few hours which was nice to see.

When it was time to start the hummus for dinner, I followed the recipe's instructions and cooked the chickpeas with a tsp of baking soda for 3 minutes, stirring constantly. After the 3 minutes were up, I added a little more than 6.5 cups of water (since I used a little more than the recipe's amount of chickpeas to start with) and set the pot on the stove to boil. It didn't really boil much for the first half hour, so I ended up raising the flame even higher at some point and it was done about 5-10 minutes after that. While the chickpeas are boiling, you're supposed to skim off any foam or skin floating on the surface, and there was plenty of that. Once the chickpeas were soft enough to easily crush between my fingers, I knew they were done and drained them. At this point, we also tasted them to see how different they were from canned chickpeas. There was a definite flavor difference, but even more of a textural one, just softer and a little less starchy. But so much more work.

Once the chickpeas were done, it was time to take out the food processor (which I try not to do very often because it takes up the entire counter), and process the chickpeas until they were a stiff paste. While that was going, we worked on preparing some of the items that needed to be added to the chickpeas in the food processor - measuring out salt, squeezing out fresh lemon juice, peeling and crushing garlic, and opening the tahini sauce. All of those were supposed to be added next while the machine was still running (although we had to stop it to add the tahini since too much of it was dripping on the chute and we wanted to use all the tahini we could).

The next step was to slowly drizzle in about 6 tbsp of ice cold water. About 15 minutes earlier, I had put a bag with that amount of water in the freezer to chill. We weren't really sure what the difference was between just adding water and slowly drizzling it in, but who were we to argue with Ottolenghi's methods?

After everything was mixed in, it was time to move the hummus to a bowl, cover it with plastic wrap, and put it in the fridge for at least 30 minutes. It was pretty watery when it came out of the food processor, but we figured it would thicken up a bit in the fridge while it rested. However, during the time it sat in the fridge, a bunch of things clicked in my head and I started realizing that perhaps I made a mistake and it was going to be way too thin. But I tried to push that to the back of my mind so I could finish making dinner, and just hoped for the best.

While the hummus rested in the fridge, I worked on the mushroom and onion topping. The ingredients were simple - an 8 oz box of mushrooms, 1 onion, 1/2 head of garlic, a handful of pine nuts, a bunch of parsley, olive oil, and salt and pepper.

The topping itself was a simple saute and pretty easy to cook once it was all prepped. It didn't look exactly like the mushroom toppings we've had before at hummus restaurants, but I was fairly sure that it would work since it was pretty basic.

I pulled the hummus out of the fridge a few minutes before the mushroom topping was done. I was relieved that it had thickened up a little bit, but it was definitely not as thick as we were expecting or as we wanted it to be. So what went wrong? When I made the list of what I needed to get for the hummus recipe, I just wrote down "tahini." Having never bought tahini before, I hadn't noticed that the recipe called for tahini paste, and instead, I picked up tahini sauce. Since tahini sauce is already mixed with lemon juice and some other stuff, it made the hummus much thinner than tahini paste would have. Completely my mistake. It was still edible and it was okay, but it just wasn't what we were hoping for with our first hummus attempt. Lesson learned.

The hummus with mushroom topping was still a good dinner, even if the hummus consistency wasn't exactly what we wanted. The taste of the hummus was good, but it was a little too salty. Even taking out whatever salt was in the tahini, I think it was still too salty for my taste and might cut down on the salt a little bit next time. Oh well. We'll need to work on this recipe some more.

I would usually list out the ingredients up top to figure out how much this whole experiment cost us, but we did it in so many pieces that it seems to make more sense to just tack it here at the end as a footnote.

- For the hummus: 1/2 bag of dried chickpeas ($0.75), 1 tsp baking soda ($0.02), 2 lemons ($1), 8 oz tahini sauce ($2.99), 4 cloves of garlic ($0.15), salt ($0.05) = $4.96.
- For the mushroom topping: 8 oz box of mushrooms ($1.99), 1 onion ($0.50), olive oil ($0.50), salt and pepper ($0.05), 4 cloves of garlic ($0.15), 1 bunch of parsley ($1), handful of pine nuts ($1.50) = $5.69.

The total was about $10.65. It did make a lot of hummus, but that doesn't include pita or anything else we could have eaten along with it. Considering that you can get a container of hummus at Trader Joe's for about $2, I'm not sure whether it's more cost-effective making it from scratch. It definitely takes longer, but I'm still glad we tried it. Next time, we'll make sure we get tahini paste instead.

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