When I was 21 years old, I packed up a U-Haul trailer, drove north from Arizona, and moved to San Francisco. I only knew one person in the Bay area - my boyfriend at the time, whom I broke up with not long after arrival - and he didn't even live in the City, but rather, thirty miles down the peninsula in Palo Alto. The rent on my apartment was $525 a month, and on my meager salary I could barely afford it. But for that sum I was able to live in a refurbished studio on the top floor, with hardwood floors, high ceilings, a claw-foot tub, and a big bay window. Even better, my building was within walking distance to work, and it was smack in the middle of one of the most beautiful cities in the world.
At the time, I was fresh out of college and pursuing a career in fashion. I felt fortunate to have landed a job in the buying offices of the classic San Francisco retailer, I. Magnin. My first boss at my first "real" job was a man named Greg, who was the head buyer for men's furnishings. He was smart, witty, impeccably groomed, and - like many of the men and women with whom I worked in that industry - possessed of a wonderfully flamboyant personality.
One weekend, I was invited to a cocktail party at Greg's huge, chic, rent-controlled flat. Everyone was to contribute something to nibble; the hosts would supply the spirits. Even then, I loved to cook and was quickly becoming addicted to the old-school PBS cooking shows. It was on one of those shows that I had seen someone make hummus. Now, you have to remember this was twenty years ago. Unlike today, you couldn't just wander into any corner grocer and find hummus for sale, much less the half-dozen varieties available these days. At the time, hummus was an exotic dish I had never heard of. I didn't have a recipe other than knowing the basic ingredients, but on the cooking show it had looked so simple and so flavorful, I couldn't wait to give it a try. The party seemed like the perfect opportunity. I mixed a batch in my mini food processor and spooned it into a pretty bowl, which I set on a platter surrounded by steamed asparagus spears. Heading out to the party on the back of my new boyfriend's motorcycle, balancing my appetizer carefully on one knee, I must admit I felt very grown up (and more than a little cosmopolitan).
After greeting me at the door with a cocktail and a kiss, Greg eyed my offering. "Oooh, what is that?" he wondered aloud. "It's called hummus. It's a Mediterranean dip. Just a little something I whipped up," I replied nonchalantly. Greg clapped his hands, smiling broadly. "Attention everyone! You must come and try Dawn's dip. It's Mediterranean!" Normally, being put on the spot like that would have made me self-conscious. But to be honest, Greg was so sincere in his enthusiasm - for the dip, for his friends, for life in general - that it just made me laugh.
One of Greg's friends grabbed a spear, dipped it in the hummus, took a bite... and grinned at me. "Girl," he said, taking another bite, "that tastes so good it'll make you want to slap your mama!" A compliment if ever I heard one.
A lot has changed since those youthful days in San Francisco. Rents in the City have more than tripled. The venerable I. Magnin is no more. I left the fashion world to become a lawyer. Sadly, Greg passed away a few years after we first met - with far too much of life still ahead of him. Happily, I married the motorcycle-riding boyfriend. But in the midst of all these changes a few things have remained the same. Among them, the ease with which this hummus comes together, and the raves from everyone who tries it.
Easy Homemade Hummus
Tahini is a paste made from sesame seeds, and is now widely available at health food stores and most supermarkets. Much like natural peanut butter, the oil may separate, necessitating a bit of stirring before you use it. However, unlike peanut butter, the stirring is accomplished fairly quickly. I prefer the mellow taste of cooked garlic in this recipe, but feel free to substitute the more traditional raw garlic if you like. Update: for raw garlic, I would suggest using only 1-2 cloves, since the flavor is much stronger. There are also myriad ways to vary this recipe by adding sun-dried tomatoes, fresh herbs, chopped olives... use your imagination.
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for garnish
3-4 cloves of garlic, cut in half
1 can (15 oz) Garbanzo beans/chickpeas, drained (reserve liquid)
2-3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons sesame tahini
generous pinch Kosher salt
dash white pepper
optional garnishes: lemon zest or sesame seeds
Pour the olive oil into a small pan; add the garlic. Cook over low to medium-low heat until the garlic softens and is just colored on the edges, about 5-6 minutes. You want to poach the garlic gently in the oil; if it browns too quickly, it will taste bitter. Remove from heat and cool for a few minutes.
Place the Garbanzo beans in the bowl of a food processor. Add the olive oil with garlic, lemon juice, tahini, salt and pepper. (If you are adding additional flavors such as sun-dried tomatoes, add them now.) Puree the mixture for several minutes until smooth, stopping as needed to add the reserved liquid from the Garbanzo beans a spoonful at a time to achieve desired texture (I added 10 tablespoons this time). Taste, and add more salt, pepper, tahini or lemon juice if desired, and whir once more to blend. Remove to a serving bowl. Drizzle with olive oil and garnish with lemon zest or sesame seeds. Serve with fresh or steamed vegetables, pita chips, or fresh pita bread.
Makes about 2 cups. Keeps up to one week, refrigerated in a covered container.
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