Kitchen Experimentation

At times I fancy myself an experimental chef. I love to cook but I rarely follow a recipe more than once or twice. Cookbooks are great, to get an idea of what you need to start out. Why throw away the results of other experiments, right? When in EC mode don’t chuck out the books, use them as research guidelines. Todays results from some experiments stared last week are ready to share.

First some background on this whole project. My wife and I like Middle Eastern food, and I am a fan of Mediterranean food in general. I wanted to learn to make hummus. It’s a very simple and strait forward process. The core of most hummus recipes is chick peas, olive oil, and water. Beyond that, its all up to what you like. Many recipes call for tahini past or cumin, ether will give the base the distinctive middle eastern taste. Garlic and lemon are other common ingredients. There are a number of recipes that substitute black beans or other legumes in place of the chick peas.

I started dinking around with variants of basic hummus and have come up with a “standard” that is quick and easy. I don’t measure most of the ingredients, I work by instinct. For the sake of making this a bit easier for the reader I will try to give some reference for those items. My standard hummus begins with two (2) cans of chick peas. Drain the liquid from the chick peas into a cup, we’ll use some later, and pour them into a food processor. Add some olive oil, I like to use just enough to coat the peas, around two (2) tablespoons. Sprinkle some kosher salt in, really it could be any large grained salt like sea salt or one of the gourmet salts, this is to taste, you could omit it all together, I use about a teaspoon. Crush some garlic into the mix, again this is to taste. Cut a medium lemon in half and squeeze the juice in, I recommend using a strainer to keep the seeds out. To round it out, a dollop of tahini (1 heaping tablespoon), or some cumin, a full teaspoon should do.

These are all just rough estimates, this is the basic taste combo that works for me. I go easy on the olive oil and use more water (i’ll explain that next) to keep it light on calories. This makes about three to three and a half cups of hummus, thats a pretty good sized batch, usually it will be enough for a party tray for ten or so guests depending on how into hummus your guests are. In Weight Watcher parlance this whole batch is four (4) points, not per serving, but the whole batch!

Now back to the preparation, with all of the ingredients in the processor, just turn it on. Add a bit of that drained juice we kept in a cup when we started. Just keep adding a little at a time to keep the hummus circulating well in the processor and ground to a smooth consistency. I like my hummus thick but finely ground and smooth, some people like it a little chunkier. I also like it chilled so I will toss it into the fridge for a couple of hours before serving. That’s it. Simple.

There are tons of things you can do to tweak your hummus to your own taste. I have added sunflower butter, peanut butter, honey, all kinds of nuts, the list of things you can add is endless. This is one reason I love hummus, you can tweak it any way you like, use anything you like, have fun with it.

Now that was the background. Here is what I came up with this last week and today. I wanted to try replacing the chick peas with black beans. On reflection I should have let them soak an extra day. I used the basic recipe and it turned out okay, but I wasn’t happy with the texture and there was a slight after taste that I didn’t care for, again, I think an extra day of soaking might have made a difference, and some more grinding. But this was only a part of the plan for the big bowel of black beans.

Many of the veggie burgers use black beans and a primary ingredient, many of them also use TVP (Texturized Vegetable Protein). I wanted to try and make my own veggie burgers from scratch so I set out to do so using black beans as a base. Along the way I thought using some potato would help by acting as a binding agent to the black bean paste. After grinding up a big batch of half black bean, half potato using nothing else but water I ended up with a funky blush past with little black flecks. This past was nicknamed Smurf past, because I’m weird. I put the mix in the fridge to stiffen up a bit for a couple of days. Today was the big day.

The mix works, well actually, but there are some eccentricities because of the past like nature. It’s a little like making potato cakes with leftover mashed potatoes. It’s gotta cook a bit before it can be flipped or moved. The process that seemed to work best was to preheat the skillet to the point that when you add olive oil it will quickly coat the bottom of the pan but doesn’t start turning brown instantly, a little smoke is okay, but the less the better. So, a dash of oil swirled around, set the pan back on the burner, with a flatware tablespoon take a heaping spoonful of the past and set it in the center of the skillet. Gently swirling the pan will coat the bottom of the mix and flatten it into a patty, between an eighth of an inch to a quarter inch thick is best. Let it sit and sizzle for about five minutes before swirling the pan gently to make sure it is not stuck to the pan. If all is well than now carefully flip the patty with a spatula. After flipping, swirl the pan again making sure the patty moves freely on the surface.

It takes some practice to get the swirl flip thing working well and adding just enough oil to keep it all going, but the result is good. Cheep, homemade, low cal veggie burgers / meat substitute. I used a crumbled patty as a ground beef substitute in a taco salad and it worked out very well.

After all of this, and being happy with the results I had a though… that black bean hummus… hummus burgers? On to the skillet the hummus went. It didn’t hold together as well as the bean potato mix but there was a pleasant surprise. Falafel. Yup, the pan fried black bean hummus tasted just like falafel. WOOT! Now I am off in another direction looking up potential low cal sauce for falafel. When I figure that one out i’ll post that too.

Till next time, have fun in the kitchen!