Before the pandemic, I would commute to Brooklyn twice a week to work with the Cup of Jo team…
I didn’t have to go to the office. Joanna clarified that I could do whatever I wanted — I could come in a few days a week or, if it didn’t work with my schedule or my kids’ schedule, I could work from home. But I almost always took the commuter train and the 4 or 5 subway to make my way to CoJ headquarters. I wanted the camaraderie, I wanted the inspiration, and I wanted the hummus.
Not just any hummus. Very specifically the hummus from Sahadi’s, the legendary Middle Eastern market on Atlantic Avenue, that is a mere five-minute walk from the Cup of Jo office. My kids would text me reminders: “Don’t forget that hummus!” And I’d fold up a reusable bag inside my work bag just to load up on enough containers to last us for the week.
Twenty years ago, before I had kids, I lived in the same neighborhood and I got incredibly spoiled by my access to Sahadi’s and its neighboring markets that make Atlantic Avenue a destination for Middle Eastern specialties. My fourth-floor Brooklyn apartment fridge was almost always stocked with stuffed grape leaves, pita that was so warm and fresh that the bag it came in was slightly wet from condensation, containers of baba ghanoush, spinach and lamb pies, and some of the most well-priced, boldly flavorful spices you can imagine. But it was the hummus from Sahadi’s that stayed with me. Creamy, silky, not a hint of pasty-ness, and with the perfect level of lemon and salt, it set the bar high. When we moved to the suburbs, I remember saying to my husband, “I feel great about this house, I just don’t know what I’m going to do about the hummus.”
Well, it’s been 18 months since I’ve commuted to Cup of Jo, and though I’m still not sure how to replace the in-person-camaraderie part of the equation (miss you, Team!), I do have something of a hummus solution. As of this week, a fourth-generation Sahadi owner, Christine Sahadi Whelan, has written a book called Flavors of the Sun: Sahadi’s Guide to Understanding, Buying, and Using Middle Eastern Ingredients. The great-great niece of Sahadi’s founder, a Lebanese immigrant, Christine wrote this book to acquaint readers and customers with the seasonings, spice blends and essential flavorings that transform simple, everyday cooking — think sumac, urfa pepper, pomegranate molasses, preserved lemons. Currently dog-eared: Fruited Farro Salad, Deviled Eggs with Dukkah, Sheet Pan Chicken with Squash and Sumac, Slow-Roasted Harissa Salmon. And this bold, new-to-me take on their hummus, topped with Moroccan spices and preserved lemon. I don’t know if making my own will ever taste as good as one that is spiked with the magic of Brooklyn, but if there was ever one to come close, this is it.
Hummus with Moroccan Spices and Preserved Lemon
From Flavors of the Sun by Christine Sahadi Whelan
Makes 2 cups
Says Christine: “A few years ago, we decided to offer a hummus tasting at a street fair in our Brooklyn Heights neighborhood. We set up a station in front of the store with five new varieties we created especially for the event, asking the passersby to vote for their favorite. When the results were tallied, this sassy blend won in a landslide. It is now a fixture in the deli case as well as on the café menu. I’m guessing it will find a permanent place in your snack and party rotation, as well.”
2 cups cooked chickpeas, drained, liquid reserved (see Note)
2 garlic cloves
1/4 cup tahini
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1/2 tsp sea salt
1 Tbsp diced preserved lemon rind, plus more for garnish, store-bought or homemade
1/2 tsp ras el hanout, plus more for garnish
Extra-virgin olive oil, for drizzling
Put the chickpeas in a blender or food processor with 3 tbsp of the reserved liquid. Add the garlic, tahini, lemon juice, and salt and blend until smooth. Check the consistency; if too thick, add more of the reserved chickpea liquid by the teaspoon. Add the preserved lemon rind and ras el hanout and purée. Taste for seasoning and let stand, covered, for 30 minutes or so to combine the flavors.
Serve drizzled with a bit of oil and topped with minced preserved lemon rind and a sprinkle of ras el hanout. The hummus can be stored in the refrigerator in a covered container for 4 or 5 days.
Note: If you prefer to cook your own chickpeas, start with 3/4 cup dried chickpeas. To speed cooking, you can presoak them in water to cover by 1 inch for 2 or 3 hours. For presoaked, bring the water to a boil, lower the heat, and simmer for about 25 minutes, or until tender. For dried, add enough water to cover by 1 inch, bring to a boil, lower the heat, and simmer for about 1 hour, until tender. When you drain them, save at least 1/4 cup of the cooking liquid.
(Photo by Kristin Teig.)