Tuscan Hummus

Contrary to popular belief, the great equalizer isn’t education. It’s hummus. Have vegetarian friends? They can eat hummus. Same goes for people who can’t eat dairy, wheat, or nuts. It doesn’t cost a lot of money to make a huge amount. It also couldn’t be easier to make and it’s pretty damn delicious, to boot. That said…If I never see another pita chip again, it may be too soon. Sorry, but the thing about hummus is…since it is so great, everyone does it. It’s time to jazz up hummus, to give it new life and make it sexy and mysterious again. It’s time to take it to San Remo, drive it down the Italian Riviera, and bring it back in its new European outfit. It’s time for:
Tuscan Hummus

Ingredients:
2 cans cannellini beans, drained
3 Tbsp. jarred pesto (be sure to find one without nuts if you are serving those with allergies)
1 head roasted garlic
1/3-1/2 cup apple cider or tomato vinegar
1/4 cup olive oil
Special Equipment: Food Processor

 1) Dump the beans into the food processor.

 2) Toss in the pesto.

 3) And the garlic
You guys doing ok? I know, I’m really intimidating with all of the incredibly technical recipes I show you on the blog.

 4) Vinegar. Add it. Be aware, you may need up to 1/2 of a cup of vinegar by the time the hummus is to your liking. But start out with 1/3 of a cup. You can always add more later.

 5) Start the food processor, and slowly drizzle in the olive oil. You won’t need much because the pesto has oil in it.

Just drizzle a bit in until the hummus becomes a consistency you like – I prefer a consistency that is mostly smooth, but not too thin. Transfer to a container and refrigerate the hummus for at least 3 hours, or up to overnight. Taste for seasonings before serving, and add more pesto, oil, or spices as you see fit.

 6) Serve.

This hummus is a showstopper. I served it with a drizzle of chile-infused olive oil on top, but it is delicious just on its own. The beans are creamy and mild, and the roasted garlic adds the deepest, sweetest flavor to the dip. The jarred pesto is – if I do say so myself – the genius of this recipe. Two little spoonfuls and you get the most incredible, unmistakably Italian flavor of sharp Parmesan cheese and earthy basil. The vinegar is the kicker here – its brightness and acidity adds another dimension to the hummus.
That’s what this recipe does all around – it adds another dimension to hummus. It is elegant, it is hearty, it is healthy, and it is really, really tasty with a breadstick or crudite.
And, let’s not forget…hummus is the great equalizer.
I know, I taught you that…you’re welcome.

Mario’s Bakery, Fall River – A Middle Eastern Vacation

Just so there is no confusion out there…naming this road trip, the Quahog Chronicles, has way more to do with WHERE to road trip is (Up the coast of Southern New England) than WHAT we ate. Sure, we ate a lot of quahogs, but not at every meal. Like not at this one, for example:
We were driving right through Fall River, MA, which has a huge Portuguese population, but did you know it also has quite a substantial Lebanese population?
Me either! Thanks to a few food-centric friends, I was directed to Mario’s for a quick stop through the Middle East.
*We were 45 minutes away from the spot when I called and asked what time they closed – half an hour. Upon hearing how disappointed I was, Maroun offered to keep the store opened for an extra 20 minutes for us. This was without my mentioning I would review him or him even knowing if I would show. This was just because he wanted someone new to experience his food and the love he has for his culture’s culinary identity. He didn’t have to stay open – we certainly weren’t buying mass quantities of food – but for Mario, it wasn’t all about the money. This is the kind of place that we, as food lovers MUST patronize to ensure they stay in business with all the big boys. Ok, now off soapbox and back to food porn*
The scents of fresh baking bread, cinnamon and garlic all greeted us as we entered the tiny store.
Luckily, Mario had a mop on hand to wipe up the drool that dribbled out of my mouth.
It aint’ fancy, and you KNOW how I feel about that…
LOVE IT!
 Just a brick oven, a fridge full of dough to go, a few Lebanese seasonings and ingredients for sale and…
 Lots of these fabulous meat filled pies. They were incredibly cheap and…
incredibly delicious!

The dough was reminiscent of slightly thicker pizza dough-floury, yeasty, a bit chewy and with excellent hole structure. The meat was fragrant, spicy, sweet and just freakin delicious. Cinnamon, cardamom, red pepper, oregano…who the hell KNOWS what was in there? It was incredibly complex – way more intricate than shwarma, yet not at all greasy or heavy. It was – dare I say – light? It was meaty and satisfying, but that was it. Not too heavy, not too spicy, just perfectly balanced. If you like Moroccan or Middle Eastern food, you will simply LOVE this.
I mean, I loved 4 of them.  
And that was before I loved this dessert bread. The same slightly sour, pliant dough laden with nutty sesame seeds and lashings of sweet honey. Sweet, nutty, doughy…what sounds wrong with that sentence?
 Nothing, according to my sister.
My favorite bread was a shocker – the freebie that Maroun gave us for all of our enthusiasm. This was simply bread covered in the house blended za’atar. All I have to say is…
WHAT THE HECK KIND OF CARDBOARD SHAVINGS HAVE I BEEN EATING ALL THIS TIME?
NEVER have I had za’atar like this. One bite kicked me in the face and practically jettisoned me to the Dead Sea, Lebanon and all other places Middle East. It was incredibly aromatic, almost like a savory perfume (not like rosewater though…HATE rosewater), and there was a powerful citrus taste that really made the bread wheatier and the sesame seeds meatier. Not at all salty or spicy, but with that evasive, mouthwatering flavor known as umami, it was just impossible to stop eating. It begged only for a tiny bit of the yogurt that Mario sold. 
Can’t believe I didn’t buy that yogurt when I had the chance.
Sometimes, I hate myself.
But I sure as hell don’t hate Mario’s! This place is run by the kindest lover of food who just can’t wait to share his cultural legacy with you via meat pies and other goodies. It is cheap, it is delicious, and it is the type of place that…well you know where I am going with this.
You have to support it…you just have to. They deserve to stay open.

And you deserve to see some more quahogs on these Quahog Chronicles!
With that, we continue northward…

Shalezeh, or Why I Can Still be Prom Queen

A Michelin Star is a big deal in my book. It is the gold standard, the highest peak, the zenith of a restaurant’s career…
It is like winning Prom Queen.
Something that definitely never happened to me. Theater nerds don’t REALLY factor into popularity contests.

Yeah that’s me in the middle…at our school’s lip synch contest…

ANYWAY…
Michelin stars really mean something. So when Grace and I headed to NYC’s only Michelin Starred Persian restaurant Shalezeh, I was ready to be impressed.
We started out with bread and this tahini dip. The tahini was VERY strong and thick – almost peanut-buttery in texture. At first it was nutty and comforting, but it later tasted sort of repetetive and dull. A little pepper or chile would really have kicked this baby up to interesting levels. 

The bread. The picture stinks…but so did the bread. Dry, leaden, nondescript. 

Koofteh Tabrizi – prunes and fava beans stuffed meat ball, served over tomato, sweet pea, turmeric, curry and saffron stew. This was the restaurant’s specialty, and it really was quite delicious. Tender beef, fragrant with tumeric and cinnamon, was stuffed with sweet, soft prunes and creamy fava beans. The prunes played so well off the savory beef and the tomatoey saffron soup was acidic, tangy, and provided a great, bright flavor to counteract the hearty meatball.
It was great….but not groundbreaking. Grace and I weren’t really hungry, so we called it a night after our meaty snack, but, really…it was yummy. Nothing less, but certainly nohting more. Not Michelin Star worthy. And this was the restaurant’s signature dish. The service was good, decor was fine, menu was classic, but not deserving of a coveted Michelin Star.
I mean, if that was the way we were doing it, I definitely could have been homecoming queen.
Maybe not. 
Shalezeh on Urbanspoon

Gazala Place Review

It’s hot.  You are hungry.  You are poor. 

ANYWAYAs you and Stephanie walk through Hells Kitchen, she pulls you into this restaurant:

 

 

 

And she says-“omg i have eaten here before!  We MUST go in and get falafel!”

 

You love falafel. You know Stephanie takes food very seriously. You say ok.

 

As soon as you enter, you see these things sitting on the counter.

 

Buttery, pillowy, croissant like dough in yeasty layers folded into a cinnamon roll shape.  The scent of spinach, garlic, and sesame wafts towards you.  You start to drool a little

 

 

You are embarassed.  So is Stephanie.

 

You squeeze into a teeny tiny booth in this teeny tiny restaurant.  Pillows line the booths, and though the space is a little bit cramped, it is clean and functional.

 

After an enthusiastic waitress takes your order, you talk about how crazy Mel Gibson is and how you need to start watching True Blood.  Cause you totally do.

 

Then the bounty starts to arrive…

 

 

The tabbouleh comes first.  Parsley, mint, tomato, lemon, bulgar wheat and olive oil.  It is like pesto without abrasive garlic, or a chopped salad with carbolicious nuggest of the pasta-like wheat.  It is summer in a bowl-subtle, refreshing, tart. It is not salty or spicy.  It is just refreshing and you shovel it into my mouth like you’re going to the chair.

 


Then the LEHEM BELAGEEN arrives.  Flakey, crispy, nutty whole wheat dough topped with mint infused ground meat,  pine nuts, and sundried tomatoes. The crust crackles as you drag your knife through it to spear yourself part of the meat pie.  The beef is charred on the outside but soft and lucious on the inside, spilling umami filled juices onto the bread underneath.  Salty, crunchy, soft, and filling all at the same time.  The pine nuts are not noticeable, but the sundried tomatoes are plump and vibrant- nothing like the oil packed variety we get in the grocery store.  This is a hamburger out of “1,000 arabian nights”.


About now you wish you were eating here alone.  Stephanie is enjoying sharing a little too much.  You need to get friends with smaller appetites



Falafel.


Parsley, oregano, garlic.  Chickpeas.  Thickly crunchy on the outside, smoothly creamy on the inside.  Like heavily spiced potato croquettes.  Nary a speck of grease on my hands.  So hot the steam burns your tongue when you eat it.

Rich sesame tahini.  Homemade saag pita which tastes like a very thin, very delicious whole wheat flour tortilla.  Crispy iceberg lettuce.  fresh tomatoes.

 

 

This meal is transportive.  It is swimming in the salty Dead Sea, feeling the warm sun on your face, eating food that has been feeding many cultures for THOUSANDS of years.  We hear so much about the middle east, yet never about the totally transcendent food of the Druze that Gazala Place executes with love and passion.  You taste the passion in the soft, housemade pita.  You smell the love when that mint and garlic laced beef pie hits the table.  You know you are in for something special when the salty, savory,  fresh falafal sandwich graces your palate.  And you know you are lucky when the bill comes to $21 for the two of you.

 

As you step back into the blazing July heat, you are somewhat shocked to rediscover that you are not in someone’s kitchen in the middle east after all.  You have been in New York all this time.  You are just a lucky food lover, who has to start watching True Blood.  Who loves falafel.  Who writes about it on her blog.