Lamb Meatballs on Ottolenghi’s Hummus with Pomegranate Molasses

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Laurie Anderson has a song–more of a performance piece–called “Only An Expert Can Deal with a Problem.” It’s a dark, satirical look at the way Americans defer so willingly to experts; whether it’s the talking heads on Fox News, hyper-judgmental celebrities on Fashion Police, or mental health gurus like Dr. Phil. And nowhere is this more evident, really, than the way Americans cook from cookbooks. I know because I’m an American and for the larger bulk of my cooking life, I was such a slave to whatever recipe I was following; if I didn’t have precisely 1 1/2 teaspoons of baking soda left in the canister, I’d throw everything away. Julia Child wouldn’t approve; on her show, once, I heard her say, “Anyone who doesn’t finish a recipe because they don’t have all the ingredients will never be a cook.” It took me a long time to get there but now I cook much more loosely, much more confidently, and cookbooks function less as sacred texts and more like casual idea-generators. Which is how this terrific dinner came about.

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Heavenly Hummus with Homemade Pita Chips

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One thing that I like about cooking is that even if think you know a recipe, there’s always a better version lurking around the corner. It’s always possible to make something better. So, for example, homemade hummus: I’ve been making it for a while. Generally, I just strain a can of chickpeas (reserving the liquid), toss it into a food processor with some garlic, some tahini, some lemon juice, a splash of olive oil, salt and a little of that liquid. Whir it up and I’ve got hummus. I’m usually pretty happy with the results.

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Seeking My West Coast Hummus Place: The Hummus Bar & Grill

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When I lived in New York, my body was composed of 90% hummus. That’s because I lived close to Hummus Place on 7th Ave. and I’d go there a few times a week for lunch (see this post). And though I’ve attempted to recreate a Hummus Place meal for dinner here in California, it never hits the spot in quite the same way. Which is why, last week, I found myself seeking out a west coast alternative. First place to check out: The Hummus Bar & Grill in Burbank.

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Chicken and Hummus Together On A Plate with Pita

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When we had guests staying with us last week, and more friends popped over, I found myself making big dinners for everyone and I loved doing it. The idea was to serve up lots of stuff with more stuff on the side (like I did on Taco Night) and the biggest hit of all was this dinner I made of chicken, hummus, Israeli salad, pita and–on the side–that bright green condiment known as schug. People couldn’t get enough of it including me.

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Black Chickpeas and Roasted Sweet Potatoes on Black Chickpea Hummus

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Pride in the name of dinner: I’m really proud of this healthy dish I came up with last week. It started in the morning when I cracked open a bag of black chickpeas, poured them into a large red bowl, filled it with cold water and left for the day. 8 hours later, when I came home, I drained off the liquid, put the chickpeas in a pot, added more cold water to cover and threw in a head of garlic, a bay leaf and a few dried Arbol chiles. Up to a simmer it went, I added salt (breaking convention) and cooked for about 90 minutes until a chickpea tasted creamy.

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Hummus For Dinner

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Hummus is many things: a party snack, a sandwich filler, a way to use up leftover chickpeas. But dinner? Hummus for dinner? Preposterous!

Hey: I understand where you’re coming from. Hummus is a glorified dip and who eats dip for dinner? But ever since I left New York, I’ve been missing my lunches at Hummus Place in the West Village. So last Monday, for dinner, I decided to recreate my regular lunchtime Hummus Place meal, only this time it would be for dinner.

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What’s Up With These Black Chickpeas?

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At Cookbook, the delightful store in Echo Park where I bought my first bag of Rancho Gordo beans, I came upon a bag of black chickpeas. “What’s up with these black chickpeas?” I asked the nice people there.

“They’re just like regular chickpeas,” said Robert, one of those nice people. “Except…well…they’re black.” With a sales pitch like that, how could I not buy a bag? So I bought one and brought it home.

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My Hummus Place Habit

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The West Village is not an easy place to grab a cheap lunch. Don’t get me wrong: it’s a wonderful place to grab lunch. There’s Market Table, ‘ino, Pearl Oyster Bar, The Spotted Pig, Barbuto, etc, etc, and so on. But the operative word in my first sentence was “cheap” and while all of those places have wonderful food, if I ate at one of them every day, I’d be broke. Which is why, upon moving here two years ago, I was in search of a place I could visit on a weekly basis, where I could eat quickly and cheaply and relatively healthfully, a place that was convenient to my apartment and convenient to the coffee shop where I do most of my work (Joe). The place I settled upon was Hummus Place.

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