If I had to describe my cooking it would be something along the lines of jet-setting around the globe from the comfort of my very own kitchen. I may have a burst of Asian flavours bubbling in my wok one week and a streak of Italian comfort foods the next. Other days I’m swept away by trying my hand at Persian ash, rolling out dough for stuffed pierogies, roasting chilis and braising pork belly for a taste of the Yucatan or hacking away at the tough skin of the cassava root for a Brazilian moqueca.
I have an insatiable appetite for learning about the world’s cultures and I feel that there is no better way to do it, without traveling of course, than through food. You see, when I want to try an unfamiliar dish, I have to research where the dish comes from, how it came about and why people eat it. This reels me in closer to understanding a culture, and how people are shaped by foods and recipes.
Here is my cheerful plug for the good old days, as I’ve found that the internet has started a huge trend of recipes without any context, you know, the ones where you see someone’s hands grab pre-prepped ingredients, drop ’em into a pan while upbeat music lulls in the background and then, viola! In 12 seconds it’s done. What is that? So much is lost and the big questions which I mentioned above go unanswered. What happened to the recipe? A well written recipe answers questions, gives meaning to meals and gives cooking a historical and cultural value.
Call me old fashioned, but this is one of the reasons why I am a self professed cookbook junkie, cookbooks are a primary source for learning. If you seek out authors who have a purpose or a passion and communicate their methods and experiences through recipes and stories, you will be rewarded with knowledge. Of course not ALL cookbooks are a window into another culture and its ingredients, stories and history, but the ones that do, these are the cookbooks to treasure.
This recipe for Warm Hummus With Spiced Lamb, is adapted from Ana Sortun and Maura Kilpatrick’s Soframiz: Vibrant Middle Eastern Recipes from Sofra Bakery and Cafe. The cookbook explores flavors from the pairs’ travels throughout Turkey and Lebanon. Recipes range from street food to entertaining and several are becoming an everyday fave of mine.
I also searched Google and found a myriad of recipes for this dish also known as: hummus kawarma, hummus b’lahmeh or hummus bil lahme all of which mean hummus with lamb. It turns out, warm hummus topped with spiced lamb is a popular meal which spans from Israel to Lebanon and Turkey, but the “right” recipe may depend on who you ask.
I also discovered that this dish was traditionally made with awarma, or preserved lamb. Awarma is a rich, preserved meat mixture made by cooking down lamb in copious amounts of fat and preserving it in the fat for the long winter ahead. Sprinkling a little of this lamb confit over one dish or another was one way to ensure that families stayed well-nourished over the hard winter months. Today, this dish is usually prepared with freshly ground lamb or beef, but depending on the location there are recipes which include lamb or beef shawarma and even wild partridge or pigeon meat.
I’m lucky enough to live in such a globalized culture here in Toronto, that I’m capable of recreating all kinds of cuisines. I’ve found Brazilian, Filipino, Russian, Japanese, Chinese, Indian and Persian specialty stores, Italian stores that stock baccala’ (salt cod) and cotechino, Latin American bodegas in Kensington market and I’ve even come across a little Burmese variety store. After reading through several recipes and acquainting myself with the method and flavors for Warm Hummus and Spiced Lamb, I took stock of what I had on hand and jotted down a list of ingredients that I needed: Lamb – Pine nuts – Scallions
It was a short list, but the lamb was important, I wanted good ground lamb. My mind immediately went to a new-ish (October, 2016) store that I passed by a few weeks ago and meant to check out Tandis Fine Foods, at 10454 Yonge St, Richmond Hill, ON L4C 3C4 Walking in, it felt a bit boutique with a few racks of groceries, frozen foods, a cheese and dairy case, olives and nuts. The back housed their restaurant, which smelled amazing as well as their bakery and meat counter. (Photo via Echelle Interiors)
The butcher, in his clean white apron and blue eyes, was flanked by a small meat case, a line of customers and three sides of beef which he expertly deconstructed with his knife. I asked for 1 pound of ground lamb, and he grabbed a whole leg, cut off a hunk and ground it right in front of me, three times. He then asked me if I wanted the bone, which I did, and he did one better, he chopped up a whole leg bone for me, gratis! Best butcher, ever. It was refreshing to see whole animals being broke down by hand, rather than neat rows of cut meat wrapped in plastic. I’ll have to dig further and find out about where they source their meat.
Back at home, I got to work. The hummus recipe from the cook book Soframiz, is a Turkish style one which omits tahini and instead uses unsalted butter, and revani, a semolina cake soaked in simple syrup infused with chamomile. I chose to use my own hummus recipe with some secrets I learned from my Jordanian friends.
Then, I mixed up the spiced lamb, which left my kitchen in a perfume of warm ground allspice, pungent garlic and a faint hint of cinnamon – feel good flavors. I must say, that adding a hearty dollop of spicy sautéed lamb atop warm hummus makes for one fabulous main course. Once plated we dipped warm pita into the hummus and lamb amidst sighs of appreciation and mutterings of “yum” and “Mmmmm.” I completed the mezze table with green olives, hot peppers and a bright fattoush salad.
This is the way I learned it from the Shatara Family in Grand Rapids, MI
I find that each time I make this the quantity of chickpea cooking liquid or ice changes, so be mindful and add a bit at a time until you reach a perfect creamy consistency
1 1/2 cups/250 g dried chickpeas
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup tahini
juice from 1 lemon
2 cloves garlic, crushed
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 cup of ice
3/4 cup chickpea cooking liquid, plus 1/4 cup for the spiced lamb
salt to taste
Adapted from Soframiz: Vibrant Middle Eastern Recipes from Sofra Bakery and Cafe Ingredients:
1 pound ground lamb
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 can of pomodorini (cherry tomatoes), with liquid
1/4 cup chickpea cooking liquid
1 tablespoon harissa (The Soframiz recipe calls for harissa which I did not have on hand, so I mashed up the following as a tasty substitute: 3 bird’s eye chilis, 2 cloves garlic, 1 shallot, 1 tablespoon coriander seeds, 1 teaspoon ground cumin, 1 tablespoon olive oil, and salt to taste)
4 scallions, chopped
1 tablespoon parsley, chopped
4 tablespoons pine nuts, toasted
a squeeze of fresh lemon juice
For the Chickpeas:
One night before you cook the chickpeas, put the chickpeas in a large bowl and cover them with cold water. Leave to soak overnight. The next day, drain the chickpeas. Place a Dutch oven or large pot over high heat and add the drained chickpeas and baking soda, cover with water and bring to a boil. Be sure not to stir the chickpeas as stirring can cause them to stick to the bottom of the pan. Cook, skimming off any foam and any skins that float to the surface. The chickpeas will need to cook between 1 to 2 hours, maybe longer depending on the type and freshness. Once done, they should be very tender, but not quite mushy.
For the Tahini Sauce:
While the chickpeas are cooking, prepare the tahini sauce. In a small food processor, combine the tahini, lemon juice, garlic and mix until smooth, you may need to add a little bit of water to thin out the sauce, it should be creamy to borderline runny.
For the Hummus: Once the chickpeas are cooked through, drain and reserve 1 cup of the chickpea cooking liquid (3/4 cup for the hummus, plus 1/4 cup for the spiced lamb). Now you should have 3-3 1/2 cups of chickpeas. Place the chickpeas in a food processor and process until you get a stiff paste. Then, with the machine still running, add the tahini sauce, garlic, chickpea cooking liquid, olive oil and salt to taste. Finally, add a few ice cubes at a time while mixing until you get a very smooth and creamy paste.
For the Lamb: In a small bowl, mix together the salt, allspice, ground black pepper and cinnamon and set aside. Heat a large skillet over medium heat and add the pine nuts, toast until fragrant and beginning to brown, about 2-3minutes, remove the pine nuts and set aside. In the same skillet, heat the tablespoon of olive oil over medium heat. Add the lamb, and cook, mincing it with a wooden spoon until it’s almost cooked through 3-4 minutes. Add the spice mixture, tomatoes, and 1/4 cup of the chickpea cooking liquid. Cook until the slightly thickened, about 3 minutes. Stir in the scallions, harissa or my DIY garlic-pepper paste and cook for a few minutes more. Remove from heat and add a squeeze of fresh lemon juice, toasted pine nuts and the chopped parsley.
To Serve: Spoon the warm hummus into shallow bowls and use the back of the spoon to make a divot in the middle of the hummus. Spoon the spiced lamb into the divot you created and sprinkle with chopped parsley and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. Serve with warm pita bread for scooping up the hummus and spiced lamb.
*If you have to make the hummus a day or two ahead or have leftovers, simply reheat in the microwave to serve warm.