Monday, May 18, 2009

Sesame -> Tehina -> Choumous

I love choumous to death. It's creamy, but dairy-free, filling yet somewhat light and it's healthy. Above all, though, it's just yummy.
If it's done right, that is.
Living in Berlin, I probably have the best access to non-German foods in this country, but I have yet to find a store-bought choumous I like. Most of the stuff you get here is Turkish or Lebanese and so full of spices that you can't taste the chickpeas - which doesn't really suit me. Especially the Turkish style of choumous can differ dramatically from the Israeli style and since I grew up on the latter, I naturally prefer it.
The last time I was in Israel, I brought back a huge tub of choumous from the place in the picture above (where I also had lunch every day). If you ever visit Nahariya, I suggest you go there.
Anyway, of course the choumous didn't last me very long. It became pretty obvious that I would have to make some myself. I had previously tried to get a recipe from my Israeli family members, but seeing as great choumous is basically always available within walking distance from wherever you may be in Israel, none of them had ever made it themselves.
So imagine how excited I was to find this recipe by Mimi from Israeli Kitchen! In my opinion, locals always do it best and finding a recipe by an Israeli made me confident the recipe would work.
And work it did, although it took me quite a while, because I made everything from scratch, even the raw tehina paste. You can get it in organic/health food stores, but it's made from unhulled sesame seeds and I find that kind to be too bitter.
And now, without further ado, here are the recipes:

Tehina paste
  • 500 g = 1.1 lbs = 3.5 cups untoasted, hulled sesame seeds
  • 40-100 ml = 1/5 - 1/3 cup oil (I used sunflower seed oil, but you could probably use other neutral oils or even sesame oil)
There are two ways to toast the sesame seeds. I did them in the oven. You could also use a pan, which is easier if you have pets and/or small kids running around, or if you're uncomfortable with sticking your hand/arm into a hot oven. There's really no need to get them all done at once, since you're going to have to let them cool anyway, so the smaller amounts you get from using the pan are no problem.

Here's how I did it:
  1. Preheat oven to 320° F/180° C.
  2. Pour your sesame seeds onto a baking tray or into a shallow, oven-safe glassware dish (the latter makes it easier to move the sesame seeds to another dish for cooling afterwards). Put your tray/dish on the middle rack of your oven.
  3. Move the seeds frequently by stirring with a heat resistant spatula. Make sure you get them all, they easily burn in the corners of your tray/dish.
  4. Toast them until they are fragrant, but don't brown them. Mine took only 4 minutes, although I was originally told it would take up to 10 minutes.
  5. Remove from the oven and transfer to another shallow dish to cool.
  6. After cooling, put the sesame seeds into a food processor or blender fitted with metal blades. You could also use a mortar and pestle.
  7. Add the oil, a little at a time and process to a smooth paste. Your tehina paste should have a very thick pouring consistency.
  8. If you don't need it right away, you can put the paste into a tightly covered container and refrigerate it. The tehina paste will seperate into two layers, with the oil on top keeping the tehina paste underneath fresh for a few months.

Tehina (adapted from Israeli Kitchen)

  • About 500 ml = 2 cups of raw tehina paste (I didn't bother to weigh it, just poured everything into a huge measuring cup)
  • About 300-500 ml = 1 1/3 - 2 cups of cool water
  • 1-2 big cloves of garlic (depending on how fresh your garlic is and how long you intend to store the tehina before you use it)
  • the juice of 1 lemon
  • Salt to taste
  • A drizzle or two of olive oil
  1. If you use tehina (either home-made or commercial) that has separated, thoroughly stir to blend the two layers. Be careful and avoid spilling any of the oil.
  2. If you want to make this is a bowl (i.e. by hand), put the garlic and the salt in a mortar and grind them to a paste. Add the olive oil and mix well.
  3. Put the tehina paste and the lemon juice in a big bowl and slowly add about a fourth of the water to it. Whisk. Don't be irritated if it thickens a lot initially. Just keep whisking and add water gradually, lest the tehina become too runny. The perfect consistency is like whipping cream.
  4. Just before it reaches that perfect consistency, add the garlic-oil-mix. Stir well. If your tehina is too thick, add some more water, only a little at a time.
  5. Put the tehina into a screw-top jar and store in the fridge until you need it.
  6. If you make your tehina in a food processor, just put in all the ingredients at once, except for the water. Pour it in gradually and keep checking your mixture so it doesn't end up being too runny.

Choumous (adapted from Israeli Kitchen):

  • 500 g = 3 1/8 cups dried chickpeas
  • 8 Tablespoons = 1/2 cup tehina (again, didn't weigh it, just added tehina by the spoonful until I liked the taste)
  • 1-2 big cloves of finely chopped garlic (again, depending on how old your garlic is and how long the choumous will rest before it's served - I'd err on the light side next time)
  • the juice of 1 lemon
  • about 4 Tablespoons = 60 ml olive oil
  • Salt to taste
  • Parsley, chopped
  • A little cayenne pepper
  1. The night before you want to make your choumous, put the dried chickpeas into a pot, cover them with plenty of fresh water and let them soak overnight. I changed the water once, because it looked murky. By the way, I found out that chickpeas emit a pretty peculiar smell when you soak them. Don't throw them out, they're supposed to be a little stinky (I confirmed that by repeating the experiment with another bag of dried chickpeas).
  2. The following day, gently rub the chickpeas against each other while still in the soaking water. This will cause many of their skins to come off. Discard the skins. This step isn't absolutely essential, but apparently the skins are not digested too well and fewer skins will produce a smoother choumous. I just rubbed them against each other a couple of times. Don't skin every single chickpea, it's not worth it.
  3. Drain the chickpeas and cook them in fresh water until they are very soft (1 1/2 - 2 hours). I changed the water once halfway through the cooking time. Don't add any salt to the cooking water, it will make the chickpeas tough.
  4. Occasionally skim off foam and chickpea skins that have floated to the surface.
  5. When the chickpeas are very soft, drain them, reserving the cooking water, and put them into your food processor.
  6. Add lemon juice, oil, garlic and tehina and process until the choumous is smooth. If it won't become smooth enough for your taste, gradually add some cooking water and/or olive oil until you like the consistency.
  7. Add salt to taste. I also added a tiny pinch of cayenne.
  8. Serve by spooning a good amount of choumous onto a plate, making a donut-like shape. Put some tehina in the middle, drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with parsley and add a handful of whole cooked chickpeas if you like. Serve with pickles and pita bread.
I took my home-made choumous ve tehina to my parents' house for brunch on Sunday and everyone loved it. None was left, but fortunately, I still had my "confirmation batch", half of which I turned into choumous, while the other half remained whole for snacking and a great chickpea salad I intend to make this week.
If your family isn't as gluttonous as mine when it comes to this kind of food, you can put your leftover choumous in a jar, cover it with olive oil and keep it in the fridge for a while.

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