Anyone who has experienced the joy of Middle Eastern cultures will know that hospitality and, in particular, food, plays an integral part to sharing one’s home and community. The experience of family and friendship is often done over a generous meal or indulgent sweets.
Restaurant owners and authors Rantissi and Frawley follow up their first cookbook, Falafel for Breakfast, with a large selection of dishes they enjoy sharing with family and friends. The ingredients are relatively easy to come by, with most found in mainstream supermarkets and a few in specialty grocers. As someone who enjoys using herbs and spices, I found most of those ingredients were already in my spice rack anyway and just needed to be supplemented with some fresh herbs.
Hummus and Co offers over 250 pages of recipes with stunning, full-colour images by Alan Benson, big text and well-laid out pages that define serving sizes, ingredients, cooking instructions and occasional side notes. The instructions are easy to follow and the selection of recipes is so broad and mouth-watering that it was near impossible to limit my testing to the usual 2 or 3 dishes. I had to make five, and even that was a difficult choice. My leftovers, incidentally, lasted well in the freezer, although my dinner guests took so much home with them, I was surprised I had any left for myself.
Beautifully bound, in hard cover, Hummus and Co makes cooking a joy, almost as much as eating the final results, whether it be the best rice I’ve ever cooked or an embarrassingly simple pumpkin side dish that my dining companions couldn’t get enough of. Even the textured front cover adds to the overall experience of diving into this exploration of Middle Eastern cuisine.
The contents are broken into obvious chapter groupings: brunch, salads, mains, warm vegetables, sweets, hot and iced teas, dips, pickles, basics, and so on. Within the chapters however, there is no sub-index which is my only complaint. Once there, you need to flick through all the recipes to find what you want. This is in stark contrast to the superb full index at the back, which breaks the book’s contents down by both ingredient and dish, helping you find a recipe quite quickly.
Hummus and Co is an excellent cookbook and one I have absolutely no hesitation to recommend. There are so many easy-to-follow recipes within its thick, colourful pages that I have no doubt it will be providing me with many many more meals to come. As for the dishes I tested, I have to say that I even impressed myself!! Take a look:
Green Pea and Ricotta Fritters (page 34)
These addictive little openers use mint to bring out the full flavor of the peas. The taste is creamy, the texture should be smooth and the only trouble I had initially was keeping the mixture together in the pan. It took a few tries before I got the volume right so my fritters didn’t fall apart when I flipped them. After serving these first (with slices of lemon), I had to put them aside to stop my guests from eating too much before the main meal, but they returned to the table as a side-dish because people wanted more.
Persian Cranberry Rice Pilaf (page 87)
This dish is my new standard for making rice as a side dish for any meal. With only 3 steps in the instructions, the pilaf left behind all my previous attempts at cooking rice. The consistency of the rice was perfect and it was good enough to eat on its own. The touches of turmeric, crushed pistachios, and other surprising ingredients really added to the favour of the entire meal. This rice recipe is an absolute must and I wouldn’t change a thing.
Cabbage Leaves Stuffed with Rice and Veal (page 105)
I swapped the minced veal for regular mince meat (beef) and found this main meal to be a filling and satisfying side-dish but rather bland on its own. Middle Eastern cuisine is known for its combination of dishes and the blandness of this cabbage dish worked really well with the more flavoursome recipes I served it with. While I was initially disappointed at its lack of flavour, I was relieved to have it on my plate because of the abundant taste everything else had. My meal needed the balance of this taste cleanser. The recipe itself is very easy to follow once again, but it does require getting your hands dirty and it can get fiddly as you attempt to wrap the cabbage around spoonfuls of the mixture.
Spinach and Veal Meatballs (page 111)
By far, one of my favorites of the dishes I tried. I once again swapped the veal for regular beef mince. With traces of mint and coriander, cooked in a divine tomato sauce, the meatballs melted in our mouths. The sauce proved to be the perfect accompaniment for the Cabbage Leaves too. Together, these two dishes were an ideal blend. I’ll be making these meatballs time and time again.
Roasted Pumpkin with Dukkah and Minted Yoghurt (page 131)
You can use any dukkah for this ridiculously easy side dish but make a lot because it will be devoured. I would be quite happy to eat this on it’s own. I chose it as the final dish to test because of its simplicity and was surprised by just how much it stood out on my plate. The yoghurt dressing, with it’s lemon zest and mint attributes, is a bonus but not necessary. If you do make it however (which I did), it is a raita that would go well with Indian dishes too.
Reviewed by Rod Lewis
Rating out of 10: 10
Distributed by: Murdoch Books
Release Date: October 2017
RRP: $49.99 hardcover