Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Autumnal Appetite (Winter squash hummus, Baharat)

I love slipping into autumn for a number of reasons. On the culinary side, Fall brings the warmth of richer, heartier flavors. It's a joy to roast and stew things, again, and the amount of butter and baked goods also spikes, precipitously. With the oncoming onslaught of holidays, it can at times be a bit much to each so much heavy food.  That's why it's important to find autumnal foods that are full on flavor (and fill you up) but be on the lighter side. Julia Child is absolutely right that more butter can solve almost anything, but an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, especially if one is predisposed to counting calories. As such, I present to you "winter squash hummus", which makes an appealing snack or appetizer that's pleasingly sentimental in its embrace of fall flavors while pleasantly lighter than most holiday fare.

Snack happy
Squash and sweet potatoes are both fall favorites, but for lightening up, squash is the superior option: it has a lower glycemic index, fewer calories, and more vitamins pound for pound. In exchange, however, sweet potatoes have a heftier texture and will yield a thicker, more substantial dip. Feel free to mix and match. Winter squash allows its own variations: the FDA plays fast and loose with gourds, such that most products labeled "pumpkin" are actually butternut squash. Butternut is probably the easiest for processing: it's more quickly cut, peeled, and cored than other options and thus the natural choice for puréed hummus, but the bold ribs of acorn squash and variegated stripes of delicata squash can make for dramatic visual presentations in chunkier dishes.

Sinister squashlings
To spice things up and push people further outside their comfort zones, I recommend using baharat. Literally "spices," in Arabic, baharat is a ubiquitous blend of potent spices used to season lamb, fish, beef, chicken, and vegetables. The blend typically features allspice, black pepper, cardamom, cassia bark (often commercially sold as "cinnamon"), cloves, coriander and cumin seeds, nutmeg, and dried chilis. This makes for a warming complex blend perfect for autumn and winter, combining the homey and familiar with a whiff of the exotic. If you can't find pre-blended baharat mix in the store, a recipe for a home blend follows. 

Butternut squash: the easiest to work with
Americans typically serve hummus as snack or an appetizer, but paired with some other accompaniments, you can serve it as a meal on its own. This presentation of sampling dishes, reminiscent of Spanish tapas, Japanese izakaya, or Scandinavian smörgåsbord, is called meze in Arabic. Pair hummus with warm pitas, a good feta, nits, olives, and a small salad or two and you have a light, delicious meal that encourages lounging, tasting, and sharing. A wonderful bridge between savory and sweet, this hummus also works equally well with pears and apples as it does with bread and vegetables. Consider slipping in sliced pears and apples for extra autumnal appeal.

Dig in
Winter squash hummus
Easily made ahead, the hummus becomes thicker and creamier when chilled overnight. Serves 6-8.

1 medium butternut squash, peeled, cored, and cubed
10 cloves garlic, peeled
2 tablespoons + 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper, to tasted
2 lemons, freshly juiced
1 (15 ounce) can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
2 teaspoons baharat (recipe follows)

Preheat an oven to 375 F and toss the squash, garlic, 2 tablespoons of olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste on a baking sheet.

Ready for roasting
Roast the squash and garlic until the squash mashes with a fork and the garlic is lightly golden, about 20 minutes. Allow to cool for 10 minutes.

Tip the squash and garlic into a food processor, along with the lemon juice, chickpeas and baharat. Pulse to combine while streaming in the oil, scraping down the sides with a rubber spatula, if necessary.

Serve immediately or chill overnight. Parsley and pepitas make excellent garnishes.


1 tablespoon ground black pepper
1 tablespoon ground cumin seeds
2 teaspoons ground coriander seeds
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom seeds
1 1/2 tablespoons smoked paprika
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper

Warm a small, heavy skillet over medium heat, then add the spices and lightly toast, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until warm and highly fragrant, about 3-5 minutes.

Cool completely and store in an air-tight container in a cool, dry place.


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