I was fortunate enough to be invited recently to dinner at the table of a celebrity chef in Lebanon (and the region), Chef Richard. The dinner was to take place at Al Liwan, one of his restaurants in Beirut.
This is the perfect restaurant to take a crowd to, especially if they are Lebanese expats with lots of pent-up nostalgia for traditional Lebanese restaurants with that no-holds-barred ambiance; its a place for party animals, and even if you are not one by definition, its nice to loosen-up once in a while. Here, being boisterous, merry and hyper is encouraged. There is live entertainment as well.
The restaurant is appointed with antiques, miniature porcelain items and an over-the-top elevator upholstered in satin.
The menu is classic Lebanese, with lots of mezze, grilled meats and desserts. The food is delivered banquet-style, as this is obviously a kitchen for a crowd, not for intimate dining. A couple of unusual items got my attention. A green-colored hummus, which Chef Richard said was “basil-flavored hummus” and a halloumi plate smothered in a cheesy sauce topped with nigella seeds, both his signature. I decided to try and replicate them at home. Here is the basil hummus first.
Prep Time: 45 minutes
Cook Time: 2 hours
Passive Time: 8 hours
2 cups dry chickpeas soaked in water to cover +one inch overnight
1 tablespoon garlic paste (more, to taste)
1/2 cup tahini
3 medium lemons
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup (or more, to taste) fresh basil leaves
salt, to taste
1/4 cup chopped pistachios, to garnish
- Drain the chickpeas and transfer to a large pot and fill with fresh tap water. Cook until soft, about 2 hours. (Conversely, save time by using canned chickpeas, about 3 cans for the equivalent).
- Meanwhile, make the pesto by mixing the basil with garlic paste and olive oil till creamy.
- When cooked, save the cooking water and transfer most of the chickpeas to the bowl of a processor and cool a bit. Add the tahini, pesto and lemon juice and process, tasting to adjust some ingredients to your taste.
- When it has reached the right texture and the taste that you like, transfer to a serving plate and garnish with the pistachios and some fresh basil leaves or extra chickpeas. Serve with pita bread or chips.
This is an unusual hummus, but I find it delicious with the peppery taste of fresh basil. You can use a bottled pesto, but I don't think it will be as good.
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