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A Hummus to Remember

A little while ago we attended a memorial service for Lou Rispoli, the husband of my son's first piano teacher and our friend Danyal Lawson.  In 2011, just after New York changed the law to allow same-sex marriage, Lou and Danyal wed (after 31 years together -- about time!) and we were honored to celebrate with them at a backyard garden wedding with loads of their friends. It was a gorgeous August day in Queens, NY.

Lou Rispoli.

I didn't know Lou very well; we saw his friendly face only occassionally at the music school, where upstairs Danyal introduced my son to Mozart. But one of the first things you learned about Lou was that he was a wonderful cook. The home-cooked wedding spread included many dishes to honor moments in their long love story, including "our bagel sandwich" with bacon that they used to order regularly at the old Bagel restaurant in the Village. I love how a life together can be told in meals.

At the memorial, speakers and musicians offered a warm portrait of Lou, filled with admiration, humor, and tears.  The last person at the dais shared something Lou loved to share with his loved ones: great food. She simply recited his full written directions for a homemade hummus.  Reading it, you get a notion of how he felt about taking care with cooking—and his rather direct way of expressing himself to those who care to differ. 

I urge you to read it to the end. Press on past the instruction to remove the skins from a bowl of chick peas. If you believe life is too short to fuss with such tasks, I can only offer that, yes, life is too often  shockingly, tragically short. Let us not waste our precious time eating chalky hummus. And let us appreciate while we can those people willing to fuss for the pleasure and joy of others.

- chick peas (aka garbanzo beans), 1 lb., soaked, simmered, shelled and split [or use canned/jarred, rinsed, shelled and split.]
- tahini (sesame paste), ½ cup, only ingredient is sesame seeds (or make your own: ½ cup seeds, toasted lightly, cooled, powdered, blended using sesame oil)
- garlic, 4 large cloves, crushed or minced very fine
- aromatic broth (or water), ¼ cup, made with chopped onion, carrot, bay leaf, parsley, celery, garlic—strained
- lemon juice, ¼ cup, juice of 2-3 lemons
- olive oil, ¼-½ cup
- spices, to taste, use the following or choose your own: salt, black pepper, sweet paprika (2 teaspoons), hot red pepper (½ teaspoon), ground cumin (2 teaspoons)
- garnishes: olive oil, paprika, fresh parsley or basil (chopped), lemon wedges, pitted olives

1. Prepare the chick peas:
• soak 1 lb. of dried chick peas in cold water overnight
• rinse thoroughly, put in a large pot with cold water, bring to a boil, turn down to a very low simmer, cook for 20-30 minutes; drain, rinse with cold water till cool, leave peas covered with cold water till you shell them
• shell the peas and split them apart in half
• In a food processor, mix 2½ cups of the chick peas, ¼ cup of lemon juice, and ¼ cup olive oil. Puree to desired texture. Add more olive oil if too thick–but only enough to keep the ingredients moving.
2. Prepare and add the tahini:
• put ½ cup of sesame paste in a bowl, slowly stir in ¼ cup of broth (or water) until the mixture is creamy and white. Add to chick pea mixture. Blend well. Add more olive oil if too thick.
3. Finishing the dish:
• press the garlic and add to food processor. Puree.
• add spices, a bit at a time, tasting constantly
• correct texture and taste using additional lemon juice, olive oil and spices.
4. Garnishes [optional]: sprinkle top with olive oil, then paprika, then chopped parsley or basil, then lemon wedges and olives. Make it pretty.

A note about shelling chick peas: many friends have banged their head in incredulity when I tell them I shell the chick peas. Apparently, that’s too compulsive-obsessive crazy for them. Obviously, you can make this spread without shelling the chick peas. However, I say peel one chick pea and eat just the shell. It’s CHALKY beyond belief, and not a taste I want to add to anything. You do what you want. My choices are driven by taste, and I’m not lazy if taking extra time improves the taste. If, on the other hand, you conclude the benefit to taste is not worth all the time it takes to shell all those chick peas, I say, “Enjoy your hummus, lunkhead”.

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