Sunday, 13 January 2013

Hummus 2.0

I have been using an app called My Fitness Pal ever since I started my weight loss journey in September 2011. Or I guess I should call it my new life. I really like the app. It has a huge database with nutritional information on food items, and it allows you to create your own recipes and calculates the nutritional content of them. It's really easy to use, and it even has a barcode scanner, which has identified the majority of food items I have used it for. Basically you tell the app your weight, and how much weight you want to lose per week (1 lb, 0.5 lb, stay at current weight etc) and it will calculate your calorie allowance. You can also add workouts, there is a database of approximate calorie burns for many sports, although I always wear my heart rate monitor when I work out to get a more exact count. It's a really nifty little app, I have it both on my iPhone and iPad, and you can use it online as well, although the few times I have used it online, I have found the user interface to be much inferior to the apps.

Anyhows, although in general I have mostly good things to say about the app, I was bitterly disappointed last week. I thought the app would save your data indefinitely. However, I wanted to go back to my data from 2011, to the time I was losing weight really quickly, to check on things like daily carb amounts I was eating, but there was no more data left!! I was so disappointed, as on of the reasons I started using this app was to find something that would form a lasting database of my eatings and sports. Seems like I didn't eat anything before March 2012. Which makes me so sad. I would really have wanted that data. But other than that, I still really like the app for keeping check on my daily calorie intake, and to keep an eye on carb and protein levels. Below are a few screenshots from one day last week. I'm currently on a really calorie restricted diet, just to kick start my weight loss. I'm also aiming to reduce my carb intake a bit more than I have for the last few weeks, again just as a kickstart. I seem to quite comfortably get into the 100-150 g carbs per day range, which is quite ok as I work out a lot, but thought I would aim for 50-100 g for the next few weeks, just to be extra strict and hopefully get some booming results during January.

I'm actually off on holiday the first week of February, so it would be nice to have shed at least a little bit of the wobbly bits before that. Also, I know from experience that staying on a really restricted calorie diet and working out 1-2 hours a day is really tough. It's ok as long as you have quite a bit of fat to burn off, but later weight loss has to slow down and I have to get in a bit more calories if I want to keep up this amount of sports. Which I'm totally ok with. One and a half year ago, when I started my new life, I decided not to think of this as a diet, but as a permanent lifestyle change. And I'm still doing that. I know I failed in the latter half of 2012 and put on some of the weight I had worked so hard to lose, and I am incredibly disappointed with myself. I did keep up with my exercises, but my eating just got out of control. Too much chocolate, and way too many mince pies. But I also know I have two options, to dwell on that and keep on eating like a pig because I feel like nothing I ever do will make a difference. Alternatively I can admit that I strayed, payed the price, and will now be strict and work hard to get back to the healthy me I was last summer. And I am happy I don't have anywhere near as much weight to work off as I did back a year and a half ago. I also know I will stray again, and put on weight, but I hope the next time I will catch myself a bit earlier so that there is less to work off. Carboholism is a tough thing to live with.

Anyways, that was quite a long detour to today's recipe. The point is, I enjoy having fruit for snacks, but decided that for the moment, I need to control my sugar intake a bit more. So I needed another snack instead of the fruit, and decided to make hummus my snack for next week. I have made more and less successful attempts at hummus in the past, and I have posted one of my favourite variations on the snack here. As yummy as that variation is, I still wanted to master the original hummus as well. Also, the other recipe contains pistachios, which firstly are too expensive for every day use and secondly add quite a bit of calories to the recipe.

I stumbled upon this recipe of ethereally smooth hummus on Smitten Kitchen, one of the great food blogs I follow. Apparently, the secret to really smooth hummus is to peel the chickpeas. Fair enough, lets peel. In the comments section to that post there was a link to another food blog called Coffee and Quinoa for something called extra creamy hummus. The author of the blog had wondered how to get that really light and fluffy hummus consistency, and discovered that there are over 3 million google hits for the search term 'creamy hummus'. Apparently, the secret is in the order you add the ingredients, you need to emulsify the tahini with lemon juice and water before adding the other ingredients. That should take care of the textural aspects. However, I am still also in search of the exactly right proportion of ingredients for my palate. And I think one of the secrets is that you need to add a bit of salt to enhance all the flavours. I'm usually not a big fan of using salt when cooking, and have gotten used to quite a small amount of salt in food. Which is one of the reasons I have to make my own hummus, I find the store bought one way too salty. But here, I have admitted defeat and use a bit more salt than I would optimally like to, as it's the only way to get the taste just right. Also, I added a bit more tahini than I have used before, and lastly, reduced the amount of garlic quite a bit. Raw garlic is a bit too bitter for my tastes, and I always make my hummus as a snack for the next few days, so the garlic taste really has time to develop while the hummus hangs around in my fridge. A little goes a long way in this case. Of course, you can easily change the amount of garlic to fit your palate. Also, I would love to roast my garlic before adding it to the hummus. But I just can't be bothered, especially since I usually make my hummus on a Sunday night which for me is not a time to be very fancy with my cooking. Using all these small changes, I think I have finally arrived at a recipe I'm happy with. Both textually and flavourly (yes, I know it's not a word, but nonetheless...)

Hummus 2.0 (serves 3-4 as a snack):
1 pack (1 cup) of chickpeas (net weight 380 g, drained weight 230 g)
3 tbsp tahini
juice from 2 lemons
1 tbsp water
1 garlic clove
1 tbsp ground cumin
0.5-0.75 tsp sea salt
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

One serving (a third of the recipe, as that's what I consider a large enough snack, contains 233 kcal, 16 g fat, 18 g carbs of which 1.2 g sugars, and 7.3 g protein)

The howto:
Peel the chickpeas. This is easily done if you place the chickpea between your thumb and index finger and gently pop the chickpea out of it's shell (see pictures below). It's a bit tedious, but worth it, although probably not absolutely necessary. Put tahini, lemon juice and the water in a food processor, and mix for about 20-30 seconds until the tahini becomes white and fluffy. Then add the garlic, cumin, salt (maybe start with a smaller amount, and add more later if you think it's needed), olive oil and chickpeas. Mix until you have a creamy paste, I needed to add about 2 tbsp of water (or the liquid from the chickpeas, if you aren't an idiot like me and drained it all away) to get a nice texture. Serve topped with some olive oil and smoked paprika.
The verdict:
Finally a hummus that tastes exactly the way I think hummus should taste like. It is so much better than the store bought, it has lots of flavour and a nice tang from the lemon juice. And like I said, it might seem like there is quite a bit of salt, but it really brings out the rest of the flavours. I think it's garlicky enough with one clove, especially after an overnighter in the fridge, but if you are fond of garlic or are serving it right up, then another clove or two might be a good idea. Ideally, I would love to use roasted garlic, but as I said above, I can't be bothered. Which in itself is a bit ridiculous, it's not like it takes long. Well, the baking time is rather long, but the prep takes all of five seconds. But the hour long wait is usually too much for me.

There are quite a few variables to making good hummus. First you need to find chick peas to your liking. One option is also to buy dried ones and cook them yourself. My favourite brand is Tesco's Organic chickpeas in water, they seem to be cooked to perfection, usually every single chickpea is whole and not mushed up at all, and they are very easy to pop out of their skins. Another variable is the tahini, I used to have another brand, now I'm using Al'Fez Natural Tahini, which I like better than whatever it was I had before. Although tahini is usually something you don't have a choice on, there is just one brand (if that), and you should just thank your lucky stars your grocery store stocks any brand. I got the one I have now at the Co-op. Then of course there is the lemon juice, which will vary from lemon to lemon, and some garlics are more potent than others. Which is why it's good to sample the tahini, and possibly adding some lemon juice or salt if the flavour is not quite perfect. And I guess it goes without saying, you want a good extra virgin olive oil. I usually keep two different olive oils at home, one cheap for cooking, and then an expensive, really good one for things like dressings, dipping and hummus.

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