Turkish Chopped Salad and Best-Ever Hummus Inspired by the Novel 'Crescent'

Turkish Chopped Salad and Best-Ever Hummus Inspired by the Novel 'Crescent'

Wednesday, 27 May, 2020

Food and drinks are some of the easiest ways — and the most fun— to vicariously experience another culture. When you add a great book to the mix, you've got the makings of a perfect evening. In Food+Fiction, we recommend a delicious read and a related recipe so you can try the taste of different destinations in your own kitchen.

This post is part of our Food+Fiction series.

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Diana Abu Jaber’s novel Crescent is an ode to storytelling and family. A moving love story of romance and found family, it’s set in Nadia’s Cafe in the Westwood neighborhood of Los Angeles. An Arabic fairytale and Middle Eastern food are woven into the story like the colorful design of a handwoven Persian rug.

Our heroine Sirine is a blonde-haired, green-eyed Iraqi-American, and the focus of her life is cooking at the café. It’s her safe place. She deeply understands the language of food; her kebabs and saffron rice are shorthand for feelings that are far too complex and significant to be expressed in words. But then she falls deeply in love and everything in her life changes.

I read this book for our podcast episode Restaurants: Hot Stoves and Steamy Relationships, and Sirine felt like a long-lost cousin. I’m part-Lebanese (and part-Italian), and my dad owned a roadside restaurant in Pennsylvania from the 1960s to the ’80s. Food isn’t a thing in our family, it’s the thing, and I grew up eating hummus and stuffed grape leaves and baba ghanoush and kibbeh nayyah, which is essentially Middle Eastern steak tartare. All of which make an appearance in this enchanting novel.

Now that hummus is mainstream, you’ve probably thrown a container or two into your grocery shopping cart, but I’m here to urge you to make it yourself. It’s so easy — just plop the ingredients in a food processor and let it whirl — but the result is shockingly smooth and delicious. The Turkish Chopped Salad is simple, too, and ideal for spring and summer, when produce is plentiful and virbrant. The dressing tastes like my childhood: tangy lemon, grassy parsley, and a whisper of cumin, a.k.a., the aroma of love.

These sides make lamb or beef burgers, grilled chicken or fish, or slow-roasted lamb taste just a little bit exotic. The best way to enjoy all of it is to compose perfect bites on your fork: a little meat, a dab of hummus, and a few veggies — or load everything into a nice, warm pita.

To make simple roasted lamb, place lamb shoulder cubes in a slow cooker and sprinkle with salt and pepper: 3/4 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper per 1 pound of meat. Cook on low until fall-apart tender — 6-7 hours for 2-3 pounds of meat. Just before eating, spread the cooked lamb on a baking sheet in a single layer and zap under the broiler (or sear in a heavy skillet on the stovetop) for a few minutes until crisp. You get the best of both worlds: tender inside, crunchy bits on the outside. —Melissa

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hummus and chopped salad in bowls on a wooden table

Turkish Chopped Salad

Serves 6-8. Total time 15 minutes.

Ingredients:

Dressing:

  • a large handful of parsley
  • 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed
  • 1/4 teaspoon cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoon paprika
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/4 teaspoon sumac (optional)
  • 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper

Salad:

  • 2 cucumbers, peeled
  • 2 green bell peppers, cored
  • 3 Roma tomatoes, cored
  • 1/2 medium red onion
  • 1 bunch radishes, tops removed
  • 2 cups black olives

Directions:

Make the dressing. Chop the parsley and place in a medium bowl. Add the lemon juice, garlic, cumin, paprika, oregano, sumac, salt, and pepper. Whisk until blended, then slowly drizzle in the oil, stirring the whole time.

Prep the vegetables. Dice all the vegetables into roughly the same size – a 1/4-inch dice works well – and toss them into a large mixing bowl. Slice the olives and add them to the bowl.

Toss it! Pour the dressing over the salad and toss until the vegetables are coated. Taste and add more salt and pepper as necessary. Let the salad sit for 30 minutes, then serve.

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Hummus bi Tahini

Makes 2 1/2 cups. Total time 20 minutes.

Ingredients:

  • 1 can (14.5 ounces) chickpeas
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/3 cup tahini, stirred well before measuring
  • juice of 2 lemons
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • garnish: chopped fresh parsley, extra-virgin olive oil, cumin, paprika

Directions:

Prep the chickpeas. Place the chickpeas and their liquid in a saucepan and heat over medium-high until they’re hot. Drain and reserve the liquid.

Purée the chickpeas. Place the warm, drained chickpeas in the bowl of a food processor with the garlic and the olive oil. Purée for a few minutes until it forms a very thick, smooth paste. With the motor running, gradually add the tahini, olive oil, and lemon juice. Process until it’s very smooth, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary. If it’s thicker than you’re like, add 1-2 tablespoons of the chickpea liquid until you reach the desired consistency. Taste and add more lemon juice or salt and pepper as needed.

Whip it! When the flavor is to your liking, turn the processor on and let it whip for 5 minutes — 10 minutes if you can stand it. This makes the hummus light and airy, like a garlic-infused cloud.

To serve, transfer the hummus to a plate or shallow bowl to cool for 30 minutes. Then sprinkle with minced parsley, a little cumin and paprika, and a drizzle of olive oil.

Mondays are for baklava, which she learned to make by watching her parents. Her mother said that a baklava-maker should have sensitive, supple hands, so she was in charge of opening and unpeeling the paper-thin layers of dough and placing them in a stack in the tray. Her father was in charge of pastry-brushing each layer of dough with a coat of drawn butter. — Diana Abu-Jaber

Crescent

by Diana Abu-Jaber

Our heroine Sirine is an Iraqi-American chef with blonde hair, green eyes, and a heart she’s kept carefully tucked away from harm. Nadia’s Café, where she casts a magical spell with her delicious food, is the center of her world. But when she meets Han, an Iraqi literature professor in exile from his home country, she allows herself to fall joyously, recklessly in love. When the real world of politics intervenes in their new relationship, they both must face the past and a dangerously uncertain future. {more}

This book (416 pages) was published in May of 2004 by W. W. Norton & Company. The book takes you to a Middle Eastern café in Los Angeles. Melissa read Crescent and loved it; it wouldn't be on our site if she didn't recommend it.

Bookshop.org is an online bookstore with a mission to financially support independent bookstores and give back to the book community.

Crescent: A Novel

 

Top image courtesy of Van Thanh/Unsplash.

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