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Mini Kofta with Beets, Hummus and Zhug at The Hot and Spicy Food Festival

As one of the ten chefs participating in the Ten for the Next Gen Series at Harbourfront's Hot and Spicy Food Festival  I was tasked with coming up with something that would fit the themes of sustainability and passing traditions on to the next generation. Since I can't really draw on my own family traditions, unless I wanted to pass along my mom's delicious Sherif's lemon meringue pie and, don't get me wrong, she made a mean Sherif's lemon meringue pie, I was going to think outside the box and come up with something of my very own.

photo: Shack Shackleton
Some of my Blend and Extend Recipes:
Blend and Extend Beef Patty Pops
Shroomy Beef Keftedes
Spicy Mushrooms with Pork
Chicken Mushroom Salsa Verde

Besides coming up with recipes for Mushrooms Canada and their Blend and Extend program, I have totally embraced the philosophy in my own kitchen and you will almost never find me using any sort of ground meat without adding in a huge whack of ground mushrooms anymore. Talking about the wonder of these magical fungi was a no brainer and it fit in with the idea of trying to work with more sustainable foods. It's certainly better for the environment to grow more mushrooms than it is to grow more cows, ammiright?

people lining up for a sample

photo: Shack Shackleton

I still had to decide on an actual recipe or technique that would be meaningful to me and be something worthy of passing on to a new generations of cooks. My love of Middle Eastern food was born in the city of Toronto, a vast culinary mosaic that has never ceased to inspire and delight me over the three decades that I have called this wonderful place my home. This love only deepened on my trip to Jordan last winter where I discovered that there is so much more to it than shwarma, hummus and falafel, although all of those things are still amazing so going the Middle Eastern route was decided. I would make beef and lamb kofta with mushrooms and serve it with cooling dollops of hummus and beet puree.
photos: Kate Wallis

I used my existing recipe for the kofta, turning them into bite sized meatballs and served them with the beet and za'atar puree, silky hummus (using a trick I learned in Jordan), pickled turnip and zhug (or skhug or shoug, depending on who you are talking to) the popular Yemeni hot sauce found all over Israel. It was, after all, the Hot and Spicy Food Festival.

Regarding great hummus:

There are two tricks to silky, Middle Eastern style hummus:
#1 is to remove the skins from your chickpeas. Yes, I know it's tedious work and I know you are a very, very busy person but the skins are what make your homemade hummus grainy and if you want it to be smooth and silky, you must rub off the skins. Sorry.

#2 if you are using dried chickpeas and you really should try to start with dried chickpeas, soak them over night and then cook them with baking soda. Not only will the baking soda make the texture softer but they will cook much quicker this way - almost half the time, I swear.

#3 Okay, sorry there are THREE tricks to super smooth hummus - use more tahini than you are comfortable with. No more of this "2 tbls tahini" and then lots of olive oil and lemon. You need a lot of tahini and no oil because you drizzle the olive oil on top of the hummus when you serve it.

 Mini Kofta with Beets, Hummus and Zhug

You will need:

Beef/Lamb/Mushroom Kofta using half lamb, half beef instead of all beef

Spicy Beet Puree
adapted from Yotam Ottolenghi

1/2 lb of beets (about 3 medium sized beets)
1 clove garlic
1 small thai chili, seeded and finely chopped
1/4 cup plain greek yogurt
1 tbls honey
1 tbls olive oil
1 tbls lemon juice
1 tbls za'atar

Cut the beets into quarters, wrap them securely in foil and roast in a 425F oven for an hour. Remove from the oven, let them sit for a few minutes in the foil and then peel them by running them under cold water while you rub the skin off with your fingers. Set aside (can be made a day or two in advance)

Chop the beets and put them in a food processor along with the garlic, chili and yogurt and puree until smooth. Remove to a bowl and stir in the honey, olive oil, lemon and za'atar and set aside. You can make it a couple of days in advance but make sure to bring it to room temperature before making the final dish.

this makes a smaller batch than most middle eastern recipes because I find that we don't eat hummus five times a day with every meal and most great recipes make twice this amount

heaping 2/3 cups dried chickpeas  (or 15oz can)
*1/2 tsp baking soda if using dried
1/2 cup tahini
2-3 tbls lemon juice
1 clove garlic, grated on a rasp
good pinch of kosher salt or to taste
approx 1/4 to 1/3 cup ice water
serve with extra virgin olive oil drizzled over the top

If using dried chickpeas, cover with water by at least a few inches and leave overnight to soak. The next day, drain them and put them in a pot with fresh water, the baking soda and bring to a boil. Simmer until they are soft enough that they squish between your fingers but not super mushy. Skim off any skins that have floated to the top and drain. Then, in the strainer, rub them gently and remove all the remaining skins, discarding them.

If using canned, drain them and rub them and remove the skins.

Put the chickpeas into the food processor and pulse a few times and then process them for a full minute until they are a chunky paste. At this point, add in the tahini, lemon juice, garlic and salt and blend until pureed. Start drizzling in the ice water, a couple tbls at a time, until it's really creamy - it usually takes about 1/4 cup but sometimes a little more. At this point, let the machine run for another four or five minutes. You want this stuff to be very creamy but not soupy or runny. You will get the hang of it.

Scrape the hummus out into a bowl, cover and let it sit for half an hour before eating it. If you put it in the fridge, make sure that you let it rest for at least half an hour - it should be room temperature, not cold and stiff. Drizzle the top with olive oil and serve.

this is a popular Yemini hot sauce used all over Israel 

about 12 serrano chilis, seeded and chopped (if you want it smoking hot, leave a few of them whole)
1 bunch fresh cilantro, washed and chopped 
6 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
1 tbls cumin
about 5 or 6 cardamom pods
juice of 1 lemon
*olive oil

Break open the cardamom pods, remove the seeds and discard the green skin of the pods, set aside.

Wear gloves to seed and chop the serrano peppers, please. Throw the seeded, roughly chopped chilis in a blender or food processor with the cilantro, garlic, cumin cardamom and the lemon juice and pulse until just smooth with a bit of texture left in the mixture, kind of like a pesto. 

*Because we are going to use it as a drizzle, start to add in olive oil until you get a more sauce like consistency - probably just under 1/4 cup. If you don't want to add in the oil and would prefer to serve it more like a traditional zhug in a bowl with a spoon, skip it.

Store it in a sealed jar in the fridge for up to two weeks

To serve the mini kofta, put a dollap of beet puree and hummus side by side, set a couple of kofta on that, top with a few slices of pickled turnip, drizzle with the zhug and then sprinkle some za'atar over the whole thing.

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