Wednesday, July 06, 2005


Those of you who have seen Girl, Interrupted will remember the little speech that Vanessa Redgrave gives when Winona Ryder (I regret that I don't care enough about the movie to look up the names of the characters, even though I do know how to use imdb, of course) says that she feels "ambivalent" about something. Ms. Redgrave explains that while "ambivalent" is commonly used to mean "apathetic," that usage is incorrect. In fact, ambivalence is a state where someone is pulled in opposite directions by more or less equally strong forces. The actions resulting from apathy and ambivalence are often indistinguishable, but in the former case, one enjoys the untroubled sleep of the don't-give-a-fucks, whereas in the latter, one develops ulcers. (I am, in fact, ambivalent about the use of hyphens in that last sentence, but I have Tums.)

People who know me well on an intellectual level will tell you that I am not one to shrink from a fight over word usage. These same people will also tell you that the preceding sentence was something of an understatement. However, in this one instance, I find that the confusion over the proper usage of "ambivalence" can be highly useful. If someone asks me about a particularly thorny issue, I can tell them that I'm ambivalent, and they will think that I don't care, and thus an argument has been avoided. One could say that as a result I might appear unconcerned about an important matter, but one would then be reminded that I will only appear unconcerned to the ignorant, and I can live with that.

I experienced ambivalence on two fronts today, both having to do with hummos. The first has to do with the spelling of the food itself. One sees many variants, with "hummus" and "hummous" perhaps being the two most common. And I am not really in any danger of an ulcer on this matter. Some quick research indicates that the word is of Arabic origin, which probably means that the correct spelling is in a type of script that I can't write. I do not much like linguistic questions without authoritative answers, but I can accept them and move on.

I am not so much an avid reader of other food blogs. I suspect that I will read more of them as I become more aware, but right now there are only a few that I check religiously. One of them is Toast, which I came to know through the estimable Redfox (who has her own splendid food blog, the hungry tiger, which I also check every day but which she, alas, very rarely updates; in fact, if I were the complaining sort, I would note here that she has been promising me a post on stuffed grape leaves for more than a month, but that would be rude, and I have already complained to her about this deplorable oversight in more than one forum, so I will not bring it up, especially since I'm not really the complaining sort, no matter what anyone says). The divine Ms. Toast recently posted a recipe for Jade Hummo(u)s, which she made sound so good that I was moved to a) shop for the ingredients and b) order the Gourmet cookbook. As is so often the case, I went to the market without a list, and I didn't get everything I needed to make the green stuff, and the evening grew late, so I put it off for another time and then went away for the weekend and, well, you get the idea. I was determined to ameliorate my procrastination yesterday, so I stopped at the supermarket on the way home to pick up what I thought I needed, and when I got home, my cookbook had beaten me there. So I had not only the Toast recipe, but the Gourmet recipe as well. (Do I italicize blog titles? I'm not ambivalent here, I just have no clue.)

Of course, I didn't follow either recipe exactly. There were no fewer than four distinct herbs called for in the Gourmet and Toast/Toast recipes, and while that would probably have been delicious, I felt that it was overkill. Also, I am still on a bit of a low-fat kick right now (the m&ms eaten at work DO NOT COUNT), so I wanted to cut down the olive oil somewhat, and there were a couple of other minor adjustments. I also made some changes in the method. (I do not know whether Mme. Hungry Tiger-Redfox reads my blog, but if you're reading, you might want to avert your eyes here.) Reader, I used the microwave. You don't have to use the microwave, of course. You can follow the directions from Toast/Toast. In general, I enjoy spending time cooking, so I don't necessarily look for ways to make it easier, but last night we didn't even start eating dinner until 9, and I wanted to have this done for today, and by using the microwave, I got it all done very easily.

I'd like to give you my recipe now, but first we have to discuss today's second item of food-based ambivalence. Gourmet calls this dish something like "Minted Green Hummous" (I can't remember whether they use "Jade" in the title, alas), and Toast/Toast calls it "Jade Hummous." I had some initial reluctance to accept the use of "hummo(u)s" in a dish without any chick peas. With two such redoubtable authorities on the other side, I should not have had any trouble with this usage, but I can be stubborn on certain matters, so I went back and forth a few times, partly for lack of a suitable alternative. I had nearly decided to capitulate and accept the dyspepsia of using something that I'm ambivalent about, but then I looked the word up in the dictionary (which is how, you see, I know that it is an Arabic term), and found that hummos/hummus/hummous is a colloquial Arabic term for chickpea. So I'm ambivalent no more.

I still don't have a good alternative name for this dish, but I reckon that when you don't have a good choice, pick a flagrantly bad one.

Pureed Lima Beans*

In a bowl, combine
1 10-ounce package of frozen lima beans
1 Tablespoon olive oil
3 coarsely chopped garlic cloves
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon salt

Stir to cover the frozen lima beans more or less evenly with the oil and spices. Cover tightly with plastic wrap. Microwave on the defrost setting for eight minutes. The lima beans should be cool or cold but not frozen. Dump this mixture into the bowl of your food processor and then add

1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
3 Tablespoons chopped fresh mint
The juice of 1 lemon
Ground black pepper to taste
2 Tablespoons water

Process the mixture. If it is not smooth enough, add some more water and process again until you have something with a texture like hummous. As always, feel free to vary the seasonings to your own taste.

Words cannot express the deliciousness that is this dish. In all probability, an extra tablespoon of olive oil would only make it more delicious, but how much goodness can one person take? I do not miss the oil, but you should try it yourself.

I have high hopes for PLB in other contexts. I suspect that it would make a terrific side dish if mixed with some couscous. Or you could put it side-by-side in a bowl with my red pepper hummos to get a red-and-green preparation for your next Christmas in July party. (This presentation could be considered odd, but if you're having a Christmas in July party, I don't reckon that oddness is something you especially fear.)

* For heaven's sake, don't actually use this name when you serve it to people, or no one will eat it. If you want to call it hummos, then I promise not to cry, at least on the outside.


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