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Because we look and smell before we taste, a great dish must fill the room with aroma and astonish us with beauty. Now, cookbooks cannot issue aroma, but they can be seductively, intensely beautiful. Pomegranates & Pine Nuts, by Bethany Kehdy, is a such a beauty, one whose pictures  will surely beguile you. Then, you read the actual recipes and there is only one way to proceed: gather ingredients, cook, and savor.

The past year has seen several prominent Middle Eastern cookbooks arrive on our shelves. Pomegranates & Pine Nuts is outstanding in its presentation of a cuisine which, for most of us, is not a daily experience. Try this food, however, and you can easily become addicted. There’s a recipe at the end of this post for Whipped Hummus with Lamb. In Thanksgiving week, this is just the sort of “surprise” dish that can make for a memorable meal or week.

Here are the book’s chapters with a charming example of the recipes to be found in Pomegranates & Pine Nuts:

  • Meze or appetizers: for example, Chargrilled Sweet Pepper and Walnut Dip
  • Poultry: Chicken Stuffed with Cherries and Cranberries
  • Meat: Eggplant, Veal and Yogurt Crumble
  • Seafood: Almond-Crusted Scallops
  • Vegetarian: Fava Beans, Peas and Fennel Tangine
  • Desserts: Ginger and Molasses Marble Cake

This is a book for foodies. The typical recipe has 12+ ingredients, 6 or more steps, and is not going to be ready in a mere 17 minutes. Great food takes a little care and a little time. But if you make that investment, you may just have rewards beyond your expectations. With this book, I'm sure your expectations will be surpassed.

Exactly because most of us rarely enjoy Middle Eastern cuisine, this book opens a wide door for us and presents a path to exceptional dining experiences. I encourage you to take a stroll through this lovely book at your local bookstore. Or, trust me, just Amazon it, get it in your kitchen and begin cooking. Your horizons are about to expand.

To begin, I suggest this rich hummus extravaganza.

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Whipped Humus with Lamb

Yield: Serves 4

Preparation and Cooking Time: about 30 minutes AFTER soaking the chickpeas

Ingredients:

For the humus:

  • 2 tablespoons tahini
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • ½ cup dried chickpeas, soaked overnight and cooked, or 1 cup canned chickpeas
  • 1 garlic clove, finely chopped
  • 3 small ice cubes
  • A pinch ground allspice
  • Sea salt

For the lamb:

  • 1 tablespoon salted butter
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon pine nuts
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 3 ounces ground lamb
  • 1 ½ teaspoons pomegranate molasses
  • A pinch ground allspice
  • Pomegranate seeds, to sprinkle
  • Chopped mint, to sprinkle
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

To serve:

  • Warm Arabic bread or toasted triangle

Preparation:

To make the hummus, put the tahini, lemon juice and 1 tablespoon water in a bowl and mix until well incorporated.

Drain the chickpeas, then immediately loosen their skins by running them under cold water several times. Cover the chickpeas with water and swish them with your hands several times to loosen any more skins. Discard any of the loose skins. Drain the chickpeas again.

Immediately transfer the drained chickpeas and the garlic clove to a food processor and pulse about 30 seconds. Add an ice cube to the chickpea mixture and pulse again until it's incorporated, then repeat with the remaining two ice cubes until a smooth paste forms.

Pour in the tahini and lemon mixture and pulse again until it forms a smooth, well-blended puree. Add the allspice and season to taste with salt, then pulse once more about 1 minute until all the flavorings are incorporated. If the hummus is too thick, add a little more lemon juice and/or water (being careful not to dilute the zesty flavors). Transfer the hummus to a serving bowl, cover and set aside.

To make the lamb mixture, melt the butter in a heavy-bottomed skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and cook 3 to 4 minutes until soft and translucent. Stir in the pine nuts and cook 2 minutes longer until they just start to brown.

Add the garlic to the pan and mix well, then cook about 1 minute until aromatic. Add the lamb and stir well, then cook no longer than 3 or 4 minutes until just brown. Pour the pomegranate molasses over the lamb mixture, stir in the allspice and season with salt and pepper.

Create a crater in the middle of the hummus and spoon the hot meat and any juices into the well. Sprinkle with the pomegranate seeds and mint and serve with warm Arabic Bread