I came of culinary age on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, where the world of food — meaning food that came from across oceans and mountains — was minutes away. There was (and still is) Zabar’s, a store that taught me as much about food as the cookbook recipes that sent me there to search for za’atar, herbes de Provence, flageolets or arborio rice. And there were the small ethnic shops, the Thai grocery, the bodega, the Italian green market and the dairy that made its own pot cheese to satisfy its Eastern European customers. You could get just about anything you wanted, but you had to go from place to place to gather ingredients, and so many of the things that I now buy in the supermarket required either a special trip to a special shop or time whipping them up in my own kitchen.
Case in point: hummus.
Back in the day, hummus didn’t own huge tracts of refrigerator real estate in every supermarket and corner convenience store. It didn’t come in flavors, and it wasn’t even all that well known. Serving it (always accompanied by cut-up vegetables) was a sign of sophistication or proof that you were a counterculture type, at least in the kitchen.
Nowadays, I always have a tub of supermarket hummus in the house — it’s a just-in-case food for me — but I still make my own. It takes about five minutes in a food processor or blender, and I can do with it what I love to do with all recipes: Change it up.
Turning homemade hummus into pancakes and serving them with tahini mayo was a big change-up. I first did it the ’90s when I was working on several pancake projects (ah, the life of a cookbook author). Going back and looking at my original recipe was a small lesson in how tastes change. All versions of this pancake were essentially the same: You make a quick hummus with chickpeas, some of their canning or cooking liquid and tahini, and then you season it with garlic, cumin, salt, pepper and lemon juice. What turns it into pancake batter is the eggs and flour. Now, 20 years later, I find that the batter needs less garlic and more salt, more cumin, more lemon juice and a hit of hot pepper. The changes are small, but the flavor jump is high.
What hasn’t changed is the way I like to serve these savory, silver-dollar-size flapjacks: as a sit-down starter, a pass-around party food or a put-it-together-yourself platter at a buffet. My standard, no matter what position the pancakes play, is to include the mayo; something green, like arugula; something crunchy, like cut-up cucumbers; and something colorful and juicy, like grape tomatoes. The salad-ish stuff gets seasoned with a little oil, salt and pepper, and then the fun begins.
You can make like a chef and plate the starter, arranging the pancakes as the base, topping them with the mayo and then going all toss-and-scatter with the salad. (I say the salad is “optional,” but I hope you’ll include it.) If neat and orderly is your look, you can arrange the pancakes, the tahini mayo and the vegetable trio in a trimmer fashion. For buffets, it’s great to treat the components like a salad bar and put them in bowls around the pancakes. Or just go minimal and serve the pancakes as finger food and the mayo as a dip. All of this is possible because the pancakes are good hot off the griddle, warm or at room temperature.
And yes, I hope you flip over them.
Photograph by Deb Lindsey. (This story appeared in my Everyday Dorie column in Washington Post Food.)
The pancakes can be made in advance, but they are best served just after they’re made.
Make Ahead: The mayo can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 5 days. The pancakes can be frozen for up to 1 month; reheat in a toaster or toaster oven.
- FOR THE MAYO
- 1 cup regular or low-fat mayonnaise
- 2 tablespoons tahini
- 1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, or more as needed
- 3/4 teaspoon ground cumin, or more as needed
- 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
- 2 tablespoons whole or low-fat milk, or more as needed
- FOR THE PANCAKES
- 1 cup home-cooked or canned no-salt-added chickpeas, drained, 1/4 cup of their liquid reserved
- 1/2 cup tahini
- 2 cloves garlic, cut in half lengthwise (germ removed)
- 5 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, or more as needed
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin, or more as needed
- 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
- Pinch powdered harissa or ground cayenne pepper (optional)
- 2 large eggs
- 1/4 cup flour
- FOR THE SALAD (OPTIONAL)
- Extra-virgin olive oil
- Freshly ground black pepper
- Handful arugula
- 1 small (unpeeled) cucumber, cut into cubes
- About 8 grape tomatoes, each sliced
For the mayo: Whisk together the mayonnaise, tahini, lemon juice, cumin, sea salt and milk in a medium bowl. Taste, and add lemon juice and/or cumin as needed. If you’d like the mayo to be more of a drizzle than a spread or dip, thin it with extra milk. The yield is about 1 14 cups.
For the pancakes: Combine the chickpeas and the reserved 1/4 cup of liquid, tahini, garlic, lemon juice, cumin, sea salt and the harissa or cayenne pepper, if using, in a blender or food processor. Puree to form a smooth batter, scraping down the container as needed. Taste, and add lemon juice and/or cumin as needed. The batter might taste salty, but keep in mind that the eggs and flour will temper that saltiness. Add the eggs and blend or pulse until well incorporated. Sprinkle the flour over the surface of the batter; blend on low speed or pulse just until incorporated.
Grease a griddle or large skillet with cooking oil spray; heat over medium heat. (If you can set the heat, set it to 350 degrees.) Preheat your oven to 200 degrees if you want to keep the pancakes warm until you’re ready to serve.
Using a tablespoon of batter for each pancake, drop it onto the griddle, leaving enough room between each one for the batter to spread. Cook until the bubbles on top of the pancakes have popped open and the pancakes’ undersides are golden, about 1 1/2 minutes, then flip them over and cook until the other sides are lightly browned, 1 to 1 1/2 minutes. (The second side never gets as brown as the first.) If you’re working in batches, spray the griddle each time.
Serve right away, with the mayo as a topping or dip, or transfer to the oven to keep warm.
For the optional salad: Combine a little oil and a light sprinkling of salt and pepper in a mixing bowl. Add the arugula and toss gently to coat. Divide the salad among individual plates or transfer to a single bowl, then repeat the same coating technique with the cucumbers and tomatoes (separately).
Offer the three mini-salads as condiments along with the mayo, and let everyone arrange their own plates or make individual plates, arranging the salad alongside or over individual portions of pancakes.