Riffing on a Theme in the Kitchen

When a musician “riffs on a theme,” she keeps some core element of a bit of music and adds new bits, changes it in some way, re-interprets that bit in a new way.  She may do all of those things.  Some central and fundamental bit remains, the theme, but the riffing is what makes it new, fresh, and individualized.  Riffing on a theme is a great way for someone to get into cooking and to provide a wide variety of dishes based on a few core theme dishes.  The spinach namul dish that I wrote about a couple of days ago is like this – you can riff on the namul all over the place and have a wide variety of nutritious and delicious veggie bits.  The white bean dip that Big Sis wrote about on Sunday is a riff on a theme as well – the infamous bean dip with other delish bits.  Today we’re going to explore veggie spreads a little more with the queen mother of all bean-based spreads… hummus.

I’m imagining that hummus is no longer new to folks, that you have at least had it on a chip at some group event, but I want to encourage you for a moment to REALLY give hummus a good go.  It is incredibly versatile – dip, sandwich filling, cracker spread, spoon in mouth (okay that’s me and I REALLY like hummus).  Hummus is a great way to add some vegetable protein, fiber, and flavor to your diet in places that might otherwise require mayonnaise and deli meat (we can talk about that more later, too, wow I better start a list).  So in my never-ending quest to provide some measure of acceptable variety at lunchtime, I’ve broached hummus a few times.  Until a few days ago, however, I never had hummus like this.

Baja Hummus – Inspired by Dreena Burton’s Black Bean & Orange Hummus in Eat, Drink, and Be Vegan

  • 2.5 c cooked black beans
  • 1/4 c orange juice
  • 3 T tahini (or nut butter of whatever kind you have)
  • 1 large clove garlic
  • 1 T olive oil
  • 3 T red wine vinegar
  • 3/4 t salt
  • 1 t cumin
  • 1/4 t chili powder (whatever kind you like)
  • 1/3 c fresh parsley
  • 1 t orange zest (zest before squeezing juice)

Throw all of your ingredients into a food processor and go to town.  Stop a couple of times to scrape down bowl with spatula.  Process until you get the consistency you like.  We loved this slathered onto a whole wheat tortilla and covered with a whole mess of spinach and a few slices of avocado.  Delish.

One of the great things about hummus is that it is the perfect dish to practice riffing on a theme – using a basic recipe and applying different flavor profiles to it.  If you look closely at the recipe above, you can see the main components of a hummus: beans, a nut or seed butter (or sometimes just nuts) an acid (citrus is common, but sometimes it’s just vinegar), a little oil, and flavorings.  The proportions are important only to the extent that your food processor will spin on its own and create a texture that you like.  While my darling spouse and I LOVE, LOVE, LOVED the Baja Hummus, our children were not inclined to give it a go.  I think the color did them in.  And, silly me, I wasn’t thinking about the fact that they actually DO like chickpeas – a wiser bean choice for the every 4 months or so “let’s see if you like hummus now” test.

So after we demolished the Baja Hummus, I decided to make a milder version to attempt a second pass at the hummus accord.  I used the above recipe as a guide because I liked the texture of the first hummus and simply changed some of the ingredients to mellow things out a bit.


  • 2.5 c cooked garbanzo beans
  • 1/3 c orange juice
  • 3 T tahini
  • 1 small garlic clove
  • 1 T olive oil
  • 2 T red wine vinegar
  • 3/4 t salt
  • 1/2 t cumin
  • 1/4 c parsley
  • 1 tsp orange zest

Bits in processor bowl.  Go to it.  Scrape down sides a couple of times.  Run it until it’s the consistency you like.  Suggest to your little ones that maybe they’d like some chickpea (okay, so I called them tushies, cause you know the chickpea has a little bum on it and it cracks my kids up) hummus.  Totally different reception.  Still didn’t win over my picky one, but she at least took a bite.  The boy declared it delicious and began campaigning to get his sister to eat some.  We will get there.  And so will you, just keep trying different versions and you’ll find the one that makes your family go garbanzos (har, har)!  Maybe a more Mediterranean version would work (yeah, I know, I’m like a compass, I have to go there).  Replace the orange juice with lemon juice or a mix of lemon juice and wine vinegar and add sun dried tomatoes, roasted peppers, and pine nuts.  How about a little Frenchy hummus action?  That would surely include some thyme and perhaps a little basil.  Maybe white wine vinegar in place of the red wine and lemon in place of orange juice.  The really great thing here friends is that beans are CHEAP.  Buy them dried and boil them at night while you’re doing other things.  Store in jar in fridge until you’re ready to use them (don’t wait too long, they will spoil) and then you’ve got a really cost effective sandwich filling to spread your culinary wings with.  Riff on that theme.  Polish those chops.  Pretty soon you’ll be improvising with the best of them.  And it will be Delish.

A Note on Cooking with Beans:  While canned beans are convenient, they can be loaded with salt and they are, while still cheap as proteins go, far more expensive than dried beans.  The problem with dried beans?  Well, they’re dried.  So whipping something up at the drop of a hat doesn’t seem possible.  My solution to this is to either 1) soak beans overnight prior to cooking and using them the next day OR occasionally at night or on the weekend I will do a quick soak (bring beans to a boil, boil for 2 minutes and then soak in hot water for an hour) so that all that’s left is cooking time.  If time allows, I will also go ahead and cook them further and store them in the fridge completely ready to go.  More info on cooking with dried beans can be found here.

41 responses

  1. My friend Carolyn on my blog got a pressure cooker. She says it cooks dry beans in 10 minutes?!? So jealous. It’s going to be my next appliance purchase. My mom cans her own beans in a pressure cooker (in mason jars) then stores them in her pantry (amazing) and my friend Erika soaks a huge batch overnight, cooks them in a crock pot all day and then freezes them in 2 cup portions for quick weeknight dinners. I have been buying the no salt added beans at whole foods, but that gets pricey at $1.25 a can when you can make your own for SO much cheaper!

    Oh and love the riff on the hummus. Going to try the first one!

    • I’ve been thinking I need to explore the crock pot version, just so that there’s less interaction. Although truthfully if I’m going to be home, just doing them on the stove is no great shakes. A pressure cooker does sound nice, though. I usually keep a couple of cans on hand for “emergencies,” but I think I’m going to stop because my definition of “emergency” tends to creep when they’re available to me. 😉

      • Exactly! I either need to do crock pot and freeze or pressure cooker because I am always to absentminded to soak the beans and have to little patience to wait the hour or two it takes to boil them.

  2. Pingback: What’s for Lunch? Grand-wiches and Expand-wiches | my sister's pantry

  3. Pingback: Lunch Strategies | my sister's pantry

  4. Pingback: Smoky Baba Ghanoush | my sister's pantry

  5. Pingback: Happier Healthier Holidays | my sister's pantry

  6. Pingback: SOTW: Slow Cooker Tomato Soup | my sister's pantry

  7. Love hummus, especially with roasted garlic, pine nuts… mmmm so ready to go make some now!!! and cooking the beans in large batches, then freezing is really the cheapest route to go if you have a freezer. The preservatives in canned are so not good for you, not when you can avoid them. Thanks for the recipe. I’ll have to try the first one, sounds really good 🙂 Visiting from the Marvelous Monday Link party.

  8. I love Hummus!! YUM what a gorgeous recipe for it.
    Only just found your blog and I just love your writing style! Even though I love it I have actually yet to make it for myself, just seems to be one dish I never get around to making, looking forward to trying yours X

  9. I love hummus. We have a link party called Wednesdays Adorned From Above Blog Hop and would love to have you share this and any other posts with everyone. It runs from Tuesday night through midnight Sunday. Here is the link to the party.
    We are also having a giveaway this week for a $50.00 Target Gift Card, so head over to enter.
    We hope to see you there.
    Debi and Charly @ Adorned From Above

  10. I absolutely LOVE hummus. I’ve never tried Orange zest in it though, so I will definitely be trying this recipe! I’ve just started writing a series called Gluten Free Friday. I’d love to have you join in the conversation next week!

  11. This looks SO good! I have never tried anything like it, but I will now. 🙂 Thanks so much for linking up with “Try a New Recipe Tuesday!” I look forward to seeing what you share this week. 🙂 🙂

  12. Pingback: Twisted Ratatouille | my sister's pantry

  13. Pingback: Brown Baggin’ It | my sister's pantry

  14. Pingback: Fast & Delicious – Combo Bowl Sauce | my sister's pantry

  15. Pingback: Healthful Freezer Faves | my sister's pantry

  16. Pingback: Sweet Potato & Lime on Your Chip? | my sister's pantry

  17. Pingback: Healthy Game Day Snacks | my sister's pantry

  18. Pingback: Weekly Meal Plan 10/26-11/1 | my sister's pantry

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s