Kind-of-healthy appetisers

Hummus and breadsticks.jpg

We had friends over for dinner on Saturday evening and I was trying not to sabotage our weight loss efforts too much. I rarely serve a first course these days, but I wanted something we could have with drinks pre-dinner. We recently visited some friends in the UK, who served some delicious hummus varieties they’d bought from M&S.

As we don’t exactly have an M&S on every corner here, I decided to come up with my own variation on the traditional recipe. I settled on an almost-fat-free roasted red pepper version which took about ten minutes from start to finish and went really well with the breadsticks I baked to go with it. I wanted to make it fairly lively, so I added plenty of fresh chilli, as well as cumin and coriander. Most of the recipes I looked at involved roasting your own red peppers, but our wood stove hasn’t been lit for the last two weeks and I wasn’t prepared for the cleaning job involved with roasting peppers directly over the gas hob, so I opted for the ready-roasted jar variety, which worked a treat. Here’s the recipe, along with the breadsticks, which are also extremely easy to make, and far superior to their pre-packed cousins that you can buy in the supermarket.

Roasted red pepper hummus

1 x 400g can chickpeas, drained
1 small onion or some spring onions, chopped
2 cloves garlic, grated or very finely chopped
1 – 2 red chillis, finely chopped (remove seeds if you don’t like things too spicy)
A few coriander stalks, finely chopped (not essential, but a nice addition)
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
2-3 roasted red peppers from a jar (mine were huge, so I used 2)
A handful of coriander leaves, finely chopped
1 lemon or lime, grated zest and juice
Salt & freshly ground black pepper
Olive oil

Heat a couple of teaspoons of olive oil in a small frying pan and add the onions and chilli. Cook gently until softened, then stir in the garlic and coriander stalks (if using) and cook for a little longer. Add the cumin and coriander and stir well to combine. Allow to cool.

Once the onion mix has cooled, put it into a food processor with the rest of the ingredients except the coriander leaves, and process until you have a smooth paste. Season well with salt & pepper and stir in the chopped coriander leaves. You could also serve these with toasted pitta bread, vegetable crudites or tortilla chips instead of the breadsticks (recipe below).

Herby, spicy breadsticks

For this recipe, you can pretty much use whatever herbs and spices you like. I used a mixture of fresh rosemary, chilli flakes and dried oregano. Some finely chopped olives would also be good here, particularly combined with rosemary, or you could forget the herbs and add some finely chopped walnuts, or just leave them plain and sprinkle with sea salt before baking. I make short breadsticks – all the better for dipping!

Makes about 60 short sticks (see photo at top). The dough freezes perfectly, so you can put half in the freezer for another day – it would also work perfectly as a pizza base.

250g plain flour
1 teaspoon fast action dried yeast
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
2 sprigs rosemary, finely chopped
1 teaspoon dried oregano
½ teaspoon chilli flakes
1 tablespoon olive oil
Approx 150ml tepid water
Seeds for sprinkling (I used Nigella, but poppy, sesame or caraway would all be good)
A little egg white for brushing

Put the flour into a large bowl, add the yeast, salt, sugar and herbs/spices and stir until well combined. Make a well in the centre of the dried ingredients and pour in the water and olive oil. Stir well – I find a table knife works perfectly for this job – until it starts to come together as a dough. You will then find it easier to bring it together using your hands to knead it – if it seems too crumbly, add a spot more water and then knead again.

Tip on to a floured worktop and knead the dough until smooth – this will only take a minute or so. Put a few spots of oil in the bottom of your bowl and turn the dough over in the oil, so that it has a very light coating on all sides (this stops it sticking to the bowl after it has risen). Cover the bowl with cling film and leave in a draught-free place for about an hour (or you can put it in the fridge and it will take a few hours to rise).

One the dough has doubled in size, tip it on to your floured worktop and gently knead it to remove all the air. If you want to freeze half of the dough, wrap it tightly in clingfilm before putting it into a freezer bag (this stops it rising before you want it to when you thaw it out).

Preheat your oven to 200°C.

I find it easier to deal with about a quarter of the dough at a time (or half of what is left if you have put some in the freezer) – keep the rest of the dough wrapped up while you work, so that a skin doesn’t form on it. On your floured worktop, roll out the dough until it is about half a centimetre thick – it doesn’t matter at all if the breadsticks are not all the same length – mine were about 12 cm long, but by no means uniform. Brush with the egg white, then sprinkle over your seeds (if you are not using seeds, you could sprinkle with sea salt and black pepper).

Using a pizza wheel or a sharp knife, cut into 1cm strips – here are mine before they went into the oven – as you can see, they’re a bit haphazard in size:

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Place on two baking trays, lined with baking paper (if you only have one tray, just cook them in batches, but remove the paper from the hot tray while you load up the second lot). Bake for around 10 minutes – they should be golden brown. If you like them extra crunchy, bake for a few minutes more, then turn out onto a cooling rack (if you leave them on the baking tray to cool, they may soften, though they will still be delicious).


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