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Kitchen Mailbox Countdown to Dinner Dining
Hummus, spinach mix it up for party crowd

Monday, December 27, 1999

By Arlene Burnett, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

What are your plans for New Year's Eve?

Whether they include a quiet evening with a special someone or a large gathering of friends, good food is a must. You'll need party dishes -- quick and delicious.

First up is hummus bi tahina. Hummus bi tahina is a Middle Eastern dish made of tahini (sesame seed paste), olive oil, garlic, lemon juice and chickpeas.

Chickpeas, also known as ceci or garbanzo beans, are widely used in Middle Eastern dishes. Chickpeas found their way into the Mediterranean, where they're used in Spanish stews and Italian minestrone. You'll also find chickpeas in salads and salad bars in this country.

The main ingredient for hummus bi tahina is the tahini. Our neighborhood Giant Eagle didn't stock tahini, but we found it at McGinnis Sisters on Route 51 in Brentwood. Preparation for this dish takes about 10 minutes. We served our hummus with crackers and pita bread torn into bite-size pieces.

Note: Tahini is sold in cans or glass jars. The tahini separates in the jar, so you must mix well.

Our second recipe, New Orleans Spinach, is another perfect party dish. It can be made ahead and refrigerated until ready to bake, and it only takes about 15 minutes to prepare. The flavors of the Parmesan and Cheddar cheese blend well with the cottage cheese and spinach. We baked ours in a 9-by-12-inch dish.

This recipe calls for 1/4 pound ( 1/2 cup or 1 stick) butter or margarine and that's what we used, even though we thought that was too much. As the casserole was baking it almost seemed as if it was swimming in butter. All turned out well, though. The butter did combine with the casserole. But if you feel that 1/2 cup is too much for your taste, we think that 1/4 cup would work as well.

Patty Semler of Ross developed this recipe for hummus bi tahina in 1986 and has been a big hit at parties ever since. The recipe was requested by Karen Newell of Deer Lake.

Patty's Hummus

3 1/4 cups canned chickpeas, drained (reserve liquid)
1/4 cup of the reserved liquid (keep the remaining liquid -- you may need it later)
1/2 cup tahini
3/4 cup lemon juice, freshly squeezed
4 medium garlic cloves, put through press or finely minced
Salt to taste
Olive oil, for garnish
Chopped fresh parsley, for garnish

Place all ingredients except olive oil and parsley in food processor. Process until mixture is smooth but a little bit grainy. Add a little more reserved chickpea liquid if needed (the texture should be mooth but a little grainy; keep processing until you get to this texture). Taste and adjust for salt (see note).

Remove mixture to medium non-metallic bowl and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Chill well, at least 4 hours, or overnight, to let flavors meld.

To serve, spread hummus evenly over a flat, dinner-size plate. Drizzle olive oil over hummus evenly and very sparingly. Sprinkle parsley over all evenly.

Serve with basket of warm pita triangles or sesame crackers.

Note: Semler suggests 2 teaspoons of salt to start; another 1/2 teaspoon may be added -- she stresses do not oversalt!

Kitchen Mailbox thanks Angelina Sammarone of Edgewood for sending us this tasty dish.

New Orleans Spinach

2 (10-ounce) packages frozen chopped spinach, thawed
16 ounces small curd cottage cheese
1/4 pound (1 stick) soft butter or margarine, cut in small pieces into the mix
1/2 pound grated yellow cheese (mild Cheddar), save some for the top
3 tablespoons flour
6 eggs
1/3 cup chopped onion (small onion)
1/4 teaspoon Lawry's Seasoning Salt
Parmesan cheese to sprinkle over top

Beat eggs well in a large bowl. Defrost the spinach and squeeze dry. (We use microwave to defrost.) Spray 8-by-13-inch glass Pyrex dish with cooking spray.

Mix all the ingredients into the eggs except the Parmesan and reserved Cheddar. Pour into the glass dish and sprinkle top with Parmesan cheese and the remaining Cheddar cheese. Bake at 350 degrees for about 1 hour. Remove from oven; let sit about 15 minutes and score into squares.

Note: Can be made ahead of time and refrigerated until ready to bake.


Most Kitchen Mailbox requests receive responses. And for the few that didn't, we thought we would try one last time. Here they are:

?Nancy Goodall of Clearwater, Fla., would like the recipe for Dudt's Ice Box Cake -- or something similar.

?May Jane Scholl of Mount Washington would like recipes for focaccia, breads and rolls.

?Vivian Gates of West Mifflin would like a recipe for onion bread made with mayonnaise.

?D. Kochin of Heidelberg would like a recipe for cheesecake made with dry cottage cheese.

If you want to answer a recipe request from a reader or are looking for a recipe yourself, please write to Kitchen Mailbox, c/o Arlene Burnett, 34 Blvd. of the Allies, Pittsburgh 15222, or e-mail to aburnett@post-gazette.com. Please include a name, neighborhood and a daytime phone number on all correspondence. All recipes are kitchen-tested by the Post-Gazette.

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