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Hooray for hummus: Middle Eastern dip is colorful, healthful

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Bemidji, 56619

Bemidji Minnesota P.O. Box 455 56619

On our way to Hackensack, Minn., to do some last-minute shopping for bee supplies a couple of weeks ago, my beekeeping buddy, Bobbie, and I made a stop at Green Scene in Walker. A container of spinach hummus, prepared by chef Kristin Melby in the spotless, wide-open stainless steel kitchen that takes up about a third of the cozy store's space, went into my bag of organic food purchases.

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Typically, hummus, a Middle Eastern food enjoyed as a dip for vegetables or pita bread, is made of cream-colored garbanzo beans (sometimes called chickpeas) and tahini, a paste made of hulled sesame seeds. Garlic and lemon juice are added to the mixture.

The simple blend makes hummus a target for creative cooks. Erin Andrus, owner of Green Scene, likes to think she and Melby can add anything that strikes their taste buds while using the protein-packed garbanzo bean as a base. It's not uncommon to find vibrant orange sweet potato or bright pink beet hummus in the cooler tucked into a corner of the organic market and deli. Caramelized onion-rosemary hummus and spinach hummus are recent customer favorites.

Hummus seems to be exploding in popularity. Besides the full flavor of the creamy dip, the nutritional benefits of hummus have added to its appeal at picnics and parties. Chickpeas are a good source of protein, fiber and iron. Sesame seeds offer additional iron to hummus, along with calcium, making the thick, creamy mixture a healthful choice when it comes to dipping fresh vegetables.

Andrus and Melby give the Green Scene signature to their Spinach Hummus by adding a full bulb of roasted garlic. Garlic develops a sweet, caramel-like flavor as it roasts in the oven, giving the hummus a whole new dimension of flavor.

"Another trick we use is to cook garbanzo beans with a piece of kombu, a sea vegetable," says Andrus. "The kombu helps to break down the gas-causing sugars that can be an issue for some people when they eat beans, including garbanzo beans. This trick works well for bean soups too."

If you don't care to cook dried beans, hummus can be made with canned garbanzo beans. It takes just a few minutes to wilt some spinach in a hot pan before it's added to the food processor. A food processor makes quick and easy work of pureeing the short list of ingredients together. A high-powered blender will work, but it may require the addition of water or broth to keep it from clogging up.

When I got the Green Scene Spinach Hummus home, I dipped into it with slices of fresh red pepper, celery, carrots and jicama. Then I spread the earthy green hummus on triangles of warm pita bread. After that, I started eating it with a spoon. The next day I contacted Erin Andrus to ask if she would share the recipe. She did.

I used fewer garbanzo beans than the original Green Scene recipe calls for. It was just right for me. Roast a couple extra bulbs of garlic as long as you have the oven turned on. They keep well in the refrigerator for a week. Spinach Hummus won't be around that long. You'll need those extra bulbs of roasted garlic to make more. It's a great way to eat your spinach. It's a great way to eat your vegetables, too.

To learn more about Green Scene Fresh Organic Market, visit www.walkergreenscene.com.

Spinach Hummus

1 tablespoon olive oil

8 ounces fresh spinach

1 whole garlic bulb, roasted

1 (15-ounce) can garbanzo beans, rinsed and drained

1/2 cup tahini

Juice of 1 lemon

1/2 teaspoon salt or to taste

Heat olive oil in a 10-inch skillet. Add half of the spinach. Stir until spinach is wilted. Transfer wilted spinach to food processor. Add remaining fresh spinach and process until finely chopped. Add remaining ingredients and process until well blended. Store in a sealed container in the refrigerator for up to a week. Makes about 2 cups.

Recipe adapted slightly from Green Scene, Walker, Minn.

Tips from the cook

--To roast garlic, Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Peel away the loose papery skin from the bulb of garlic. With a sharp knife, cut 1/4 inch from the top of the bulb. Drizzle a teaspoon or two of olive oil over the exposed garlic cloves. Use a finger to spread the olive oil to completely coat them. Wrap the bulb loosely with aluminum foil. Place in a custard cup or baking dish. Bake in preheated oven for about 45 minutes. Bulb should feel soft when pressed. Allow to cool slightly before removing cloves from roasted bulb.

--Add fresh chopped herbs or a jalapeno pepper to the ingredients in the food processor to change up the flavor.

--If hummus is too thick, add olive oil, 1 tablespoon at a time, and process until desired consistency is reached.

--Tahini can often be found in the international aisle of well-stocked supermarkets.

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