Smash your own

Home on the Range

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The chickpea, a hardy perennial, grows in a sturdy pod called a tin. The standard cultivar matures at 15 to 151/2 ounces.

The dwarf variety tops out at 10 ounces. Crack open either can to reveal the same interior: a cluster of creamy, pale, round nubs.

The chickpea thrives in any growing zone. It is native to the canned-bean section, often raised in alternating beds with the kidney bean, the pork-and-bean hybrid or soup. It can be harvested in any season and stored indefinitely. It's a dependable crop.

The protein-and-mineral-packed pea perks up many a dish. It can buck-up curry, amuse salad, fry up as falafel ball or swirl into hummus.

Prompting the innocent to ask: Why bother? Hummus flourishes almost anywhere; it's abundant in the cooler case, hard by the baba ganoush. It's easily identified by its squat, tub-shaped hull and marked, characteristically: Plain, Red Pepper or Extra Garlic. Like the chickpea, it's always in season.

Still, the home cook who takes on the task of shucking the can of chickpeas, seasoning the nubs with bright lemon, subtle tahini and strong garlic, will be rewarded.

Smashing elemental chickpea into complex hummus, she will know the homesteader's pride. Scooping the cool mix onto hot pita, she will know the pleasure of heirloom hummus: thick, rich and lightly spiced. Which, believe it or not, is even better than the stuff in the tub.

Hummus

2 cloves garlic, degermed
1 can (15 ounces) chickpeas, drained, rinsed
6 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 tablespoons tahini
2 tablespoons water
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground red pepper
4 slices preserved lemon, rinsed, peel removed, optional

With the food processor running, drop garlic down the chute.

Stop; add remaining ingredients.

Process smooth.

Chill

Leah Eskin is a Tribune special contributor, e-mail her at leahreskin@aol.com
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