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Hummus: The seven-minute wonder 

Among the canned tuna, pasta, olive oil, strong mustard and coarse salt on my pantry shelves, you'll always find cans of chickpeas (aka garbanzo beans), plus a jar of tahini paste in the fridge. These items comprise my essential kitchen staples -- the things that make it simple to whip up somethin' when there's seemingly nothin' in the house.At the end of a long day, instead of reaching for a frozen pizza, I might make something a bit healthier that actually takes less time to prepare. In just seven minutes, I can make a batch of hummus, the Middle Eastern chickpea spread that has made its way here as a fashionable snack.

With a food processor, the dish is a snap. Throw everything into the machine, give it a good whiz and you're in business. Tahini paste may be new for some cooks; made from ground sesame seeds, it imparts a nutty richness to the hummus and works well in salad dressings. After opening, keep refrigerated.

The following recipe comes from Nada Kattar, a Lebanese-American living in Chicago. Nada serves her hummus with pita points, but I also like to eat it with veggies, including cucumbers, carrots and bell peppers.

In addition to its last-minute supper/snack qualities, hummus transports well for workday lunch hour.

1 15-ounce can chickpeas, drained and rinsed

3-5 tablespoons tahini paste (I find 3 to be just right)

1 clove garlic

Juice of 2 lemons (approximately 1/2 cup)

Salt to taste

In a food processor, add chickpeas, tahini paste and garlic. Puree for a minute and add a few ounces of water to help with consistency. (Not too runny, though.) Stop motor and with a rubber spatula, scrape sides of bowl to ensure mixture will be completely integrated.

Gradually add lemon juice, constantly tasting mixture for flavor. Puree until you arrive at desired texture. Add salt and taste. Enough? And what about the lemon?

Serve at room temperature in a shallow bowl. With a spoon, make a groove in the hummus and drizzle olive oil. Mint leaves are a nice garnish. Hummus can be made a few days in advance, and can be frozen

Kim O'Donnel, the host of What's Cooking on washingtonpost.com, tests all the recipes so you don't have to. Send questions and comments to kim.odonnel@creativeloafing.com.

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