Remember “Diet for a Small Planet”?

By on October 11, 2011

By Jennifer Cote, Chef at The New Deli, Pinole, CA –

The kids never heard of the season we spent living off of hummus, back in the late seventies! Now that folks actually know what hummus is, mention of the story piqued their interest. Maybe we were ahead of the times.

Husband Tom and I had left Michigan for sunny California, and found ourselves between rental apartments at one point. Though we didn’t plan to stay there long, we had to settle last minute on a sorry apartment on the wrong side of town. The price was very affordable, perhaps due in part to the fact that it didn’t have a refrigerator.

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We didn’t want to over-commit by investing in such a big appliance, so a cooler sufficed for the interim. Determined to make it work, we kept the cooler stocked with a block of ice and a weekly batch of hummus, and I’d send my husband off to work each morning with a fat hummus sandwich. Cold cuts might have kept in the cooler as well, but this was certainly one of the cheapest ways to go. I could cook garbanzo beans up on the stove, processing them into a decent sandwich spread with the addition of a few extra ingredients. Between the hummus, a loaf of bread, and a jar of alfalfa seeds sprouting in the cupboard, lunch could be had!

I was quite a young wife at seventeen. We had little money and no real careers; we definitely used our imagination to cut corners. Going vegetarian helped us stay within budget. “Diet for a Small Planet” had hit the bookshelves, and Tom’s savvy older sister, a hip graduate of University of Michigan, had turned us on to hummus at a family picnic. I quickly added hummus and other vegetarian dishes to my repertoire.

Over thirty years later, we can pick up containers of hummus at many specialty grocery stores. People don’t scratch their heads anymore when it shows up at a potluck. It’s practically gone mainstream! Our daughter-in-law was just talking about making hummus for the family, her goal being to create healthy menu options. Whether it’s to save the planet, save money, stay healthy, or just because it tastes good, a batch of hummus can definitely make the meal.

Hummus Dip

This bean spread is full of extra nutrition from the addition of tahini (sesame butter). Canned garbanzos can make this recipe easier, although cooking dry garbanzo beans saves money. Hummus freezes well, so it’s worthwhile to make a big batch. Serve as an appetizer, with toasted pita bread triangles or crackers, or as a sandwich spread. Serves 15-20.


  • 1 lb. dry garbanzo beans
  • 3-4 garlic cloves
  • 2 lemons, zest and juice
  • 1 half pint (1 c.) sesame butter (found at health food stores)*
  • 1 TBS. salt
  • 1/2 c. olive oil
  • 1/4 c. white vinegar
  • 2/3 c. water

If possible, presoak garbanzos for several hours, as this will speed up the cooking process. Meanwhile, bring 2-3 quarts of water to a boil, then cook garbanzos for several hours over medium heat until very tender. Add more water if needed to keep beans covered. Cook: > 1 lb. dry garbanzo beans (or pre-soaked)

Drain the cooked beans, reserving 1/2 c. of whole beans to garnish the dish, if serving as an appetizer. Set the cooked beans aside. Process the following until fairly smooth: > 3-4 garlic cloves > 2 lemons, zest and juice

To the above, add and process some more: > 1/2 pint (1 c.) sesame butter (found at health food stores) > 1 TBS. salt > 1/2 c. olive oil

While motor’s running, also add through the top, mixing until smooth: > 1/4 c. white vinegar > 2/3 c. water

For a dip, put hummus in a medium-large, shallow bowl, garnishing with chopped parsley, a sprinkling of paprika, and whole garbanzo beans—a colorful presentation! To serve with toasted pita triangles, cut six or so pitas into triangles, baking on a cookie sheet for 10-20 min. at 350 degrees.

For variety, add extra spices, like cumin powder, curry, or sun-dried tomatoes. This will keep one week or so in refrigerator. Serving-size portions, frozen, will keep for months.

* You can make your own sesame butter by grinding toasted sesame seeds (white or brown)


Jennifer Cote and husband Tom established The New Deli back in 1985, raising two kids in the process. Growing their business led to discoveries on how to cook healthy food quickly and efficiently; Jennifer has also published a cookbook/devotional entitled “From the Land of Milk and Honey”. Find recipes and learn about Jen’s shortcuts and cooking with whole foods at

About Jennifer Cote

Jennifer's love of cooking with natural ingredients is inspired by the organic garden she's cultivated for over 25 years. A cutting garden provides flowers for The New Deli Cafe, an herb garden lends herbs for culinary creations, and twenty-some fruit and nut trees are scattered throughout her fairly urban back yard. New Deli compost keeps the garden flourishing, as Jen and her family carry on the family business, established in 1985. A blessed grandmother, mother, and wife, Jen gets much joy from sharing recipes (and perhaps an occasional basket of figs or platter of home-baked goodies).

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Remember “Diet for a Small Planet”?