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Practice: Essential for Hummus and Tennis

Worlds collided for me when I met Eldad Zvulen, the top pro at the new Vanderbilt Tennis Club in Grand Central Terminal.

Yes, there's a tennis court at the renowned landmark train terminal. There's also a tennis teaching professional who knows his hummus.

My husband and I had stopped by to check out the facility. You get to it through an elevator that's located on the sloping ramps that lead down to the Oyster Bar Restaurant. A full-sized court is located on the fourth floor. Court-side, there's one of the terminal's big, curved windows that provide a view down Park Avenue. It was a stream of yellow cabs.

The neatest feature? Two mini-courts, for practice, located on a mezzanine above the full court, that have an automated ball collection system for two ball machines. You never have to stop your stroke practice to gather up balls, and the 34-year-old Zvulen — who goes by the nickname Dadi — says it's possible to hit 300 balls during a half-hour session.

(Maybe for him. I'm 48, and the tennis equivalent of a duffer.)

After Dadi gave us instruction on our groundstrokes, he upped the "teachable moment" ante by talking about hummus.

Hummus, made from peeled chickpeas. Just as smooth and delicious the second time around."I read your blog," he said. 

He paused. 

"You peeled the chickpeas?"

Yes, I told him, I did ... and actually, I not only did this once, I did it twice. Last week, I soaked and boiled another batch of dried chickpeas, to test my mental mettle. And I discovered that it is far easier to peel the slippery, tiny little buggers when they're still warm from their simmer on the stove. The fibrous translucent skins slip right off. 

"I just use a Cuisinart," Dadi said.

Dadi's Israeli, so he's got something to say about the so-called "Stupendous Hummus" I was making. He says he makes a style called m'sabcha, or mashawsha. And can you believe I found a definition of it on Wikipedia? Check it out here.

"I soak the chickpeas for 24 hours, and simmer them for two or three hours, until they're really soft and mushy," he said. Dadi says the slow cooking breaks down the skins of the chickpeas. "So does soaking them in a little baking soda, but the beans lose their nutritional value."

He says it also matters where your ingredients are from. Dadi buys Lebanese olive oil, tahini from Syria, and Turkish chickpeas from Middle Eastern stores in Bay Ridge. 

But ultimately, he says, I need to go to Israel to experience top-notch hummus.

Hmmm. Food For Thought goes on a field trip. Hummus research. 

Do you think my bosses will let me expense that trip?