I can’t really remember the first time I had hummus. Being raised in a Deep South commuter town, whose main highway was hemmed in with strip malls, Burger Kings and Dairy Queens, I seriously doubt it was there. We did have – and it is still there today – a lone Greek restaurant, but I only ever remember the ubiquitous but very pleasant Greek salad, with its starchy ‘garnish’ of yogurty potato salad as a sop to American tastes. But hummus? I don’t think so. This was the era of aerobics and low fat after all. If I had been more adventurous, and less figure-conscious, I would no doubt have found the hummus and been hooked from the get go. Restaurant hummus is always far superior to that we can make at home. Or, so I thought.
In the (many) intervening years I have flirted with various hummus recipes. They all tasted more or less okay, but never really worth the relative bother when compared to plucking one from the supermarket chiller cabinet, peeling away the cranky plastic lid (why are they always so tricky?) and plunging in a waiting carrot. Convenience over cooking: Guilty as charged.
Occasionally I would pay heed to the label – loads of vegetable oil, sometimes preservatives, LOADS of salt – and have another go. But they were never any more than ‘meh’ in comparison, at least regards texture. The taste was usually better – less salty and oily, real lemon too – but the texture was more akin to something you might build a house with.
Another huge stumbling block was my overnight inability to digest chickpeas. This happened about five years ago, and was a bit of a blow to a diehard legumite like me. I won’t go into the gory details but suffice it to say that, like many an ill-fated romance, I loved them but they didn’t love me back. I persevered – again, like any romantic – but all I got in return was doubled-over pain, and evil looks from my head-shaking family.
Until – until!- I discovered a simple trick: peel the chickpeas. You may be right in thinking that I have totally lost my mind, but I swear, it works. At least for me. I can’t go crazy and eat a whole chickpea-based meal. When I make my Tunisian Chickpea and Vegetable Tagine, or my Summery Chickpea Salad, I do have to limit myself to a smaller-than-I-would-like portion. But the point is I can now eat chickpeas in moderation, whereas before they were totally off-limits. And I really missed them.
A happy by-product of the peeling trick is that it makes the resulting hummus a helluva lot smoother with less effort, or fancy equipment like a Vitamix (dream on, Kellie). I also read somewhere that blending the add-ins of tahini, lemon and garlic separately, and adding this to the chickpeas also makes things lighter – more ‘supermarket.’ I tried that too, and it worked a treat. I don’t know who to thank for that advice but it is a keeper. So, for little extra effort I have more or less got my perfect hummus.
Do you make your own hummus? Do you have any special tips – adding Greek yogurt, or smoked paprika? What are your favourite dippers to go with it?
Miss R’s Track of the Week: Pure Love, by Beach of Diamonds (cracking song but rather unsavoury, violent video. Walk away from the computer and just dance!)
This is, as billed, my perfect hummus: smooth, no added oil, plenty of lemon and not too heavy on the garlic. I was inspired my Ottolenghi’s no-added oil version from his latest book with Sami Tamimi, Jerusalem, so I have adopted this trick, but done my way. You can use this simple recipe as a jumping off point for all kinds of snazzy permutations – blend in some roasted peppers, handfuls of parsley, or even go fusion with chipotle chilli in adobo sauce; add in sumac (I’ve sprinkled some over mine) or toasted and ground cumin; use smoked garlic instead of the normal kind, or even some crushed Szechuan peppers (mmm). The upgrades are endless, limited only by imagination.
You will see that I get a bit fiddly with the cooked chickpeas. This is NOT necessary, but for those of you who have a hard time/think they can’t digest chickpeas (I’m raising my hand), skinning the little suckers can really help. I cook the peas as directed, then rinse really well and pop them in a shallow bowl of cool water and just pinch each chickpea of their gut-cobbling carapace. Keeping them in water makes the skinning a doddle. You can also do this with tinned (BPA-free) or jarred chickpeas. All you do is pop them in a pan of boiling water for a few minutes, then proceed as described. It really works! Pain-free hummus.
Pan-toasted pinenuts, for serving (optional
Total cooking time: 55 minutes – 1½ hours
1. Rinse and soak the uncooked chickpeas in a big bowl of cold water. Cover and leave overnight, or for 12 hours. If you are in a rush you can use 2 tins of chickpeas (see recipe introduction). Or – what I often do* – pop the raw peas into a thick-walled, tight-lidded pan (ie, pressure cooker) and cover with just-boiled water. Shut the lid and leave for 2 hours. Rinse thoroughly and proceed as directed. I do this with most overnight soakers, with the exception of kidney beans.
2. The next morning – or whenever you go to make the hummus – rinse the chickpeas thoroughly and pop into a large pan and cover more than double with fresh cold water. Bring to the boil and cook briskly for 10 minutes before lowering the heat and simmering until done – between 45 minutes and an hour and a half. Skim away any foam or skins that arise during cooking. The cooking time will depend on the tricky-to know age of the chickpeas. Older ones will take longer. I always check the ‘best before’ date on the bag and get the bag with the longest date. Health food stores often have a better turnover so you may get ‘better’ chickpeas there.
3. Chickpeas are cooked when still intact but will crush easily between your fingers when pinched. Rinse thoroughly in a colander. Now this is where it can get fiddly, or if you aren’t troubled with legume ‘digestive issues’ just skip to the next step. I pour the cooked chickpeas into a shallow bowl of water and stand beside it another bowl. Take each chickpea and lightly pinch the ends until the skins pop off. It is quite meditative and weirdly satisfying to see a growing pile of hazy skins.
4. Now this is a bit of a different trick, one that may just make things closer to creamy, light hummus perfection: blending the lemon, garlic, water and salt separately BEFORE adding into the chickpeas. If you have a mini chopper (usually comes with hand/immersion blenders) bung the tahini etc in and puree until smooth. Otherwise just use a small whisk and blend well in a small bowl.
5. Pop the chickpeas into your food processor and process for a few seconds to break them up a bit. Remove the lid and add in the tahini mixture. Process – with lid on! – for a few seconds, then slowly add the cold water. Keep the processor going an unfeasibly long time – up to four minutes – to get super smooth hummus. Taste for seasoning and adjust as needed – maybe more salt or lemon.
6. Transfer the hummus to a serving dish, drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with sumac or za’atar and the pine nuts. Serve with toasted/griddled pitta bread or crunchy raw vegetables. A beautiful accompaniment to roasted lamb or smoothed on a Peter’s Yard crispbread (my personal weakness). This will keep for 3-4 days in the refrigerator.
Serves: 6 as an appetizer
Nutrition Notes: We have known for some time that dried peas and beans help prevent seven types of cancer, balance blood sugar, decrease cardiovascular disease risk and help control weight (they are very filling, but not particularly calorific). In fact, most public health bodies recommend specifically mention legumes for preventing disease and optimising health (rather than lump them in with plant food in general).
Several studies have found that having four to eight one-cup servings of legumes a week is health-promoting: the official US recommendation is 1/2 a cup – per week. Many of us consume a lot less than is optimal so this will seem daunting, but really, any increase will be beneficial. This goes for vegetables too – aim for higher than the government recommended amount for optimal health benefit, but any increase is useful. If you aren’t used to eating beans more than occasionally, do add them in slowly so that the gut is not overwhelmed by the sudden increase in fibre.
The main nutrients in chickpeas specifically are dietary fibre manganese, molybendum, folate, iron, phosphorus and copper. Chickpeas of course contain protein but they, like other legumes, are low in the amino acid (building block) methionine, so need to be eaten with some kind of grain or grain product to get this. Permission to have pitta bread! Incidentally, unlike a lot of tinned foods, chickpeas retain most of their primary nutrients during processing. For more comprehensive information on chickpeas and other legumes, try this link to World’s Healthiest Foods.