Great hummus is soft as velvet, with the seductive smoothness of whipped cream; the first time you meet it you experience an almost irresistible desire to slather it on your body. Then you taste it and instantly know how wrong it would be to waste a single bit. If you have never encountered hummus this good, you are in for a treat. Here’s how to make it.
1. If you want great hummus, you must use dried chickpeas--the canned ones will never become transcendent. Buy the smallest ones you can find, and plan ahead to soak them overnight.
2. Soak and cook the chickpeas with a little baking soda to make the beans very tender. Baking soda creates an alkaline environment that allows water to penetrate the chickpeas more easily; it make an enormous difference, giving you a hummus that’s as smooth as satin.
3. Remove all the skins from the chickpeas after cooking. This takes a while, but it’s a meditative process that I find enormously pleasurable. Don’t rush it.
4. Cool the chickpeas before you puree them: The starch crystals in the chickpeas break down more easily when they are warm; this is not a good thing, since it will make the puree pasty. Cool your chickpeas, and you’ll have lighter hummus.
5. Use the best tahini you can find. Its flavor will dominate the hummus, so if you’re using one that is bitter (like the most commonly available commercial kind), your hummus will suffer. Taste it before adding it to the puree; it should be slightly sweet and quite nutty, and it doesn’t have to be fancy—I use one I buy at a kind of earthshoe / vegetarian store.
6. Use good garlic - and not too much. The flavor of hummus is so subtle that one bad clove of garlic is a death sentence.
7. Hummus will keep for a couple of days, but like many things, it is at its peak the moment it is made. (The great hummus places in the Middle East all make theirs daily.) Rush your hummus to the table as soon as you have made it.
8. Serve your hummus with good pita and an array of condiments, allowing your guests to tailor their hummus to their own tastes.
1½ cups dried chickpeas
1 tablespoon baking soda plus ¼ teaspoon baking soda
¼ to ½ cup raw (as opposed to roasted) tahini
1 lemon, juiced
1-2 garlic cloves
salt, to taste
olive oil, to taste
parsley, to taste
cumin, to taste
1. Put the chickpeas in a colander and go through them carefully, discarding small stones and broken peas.
2. Wash the chickpeas, and put them in a bowl with enough water to allow them to double in volume. Stir in a tablespoon of baking soda and soak them overnight.
3. Drain and rinse the chickpeas and put them in a large pot. Cover with about 5 cups of water (the water should be about 2 inches above the beans) and add the remaining ¼ teaspoon of baking soda. Bring the water to a boil, turn the heat down, cover, and cook over low heat until the chickpeas are very soft; it should take about two hours. If the water cooks away, add more. Drain, but reserve the cooking liquid.
4. Rub the chickpeas between your fingers under cold running water to remove the skins. Put on some music; it’s a time-consuming process.
5. The chickpeas should be cool now. Put them in a food processor with the garlic, and lemon juice, a quarter cup of the cooking liquid and the tahini. (How much you use will depend on your taste; traditionally you’d use about half a cup, but I find that makes the sesame flavor too dominant for my taste.) Process for 4 or 5 minutes, until it is smooth and creamy, with the dreamy texture of just-made frozen custard. It should be very soft and smooth. If it’s too thick add more liquid. Add salt to taste.
Now’s the fun part. You have just created a lovely canvas. Top it with a glug of good olive oil, some chopped parsley, a smattering of ground cumin. Or toast some pinenuts in butter and top the hummus with that. Add cayenne, zatar, chopped onions or some pomegranate seeds. Be creative, or just revel in the best hummus you’ve ever had on its own.