If you know just one dish from the Middle East, chances are it’s hummus. Or hummus tehina, to be precise, though I don’t know of anyone who uses its full name. Hummus, arabic for chickpeas, is now synonymous with the dip we all know and love.
The full name does however reveal some of the secrets of good hummus: Chickpeas. And tahini. And some seasoning of course: lemon juice, garlic, salt, perhaps some cumin. But it’s the combination of tender chickpeas and nutty tahini which gives hummus its characteristic taste, making it one of the world’s most loved and iconic dishes.
But: must the flavours be mashed into a smooth dip to work?
Of course not.
Msabbaha (or mashawsha or masabacha, depending on where you’re from) takes the ingredients of hummus and turn it into a closely related, but still quite different, dish. Msabbaha is hummus’ warm, deconstructed brother. The ingredients are the same. But in msabbaha, the chickpeas remain whole and should be warm (though I like them at room remperature too). And the tahini gets blended with the remaining ingredients to a sauce, to be poured over or gently mixed with the chickpeas.
It gets better too: Hummus and msabbaha are even more delicious when eaten together.
As always with hummus, the whole affair reaches a whole another level if you bother to boil your chickpeas from dried instead of using a tin. Tinned chickpeas are simply too hard, and too often far too salty. And once exposed to salt, it’s impossible to get the chickpeas to soften further, even if you boil them for hours (believe me, I’ve tried). Luckily, boiling your own chickpeas is actually very easy and not too different from boiling potatoes, if you ask me. But instead of rinsing or peeling the potatoes, you just need to remember to steep the chickpeas in plenty of water the night before. It takes me just 30 seconds. Then another 30 seconds to change the water the following day before the chickpeas pretty much can be left to their own for the 20 to 40 minutes it takes to cook them soft. If I’m feeling lazy I don’t even bother skimming the top during cooking.
Serve hummus msabbaha with fresh bread, for example Turkish pide (with or without za’atar). Enjoy as part of a bigger meze selection, as a starter, as a side to something else – or just on its own as a snack. Or for lunch with a chopped salad on the side. Yields 4 small bowls, serving 4-8, depending on what else is offered.
- 200 g dried chickpeas (or 2×400 g softest possible tinned chickpeas, drained, if you must but I do not recommend it)
- 1 tsp bicarb of soda
- 150 g tahini
- juice of 3/4 lemon
- 3 garlic cloves, peeled
- 1/4 tsp ground cumin
- extra virgin olive oil, to garnish
- sweet paprika, to garnish
- salt and pepper
- Cover the chickpeas with water at least 3-4x the volume of chickpeas and leave for a few hours or over night. Change the water, add the bicarb of soda and bring to the boil. Lower the temperature, put on the lid and leave to simmer until soft enough to squeeze easily between two fingers. Drain, but keep the cooking water.
- Mix the tahini, lemon juice, garlic, cumin, 3/4 tsp salt and 125 ml of the cooking water with a stick blender or regular blender until completely homogenous. The consistency should be loose but not completely runny. If too thin, add more tahini, if too thick add more cooking water. Taste and add more lemon juice or salt if necessary. (Tinned chickpeas are often very salty. If using, add all ingredients to taste depending on the chickpeas you are using. Use ice water instead of cooking water and add gradually.)
- While the chickpeas are still hot, make hummus by mixing half of the chickpeas (c. 240 g cooked and drained weight) with 2/3 of the tahini sauce in a food processor until it has reached your desired texture. I prefer mine silky smooth and keep it running for several minutes. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary. At this point, the hummus will be very soft, almost runny. Cover with clingfilm directly onto the hummus (not just over the edge of the bowl) and leave to come to room temperature, at which point the hummus will have set and have a nice texture.
- Just before serving, heat the remaining chickpeas slightly in the remaining cooking water (or fresh water, if you prefer). They need only be warm, not hot. Drain. Add the hummus to small bowls and use a spoon to make a dent in the middle (keep the spoon still while spinning the bowl). Add the warm chickpeas followed by the remaining tahini sauce. Drizzle some extra virgin olive oil and sweet paprika on top.