– You made hummus from canned chickpeas?!
I still remember the disbelief in the tone of voice. The voice belonged to one of my Israeli friends, speaking to a fellow countryman who had brought home made hummus to a student pot luck party. Made from canned chickpeas.
The hummus was actually pretty good. But more than that it was my first experience of the importance of this humble dish not just to Israelis but peoples of the Middle East more generally. Everyone wants to own hummus. And, of course, everyone makes it better than anybody else. Cue hours of discussion and debate on the ins and outs of hummus. In this particular instance, the debate surrounded the cardinal sin that is making hummus from canned chickpeas.
I always make mine from dried chickpeas that have been cooked until completely tender. There is a time and place for using canned chickpeas, but hummus isn’t one of them. If all I have is tinned chickpeas, I make a good chickpea salad or spiced chickpeas with some veggies on the side. I find the tinned stuff is either too hard, too salty, or just doesn’t have the right flavour for hummus.
Another thing I learned from my Israeli friends is the importance of tahini. (Israelis practically live on the stuff.) Good tahini. And lots of it. For when we say hummus, we really mean humus tehina, the hummus variety where the chickpeas are married with tahini paste to create a light and creamy dip.
For hummus, always use the regular light coloured variety. (In fact, always use the regular light coloured variety full stop.) Brands differ substantially in quality, so try different ones until you find one you like. Arab brands are generally far superior to western brands, including the Cypriot or Turkish ones. So if you see a jar with Arab writing on it, give it a go. As with anything there are exceptions: the Turkish brand Altan Manisalı is excellent. What appears to be their only shop is in İzmir, but if you’re in Istanbul you can find their tahini (and pekmez) at the Namlı Gurme shops (there’s one in Karaköy and another on Hasırcılar Caddesi near the spice market). Mainstream Turkish brands such as Koska are best avoided and some of the Turkish supermarket own-label stuff can be positively vile.
Serve hummus as is, with a little good quality extra virgin olive oil and some paprika sprinkled on top and some pita bread to dip. Or get creative – hummus is an excellent base to an incredibly flavoursome meal. The recipe below is how I usually make my hummus. It always yields a light and creamy hummus which I’d happily serve even my hummus fanatical Middle Eastern friends. Yields c. 450 g hummus, enough for 3-4 as a small starter or snack, more if you’re serving it as part of a larger meze table. If you want more, just double the recipe.
- 100 g dry chickpeas
- 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
- 100 g tahini
- juice of 1/2 lemon
- 2 cloves of garlic, peeled
- 1/4-1/2 tsp ground cumin (optional)
- 1/2 tsp salt
- cooking water from the chickpeas
- extra virgin olive oil, to serve
- cumin or paprika, to serve (optional)
- flat-leaf parsley, to serve (optional)
- Soak the chickpeas in at least 3x their volume water for at least 4 hours, preferably overnight. Change the water, add the bicarbonate of soda and bring to the boil. Lower the heat and leave to simmer until soft, anything from 25 minutes to an hour or more – this can vary quite significantly from batch to batch. The chickpeas are done when you can easily mash them by gently squeezing them between your fingers. Drain and reserve the cooking water.
- Set aside a few of the prettiest-looking chickpeas to garnish.
- While still hot, add the chickpeas, tahini, lemon juice, garlic 100 ml of the cooking water, cumin (if using) and salt to a food processor and mix until completely smooth and fairly fluffy, at least 3-4 minutes but don’t worry about overdoing it. Taste and adjust seasoning or flavours to your preference. At this stage, the hummus will be fairly runny but don’t worry – it will set once it cools down. Transfer to a bowl and cover with plastic wrap directly on top of the hummus (i.e. there should be no air between the hummus and the plastic wrap). Leave until it has reached room temperature and it has set. If you’re short on time, put it in the refrigerator to speed up the process.
- Serve on one large or (preferably) several small plates. Use the back of a spoon to create the characteristic dimples in the bowl. Garnish with the reserved chickpeas, drizzle some extra virgin olive oil over and top with some spices and chopped flat-leaf parsley, if you like.
Pimp my hummus
There are endless ways to top your hummus – there are restaurants dedicated to the stuff. Here are a couple of easy variations.
Hummus with pine nuts & lemon: Toast 30 g pine nuts in a dry pan on medium heat until golden, stirring or shaking regularly to keep the pine nuts from burning. Mix with 4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, 2 tbsp lemon juice and 2 tbsp finely chopped flat-leaf parsley. Prepare the hummus as above, topping with the pine nut and lemon mixture instead of olive oil, spices and parsley.
Hummus with za’atar: Make as above, but instead of spices and parsley, sprinkle a couple of tablespoons of za’atar over the hummus.