11 May 2018
Hummus is one of my absolute favourite things to eat in the whole world. I can’t quite explain how it came to occupy such a favoured place in my affections, but it started decades ago when I was with a vegan partner who was also a fabulous cook.
She would make her own hummus, and it was not only fabulous (bearing in mind how limited was the food palate for vegans in the late 1980s) but it was also my first exposure to cooking by taste rather than simply by recipe. Because I could taste the hummus and know that it wasn’t quite right, but I would have no idea what could be done. She would taste and immediately spot that it needed more lemon juice, or more garlic, or salt or whatever it might be. Now that seems a very straightforward thing to do. But at the time, to a young man clueless about food (and indeed about life generally), it seemed nothing short of magical.
Since then, it’s become very easy to get lazy. Every supermarket sells not only hummus, but various perfectly tasty variations and I have consumed plenty of all them, with caramelised onion probably emerging as a slight favourite. And it’s perfectly fine. But making your own hummus is one of those simple pleasures and, yes - if you pay attention to certain details, the result you get is superior, both texturally and flavour-wise.
The first principle is that you do actually have to get dried chickpeas and cook them. Getting them from a tin won’t do for this - you get a superior nutty flavour if you use non-canned pulses. Yes, chickpeas do have the reputation that they can take ages to cook, but if you add a teaspoon a bicarbonate of soda to the soaking water (you need to soak the beans overnight), and then add another half teaspoon to the cooking water, then they cook a lot more quickly. On this occasion, mine cooked to very tender - on the verge of falling apart - within one hour.
And that is the perfect place. One of the key performance points - get the chickpeas well cooked so they will make a fabulous smooth texture. Some people say you should remove the skins (which becomes possible once they’re cooked) but if they’re well cooked, that isn’t necessary at all.
The second performance point is in how you combine the other ingredients. You start with tahini - sesame seed pulp - and you stir in half of your crushed garlic and half of your lemon juice. That makes the tahini seize up, so you then add as much of the cooled chickpea cooking water as you need to make it smooth again. You hold back on the garlic and the lemon juice precisely because the point is to achieve the right balance of flavours. So you blend the chickpeas with the tahini mix, and then add some salt and more cooking water to get to the right consistency. Then you taste. Add a little more garlic or lemon juice or salt as required, and then taste again. And keep going - adding little by little - until you get the balance you want.
As ever, you can always add more, but you can’t take away when you’ve added too much. So carefully does it.
I often eat supermarket-bought hummus with bread, maybe toasted. It’s just a sandwich filling in that case. But when you make your own, it needs to be a feast for sharing. Lots of different crudités and pitta bread, a big bowl of hummus drizzled with a good quality olive oil and sprinkled with paprika. And, of course, a chilled glass of white wine won’t go amiss either.
200g dried chickpeas
1.5 teaspoons bicarbonate of soda
6 tablespoons tahini
4 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
2 lemons, juice (you may only need one, depending on your taste)
Good quality extra virgin olive oil, to drizzle
Paprika, to serve
Soak the chickpeas overnight in cold water with 1 teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda added. Make sure there’s at least twice as much volume of water as there is chickpeas, as a lot will be absorbed. Drain and rinse them, and then place in a good sized pan with about the same amount of water with another half teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda added (but don’t add salt at this point). Bring the pan to the boil, and then turn down to a simmer. Cook until very tender, but still holding together. Probably about an hour, but timings can vary depending on the source and age of the chickpeas.
Once they’re cooked, leave them to cool in the cooking water. Then drain them, reserving the water.
Add half the juice of one lemon, and half the crushed garlic, to the tahini and mix together. The mix will go stiff, so loosen it with several spoonfuls of the chickpea cooking water until it’s a smooth paste.
Place the chickpeas and the tahini mixture into a blender and blend until smooth. Add some more of the chickpea water to get the mixture to a nice smooth consistency. Add some sea salt and blend again, then taste. Add more lemon juice and garlic, and probably salt, and then taste again. Continue until you get the right balance of flavours you want in your hummus. Too little garlic and it will not be feisty enough on the back of the throat. Too little lemon juice and it will taste flat, as it also will if there’s too little salt.
When serving, drizzle with the olive oil and sprinkle on a little paprika