Sunday, May 18, 2008

How To Actually Make Hummus

So pretty much everyone is familiar with hummus these days. It's standard party fare, it's usually involved in a restaurant's vegetarian "option", and even well-adjusted Midwestern football players admit to liking it. It's also a perfect staple food: it work on sandwiches, pairs well with vegetables, has a large amount of protein and fiber, and is easy to make ahead. Hardly anyone does, though, and it's hard to eat it like a staple food if you buy it at pre-made prices.

No doubt a number of people have shared my experience of homemade hummus, though: way too thick and chunky, so much raw garlic it sears, often strangely colored... not a pleasant experience all-around. So I puttered around online, trying to find how it's actually supposed to be made, and I learned a few things:

1) You must use dried chickpeas, not canned ones.
2) The proper ingredients are chickpeas, lemon, and garlic. Anything else can be added, to alter flavor or texture, but those three are it for essentials.
3) It should always be modified right before you use it, to suit the purpose.

So, this is how I now make my stock hummus recipe, to keep in the fridge:

Put some dried chickpeas (around a half cup) into a medium-large plastic container. Add around a teaspoon of baking soda. Whaaa, you say? Any dried legume toughens up in the presence of acids, and it's essential to keep the chickpeas light and fluffy, so you add baking soda to counteract any potential acidity. Cover with several inches of water and leave them soaking overnight, or for 24 hours in the fridge.

Once they're good and soaked, drain them and add put them in a pan with more baking soda. Also, toss in some black pepper. Cover by an inch with water, bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook, uncovered. When you can pick up a chickpea in a spoon and mash it easily with another spoon, your chickpeas are done.

This next step is way easier if you have a food processor or immersion blender; any large blunt object and a bowl will also work, but it will take a lot more effort, so consider investing. Put the chickpeas in your FP or a container, and add enough of the cooking water to almost reach the top of the chickpeas. Hit "blend", or go, or start mashing like crazy. Your goal is a thin, light paste; it will be slightly sticky and starchy, but it should be smooth and even. If it's too thick, add some more of the cooking water until it reaches a thin, light consistency. You can't really overwork the paste, but on a labor-saving principle, when it's smooth enough, let yourself be done.

Now, mince about 5 cloves of garlic and toss them into your hummus. Add a teaspoon, maybe 2, of salt to taste, and a tablespoon or so of tahini. This isn't necessary, but it's the flavor profile I like, so I add it here. You can use any kind of fat, from olive oil to peanut butter, whatever you like; it just helps a little with consistency. Run your FP or blender or primitive mashing mechanism a little longer, to blend thoroughly, and decant into some kind of container. Bam, hummus.

Before you use it for anything, take out the portion you'll need and add lemon juice; 2 lemons is enough for the entire recipe, so adjust accordingly. As a dip, add some olive oil over the top, maybe some minced parsley for garnish; in a sandwich, a pinch of cumin and chile powder adds some nice tang; for a pizza topping, add some roasted garlic and goat cheese; really, you can add what you like at this point. It's super-cheap to make this way, it's flexible, and it can be whipped up in big batches, so there's no excuse not to add this to your everyday diet.

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