Hummus . . . a creamy, garlicky, lemony, protein-packed dip. It's all the rage in this country now, the most ubiquitous Arabic food to reach the American table. I am not sure when hummus became so popular here, because when I would travel back to the States as a child and teenager, most Americans approached our plate of hummus with a great deal of, um, suspicion, and rarely tasted it enthusiastically. My, how things have changed.
The word hummus is the Arabic word for chickpea (also known as a garbanzo bean). In fact, this dip is technically called hummus bi tahini, meaning chickpeas with tahini.
Hummus, from an Arab Sensibility
To understand what hummus is in Palestine and throughout the Arab world, you have to understand that it is more than an occasional veggie dip or appetizer. Hummus is a daily food, a nourishing staple that has been perfected over many centuries. Most Arabs don't actually make it- they buy it at little hummus shops in their neighborhoods. Strolling through a neighborhood, you will see young children carrying plastic plates spread with hummus and bags of Arabic bread, to take home to their families. Hummus is a dip for bread, often served alongside plates of fresh and pickled vegetables, falafel, and other salads and dips. Hummus is commonly served for breakfast (yes, you read that right!) or for the lighter evening meal, since the main meal for most Palestinian families is served early in the afternoon.
Arabs have a certain understanding of hummus which is very different than the way that we eat and serve it in the West. And while I am not a purist about many things, I have to say that most Arabs have very strong feelings about what hummus is and is not.
The first thing is that hummus is a chickpea-only dip. There are lots of other lovely bean dips out there, but please don't call them hummus. Hummus means chickpeas. I think that all Arabs are bound by a disgust for "flavored" hummus. Kalamata olive blended into your hummus? Cilantro hummus? Roasted red pepper hummus? We don't understand you. We like our hummus lemony, with a little bit of garlic, and maybe a few spices.
Second, hummus should be smooth, and slightly thin. We don't believe in chunky hummus. Instead of scooped into a mound on a bowl, Arabs spread their hummus onto a shallow bowl or a round plate, and drizzle with olive oil.
Finally, Arabs do not actually dip their bread into the hummus. They hold a small peice of bread up to the hummus and pinching their bread together, pinch up the hummus into the fold of the bread. We teach our children to eat politely from the side of the common bowl that is nearest to us and to never drag their bread across a plate of hummus.
Say Goodbye to Grainy Hummus
Hummus can be as easy as opening a can of chickpeas and blending it with a few other ingredients. You can get somewhat decent hummus that way, but you will never get silky-smooth hummus.
To get that really fresh flavor and smooth texture, the best thing to do is use dried chickpeas, soak them for 8-12 hours, boil them until tender, and then make hummus right on the spot, with the hot chickpeas. Not only does this make for a better hummus, but this method of long-soaking legumes is a time-honored way to increase the nutrients in your food by making them more digestible.
Why use the hot chickpeas? Because each chickpea has a little skin on them. Freshly boiled chickpeas' skins are soft and will break down in the food processor, to make a silky smooth hummus. But if you used cooled (and especially canned) chickpeas, the skins will have hardened and your hummus will have a grainy texture. If you don't have a choice but to use canned or cooled chickpeas, then you can bring them back up to a boil and let them boil for a little while too soften their skins, which will work to some degree, or you can actually peel the skin off of each chickpea (which is what my mother taught me to do). This is rather time-consuming, so I prefer to just work with hot chickpeas.
One more thing. While yogurt might not be the most traditional ingredient in hummus, it will make your hummus velvety and creamy. For more authentic hummus, just add extra cooking water, but I find that just a tablespoon or two of yogurt makes for a lovely smooth and creamy hummus (and find my simple yogurt tutorial here).
Hummus bi Tahini
Step One: Prepare your chickpeas
1. Soak your chickpeas. I like to soak them in hot water for 8 hours or overnight.
2. Rinse the chickpeas, and then pour then into another pot and boil them until tender, about one hour. If you have a pressure cooker (I don't), you can use that and the chickpeas will be done in no time.
*Note: I like to make large batches of chickpeas. After you have boiled your chickpeas, you can portion them and freeze them for later use. I like to freeze mine in two-cup baggies, nested in a freezer bag. This will make your next batch of hummus come together in no time!
Step Two: Make your hummus.
2 cups chickpeas, still warm, or cold and peeled
1/4 cup tahini
2 1/2 fresh lemons, or about 8 tablespoons lemon juice
1-2 cloves of garlic, pasted
1 tsp sea salt
2 tbsp yogurt (optional)
Additional water (or cooking liquid from chickpeas) to thin
Optional: add in 1 tsp cumin for a smokey flavor.
1. Pour tahini and lemon juice into your food processor and pulse until creamy and pale in color.
2. Add salt, and pasted garlic to your lemon-tahini sauce.
3. Pour chickpeas and sauce into a food processor and blend until well incorporated. Add yogurt and process again for another minute. Then add as much water as you want to achieve your desired thinness. Taste and adjust seasonings.
4. Let this all run in your food processor until silky smooth, for a couple of minutes.
5. Refrigerate for a couple of hours for best flavor.
Serve drizzled with olive oil, and any of the following: sprinkled with paprika and cumin, and garnished with chickpeas, olives, pickles, or parsley.
May this double your health!
*Just as Good as Hummus: Smokey Eggplant Dip
*Just as Good as Hummus: Smokey Eggplant Dip