hummus trial and error

During a harpsichord maintenance course in Jerusalem, all the participants contributed to lunch; I tried everything and afterwards I asked the person who had provided the – to my taste – most successful hummus for his recipe. Here comes an edited version of what Amit wrote, and my comments in square brackets:

Quick version: take a 400g-can of cooked chickpeas, drain and mix in the blender with the juice of half a lemon [that is not enough!] and a glass full [I translated this into 2 1/2 tablespoons] of tahini. The best tahini for hummus is the whitest one can get; so definitely not the unpeeled gray organic variety [if you want pureness, this is right, but organic tahini worked quite okay for my rough European taste buds]. It has to become creamy when you blend it with lemon and a bit of water. Best is if you can find Lebanese Tahini (they call it “crem de sessam…”) [I used Tahini from Larissa, Greece, a place I remember especially for their tough grilled chicken – it worked just fine; later, I actually did find crem de sessam, which was somewhat thinner and easier to incorporate into the mix].
Add salt [careful if you use canned chickpeas, they’re usually already salted], pepper [a teaspoon or so] and cumin [to taste, not too much] and add enough water to make the paste thin enough but not too liquid. [I found that processing hummus in the blender of the food processor required too much water, or the pulp just stayed halfway up the jar and didn’t mix. I believe that Hummus ought to be pretty stiff. So if you have one of these hand mixers for pureeing stuff, use it instead].

The real stuff version: take half a kilo of dried chickpeas and soak them overnight in water with baking-powder (one spoon full). The baking powder is absolutely necessary for getting the beans really soft.
Cook the chickpeas the next morning, using the soaking water, for at least 12 hours, at a low temperature (preferably on an electric plate with a precise thermostat). The water should move but not boil much. The peas are ready when they almost mash by themselves
[on the stove top, mine were really okay after 10 hours. However, this isn’t my favorite way of cooking beans. I am using a cast iron roasting pot with an iron lid, and cook the beans on moderate heat in the oven. It speeds up the works and prevents most of the water from evaporating, thus guaranteeing a more equal result].
This generates an enormous amount of cooked chickpeas; you can keep the rest of them for a week in the fridge, or in the deep-freezer for a very long time.
Proceed from here as in the quick version.
[End Amit].

[Start Tilman] To serve, I add pressed garlic and pour a little green olive oil on top of a mound of hummus. I’ve also seen this creation being dusted with paprika powder. At least during my stay in Israel, I have not seen any other additions, except for a few whole cooked chickpeas for decoration in a restaurant in Abu Gosh. The addition of all sorts of fancy herbs and spices as found in some postmodern yeah-we-can-stylishly-cook recipes may seem charming but are clearly not authentic according to some. The situation seems to resemble authentic pesto knowledge: Pesto Genovese is just pounded garlic, olive oil, pine nuts, 2 cheeses and basil. Look in any New-Age-Fourth-Generation fancy food pamphlet and you’ll find that virtually anything or anybody ground into a pulp is called pesto these days.

Back to hummus, the trick seems to me to get the balance of lemon juice (rather much) and salt (also rather much) right, and to have an easy hand with the other ingredients, especially the cumin. One can use more Tahini which makes the mixture creamier, but also slightly bitter. I prefer it, if the somewhat bready taste of the chickpeas remains prominent. But Robin makes hummus with much lemon juice and more tahini, four tablespoons or so, and it is yummily creamy. So this is typically something for everyone to sort out individually. I certainly very much prefer the version with self-prepared chickpeas.


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