Hummus (A Minimalist’s Approach)

People put too many things in hummus! In the aisles of your local grocery store you’re sure to find an assortment of roasted vegetables and superfluous spices polluting the spread, let alone any preservatives or other unnecessary things like sugar. Like many other Levantine dishes, hummus (Arabic for “chickpeas”) is composed of a few basic components and the key to making it taste delicious is in the proportions of the ingredients and method of preparation.

When I make hummus, nothing goes in except chickpeas, tahini, olive oil, lemon, salt and raw garlic. I use dried chickpeas because the flavor and texture are better than what you get from canned beans (the brine that comes with canned chickpeas is awful). As for tahini, I usually use ready-made stuff. When you’re buying, look for a creamy consistency and a very pale beige color. My favorite in Chicago is the house-made tahini available at Middle East Bakery and Grocery on Foster Avenue. If you have sesame seeds and olive oil handy, you can make your own tahini.

Pickles are a delicious accompaniment to hummus. The bright pink pickled beets or mix of carrots, cucumbers, cauliflower and hot peppers known as turshi that are on sale at many Middle Eastern groceries are an excellent garnish for hummus. Just remember that less is more.

One note: the only potentially complicated thing you need is a food processor. If you don’t have one, you can use an immersion blender or even a potato masher, just substitute 1-2 tbs of water for the ice cubes.

Ingredients:

3/4 cup dried chickpeas

1/4 cup tahini (sesame paste)

2 lemons

1 clove of garlic, minced

2-3 tbs extra virgin olive oil

sea salt

2-3 ice cubes

Pickles (for garnish)

Method:

Bring the chickpeas to a boil in a pot of salty water. Cook the peas until they are very soft and the skins are beginning to come off. This will take about 2 hours, but you can boil it for longer if you have time. The softer the chickpeas get, the smoother your hummus will be. Remove any of the chickpea skins you see floating at the top of the pot. I like to get a slotted spoon and stir the peas around so that more skins come off and then fish them out. This is not absolutely necessary but it again improves the texture.

Once the chickpeas are soft enough to crush easily with your hand and you’ve removed as many husks as you can stand, whip together the tahini, juice of one of the lemons, oil, garlic and salt in the food processor until consistent and creamy. This, by the way, is basic tahini sauce (taratour), which is a classic topping for falafel or fish and is a perfect partner to sour yoghurt.

Put the two or three ice cubes in the food processor (this is a trick that a friend taught me- it makes for an amazingly fluffy and light hummus). Strain the chickpeas and while still piping hot, put them in the food processor so that the ice cracks and begins to melt. Then, blend the entire mixture for several minutes until completely smooth. Add some olive oil if necessary during the blending.

You can serve the hummus immediately, still warm (my preference), or chill it and serve it later.

To serve, spread the hummus on a plate and liberally dress it with the juice of the other lemon, salt and more olive oil. Add a few pickles, or put them in a bowl to the side. Serve with hot bread.

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3 comments
  1. Bot said:

    You complain about the the needless ingredients that make there way in our daily hummii but yet you put pickles into our sacred slush under the auspices of garnish. Sabasalads needs to reflect a bit on their philosophy of food.

  2. sabaladas said:

    Dear Bot,

    Thank you for your comment. You make a valid point: as a garnish, pickles shouldn’t sneak into the dish and overpower it. But Sabasalads maintains that it’s vital to distinguish between ingredients of the dish itself and items that accompany the dish.

    Now that we think about it, garnish was a poor choice of words. Pickles are more like a complement to hummus: the two foods are complementary to one another. Both stand alone, but the sum is greater than the parts. Garnish implies something that improves the look of the dish or is used as a finishing touch- something like a parsley leaf that’s pretty but you remove from your soup when you actually dig in because it’s bitter and tough. But hummus with pickles to Sabasalads isn’t a matter of gussying up and finishing off. To leave out the pickles would be well nigh anathema.

    Yes, hummus still tastes good without a bowl of pickles on the side, but you’re only getting half the story. If you order hummus in Palestine, Syria, Turkey, or Lebanon, or in other places where it’s a staple, you’re not going to get just the spread itself. It should come with several sour, salty and crunchy compliments that make the whole thing come together, sort of like the Korean banchan. Without pickles and assorted sundries, you’re lowering the hummus to the status of a dip that you might put a baby carrot into before moving to the velveeta at a superbowl party.

    For Sabasalads, hummus and pickles are like fish and chips. We wouldn’t want one without the other. Our philosophy of food is that is should taste really good. To us that means stopping yourself (sometimes) from shaking cumin all over everything, but it doesn’t mean that we like to cull, cut or minimize as a rule.

    Pickles, by the way, are also good for digestion. In Sabasalads’ opinion, a dish of pickles should always be a fixture on the table.

  3. BrOat said:

    When boiling my chickpeas this week-end, I had stepped out onto the patio (well, one of my patia) to clip some mint leaves, and as I stepped back into the kitchen I caught a whiff of the boiling chickpeas’ unmistakably pungent armoa — an odor which I had not noticed when the peas first went onto the stove, having been in the kitchen the whole time prior to my mint diversion and thus accustomating myself to the smell — and I was instantly transported, as with a madeleine, to Mama Ayesha’s back in the Old City of Jaffa. It was there that in my youth I spent many an evening, many an afternoon, those hot hazy summery afternoons when shutters get drawn, ‘twixt arghile and teacup, discussing and debating life and politics with many a friend, acquaintance, and passer-by. In those days we spoke of (re/de)constructing the various paradigms which then gripped and even strangled the (Middle) East. They still do, you might say, but they no longer seem surmountable by conversation at Mama Ayesha’s, which is today a place for smoking and tea, not a place for smoking, tea, and reflection. Back then, our Yafo was different, we all agreed, a place which (sur)passed any other Mediterranean city in its absolute sense of purposiveness qua neo-Oriental heterogeneity, co-mingling, and co-habitation. We were young, and such facile thinking was only enhanced by Mama Ayesha’s personal blend of orange and peach tobacco. Not that Jaffa was or is some utopia (hateful, juvenile term) of ease and peace, even to us youths. It can be a city of strife, of tension, even violence, a tension that you feel even in the confines of the Old City, a strife that you feel even as you inhale and are intoxicated by the mint leaves; that pungence of tension underlies everything, and while one can become acclimated to it, it can never exactly be camouflaged or forgotten. But there is such life in that. With every occasional whiff of the life-acridity, one always and invariably finds quite quickly that one can still breathe, eat, and love. Thank you Sabasalads for this houmous-inspired reverie.

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