Hummus Perfection

A mind blowing visit to the Holy Land a couple of months ago has left me with an obsession with hummus.... this is not hard as hummus is actually a religion amongst many there. There are tiny shops dotted around called Hummusaria where the freshest, smoothest, creamiest hummus can be ordered with a variety of toppings. The most significant thing is that the hummus is served as a large portion for one person. You have a whole bowl to yourself! None of this measly pot of shop bought hummus to share. Oh no! A large bowl first thing in the morning for breakfast, served with a raw onion (bit early for us), chilli vinegar, paprika and soft soft pita bread... a revelation! Since returning to London I now make an enormous plate of hummus and we eat it warm and fresh from the pot... we cannot get enough of this heavenly stuff. I used to make hummus with lots of olive oil and lemon, which is great but it has always been illusively unsmooth and creamy. I also enjoyed flavouring it with cumin, roasted red pepper, coriander etc. but it is officially the ultimate when very plain made with tahini, lemon and a little za'atar or sumac sprinkled on top. Za'atar is a Middle Eastern spice mix made from a combination of dried herbs, sesame seeds, sumac and salt. It can be bought or easily home made. 

Now we come to the question of the chickpeas. Hummus is made from these humble versatile little legumes, the earliest cultivated. They remain a staple of the Middle East and now populate tables across the globe. I grew up on them, not least having a Jewish background but because my mum loves a chickpea like no other. The question about chickpeas and hummus is... to peel or not to peel? Chickpeas have tough skins that are usually the cause of textured hummus, you can boil them for hours and still they will not soften adequately. Even tinned chickpeas do not give the desired consistency. I have tried peeling them at different stages in the cooking process and still couldn't get it right. In Israel they definitely didn't spend hours wasted on peeling tiny legumes. Theirs were plump and completely soft. I finally found the secret to heavenly hummus thanks to the brilliant Ottolenghi, it is the addition of bicarbonate of soda to the cooking process. This is an old traditional technique that helps to break down the pectin molecules in the skins and this in turn makes smooth creamy hummus possible. It's important to soak the chickpeas in plenty of water for up to 24 hours before cooking them too. The most amazing thing is that depending on the freshness of the dried chickpeas you can cook them for as little as 20 minutes! They need to be soft but not mushy, easily overdone so keep a beady eye on them. This is hummus perfection, well as close as it gets. Nothing beats the Hummusaria!


1 cup dried chickpeas
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
juice of 1-2 lemons
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 quarter to half a cup tahini
ice cold water
1 tsp salt

Soak chickpeas in plenty of cold water for 12-24 hours, rinse and drain. Heat a pot up and when hot place the chickpeas in with the bicarb, stir continuously for a few minutes. The pot will become quite dry. Cover with 3-4 times the amount of water and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 20-30 minutes. Drain and allow to cool slightly. Put chickpeas into a food processor and blend until you have a stiff paste. Add garlic, salt and lemon juice and blend well together. While the machine is still running add the tahini, this will make the mixture stiffen up again. Drizzle in a a few tablespoons of ice cold water, this will loosen the mixture and create creamy magic. To make it looser add a bit more water. Blend for 5 minutes. Transfer to a plate and cover with cling film, allow it to rest for 30 minutes or so and then drizzle with some olive oil and sprinkle with sumac, paprika or za'atar. Eat it fresh and slightly warm. If you have refrigerated it, allow it to come up to room temperature before serving or eating.

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