|Food of the chick pea Gods.|
I feel a good hummus should be smooth, and that you're just able to taste the lemon juice and tahini (aka "tahina"), but can still taste the chick peas (aka "garbanzo beans"). Every ingredient should be balanced, and nothing overpowering. Once you start adding other ingredients to the mix, like paprika or roasted pepper, you're less likely to succeed at this. As for the texture, once mixed, I think it should be about the consistency of creamy cake frosting.
Canned vs. Dried: Most people prefer to go canned, for the convenience and time factor. And you can get very decent results with canned chick peas, if done right. But, there is a difference in texture and flavor with the dried, with the preferred taste coming from the dried variety. The canned type is more likely to retain its skins, and those contribute to a gritty taste and texture, so should be removed. Especially so for the brands that add citric acid (it firms up the bean, but when processed, leaves that grainy texture. Even after much cooking and blending). The dried variety of chick peas can be softened to whatever texture you like or need for your dish. So you can get a flavor from the dried variety that you can't from canned. If that wasn't enough, dried chick peas are nutritionally superior to their canned counterparts, containing about 50% more nutrients. Compared to canned, dried chick peas offer less than half the sodium, while providing far more (twice as much on average) iron, copper, magnesium, phosphors, potassium, zinc, calcium, selenium, niacin, folate, amino acids, and omega-3 fatty acids.
n.b. Canned chick peas vary in their quality, with the higher quality brands being usually better. Generally, the larger and lighter (in color and weight) the canned chick peas are, the better they will taste.
19 oz can chick peas or 3/4 c dried (reserve 1/4 c of the cooking liquid)
1/4 cup (4 T) tahini (sesame seed paste)
3 - 4 T lemon juice, fresh (or juice of 1 good sized lemon)
1/4 t salt
n.b. For a more neutral taste, reduce the tahini, and lemon juice by a tablespoon, or two for an even milder taste. For a bolder taste, use 1/2 cup of tahini instead. I suggest starting with 3T lemon juice.
Canned Chick Peas:
Removing the skins: The key to smooth, good tasting pro-quality hummus is removing the tough outer skins. They leave a gritty texture that is nearly impossible to process; particularly if using canned chick peas. (Made worse when some brands contain citric acid. Which firms up the texture of the bean, but makes the skin very difficult to come off by itself, even after much cooking and blending). Also, removing the skins can help prevent gas during the digestive process later. If using dried beans cooked well (see instructions), this step should not be necessary.
Once the canned beans have cooked in boiling water, you can pop the skins off each by scooping a handful in one hand, pinch each bean gently between thumb and forefinger of other hand, catching and discarding the skin to one side, and separating the peeled bean to another. Submerging them in a large bowl under water can help this process. Or, rubbing the beans between a towel can help loosen the skins as well.
Preparation: Drain the canned chick peas, reserving 1/2c of the water it was soaking in. Rinse well.
Cooking: Add them to a pot with plenty of water to cover, and boil the canned chick peas for 20 minutes. The skins should float to the top. Remove them with a slotted spoon. The goal is to remove the skins off of all the beans before processing them. If this hasn't happened during the cooking process, rinse the beans under cold water to cool, and remove their skins (described in detail above). (n.b. If you are not removing the skins by hand, then just drain the beans but do not rinse. We want to keep them and their water warm or hot before processing). When the beans are fully prepared, proceed to instructions.
Dried Chick Peas:
Preparation (soaking method): Inspect the beans for pebbles or other debris, and discard if found. Soak them in a large bowl filled with plenty of cold water overnight. (Optional: If you wish to help soften the beans, add 1 Tablespoon baking soda. Note, some believe baking soda dulls the flavour and nutrients). Drain, rinse well under cold water, fill the bowl again with cold water, leave soaking a few more hours. (Total soaking time 10-15 hours). n.b. You can't oversoak, and indeed the longer you do, the more you remove the digestive gases created. Thus, soaking 2-3 days will help here. But you should refresh the soaking water every 12 hours. Rinse well under cold before cooking.
n.b. Use of a pressure cooker allows one to avoid the lengthy soaking process, while the conventional method has its own advantages; .e.g. testing for doneness during the cooking process.
Tip: To save time and energy, you can cook a larger batch of chick peas, and freeze the remaining beans in plastic containers, submerged in their cooking liquid.
n.b. A blender is the preferred tool here, but use a food processor if you don't have one. (In a pinch, if the chick peas have been cooked enough, you can even use a hand blender).
Substitutions: This section should be blank, because Middle Eastern hummus does not have substitutions; or any other flavors than the ingredients I listed. That might be too confining for some. My first attempt to mess with a classic thousand year old recipe was, in the absence of tahini, replacing it with peanut butter. I did that once, and I won't do that a second time. Tahini is an essential ingredient to this, and peanut butter has no business being with chick peas. But if you have to substitute tahini, try sesame oil (or nothing). As a wild departure on all of this, you can substitute black beans for the chick peas. In which case, try lime juice instead of lemon juice.
Garnishes: To respect the deep tradition of Middle Eastern hummus (nearly a religion to some), additional ingredients should be added as garnishes, if at all. But there are many that can be, depending on your tastes. Just pour or sprinkle them over the prepared hummus. If your tastes run towards more traditional garnishes, you can start with extra virgin olive oil, and add anything from paprika (especially moroccan smoky paprika), to pine nuts, fresh coriander (cilantro), fresh parsley, roasted red peppers, black olives, roasted garlic, cumin (preferably toasted), pistachios, even sumac (a tart Lebanese spice), or za'atar (a Lebanese seasoning of lemon-thyme and sesame seed), or a small amount of honey.
If you're bent on completely bypassing traditional procedures, some possibilities are listed here. They can either top the hummus as garnishes, or blended in as additional ingredients in the mix: extra virgin olive oil, fresh finely minced garlic (well crushed), strained (greek-style) yogurt, coarse salt, pepper, jalapeno, cayenne pepper, tabasco sauce, chili sauce, sun-dried tomatoes, pesto, sour cream, canned chipotles in adobo sauce, fresh herbs (basil/dill/chives/lots of cilantro), or avocado.
Hummus is pretty versatile. It can become a dip, by serving it in a bowl, alongside baked pita chips, or crudités (ie. carrots/celery sliced in quarter rounds, lengthwise). It can also fill a sandwich. Spread the hummus on a softened pita or tortilla-style wrap, and add whatever you'd like to create your lunch or supper. Tomatoes, alfalfa sprouts, lettuce, cheese, onions, pickled pepperonci peppers, cooked beef or chicken, etc.
To serve it in a traditional manner, spread the hummus on a decorative plate. Coat the back of a spoon with plenty of good extra virgin olive oil, and run the back of the spoon against the outside edge of the hummus, turning the plate as you go to create a moat of sorts. Make a well in the centre, fill with more olive oil. Garnish with fresh parsley or coriander, and you may add a few pine nuts or pistachios around the edge. Finally, place the reserved whole chick peas near the centre, to add another contrasting texture. Optionally, serve with pickles, ripe tomato and raw onion on the side, for dipping. As they might do in Jaffa or Tel Aviv.
Yield: About 1 1/2 cups (400 ml)