Classic Bedouin Hummus (Mediterranean Chick Pea Dip)



Food of the chick pea Gods.
I often do hummus (aka "hummous" aka "hommos"), because it's an easy, cheap, and healthy idea for a snack, lunch or supper. Canned hummus often tastes like the can it came in, and besides that, there's a world of difference from freshly made. But there are a lot of hummus recipes floating around, and I almost feel like I've done them all, in my efforts to replicate the store-bought hummus made by my local Lebanese grocer. Some of the reasons why the store or restaurant bought version might be smoother than what you create at home, may be because they are starting with dried beans, removing the skins with a food mill, and possibly using lots of oil (which adds lots of calories).

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.


Ingredients

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.

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.

Conventional pot: Place chickpeas in a large pot, cover with plenty of water. (Optional: If you wish to add a bit more flavor, you can toss in garlic, bay leaf and onion in the pot. If you wish to help soften the beans, add 1/4t baking soda. Note, some believe baking soda dulls the flavour and nutrients). Cook 1 - 1 1/2 hours, or until the beans are very soft, the skin separates from the bean with a light pinch, and the chickpea is very easily mashed in your mouth or when pressed between two fingers. Remove the peels and foam floating on the surface of the cooking water, during the process. Reserve a quarter cup of cooking water, drain the rest. If possible, keep the chick peas and water warm or hot before processing. Proceed to instructions.

Pressure cooker (including no-soak method): Add the chickpeas to the cooker with water to cover by one or two inches (no more than the fill line or recommended amount), along with 1 teaspoon per cup of beans of any kind cooking oil. Do not add baking soda.  (Optional: If you wish to add a bit more flavor, you can toss in garlic, bay leaf and onion in the cooker). Cooking times will depend. If you are soaking the beans beforehand, then pressure cook for 12-18 minutes (if you release the pressure immediately), but shoot for 12 minutes. Or 9-14 minutes (if you allow the pressure to fall on its own), go for 9 minutes. n.b. I suggest using the longer natural release method, to minimize problems. If you do no soaking beforehand, then pressure cook for 35-55 minutes (closer to 35 if you have an efficient 15psi cooker, as most are, and closer to 55 if it is 12psi or less). Make sure that once your pot has reached pressure, you leave it on a very low heat. Once done, the beans should be very soft, the skin separates from the bean with a light pinch, and the chickpea is very easily mashed in your mouth or when pressed between two fingers. Reserve a quarter cup of cooking water, drain the rest (before draining the water, remove any skins or foam floating on the surface of the water). If possible, keep the chick peas and water warm or hot before processing. Proceed to instructions.

Instructions:

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).

Blender: Place tahini and lemon juice in blender, and mix until white, frothy and creamy. Then throw in a handful of chick peas in the same blender, and blend until smooth. Repeat this process until all the chick peas have blended, and the mix has thickened and is pale in colour (like a camel....). But not too thick or yellowy in colour. (n.b. If you happen to have cooked the chick peas into a sludgy mush, don't bother with handfuls. Just pour them all in at once. In which case, no additional cooking water should be necessary). If the mix is too thick, to create the desired thickness, leave the blender running as you slowly pour the reserved cooking or can water through the opening in the top, until the desired consistency is reached. Do this slowly, checking often for taste and texture, so as not to thin it down too much. The hummus should be light and airy, but firm enough to scoop up with fresh, untoasted pita (once chilled). If it's too thin it will lack flavour, if it's too thick it will be heavy and pasty. But it should be a bit thinner than desired, as it will firm up later, in the fridge. (n.b. Do not go above approximately half the volume of your blender container. Blend in batches if you're doing more). When done, transfer to your serving bowl (or container), and let chill minimum one hour in the fridge. As an option, reserve a handful of chick peas for use as a garnish.

Food processor: In a separate bowl, blend the tahini, salt and lemon juice by hand, with a spoon. Set aside. Add chickpeas to processor container, let run on high until it becomes a smooth purée, with no grittiness or lumps (if you have cooked the beans enough, there should not be any). Scrape the side if necessary, to incorporate stray purée into the mix. If your chickpeas are not well drained, then you probably don't need any additional water. Otherwise, if the mix is dry, add just enough of the reserved cooking liquid to get them to blend. Let the mix cool before blending with the tahini (to hasten this, you can transfer chickpea purée to a bowl, or let it sit in the refridgerator a bit). Then add it to the tahini mixture and stir well. It should be smooth, pale, and creamy, but not too runny. Transfer this to your serving bowl (or container), and let chill minimum one hour in the fridge. As an option, reserve a handful of chick peas for use as a garnish.


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.


Serving:

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)

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