Thursday, February 14, 2013

Better Hummus Through Chemistry

Henry was in the kitchen with a bit of a mantra: "I'm so bored! I'm so bored! I'm so bored!" What was the boy doing? He was peeling a half pound of cooked chickpeas, one at a time.

It was all part of a noble quest for a truly great hummus recipe, and the chickpea peeling was that dark-night-of-the-soul moment in the quest. We were making four trial batches of hummus, it had already consumed most of our Sunday, and there was no turning back, we had to see this thing through. After extensive blogosphere research I'd come across a few emphatic tips about making hummus, and a recent post on the lovely Smitten Kitchen blog insisted that peeling the chickpeas was key.

There were moments in our day more exciting than peeling chickpeas, like the moment we added baking soda to one of the simmering pots and it exploded into a magnificent white puff. Baking soda apparently alkalizes the chickpea cooking water, breaking down the wall of the chickpeas, making them much more tender and yielding smoother hummus.

But the most exciting moment of the day was when Jake, Henry and I sat down with plates full of hummus for the taste test. I assumed there would be a clear winner, but in fact we all had a different favorite. Jake and Henry liked the baking soda batches, but they didn't love them, thought the texture was too creamy, too airy. Henry liked the plainest batch - no baking soda, unpeeled chickpeas, but I found this batch just slightly mealy. Jake liked the no baking soda batch with peeled chickpeas. I liked the baking soda effect; the pillowy smooth texture reminded me of hummus I've had in Lebanese restaurants.

So although all the batches were very good and we cleaned our plates, there was no consensus - other than our agreeing that life is too short to peel chickpeas!

Here's our recipe, then, taking everything into account and including optional baking soda. We consider this an ongoing quest, so please send along your tips and secrets...

Makes approximately 2 1/2 cups

1/2 lb (about 1 1/4 cups) dried chickpeas, rinsed and drained, and soaked overnight in 6 cups water
Optional: 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
2 cloves garlic
4 tablespoons tahini
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
5 tablespoons water
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
2 tablespoons olive oil
Optional garnish: minced parsley, more olive oil, paprika, cayenne, more cumin, or harissa.

Drain and rinse soaked beans, put them in a large pot with six cups of water, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer 90 minutes. (Optional, for silky smooth hummus: after 60 minutes, add baking soda)

When chickpeas are done, let them stand in the pot for thirty minutes before draining. Hummus will be gummy if you process hot chickpeas, and nobody prefers gummy hummus.

Put garlic in food processor and pulse a few times to chop. Add drained chickpeas, tahini, lemon juice  water, salt, and cumin and process for about 2 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the food processor to stir in any stray bits.

With the food processor running, add olive oil in a steady stream through the feed tube and process for at least 3 minutes, until very creamy and smooth.

Keeps well in the fridge for a few days but tastes much, much better fresh!