Kitchen Intuition: Hummus magic

Creamy garlic and pine nut hummus. (Photo: Alice O'Dea)

Authored By aliceodea

My daughter sent me a recipe this week for chestnut and chickpea soup, and of course I immediately made some (because chestnuts!). I used nuts I had cooked and frozen during the height of the season, and it was wonderful soup. But while I was making it, those fragrant, simmering chickpeas got me thinking about hummus.

Hummus is magic food. It’s in season year-round (all you need are dried chickpeas); it’s quite healthy (fueling you with both protein and iron); and it can be so creamy, savory and delicious that it’s hard to believe it’s such a simple dish. Plus, it is a great bargain! Forget those tubs at the grocery store; buy some dried chickpeas and your hummus will be so much cheaper and richer (or in a pinch, you’ll still save money by making your own with canned beans). In fact, now that I think about it, hummus is so awesome that it really should be everyone’s go-to Super Bowl food.

You can serve hummus in so many different ways. Smear it on crackers or pieces of pita bread. Use it as a base or topping for a salad. Dip your chicken wings in it. Spread it on a sandwich instead of commercial mayo and your lunch will be both healthier and tastier. Kids love it and might even eat a vegetable if you give them some hummus for dunking; call those same veggies “crudités” and you’ve got an easy, make-ahead appetizer for your next dinner party.

Prep takes a little planning, but it is super-easy and mostly unattended. Put some chickpeas in a pot, cover them with water, and leave them to soak overnight (or alternatively, do a quick soak if you can’t wait until tomorrow). The next day, drain and rinse the chickpeas and put them back in the pot. Cover them with water once again. This time, you’re going to bring the beans to a gentle simmer.

Cal Peternell, “Twelve Recipes”

“Hummus is, of course, simply mashed chickpeas, with or without tahini. A blender or food processor will make it smooth, but a mortar and pestle or even a bowl and fork will work. Drain the chickpeas and save the cooking liquid. Crush them however you choose and then add pounded garlic, salt, lemon juice, olive oil and tahini if you are using it. Add some of the cooking liquid if the hummus seems too thick. Taste and add more of whatever is needed, remembering that the garlic flavor will grow over time.”

Chickpeas are a pretty hard bean, so they can take quite a while to cook. Either use the quick-cook method in the basic hummus recipe below or plan on letting them simmer for at least an hour or two; if anything, you’re going to want to overcook them a bit to get a really creamy hummus. Once they’re done, drain the beans, but hang on to the cooking liquid! It’s thick, flavorful and almost broth-like on its own, and you might want to add some to your hummus. Save anything you don’t use for another meal.

From here, you can simply mush up the chickpeas, as Cal Peternell suggests at right, or add the classic combination of tahini, lemon juice and garlic. Blend and you’re done. Or you can add other flavors to punch that hummus up to another level; you can even experiment with using an alternative creamy bean or vegetable in addition to or in place of the chickpeas. I like to mix some toasted pine nuts, roasted garlic and ground cumin with the other ingredients before blending. Once the hummus is done, I sprinkle it with a few more toasted pine nuts, along with some ground sumac and turmeric, and a drizzle of olive oil. But there are so many possible directions to go; here are just a few ideas.

You don’t need a recipe to make the perfect hummus, though there are plenty out there to choose from. If you’re kooky enough to peel each individual chickpea, you’ll get a very creamy hummus (and yes, I am crazy enough to have tried this once, and it did make the result noticeably smoother), but every other version I’ve made has been with the skin on, and it always comes out delicious. For my latest batch, I roughly followed a recipe from one of my favorite cooking duos, Yotam Ottolenghi amd Sami Tamimi, that uses a baking soda trick for breaking down the chickpea skin to get a creamier result. It was by far my best hummus yet, but just a word of warning: It is a big recipe, and my food processor became a little overwhelmed by it all. I finished with a hand mixer. 

Alice O’Dea has lived in Chattanooga for over 20 years, but was raised among the mucks and dairy farms in rural western New York. She didn’t really learn to cook until midlife. When she’s not puttering around in the kitchen, she enjoys running, cycling, traveling, photography and trying to get food to grow in the backyard of her Highland Park home. You can email her with questions, suggestions or comments at [email protected]. The opinions expressed in this column belong solely to the author, not or its employees.