The first time I made hummus was after I had just watched a Jamie Oliver cooking show in which Oliver demonstrated the production of a very basic chickpea hummus, with only salt, garlic, chickpeas, lemon, chilies, and olive oil. It was easy to remember and emulate. This hummus was fine for a short while. But hummus is one of those things that has a billion different variations and so I eventually came up with my own version that I like and have since modified many times. I make hummus a couple times a month. It is cheap, easy, and very satisfying as a snack or part of a meal.
My family and I often make a meal of some veggies or a salad and some hummus and bread. Chickpeas have plenty of protein, fiber, and vitamins and minerals. I think one of the things I like about hummus is how adaptable it is. I have had it as a vegetable and bread dip, as a spread, and as a sauce. I’ve also seen it used to season and thicken some vegetable soups. I have encountered it eaten at breakfast, lunch, dinner, and as a snack.
Hummus is a quintessential Middle Eastern food and that is where it has its origins, which go back as far as the 13th century. In modern times it has become popular over a much wider area spreading across the Mediterranean and to Europe and North America. Today, in America and Europe, hummus can be found in many grocery stores. A lot of the folks that I have met who love hummus don’t seem to realize how cheap and easy it is to make, not to meantion how simple and fun it is to modify to satisfy any person’s taste.
The following recipe can be modified in many more ways than it is possible for me to list. I include a large (options) section to get you started on your very own version. I tend to believe that any homemade hummus beats any store bought, prepared version.
Recipe makes approximately 11/2 cups and can feed 8 as a snack or appetizer and 4 as a meal with bread and vegetables.
- 1/4 tsp to 1 tsp cumin seeds
- 2 − 4 cloves garlic
- Dried Chili de Arbol, softened in hot water and chopped super fine (to a paste)
- 1 16oz can of chickpeas drained (also called garbanzo beans)
- A good squeeze of fresh lemon juice
- A good slug of Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO)
- 1 to 3 tablespoons white tahini (sesame seed paste)
- Black pepper
Heat the cumin seeds gently, in a dry frying pan, over a low flame. Move the pan a little to keep the seeds from scorching. Continue for about a minute or until till the heady aromas hit you. This gentle warming is a good policy for any dry spice in whole or ground form that is going into a dish that will not be heated. The heat releases the aromas and flavors by volatilizing the oils and the spices add cleaner, stronger flavors to your food. The amount of cumin you use will depend on how smoky, earthy, and sharp you want your final product to be.
Place the cumin seeds in a mortar and smash them up with the pestle till they are finely ground.
Add the garlic cloves and a generous pinch of salt. And…you guessed it, smash that all into a paste with the pestle. (Making hummus can be oddly therapeutic.)
Add the chopped chili to the paste and mix and mash.
Add the chickpeas and (again!) smash them up with your pestle till the mixture is as course or smooth as you want.
Add the lemon juice and olive oil and stir with a fork to incorporate.
Add the tahini and stir to incorporate.
Add salt and pepper to taste.
Adjust the texture, flavor, spiciness to your taste by adding salt, chili, EVOO, lemon juice in whatever quantities work for you. There is not a “right” way to make hummus. It is right when YOU like what you have made. Taste early and often in the seasoning process.
Hummus can be made so many ways because there are an uncountable number of ingredient options. I only started adding tahini to mine after I’d made it a few times. I decided I wanted more creamy, sticky nuttiness. You can make a sinfully rich, loose, and creamy blend by adding a lot more EVOO. If you try this, the quality of the EVOO becomes more critical as this ingredient is being forced to center stage with the chickpeas.
Purists will want to soak and boil dried chickpeas. I do this occasionally and the thing is that I simply do not detect a big enough difference (if any at all) to justify the extra effort. Of course, you do want to buy high quality canned/jarred chickpeas.
I prefer to use a mortar and pestle to mash up all the ingredients. You can certainly use a food processor, but really, if you want a more rustic and chunky hummus, hand pounding is the way to go. If you want a perfectly smooth and homogeneous paste, then the food processor will serve you well. I just really like using my mortar and pestle and tend to think hummus tastes better made this way, but let’s face it, that’s pretty subjective and there is likely not a real difference. The bottom line is that I find the process satisfying. I urge you to try it just once and see how it goes for you.
For spicy heat you can use any chili, dried or fresh. It just depends on how hot you want it and what kind of chillies you like. I think that the red ones go better for some reason. I find that dried works in a more complex set of flavors. I recently ran across a store selling Aleppo pepper. It tastes great in hummus. Smoked chilies including paprika and chipotle chili powder can also add an extra dimension to the dish. Try any chillies you like and can get your hands on. Be adventurous.
Lemon juice as an acidic component seems to work best, but lime juice also lends its own unique flavor and the results are tasty, but you may need to add more salt than with lemon juice. I have never used vinegar, but know someone who uses mild ones, like rice vinegar to good effect. I am told that a little goes a long way.
One can add a variety of herbs to hummus. Thyme, bay, cilantro, oregano, and rosemary seem to work best. Any one or combination of several can add a fresh flavor component that diners are bound to find intriguing. It’s strange, but adding fresh herbs lends the hummus an deeply intriguing taste. I’m quite certain that spies and murder mystery writers make their hummus with fresh herbs. Dried herbs can work, but go easy as they pack a punch. za'atar seasoning works, so does a little bit of sumac for a tangy bite.
Try replacing the tahini with some other seed or nut paste. Pine nuts work quite well. Almond butter also works. I even had a hummus with peanut butter at a party once. It was not to my taste. But a lot of the other guests were raving about it and lapped it up so fast that the host made another batch.
Don’t forget to decorate your bowl of hummus (even if it’s just for you). This can be as simple as a slug of bright green olive oil across the top or as sophisticated as an artistic ring of herbs and pepper around a small pile of cooked chickpeas or tiny diced of green olives. You can also decorate with ingredients that can add substantial flavor. Not sure how hot and spicy you should make the hummus? Serve the chili paste in the center of the surface of the hummus and let guests drag as little or as much heat as they desire into their every bite.
Clearly I could go on for pages. Hummus is the perfect vehicle for creative expression. Cut loose! Experiment and explore with different flavors, textures, and colors. And let me know what you discover.