As previously reported, I spent six months studying in Jerusalem while in college. This was back in my vegetarian days, and Israel is a great place to be a vegetarian. While the majority of the Jewish population is secular, kosher tradition holds, meaning that most restaurants are either meat or dairy. On top of that, Middle Eastern food embraces legumes and vegetables.
Being the child of hippies, I’d already consumed a lifetime worth of chickpeas. But the hummus in Israel was a revelation–creamy, rich and flavorful–and I indulged with abandon. This came with a price; back in the States, I couldn’t bring myself to eat the lazily mashed canned chickpeas that my college cafeteria tried to pass off as hummus. Even in New York City, where I eventually settled, truly delicious hummus proved elusive.
At some point, hummus started popping up in Korean delis and the fancier cheese sections of grocery stores. I tested them all. Some were as bad as the salad bar glop of my coed days. Some were serviceable. But none were inspirational and, after a tub or two, I always reverted to making my own.
About ten years ago, by sheer accident, I found it: hummus like I remembered. It was a tiny shop just south of Washington Square Park and up half a flight of stairs. A couple of weeks later, over drinks, I announced to my buddy Alex that I had discovered Jerusalem-quality hummus right in the middle of Greenwich Village. Alex interrupted me to announce that he had, in fact, recently found the best hummus in New York City in the East Village. Already a couple of drinks into the evening, we proceeded to argue for the superiority of our individual hummus spots for what must have seemed an eternity to the people seated around us.
It turns out that we were arguing over the same hummus. Ori Apple, an Israeli who bemoaned the lack of good hummus in New York City, had opened the first two locations of Hummus Place just months apart. I am happy to report that, since then, a number of good hummus restaurants have opened around the city.
But I still enjoy making my own. While I don’t really have a fixed recipe, I have learned a few things over the past 20 years. First, and this is truly important, don’t use canned chickpeas. The texture and flavor will be off. Trust. Second, use good quality tahini. (I suspect that this may be the secret to Hummus Place’s magical concoction.) Third, use plenty of liquid. Finally, let the food processor run for longer than you think reasonable.
Here’s what I whipped up this afternoon, but feel free to make it your own. So long as you cook the chickpeas enough, it’s honestly hard to screw up hummus. Just keep tasting and tweaking.
- 1 pound dried chickpeas (or, if you are a sensible person, half that)
- 6 cloves garlic
- 3/4 cup tahini
- pinch red pepper flakes
- 1 bunch curly parsley
- 1 teaspoon sweet paprika
- 1 teaspoon hot paprika
- juice of 1 lemon (or a tablespoon or so of white wine vinegar in a pinch)
- salt and black pepper
- 1 tablespoon sumac (optional)
- Before going to bed, dump the chickpeas into a bowl and add enough water to come at least a few inches above the beans. (You could look them over for rocks or odd-looking beans, but it’s late. You’re sure to spot anything amiss tomorrow when you are better rested.)
- In the morning–or whenever you are good and ready for a little procrastination–drain and rinse the beans. Add them to a large pot, top with plenty of water, toss in the peeled garlic and the red pepper flakes. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer. Let this go for an hour or so while you get back to whatever duties you have been shirking.
- Test the chickpeas. If they are tender, add a tablespoon or so of salt and then let them simmer for another 15 minutes. The water should taste fairly salty.
- Realize that you are in danger of making a truly obscene amount of hummus. Scoop half of the chickpeas and some of the liquid out. Refrigerate or freeze for future use (in a soup, stir-fry, curry, etc.).
- Dump the cooked garlic and the remaining chickpeas into your food processor, making sure to reserve the cooking liquid. Add the tahini, sweet and hot paprika, lemon juice, sumac (if you have some), plenty of black pepper, and whatever else your heart desires. Pour about half a cup of the cooking liquid in and process away. Let it run for five minutes or so, adding more liquid as needed to achieve a loose but not soupy consistency. Taste and adjust seasoning as desired.
I ate this for dinner tonight, topped with a tangle of roasted broccoli rabe. Good stuff.