Last fall, I made my first trip to Israel. It was memorable in many ways, but one of the things that will stick with me most was a new outlook on a dish I’ve eaten all my life: hummus. I fell deeply, madly in love with it. At lunchtime, rather than having a sandwich or salad, I’d go to a hummus shop and have a bowl of this creamy, ethereal, smooth, fluffy chickpea-and-tahini spread, served with pita, vegetables, and—often—flavorful toppings. It had a mild, nutty, toasty flavor and delicate texture that was still hearty enough to sustain me until dinner. It was worlds apart from the grainy, dense dip I’d had—and made—before. I returned home determined to replicate it.
My first attempts were with canned chickpeas, but I got the same coarse, heavy results I’d had before. Starting with dried chickpeas resulted in better flavor, but the texture was still thick and grainy. The key, it turned out, was removing the chickpea skins—a tedious job. After reading about and testing many methods, I developed an approach that spares me from having to skin each chickpea individually. I cook the chickpeas with baking soda, which scrubs the skin to loosen it, so a lot comes off during cooking. Then I rinse the cooked chickpeas under cold water to dislodge the majority of the skins. It’s the perfect compromise—a little bit of extra work, but the results are luscious and dreamy, just like I had in Israel.
Secrets for skinning the chickpeas
Hummus has only a few ingredients, and the key is to balance them in perfect harmony. Here are some tips to keep in mind.
• Garlic should be gentle, not raw. Cooking the garlic with the chickpeas tames its harshness and brings out its sweet, mellow side.
• Lemon balances and enhances richer flavors. You don’t want to take a taste of hummus and think “Lemon!” It should be there in a supporting role.
• Tahini varies greatly by brand. When made with roasted seeds (like the common Joyva brand), it has an aggressive presence. I prefer untoasted or lightly toasted, milder-tasting brands like Whole Foods 365 Everyday Value and Lieber’s.
• Olive oil goes on top of, not in, hummus. The unctuous texture of hummus comes from the fat in the tahini. Running olive oil through the food processor can break it down, unleashing bitter notes. Drizzled on at the end, though, it lends its signature fruity, grassy flavor.