I knew I couldn’t leave Israel or Palestine without talking about hummus. That ubiquitous chickpea paste that is impossible to avoid in the Middle East. And it’s good here. So good! I can’t decide whether it’s the quality of the tahini, the way the chickpeas are cooked or the very specific way it’s served depending on who’s making it? Maybe it’s all of those things. I’ve been experimenting.
The hummus itself is basic, albeit very tasty. I’m sure many of you have your way to make it, maybe not. But it’s how you finish it on the plate that makes all the difference.
I put the question forward to some Israelis. How do you top your hummus? I got the simple: a dollop of tahini, lemon juice and olive oil, or a sprinkling of paprika, maybe some chopped parsley. Others mentioned topping it with pine nuts or a dollop of spicy zhoug, a hard-boiled egg or whole chickpeas glistening in good olive oil. For the Shabbat evening meal, they pile on chunks of lamb or minced beef, spiced heavily with cumin and perhaps cloves, allspice and cinnamon. If you’re going to serve it with a dollop of tahini, do it properly I’ve been told. Always buy the tahini raw (no added water, just unroasted sesame seeds), and add to it yourself. A good squeeze of lemon juice, salt and a little water is a classic, but others add olive oil, turmeric or sumac to it too.
Bring hummus to the table with wedges of raw onion, pickles and pitta for dipping. Hummus here is a meal unto itself. No messing around with carrot sticks, these are the rules. But I say, stick to them however you want. They’re good ideas after all, but adapt to what you have.
This week, I drizzled hummus with pomegranate molasses, olive oil and a sprinkling of za’atar (above). It was divine! Chunks of sweet caramelised roasted fennel or garlicky mushrooms bulk it out into a good meal. Or sautéed garlicky beet tops! Or pomegranate seeds (if you can get them seasonally) or even just a sprinkling of coarse sea salt. Top it using whatever you have to hand, wilt that last bit of spinach or tear over yesterday’s roast lamb, or serve it just like it is with lots of olive oil, a few chopped herbs and an extra dollop of lemony tahini. Bliss.
The wonderful thing about hummus is everyone loves it. Firstly. But it’s also the perfect base for a back-of-fridge meal. Here are a few ideas…
good olive oil
coarse sea salt
toasted nuts and/or seeds
garlicky fried mushrooms
shredded leftover roast meat
charred red peppers
good olive oil
chopped hard-boiled eggs
chopped tomato and cucumber salad
cumin-spiced garlicky broad beans
torn bread croutons
I like to cook the chickpeas in big amounts and freeze them in batches ready to blitz into hummus when I feel like it. If you do this, freeze them in the cooking water to keep them tender and to loosen the hummus when you blitz it up later. Rather than buy pots of pre-made stuff, making hummus at home will save you $$$ and packaging in the long run. Throughout my time here, I’ve accumulated tricks to perfect a good basic hummus. Which follows…
Cook the chickpeas until reallllly tender. Add a teaspoon of bicarb of soda to the cooking water to help speed the process along. Use a lot of tahini. The better the quality, the better the hummus. Israelis are purists and will each tell you their favoured brand. Just make sure it’s raw tahini, without added water. Use water or the chickpea cooking water, rather than oil, to loosen the paste. Cumin, lemon juice and maybe garlic are good additions. Nothing else.
Use the paste as your starting point, and the rest will follow naturally. This is a good way to eat well and waste nothing. Rules or no rules.