The English word for this humble legume of Mediterranean origin is chickpea. In Spanish, garbanzo; Italian, cece; French, pois chiche, and in Arabic, hummus. Thus the word hummus which we've become accustomed to as the prepared dish of chickpeas, tahini (sesame paste), lemon, and garlic, refers to the chickpea itself, or hummus. The full name for the prepared food in its native tongue is known as hummus bil tahina, or chickpeas with tahini (sesame paste). But for simplicity in American English it is simply referred to as hummus.
Personally I have made and eaten lots of this delicious paste in my lifetime, both at home and in restaurant kitchens, and in fact grew up eating it before it was trendy. It's a very simple recipe, one which originally entailed mashing the ingredients with a mortar and pestle, but now can be made simply by tossing all the ingredients in a food processor and pressing a button. But like anything there are also different levels of refinement, even to an exceedingly simple recipe such as this. Recently I've done a few things which refine this ancient dish, and while minor adjustments the outcome is nothing short of revolutionary and resulted in the creamiest and most delicious hummus I’ve made to date. The tweaks this: Add baking soda to the soaking and cooking liquids, purposely overcook the chickpeas—to the point of them falling apart—and remove most of their skins. It’s that simple. Adding baking soda to the soaking and cooking liquids raises the PH levels in the water which does two things. One is that it breaks down their fiber a bit, which makes them cook quicker, but it also loosens their skins. I’ve also increased the amount of tahini which yields not only a silkier and richer texture but also flavor.
A few evenings ago after preparing the hummus recipe, I made a full meal out of it by topping it with tomato, avocado and caramelized tofu, mushrooms, and onion (a vegetarian play on the classic, hummus bil lahmeh, or hummus with meat) and drizzled it with roast pepper-feta sauce. Anyhow, enough talk. Lets get to the recipe. It is very simple but incredibly delicious.
Hummus bil Tahina (Chickpeas with Sesame)
Makes about 3 cups
1 cup dried chickpeas
2 teaspoons baking soda, divided
3 cloves garlic
1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup cold water
1 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup tahini
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)
Place the chickpeas and 1 teaspoon baking soda in a bowl and cover them with at least 2” of cold water. Cover the bowl and allow to rest at room temperature for 8-12 hours; the chickpeas will double in size.
Drain and the soaked chickpeas, transfer them to a pot along with the remaining 1 teaspoon of baking soda, and cover them with cold water by at least 2”. Bring the pot to a boil, skim and discard any foam that surfaces, then lower the eat to a slow simmer. Cook the chickpeas for 45-60 minutes, or until very soft and falling apart.
Drain the chickpeas then return them to the pot and cover them with cold water. Using your hand, gently fold the chickpeas to release their skins, then pour off the water and skins that have surfaced while holding back the chickpeas. Repeat this process two more times to remove most of the skins, then drain the chickpeas and set aside.
Combine the garlic, lemon juice, water, and salt in the bowl of a food processor and process on high for a minute or two, or until the garlic is pureed. Add the tahini and process for another minute until everything is emulsified and the tahini is slightly aerated. Add the cooked chickpeas and process for 2-4 minutes, scraping the sides once or twice, or until the hummus is smooth and creamy. Transfer to a bowl, cover it, and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
Spicy Roast Pepper-Feta Sauce
Makes about 1 cup
2 red bell peppers
2 jalapeno peppers
2 cloves garlic
1/2 cup feta cheese, crumbled
1/4 cup lemon juice
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup olive oil
Place the bell peppers and jalapeno peppers directly on the flame of a gas or wood stove or grill and cook them until their skins are black, rotating them as needed. Transfer the peppers to a bowl and cover with a plate.
Let the peppers rest for about 10 minutes while steam releases the charred skin. While holding the peppers under cold running water and above a colander, gently rub the skin off and split the peppers and wash out the seeds. Discard the seeds, skin and stems.
Transfer the peppers to a food processor or blender along with the remaining ingredients except the olive oil. Process the sauce until smooth, and while the motor is running add the olive oil in a slow thin stream. Transfer the sauce to a bowl and refrigerate until needed.