As International Hummus Day approaches, Jenny Chandler implores you to look with fresh eyes at this now-ubiquitous dip
Sunday 13th May is International Hummus Day. You may be wondering why there’s any need for a specific day to be reminded of this ubiquitous paste, as if hummus hasn’t had enough time in the limelight of late. You surely can’t have missed last year’s so-called “crisis”, when some of our leading supermarkets’ hummus shelves were laid bare. Thankfully, the popular dip had been recalled from stores owing to a taste issue rather than food safety one, but it did bring to light the astounding fact that just one food manufacturer produces so much of the nation’s hummus, for so many different labels.
Perhaps we need a crisis from time to time, just to remind us of both how centralised and how industrialised so much of our food supply has become—a moment to reassess whether we actually know what’s in the packet and whether we want everything to taste standardised, homogenised and predictable. I’m guessing that a few of the disappointed shoppers, in a desperate quest for their favourite snack, may have given homemade hummus a whirl and what a fabulous surprise they’ll have had. Perhaps we should make 13th May Rediscover Hummus Day and aim to seek out or prepare a version really worth eating.
A timeless gem
Unlike so many of today’s kids who’ve been virtually weaned on a diet of hummus and carrot sticks, I was in my twenties when I discovered Claudia Roden’s timeless gem, A Book of Middle Eastern Food, and made my first hummus. There was nothing very glamorous about my early version; I wasn’t about to start soaking and cooking my own chickpeas, that’s for sure. A simple, and perfectly authentic, hummus can be thrown together with cooked chickpeas (mine were from a can), extra virgin olive oil, lemon juice, garlic and a little salt. I still make this basic hummus to eat with rich dishes such as lamb, and like to leave it chunky and textured.
Smooth and rich hummus bi tahini is the more celebrated and widely known variety of hummus, prepared all around the Levant, with recipes varying from household to household. Some cooks swear by simmering their own chickpeas until soft and creamy and then removing their skins. I’ve not got the patience for removing skins, but I do add a little bicarb of soda to the water to ensure that the pulses soften enough for a smooth texture (canned chickpeas are rarely soft enough for truly silky hummus, while those in jars work well).
By eye and taste
When it comes to making my own hummus, I tend to work by eye and taste, but a good starting point would be: 300g chickpeas, juice of a large lemon, 2 cloves of garlic, 5 tbsp tahini paste, a pinch of salt and about 3 tbsp of the chickpea water to loosen the mixture. Blitz the lot together and now it’s just a question of tasting, adjusting and remembering the absolute golden rule of hummus appreciation: enjoy it warm or at an ambient temperature but never, ever chilled. Classic toppings for your hummus could be a swirl of extra virgin olive oil with a sprinkling of paprika or sumac, some caramelised onions or a handful of pine kernels or olives.
Why not break with tradition? I’ve no qualms about blending roasted veg such as pumpkin, peppers or carrots with my hummus—it may be unorthodox, but who cares when it tastes good? I’m even happy to play around with other pulses too. Okay, it’s not strictly speaking ‘hummus’ (the Arabic word for chickpea) but what could be better than this recipe for a British-grown fava puree topped with caramelised butter?
So, make 13th May an excuse to prepare or seek out a spectacularly good hummus—traders in the Market selling it include The Turkish Deli, Borough Olives and Arabica. You may just discover what you’ve been missing.