A few months ago now, I got an email from Luciana, TOH’s best friend’s OH, asking me what on Earth she could do with a massive jar of leftover tahini she had sitting in the fridge. Now, tahini’s a funny beast. I’m not entirely sure what use it has other than dressings, binding agent or, more obviously, hummus. Coincidentally, Kate sent me a Guardian article all about the perfect hummus on the same day so it seemed too good an opportunity to miss. So, armed with Luciana’s request and the plethora of Internet opinions on the ‘best’ hummus, off I set on my one-woman mission.
As the article explains, hummus can be made in a multitude of different ways, and I bet everyone has their own personal favourite way. I use TOH’s Mum’s recipe when I’m making mine normally, but I have to admit it does give a slightly more ‘mortary’ texture than its shop-bought cousins. I guess that’s the beauty of hummus in and of itself – you can have it just how you want it. It’s even ok with having other things added into it, should you so wish. Personally, I prefer mine without anything added to it. I can’t actually stand chickpeas whole, so I can’t add them. I think adding caramelised onions is criminal, making is sweet and slightly sickly. Pesto? Why would you do that? Hummus isn’t Italian, Pesto isn’t Middle Eastern – the two shouldn’t be combined. I was lucky enough to have four or five excellent holidays in Damascus not so long ago, and I don’t think they would fanny about with their hummus, so why should we? Just a good slosh of olive oil on top, some sumac if you have any, and you’re away.
So, for the purposes of this experiment, I thought I’d try the old soaking and boiling dried chickpeas. Normally, I’d use a tin, but I thought I’d do it ‘properly’ for once, inspired by the Guardian article. So I stopped off on the Cowley Road and bought a bag of dried chickpeas from one of the Middle Eastern supermarkets there, got some tahini (I, ironically, did not have a giant jar in my fridge) and bought some lemons and garlic. When I got home, I put the chickpeas in a big bowl of water with some bicarb and let them sit for 24 hours. The next night I came back and boiled them up for an hour or so, until they were soft, and then left them to cool in the water. Then came the tricky bit. I’d been searching around on the Internet (well, got to do something while they’re soaking and boiling) and found several people saying that shelling the peas makes for better hummus. Well, hanged for a sheep, that’s what I thought. What a mistake. I spent hours shelling the peas. Hours and hours. Lots of their little jackets come off during the boiling process and you can just scoop off the slimey scum that rises to the top. But quite often, they don’t, and you have to shell each one individually. It’s like watching paint dry. While shelling peas.
Eventually though, I’d got all my shelled chickpeas into the Magimix and I’d rustled up Diane’s recipe from my files. In popped the garlic, the lemon, the tahini and it was all duly whizzed up. The consistency was smoother than when following the recipe with tinned peas, but still not the ‘Syria smooth’ I was after so I added some of the soaking water to loosen it up a bit, again a tip found online somewhere. It the absence of sumac, I used some of my leftover hibiscus from the cookies I made a while back, drizzled with olive oil and the finished product looked delicious.
My verdict though? It’s not worth it. Anything that takes two days to make has to pay its way. I took it to dinner at Kate’s the following night and it was agreed that the texture you get from the soaking, boiling and shelling is superior. I think the tinned chickpeas just haven’t been pushed far enough to make them soft enough for hummus – they’re probably better suited to a tagine or curry where they’re going to get a bit of extra boiling before eating. However, much as I prefer a smoother hummus (I think it’s more ‘authentic’ and I’m a bit of a gastro-snob), one of the great things about hummus is that it’s instantly whip-upable when you fancy it. That’s just not possible if you have to think 48 hours ahead of time. So, I don’t think I’ll be doing it again, to be honest. I might try adding some of the tin water to the blender and seeing if that has the same result. Or maybe next time I’ll try boiling the tinned peas in their water to see if I can mimic the same result. The good news is that hummus is always in demand, so there’s plenty of time to experiment. And I’ve now got a massive jar of tahini in the cupboard so I’d better find a way of using it!