I Asked a Chef How to Make Better Hummus—and Got 8 Game-Changing Tips
No. 3: Use baking soda to tenderize the chickpeas.
It’s funny to think that as recently as a decade ago, “guacamole hummus” and “artichoke-spinach” hummus dominated our idea of what the Middle Eastern dip could and should be. Thank goodness for the hummus revolution.
Chefs such as Einat Admony (Taim; Balaboosta) in New York, Michael Solomonov in Philadelphia (Zahav; Federal Donuts) and Alon Shaya of New Orleans (Saba) have been popularizing high-end, traditional Middle Eastern hummus bi tahini all over America over the last decade. Made from simply chickpeas, lemon, garlic, olive or sesame oil, salt, cumin and tahini (ground sesame seed paste), the healthy spread is a snap to make at home.
I reached out to Chef Solomonov—whose new cookbook Israeli Soul comes out this month, and whose hummus is the best I’ve had—to find out how to make mine as good as his.
Buy (fresh!) dried chickpeas
In a dish with so few ingredients, it’s crucial to make sure all of them are on point. If you’re making the dish using dried chickpeas, the chef suggests, “buy them from a place that’s busy. Dried legumes that sit around and get stale, they’re no good.” If there’s dust on that stack of bagged chickpeas at the supermarket, give them a pass in favor of someplace—maybe a specialty market—that does brisk trade in them.
Or get very good canned chickpeas
Solomonov says it can be “very easy to get better-quality chickpeas canned,” particularly if you see a good organic canned version. (I’m partial to Goya.)
Use baking soda for more tenderness
Solomonov tenderizes the legume using baking soda in the overnight soaking of the chickpeas, then adds more to them as they boil away the next day.
For some dishes, one doesn’t want beans that are falling apart; you want to preserve their structure. That’s not the case here. Cook those chickpeas until they are “super-tender,” says Solomonov. You’re going for an emulsion, essentially, in your hummus, so you want a “creamy consistency.” Soft, creamy chickpeas will help you get there.
Don’t blitz everything at once
The most common error Solomonov spies is people tossing everything in a processor or blender and pressing a button. That’s a surefire way to mess up the texture of your hummus, he says. He doesn’t blend oil into his; instead, he uses it as a garnish. The focus is on the tahini, which he whisks with ice water, garlic and lemon to help it get “almost buttercreamy,” he notes, before adding chickpeas.
Be careful with heat
I’ve made Solomonov’s hummus, and right out of the blender, it was fantastic; silky and delicate. The next day, though, it was a mess. Its texture was more like leftover polenta or mashed potatoes. I was crushed. It’s likely I used my chickpeas while they were still hot, Solomonov and I agreed. “If you use hot chickpeas, the moment you serve it, it seizes,” he says. “If you make it hot and then refrigerate it, the next day you’ve got something not delicious.” He suggests cooling your cooked chickpeas to room temperature or even letting them get cold—depending on the warmth of the motor of your food processor—before adding them. The same rule applies to tahini. “The longer you work tahini, the thicker it gets,” he says. “It doesn’t like heat.” That’s why he whisks in ice water.
Buy good tahini
Take the time to mellow the garlic
Garlic is wonderful, but it can dominate hummus. Solomonov’s recipe—below, though there’s a smart abridgement here—calls for mellowing it using lemon juice for 10 minutes. It’s a very necessary step, as is using enough olive oil to garnish so you really appreciate the way its slick texture complements that satiny hummus you’ve just made.
Read on for two recipes from Solomonov's last book, Zahav: A World of Israeli Cooking.
Hummus Tehina Recipe
Makes: 3½ cups
By now, you’ll not be surprised to learn that the secret to great Israeli-style hummus is an obscene amount of tehina, as much as half of the recipe by weight, so it’s especially important to use the best quality you can find. Unlike Greek-style hummus, which is heavy on garlic and lemon, Israeli hummus is about the marriage of chickpeas and tehina. In fact, there are no other ingredients, just a dash of cumin. The only lemon and garlic involved is in my Basic Tehina Sauce. There are countless variations, but I’m not talking about black bean, white bean, or edamame hummus. Those might be perfectly nice dips, but since hummus is the Arabic word for chickpeas, that’s what we use. Remember to leave time for dried chickpeas peas to soak overnight.
1 cup dried chickpeas
2 tsp. baking soda
1 ½ cups Basic Tehina Sauce (page 32), plus a bit more for the topping
1 tsp. kosher salt
¼ tsp. ground cumin
Chopped fresh parsley
Olive oil, for drizzling
Place the chickpeas in a large bowl with 1 teaspoon of the baking soda and cover with plenty of water. (The chickpeas will double in volume, so use more water than you think you need.) Soak the chickpeas overnight at room temperature. The next day, drain the chickpeas and rinse under cold water.
Place the chickpeas in a large pot with the remaining 1 teaspoon baking soda and add cold water to cover by at least 4 inches. Bring the chickpeas to a boil over high heat, skimming off any scum that rises to the surface. Lower the heat to medium, cover the pot, and continue to simmer for about 1 hour, until the chickpeas are completely tender. Then simmer them a little more. (The secret to creamy hummus is overcooked chickpeas; don’t worry if they are mushy and falling apart a little.) Drain.
Combine the chickpeas, tehina sauce, salt, and cumin in a food processor. Puree the hummus for several minutes, until it is smooth and uber-creamy. Then puree it some more!
To serve, spread the hummus in a shallow bowl, dust with paprika, top with parsley and more tehina sauce if you like, and drizzle generously with oil.
RELATED: 7 Homemade Hummus Recipes
Basic Tehina Sauce
Makes: about 4 cups
This simple sauce is one of my basic building blocks and is so versatile that once you master it, there are a million things you can do with it. The important step here is to allow the garlic and lemon juice to hang out for ten minutes after blending but before adding the jarred tehina. This step helps stabilize the garlic and prevents it from fermenting and turning sour and aggressive, which is the problem with a lot of tehina sauces (and therefore the hummus made from them).
Because you’re making an emulsion (oil-based tehina incorporated into water and lemon juice), the tehina sauce can sometimes separate or seize up. Don’t panic! Keep a glass of ice water nearby and add a few tablespoons at a time to the lemon juice–tehina mixture while you’re whisking, until your creamy emulsion returns.
1 head garlic
¾ cup lemon juice (from 3–5 lemons)
2 generous cups tehina
½ tsp. ground cumin
Break up the head of garlic with your hands, letting the unpeeled cloves fall into a blender. Add the lemon juice and ½ teaspoon of the salt. Blend on high for a few seconds until you have a coarse puree. Let the mixture stand for 10 minutes to let the garlic mellow.
Pour the mixture through a fine-mesh strainer set over a large mixing bowl, pressing on the solids to extract as much liquid as possible. Discard the solids. Add the tehina to the strained lemon juice in the bowl, along with the cumin and 1 teaspoon of the salt.
Whisk the mixture together until smooth (or use a food processor), adding ice water, a few tablespoons at a time, to thin it out. The sauce will lighten in color as you whisk. When the tehina seizes up or tightens, keep adding ice water, bit by bit (about 1½ cups in total), whisking energetically until you have a perfectly smooth, creamy, thick sauce.
Taste and add up to 1 ½ teaspoons more salt and cumin if you like. If you’re not using the sauce immediately, whisk in a few extra tablespoons of ice water to loosen it before refrigerating. The tehina sauce will keep a week refrigerated, or it can be frozen for up to a month.
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Recipes excerpted from Zahav: A World of Israeli Cooking, ©2015 by Michael Solomonov and Steven Cook. Reproduced by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. All rights reserved.
Alex Van Buren is a Brooklyn-based writer, editor and content strategist whose work has appeared in The Washington Post, Bon Appétit, Travel + Leisure, New York Magazine, Condé Nast Traveler, and Epicurious. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter @alexvanburen.