Monday, February 3, 2014

Six Secrets to Smooth, Creamy, Silky Hummus

Hummus is a funny old thing.  There are only six ingredients.  For most recipes the preparation couldn't be simpler: throw everything into a food processor and puree.  So why isn't your homemade hummus ever as good as the stuff you can buy at the grocery?  The texture is just never quite what you were hoping for.

Turns out there are a few secrets.  Some are more important than others, so you can weigh the extra yumminess against your own personal time constraints and decide which ones you want to incorporate, but I promise if you make hummus using all the secrets, you're never going to want to buy hummus again.  You'll be asked to bring Your Amazing Hummus to every party from here on out.

1.  Start with dry beans.  If you need hummus before tomorrow, you're going to have to go with canned, and yes, your hummus will still be very, very good if you use all the other secrets.  But if you have time, soaking and cooking your own beans will help enhance the texture and add a depth of flavor that even the highest-quality canned beans just can't match.

2.  Add a little baking soda to the soaking water.  The beans soak up just enough of the baking soda to make their texture creamier, but not enough to change the taste of the final product.

3.  Remove the skins.  I know, I know.  Very few of us are delighted at the thought of spending twenty minutes removing the skins from a pound of chickpeas, but this is one of the more important secrets.  You could also use a food mill or mash the beans through a fine sieve to remove the skins, but to me the extra steps of setting up and cleaning the food mill seem like more work than simply plopping down in front of the TV with a bowl of beans in my lap for a few minutes, so I just do it by hand.  Now, that said, if you decide to skip this step, you'll still end of with very good hummus if you follow all the other steps.  It just won't be mindblowing hummus.

4.  Chill the beans before pureeing.  Hot or warm or even room temperature beans won't emulsify as well as cold beans and instead can become gummy.  Additionally, when the beans are pureed warm, its impossible to tell whether more water or oil is needed to get to the puree to the desired consistency.  What seems like the perfect consistency when warm or room temperature may thicken to a cracker-breaking stiffness in the fridge.  Chill a cup or so of the cooking water, too, while you're at it.  Even if you're using canned beans, chill them before you use them.

5.  Roast the garlic.  Raw garlic is really hard to get perfectly smooth in a food processor, even after you've minced it fine, and I think the roasted garlic flavor is an improvement in hummus.  However, if you prefer the flavor of raw garlic, you can mash it with a mortar and pestle or put it through a garlic press. To roast just a clove or three, lay them on a cupped square of sprayed tin foil, add a teaspoon of olive oil, wrap tightly, and roast at 300 for an hour until the cloves are completely softened.

6.  Emulsify the lemon, tahini, oil and garlic together first.   Along with removing the skins, this is the most important secret to smooth, creamy, silky hummus.  No matter how many other recipes direct you to do so, you can't simply throw all the ingredients into the food processor together and expect them to emulsify.  I suspect the reasons there are so many recipes out there calling for the dump-and-puree method (and so many home cooks wondering why they can't get their hummus as smooth and creamy as Mrs. Hoozit's down the road) is because whenever someone asks Mrs. Hoozit for her recipe, she simply (whether by oversight or design) hands over the list of ingredients and doesn't get into the techniques.

A final word about ingredients:  This won't affect the texture, but it will affect the taste.  The olive oil, tahini, and lemon juice are what give hummus most of its flavor, so when possible it's worth it to choose high-quality ingredients.

Okay, so the recipe:

Smooth, Creamy, Silky Hummus

1 pound dried chickpeas (garbanzo beans)
1 t baking soda
1 clove garlic, roasted (or more to taste)
1/4 c tahini or roasted tahini (or more to taste)
3 T extra-virgin olive oil
2 T fresh lemon juice (approximately the juice from 1 large lemon)
salt to taste

In a large covered saucepan place beans and baking soda and add cold water to cover by at least 2 inches  Allow to soak 12 hours or overnight, adding water if necessary to keep beans covered.

Drain beans and rinse; cover with fresh water by at least an inch.  Bring to a boil, reduce to simmer, and simmer covered over lowest heat for 1 - 2 hours.  Drain, reserving one cup of cooking water.  When cool enough to handle, remove the skins by pinching each bean gently to slip the skin off.  Chill beans and reserved cooking water.

In the bowl of a food processor place tahini, olive oil, and lemon juice, and puree several minutes, stopping to scrape down sides as needed, until the mixture looks smooth and emulsified.  Add garlic and process until smooth.   Add 1 - 3 T of chilled cooking water, 1 T at a time, processing 2-3 minutes after each addition, until you have a silky consistency.  Add chilled beans (I like to reserve a few for garnish) and 2 T cooking water and process 5 - 10 minutes, stopping to scrape down sides as needed and adding additional cooking water 1 T at a time if necessary to produce a smooth texture.  When the mixture looks very, very smooth, stop and check for desired thickness.  Add additional cooking water, 1 T at a time, until the desired thickness has been reached.  (You're looking for a dense, smooth texture that is not so stiff it will break a cracker dipped into it and not so thin it will slide off it.)  Taste for seasoning and add salt if necessary, processing for a few seconds to incorporate.  Refrigerate if not serving immediately.  To serve, swirl on a plate with the back of a spoon, drizzle with olive oil, garnish with reserved beans, and serve with crackers, pita chips or fresh pita, or raw vegetables for dipping.