hair shirts and hummus

from "Living Within", February, 2016

It is becoming traditional for the start of the year to bring encouragement to “atone” for excesses, perceived or otherwise, of the preceding festive season.  “Dry January” has become “a thing”, the papers link words like “health” and “detox” to their conversation about food and drink, and I may even have read somewhere this year something that equated veganism to virtue!  I try not to engage in ways of thinking that focus on fads or factoids - a little of what you fancy doesn’t have to be bad, and a balanced diet is not based on any form of deprivation in my book.  My normal instinct might be to voice such contrary opinion, loudly and boldly, but it rarely makes me popular, and as I am also having trouble this February working out what season we are in, I am going to write about something that feels like comfort and is unlikely to challenge anyone; it also happens to be weather proof - as comforting served in the depths of cold weather as it can be refreshing on a warm day - and, maybe importantly, it’s a long way from extravagant.

The humble chickpea - easily available in cans or jars, otherwise simple to cook from dried, albeit requiring a day’s forethought (and, like nearly everything else in cooking, with the end result likely to be at least marginally superior to its ready-to-go alternative) - is the staple ingredient for hummus; the “dip” that has come to dominate sections of the chilled cabinets in our supermarkets, and over which, if you have read your Yotam Ottolenghi you will know, wars have been fought and peaces negotiated.

It is very easy to make your own - although it does, almost always, require a food processor.  If you are cooking rather than buying in jars/tins, take a quantity of dried chickpeas - 250g will make a reasonable amount for a few people or a few days, and leave to soak overnight with a generous covering of cold water.  Drain the following day, and place in a saucepan covered with an equally generous amount of fresh water; bring to a boil.  You can, if you like, throw in a split garlic clove or two (or half a head even).  Skim off any scum that rises to the top, and then leave all to simmer skimming off later any loose skins that float to the top.  The chickpeas are cooked when they are soft but not mushy - start checking them from about 20 minutes onward, although they are likely to take more than 40 minutes and can take an hour and a half or more (much depends on how long they have been dried and/or hardness of cooking water).  Drain them but reserve their cooking water.  If you are using ready prepared chickpeas start from here by draining them and reserving their liquid.

Whichever way you have come by your cooked chickpeas, put them now into a food processor and blend until almost smooth.  At this stage add in some tahini (sesame seed paste) - you can start at about 4 tablespoons or go up to a part of tahini for every four parts of cooked chickpeas (everything about hummus is “according to personal taste”), and a clove or two of garlic (crushed to a smooth paste first with some salt).  Garlic will chop in a food processor but it will not be smooth unless you pre-crush it.  If you don’t like the strong taste of raw garlic in your hummus and you have cooked your own chickpeas with garlic cloves in the cooking water, don’t tell any purists that I said so, but you can either use the cooked garlic as substitute for raw, or just let the garlic taste that has already permeated the chickpeas be sufficient - it will be subtle, but that may suit your tastebuds.  Add in salt, and the juice of at least one lemon and blend again until the hummus is the consistency that you want - add in some of the reserved liquid if it is not looking smooth enough - it is OK, however, to like it thick and chunky or to want it super smooth.  Remember also to taste it, and adjust all of your flavours as seems right to you.

Serve dressed with olive oil and garnish with any or all of chopped parsley, lemon wedges, a sprinkle of paprika, cumin or sumac and some toasted or fried pine-nuts.  It should be left for at least half an hour to let the flavours find their level before serving, but can be kept in the fridge (covered closely with cling film) for a few days.  Serve at never less than room temperature and with crudités and/or bread.

Erica x

When I started out in restaurant kitchens, I didn’t think hummus or a chopped salad could ever be cool
— Michael Solomonov