Most of us expats are pretty keen on hummus and generally it is difficult to go too far wrong in Kuwait, though the tinned stuff just does not cut it at all. When my much better half’s office was in Burg al-Sadiq in Swaber, the Syrian restaurant on the ground floor was quite excellent. When my office was in Salmiya, I was similarly well served. Times change and my office is not on top of the same facilities and I was beginning to feel withdrawal symptoms. Faced with a thirty kilometre round trip to get hummus near our summer residence it made sense to sharpen our own act. A colleague who has a residence in Tuscany also felt the same. The other advantage of making one’s own is that one can tailor the hummus to one’s personal taste exactly and also be 100% sure of the provenance of the olive oil, which should be no less quality than Extra Virgin.
While chickpeas have been common all over the Mediterranean including Italy, where is is something of a staple, indeed has been since at least classical times. Marcus Tullius Cicero’s cognomen means chickpea withPlutarch explaining that the name was originally given to one of Cicero's ancestors who had a cleft in the tip of his nose resembling a chickpea. The more prosaic truth is that his ancestors probably grew or sold chickpeas. Many famous family names of the period were similarly down-to-earth as in Fabius, Lentulus and Piso, being respectively beans, lentils, and peas. The poet Horace famously used to leave the delights of Rome to eat a simple bowl of chickpeas in the countryside. However, hummus (bi tahina) as we are discussing here is first recorded in a 13th century Cairo cookbook and remains very much rooted in Egypt and the Levant. The possible Cairene origin has done nothing to stop the Lebanese from petitioning the European Commission to designate hummus as a uniquely Lebanese food.
So, back to the recipe. Take 250g dried chickpeas and soak overnight. Then, when ready, drain and tip them into a saucepan with a teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda, cover with water and bring to a simmer for about five minutes to skim of any scum on the surface, then cook for 30 to 40 minutes. To ensure a thorough cooking, place some foil in the lid of the pan when covering. This makes a primitive pressure cooker of sorts. Check after 30 if they need any extra time as we want the chickpeas soft, but not a purée at this stage.
Transfer the cooling chickpeas to a food processor and add crushed garlic cloves (start with three), lemon juice, salt, pepper, ground cumin and coriander, 180g tahini and a glug of extra virgin olive oil.
Then start the grinding. This is where a bit of patience is a virtue as chickpeas are surprisingly resilient and why when my much better half made hummus so long ago, I loved the taste, but was less impressed with the texture; I found the texture too coarse. Not to overwork the motor of the processor, I ran it for a time, counting to ten, then let it rest before resuming. Even if the desired texture has not yet been achieved, taste every now and again for balance of flavours. Once the flavour is to your taste, it is just a case of pulsing away every now and then until the texture is right. Two tips on the grinding process; one is that to get the grinding started a little iced water can help to get started, the other is once near to where one wants to be on the texture front, adding some ice cubes at this end stage seems to bring out a nice and smooth creamy texture.
For serving, a nice splash of extra virgin olive oil, remember my earlier mention of good quality oil gives a great garnish and taste. Sumac, za’ater, paprika, or cumin are possible garnishes that can be sprinkled over the serving dish. The author is very much in the sumac camp on this as a personal favourite, but the others work equally well.
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