Friday, January 26, 2007

paula wolfert’s hummus


In the introduction to The Man Who Ate Everything, Jeffrey Steingarten admits that from deserts in Indian restaurants, kimchi and dill to seas urchins, chutney and falafel, his list of foods that he wouldn’t eat even if starving on a desert island was so vast, he had considered himself wholly unfit to be appointed the Vogue food critic in 1989. (His list of foods he might eat if he were starving on a desert island but only if the refrigerator were filled with nothing but chutney, sea urchins, and falafel, including Greek food, clams, yogurt and any food that is blue, as it is not a color found in nature, makes me laugh equally hard.)

soaking the chickpeas

While less nobly or eloquently worded, the truth is that when I trimmed my list of food dramatics down to six bullet points last week, I had wished for nothing more than to be liberated from them. I mean, chicken cutlets? Tuna fish? French’s mustard? Oh, grow up, Deb! Yet, I just don’t think I’m going to become a beet-lover in this lifetime, though believe me, my Russian in-laws have tried, cilantro simply tastes like dirt to some people and not to others and I eagerly await the frivolous medical study that will prove this, and a lot of California wines are loud, heavy and sweet, most especially those in my price range.

But from two days ago forward, I will soak my beans with glee and ebullience as I have been converted, dear reader, and it is because of you. I have to blame my early experiences soaking beans for my aversion to it; the first time, the skins flecked off and floated about, making for a muddled, unattractive dish (I have since learned that this means they’d been on the shelf for way too long, thank you, health food store), the second time, they never softened (possibly for the same reason) and there hadn’t been a third time until Monday, when they began their 36-hour soak, Tuesday, when they simmered for an hour forty-five and Wednesday, when they were finally whirled into what has got to be their highest calling: Paula Wolfert’s hummus. (Luisa first brought this recipe to our attention in December, and like dozens and dozens her entries, I bookmarked it immediately.)

dried chickpeas

This is the only hummus recipe you will ever need; one taste may cause you to never buy store-bought again. The soaking and simmering process may seem tiresome, but the truth is, you’re not really doing anything except reaping the rewards. The hummus comes together in 3 minutes flat in a food processor and if you have a day to let it sit, it’s just what it needs to allow the flavors to full develop. Which is not to say that we did not dash it with fresh parsley, a dribble of olive oil and a sprinkling of za’atar, a Middle Eastern spice blend we adore, and dive into it with carrot sticks, right from the food processor bowl, because I think that goes without saying. We are happy, happy hummus-ers, indeed.

hummus, complete

Updated: Six years later, I updated this recipe with a new technique for even better hummus texture. See: Ethereally Smooth Hummus.

Paula Wolfert’s Hummus

Makes 4 cups

1 1/2 cups dried chickpeas, soaked overnight
1 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
3 garlic cloves, peeled
3/4 cup sesame seed paste
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice, and more to taste
Cayenne, hot Hungarian paprika or za’atar
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
2 teaspoons olive oil

1. Rinse the soaked chickpeas well and drain them before putting them in a saucepan and covering them with plenty of fresh water. Bring to a boil; skim, add one-half teaspoon salt, cover and cook over medium heat, about 1 1/2 hours, until the chickpeas are very soft (you might need to add more water).

2. Meanwhile, crush the garlic and one-half teaspoon salt in a mortar until pureed. Transfer the puree to the work bowl of a food processor, add the sesame seed paste and lemon juice and process until white and contracted. Add one-half cup water and process until completely smooth.

3. Drain the chickpeas, reserving their cooking liquid. Add the chickpeas to the sesame paste mixture and process until well-blended. For a smoother texture, press the mixture through the fine blade of a food mill. Thin to desired consistency with reserved chickpea liquid. Adjust the seasoning with salt and lemon juice. The hummus can be kept in an airtight container in the fridge for up to a week.) Serve, sprinkled with paprika (or za’atar) and parsley and drizzled with oil.


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