Yotam’s irreverent take on the great hummus debate. The key take-aways?: Olive oil, Greek yogurt and tins need not apply: this is all about an overnight soaking and using the kind of creamy tahini you could eat by the spoon.
Every chef has their chosen-specialised-subject: the thing they’re allowed to hold forth on and be vaguely incredulous about when opinions other than their own are entertained. Various names are suggested for those who take such a stance, some being politer than others. In the case of hummus and me, I’d like to think of it as what Honey & Co.’s Itamar Srulovich calls the necessary “humility before the old traditions”. Others, of course, would simply think that taking such a big stand on such a small matter is frankly dotty, unnecessary or just plain wrong.
I’m talking, of course, about olive oil. Whilst my love of the golden stuff knows close to no bounds, those bounds do appear when it comes to the making of hummus. Every time I see another recipe which calls for a great glug to go in with the chickpeas as they are blitzed, I’m not angry – as they say – just disappointed. How could some of the cooks I admire most be so misguided and confused? There is, certainly, a place for olive oil when hummus is being served, but that place is drizzled generously on top of the hummus after it has been made and swished on to plate. This not only makes the hummus look nice and shiny but also enhances the eating experience as the oil soaks immediately in to the pita when it’s dipped in.
Bore that I am on this great and mighty matter, I’ve clearly not being going on and on about it quite enough. To settle the matter once and for all, I’d like to set up a very long table with, down one side, armed with their bottles of olive oil (and, in some cases, Greek yogurt, jars of flame-roasted peppers and peanut butter) the otherwise-impressive and altogether brilliant line up including Nigella, Heston, Sam and Sam Clark, Thomasina Miers, Mary Berry, Stephanie Alexander and Claudia Roden. After apologizing to Claudia that we could possibly ever disagree about anything at all (and confiscating Nigella’s peanut butter – a completely unacceptable inclusion – in exchange for a list of places where she can buy the sort of tahini that she has, I suspect, not yet discovered), I would line up my cohort of hummus-makers on the other side of the table.
With a list of ingredients which includes little more than dried chickpeas, bicarbonate of soda, tahini, lemon juice, garlic and salt I’d introduce The Jewelled Kitchen’s Bethany Kehdy (who would also sneak in 3 ice cubes and a pinch of allspice) HONEY & Co.’s Sarit Packer (who, after much debate with the above-quoted Itamar, will also be allowed a pinch of ground cumin) and ‘Cook the Perfect’s’ Felicity Cloake (who, having tried and tested more hummus than she knew what to do with, would also welcome the pinch of cumin).
And then the cook-off (or tin opening, for those who have yet to be converted) could begin. The rules for my cohort are respectfully time-honoured and clear: 1) The chickpeas must be dried and soaked overnight with some bicarbonate of soda: the texture of hummus should be utterly smooth and soft and this is the way to prepare the peas before they are cooked. 2) Ratios of lemon juice and garlic will vary according to taste but, if a light and whipped consistency is sought after, neither olive oil, Greek yogurt or peanut butter need apply. Instead, hold back some of the cooking water from the chickpeas and add this to food processor once the machine is on and everything is being blitzed. I’m also a big fan of Bethany’s addition of ice cubes to the mix, one at a time, when the machine is whirring. I do a similar thing with ice-cold water, finding this to be the best way to bring about the smooth and creamy hummus I am looking for. 3) And I’m afraid the Greeks are going to give up on me entirely when I say this, having already banned their yogurt from just this one particular party, the tahini in the hummus must be one of the several good Arabic brands – Al Yaman and Al Arz are two favourites – rather than the Greek varieties, which I can find to be rather claggy. Really, for all the hard and fast hummus-making rules, the real secret – the make-or-break ingredient which will secure my winning the case of Ottolenghi vs. The People’s Olive Oil – is here, in this pot of crushed sesame seeds. Don’t believe me? I challenge you to try it. . . .