Hummus - Limor Laniado Tiroche - April 25, 2012
Msabaha with roast eggplant; ceramic dishes: Irit Goldberg, Old Jaffa. Photo by Limor Laniado Tiroche
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Limor Laniado Tiroche
Hummus with calamari; ceramic dishes: Irit Goldberg, Old Jaffa. Photo by Limor Laniado Tiroche
Limor Laniado Tiroche
Hummus with okra. Ceramic dishes: Irit Goldberg, Old Jaffa Photo by Limor Laniado Tiroche
Limor Laniado Tiroche
Triple: hummus, green fava beans and hard-boiled egg; ceramic dishes: Irit Goldberg, Old Jaffa Photo by Limor Laniado Tiroche

The most important culinary chapter in Israel’s history began with a love story from the Bible: At their first encounter in the barley fields of Bethlehem, Boaz invited Ruth to wipe hummus up with pita: “And Boaz said unto her at mealtime: ‘Come hither, and eat of the bread, and dip thy morsel in the vinegar.’ And she sat beside the reapers; and they reached her parched corn, and she did eat and was satisfied, and left thereof” ‏(Ruth 2:14‏).

Hummus is considered one of the pillars of our national cuisine − and for good reason. Chickpeas are among the oldest crops in the land of Israel and among the earliest foods of our ancestors; in ancient Hebrew texts, chickpeas are called hamitz or himtza. In the modern era hummus was initially and primarily consumed here as a breakfast food for field hands. A serving of the warm and nutritious hummus, wiped up with torn bits of pita, supplied the menial workers with the energy crucial to their labor.

Making good hummus is no trivial matter. The recipe may look simple and the manner of preparation easy, but it takes skill and experience to achieve the desired taste and texture.

First it is important to make sure that the chickpeas are small, with a smooth skin that is light brown in color. Chickpeas of the Bulgarian or Hadas varieties, and the tiny organic ones, are the best. It is very important to make sure they are fresh and to buy them somewhere that has a brisk turnover and good storage conditions.

In contrast to other legumes, the quality of chickpeas is measured by their ability to soften into a paste. Therefore, they must be soaked in cold water for 24 hours, with the water replaced at least once. Some people add baking powder or baking soda to the water, to soften the chickpeas further. In this case, it is important to rinse them thoroughly before cooking.

Chickpeas should be cooked for a long time over a small flame. Some people cook them all night in a big pot with plenty of water. In my experience, three hours of cooking are enough to get the mashing job done. Crush a cooked chickpea between your thumb and index finger to assess its softness. When it is reduced to a soft sort of puree − it’s ready.

The cooking is done without salt, but you can add onion, cumin seeds and parsley to the pot for a richer flavor. It is important to cook the chickpeas as close as possible to the time they will be eaten, and to grind them while they are hot. Reserve the water in which you cooked the chickpeas, and gradually add it when you grind them, for a slightly sweet result.

Hummus that sat around in the fridge will be less tasty than fresh hummus. Another factor you should consider when making hummus is the freshness of your raw tahini, which is vital for attaining the sought-after taste. Fresh tahini will be sweetish, light-colored and soft. Overly thick, dark or bitter-tasting tahini is either of low quality or rancid. Syrian or Nabali olive oil with a dominant taste and thick consistency are needed to make the hummus-production experience complete.

Hummus

Makes four or five servings
2 1/2 cups small chickpeas (500 grams‏) of the Bulgarian or Hadas variety
1 scant teaspoon baking soda or baking powder
6 heaping tablespoons raw tahini
6 tablespoons lemon juice
2 garlic cloves
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon cumin
at least 3 1/2 cups hot water ‏(preferably the cooking water from the chickpeas‏)
For garnish:
olive oil
hot, whole cooked chickpeas
cumin
sweet paprika

Soak chickpeas for 24 hours in a bowl of water with baking soda or baking powder. Replace the water after 12 hours but don’t add new baking soda or powder. Drain and rinse thoroughly.

Transfer the chickpeas to a big pot; pour in water so that it reaches a level that is one and a half times the height of the chickpeas in the pot. Bring to a boil; skim off the foam that forms on the top. Lower the flame; cook on a very gentle boil for 3 hours. Confirm softness by crushing one chickpea between thumb and forefinger. Drain and reserve the cooking water.

Traditionally the chickpeas are crushed using a mortar and pestle, but you can also grind them in a food processor or an electric mixer fitted with a dough hook. Grind or mash together chickpeas, raw tahini, lemon juice, garlic, salt and cumin. Add the chickpeas’ cooking water 1 cup at a time, while grinding, until you obtain the desired consistency.

If not eaten immediately, the hummus will thicken within a brief time. Before serving, drizzle with a little olive oil and sprinkle with cumin and sweet paprika.

Msabaha

Makes four to six servings
2 cups cooked chickpeas, hot
2 cups hummus
1 cup raw tahini
1/2 cup tatbilah sauce ‏(see below‏)
warm water ‏(preferably the cooking water from the chickpeas‏), as needed
salt
For garnish:
olive oil
hot, whole cooked chickpeas
cumin
sweet paprika

Place whole chickpeas, hummus, raw tahini and tatbilah sauce in a big bowl. Mix carefully with a spoon and gradually add the cooking water from the chickpeas, until you attain the desired consistency. It is important to keep the chickpeas as whole as possible.

Transfer to a deep serving plate and generously drizzle olive oil over it; garnish with more hot chickpeas, cumin and paprika. Serve immediately with hot pita and raw onion.

Msabaha with roast eggplant

Makes four servings
2 eggplants
2 cups chickpeas, cooked and hot
2 cups hummus
1 cup raw tahini
1/2 cup tatbilah sauce
warm water ‏(preferably the cooking water from the chickpeas‏), as needed
salt
For garnish:
olive oil
hot cooked chickpeas
cumin
paprika

Heat your oven using the grill setting. Lay the eggplants in a roasting pan and roast on the top rack of the oven for 15 minutes on each side. Scoop out the eggplant pulp; transfer to a strainer to drain the liquids, for at least 30 minutes.
In a large bowl, put the whole chickpeas, hummus, raw tahini and tatbilah sauce. Mix with a spoon and add cooking water from the chickpeas until you get the desired consistency. It is important to keep the chickpeas as whole as possible. Add the roasted eggplant and mix.

Spoon into a deep serving plate, drizzle generously with olive oil and top with hot chickpeas, cumin and paprika. Serve immediately, with hot pita and raw onion.

Hummus with calamari

Makes two servings
2 cups homemade hummus
200 grams calamari rings
1/2 cup hot cooked chickpeas
salt
black pepper
For marinade:
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
1 tablespoon chopped scallion
1/2 teaspoon sweet paprika
For garnish:
cumin
sumac
olive oil
chopped parsley

Marinate the calamari for an hour. In a piping-hot frying pan, saute the calamari in the marinade for 1 minute or until the rings turn white and most of the marinade evaporates. Add chickpeas and continue to saute for half a minute. Season with salt and black pepper.

Spoon fresh hummus into a deep plate and top it with calamari and whole chickpeas. Garnish with cumin, sumac, olive oil and chopped parsley.

Hummus with okra

Makes two servings
2 cups homemade hummus
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 garlic cloves, sliced
chili flakes or chopped hot pepper, to taste
1/4 small lemon, diced with the peel
1 tomato, diced
1 1/2 cups (200 grams‏) fresh okra, washed and trimmed of the stems, or frozen and defrosted
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 tablespoon tatbilah sauce
For garnish:
Cumin
olive oil

In a frying pan with olive oil, saute for 1 minute the garlic, chili, diced lemon and tomato. Add the okra; continue stir-frying until soft ‏(young okra softens after 5 minutes‏). Season with salt and black pepper.

Spoon the fresh hummus into a deep serving plate; top with hot okra and a little tatbilah sauce. Garnish with cumin and olive oil.

Hummus with chicken livers and caramelized onions

Makes two servings
2 cups homemade hummus
3 tablespoons oil
2 large onions, sliced into thin semicircles
350 grams chicken livers, without tendons and connective tissue
salt, ground black pepper
2 hard-boiled eggs, grated
For garnish:
salt
cumin
olive oil
chopped parsley

Saute the onions in neutral-tasting oil until deep brown. Transfer to a plate. In the same frying pan, grill the livers until brown ‏(3 minutes on each side‏). Season generously with salt and pepper.

Turn off the heat. Spoon fresh hummus into a deep serving plate and top with the grilled chicken livers, fried onion and grated hard-boiled eggs. Season with salt and cumin, and add some olive oil and chopped parsley.

Triple: hummus, green fava beans and hard-boiled egg

Mahluta is generally served with cooked dried fava beans, but it’s worthwhile taking advantage of the green fava bean season and making a batch of mahluta from the fresh variety. Shelling the beans is easy when you cook the pods first in salted boiling water for 1 minute. One kilo of fava bean pods yields 1 cup of green fava beans. Makes two servings.

2 cups homemade hummus
1 cup (200 grams‏) fresh or frozen fava beans, peeled
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
2 hard-boiled eggs, sliced
For garnish:
salt
cumin
olive oil

Place the fava beans, water, olive oil, black pepper and cumin in a small pot. Cover the pot and cook for 1 hour on a small flame. Spoon fresh hummus into a deep plate and top with fava beans and hard-boiled egg. Sprinkle with salt, cumin and olive oil.

Tatbilah sauce

1 cup fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup water
5 little hot and sour shifka peppers, chopped
3 garlic cloves, chopped
1/2 teaspoon salt
Combine all the ingredients and pour on top of msabaha, hummus and mahluta.

A hummus glossary

• Hummus: A spread of cooked chickpeas that are mashed together with some of the water they were cooked in, raw tahini and lemon juice. Some people add garlic and cumin.
• Msabaha ‏(sabah is “morning” in Arabic‏) or mashausha ‏(literally “confused”‏): a pile of whole, un-mashed hot chickpeas mixed with hummus spread, raw tahini, the water from cooking the chickpeas, and tatbilah sauce.
• Mahluta ‏(Arabic for “mixture”‏) or “triple”: a plate of hummus, warm Egyptian fava beans and a hard-boiled egg. Some people add a tablespoon of tahini, hot msabaha, raw onion and tatbilah sauce.
• Tatbilah: A lemony sauce poured over hummus, made with hot and sour green pepper ‏(shifka‏), lemon, garlic and salt.