You have to love the compulsives at America's Test Kitchen (Cook's Illustrated and Cook's Country). They test a recipe every which way and explain it all to satisfy my inner geek.
It helped solve a mystery about my hummus.
Hummus is a blend of ground chickpeas (garbanzo beans), tahini (a peanut-butter-like preparation made from sesame seeds), and oil, flavored with garlic and a variety of other ingredients. It's easy, fast, and healthy. It's not low-calorie, with its substantial oil content, but the oils are mostly the healthier types. It's great with vegetables, crackers, or the traditional pita bread.
And what could be easier? Place the ingredients in a blender and you're pretty much done.
But my attempts, while flavorful, were heavy and a little grainy. I tried a couple of recipes, from sources I trust, but they lacked the fluffiness and smooth, creamy texture of store-bought hummus. This is a simple recipe! There's no rocket science here! What could possibly be wrong?
From their May 2008 issue:
Most hummus has a coarse, dense consistency caused by the tough skins of the chickpeas.
We wanted hummus with a light, silky-smooth texture and a flavor profile that balances chickpeas, tahini (ground sesame paste), lemon juice, garlic, and extra-virgin olive oil.
So what's the cause of the coarse, dense texture? It's the skins of the chickpeas!
In theory, the best way to guarantee a creamy texture is to remove the chickpeas’ tough skins, but we couldn’t find an approach that wasn’t tedious or futile.
The secret? There are two.
First is to grind the chickpeas before adding any liquids.
Once the liquids are in the machine, the skins elude the whirring blades. When the chickpeas alone, the skins have no defense and are pulverized enough that they no longer wreck the texture. So I learned that a simple toss-and-blend approach won't work.
The second secret is to think of this as an emulsion like mayonnaise. As with a mayonnaise, the best approach is to work the wet and solid ingredients first and add the oil gradually while the machine runs.
The good folks at ATK said:
We started by grinding just the chickpeas and then very slowly added a small amount of water and lemon juice. To finish, we whisked the olive oil and tahini together and drizzled the mixture into the puree while processing; this created a smooth, light emulsion.
A commenter mentioned that a later article suggests microwaving the chickpeas for a minute. That also works.
The remaining issue is flavor. In the past, I found it really easy to use too much garlic. Raw garlic is pungent! A single clove is a bit light; three is definitely too much. Two is usually fine. But to be really safe, use roasted garlic. There's an easy way: Toss four or more cloves with the papery skins still on into a dry pan and toast over medium heat, shaking the pan from time to time, until the skins are charred several places. Let them cool and peel. (There's another way, too: Pressure-cooker roast garlic, which will be a future article.)
Toasting cumin seeds (pretty easy since you can use the garlic roasting pan) really amps up the spice! But you can use pre-ground and it will be nearly as good.
- It's important to grind the chickpeas first, before adding liquids.
- Be careful when using raw garlic, as it's easy to overdo it. With 1 average-sized clove, the flavor is subtle. With 2, it's good and not overpowering. Use two. Use one if the cloves are large. Or, use 3-5 cloves and toast the garlic (skins on in dry pan until charred).
- It's best to toast whole cumin seeds until they are fragrant, then grind them using a mortar and pestle or a coffee grinder (one you use only for spice grinding). If using pre-ground cumin, increase amount if it's not fresh.
- Cook's Illustrated's top-rated tahini is the widely available Joyva Sesame Tahini. For chickpeas, most brands were fine. They preferred Pastene. Progresso and Goya are almost as good.
- Nut butter is a good alternative to tahini. Try peanut or cashew butter.
The flavors meld overnight so it's best made a day ahead.
- ¼ cup water
- 3 Tablespoons lemon juice
- 6 Tablespoons well stirred tahini, or peanut butter
- 2 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 can, 15 oz chickpeas (garbanzo beans), drained and rinsed
- 1-2 cloves garlic, 1 large clove, 2 small, or 5 roasted; see note
- ¾ teaspoon salt
- 3/4 teaspoon cumin, see note
- 1 pinch cayenne
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro
Set aside about 12 of the whole chickpeas for a garnish. Place the rest in the microwave for one minute.
Drop peeled garlic cloves into the food processor while it is running and process. Add the chickpeas, salt, cumin, and cayenne and process until coarsely ground, about 15 seconds. Scrape down the sides of the processor and grind again.
Add the lemon and water through the feed tube with the processor running for about 1 minute. Scrape down the sides as many times as necessary to get the chickpeas well chopped.
Add the tahini and process.
Add the oil, with the processor running, until the hummus is fluffy.
Put the hummus in a bowl, garnish with the cilantro and whole chickpeas, and drizzle with some olive oil if you want.