There's nothing new about the ancient Middle Eastern mash of chickpeas, tahini, olive oil, garlic and lemon. But these days, hummus is more than just a well-loved party appetizer. Chefs are betting on the spread: Alon Shaya has dedicated part of the menu at his quickly beloved Shaya in New Orleans to the dip, from a classic tahini version to hummus topped with a soft-cooked egg and pickles. And people young, old and in between still can't stop talking about Michael Solomonov's hummus.
"In Israel, hummisyas are at the cross-section of society," Solomonov, the chef/owner of Zahav and Dizengoff in Philadelphia and soon-to-open NYC outpost of Dizengoff, tells us. "It's a unifying language within so many individual cultures in the Middle East."
The history is vague, which is why so many countries lay claim to the origin of the dish—Lebanon even petitioned to make the dip a protected dish of the country by the European Commission, and the geopolitical aspects of it are chronicled in the documentary Make Hummus Not War. However, whether served with pita in Egypt and Israel or blended with yogurt instead of tahini in Jordan, there's one thing everyone can agree on: A well-made hummus is delicious—and versatile.
Here, we've polled our hummus-obsessed chef friends for their tips and spent some quality time with our blender to dream up a Technicolor rainbow of recipes.
① Double, double, boil and trouble. Don't worry about overcooking the chickpeas. "Cooking the chickpeas until you can't cook them anymore makes for an extra luxurious hummus," Solomonov says. "Once you think you can't cook the chickpeas anymore, keep cooking them." Cut that simmering session short, and your hummus will suffer. "This is a death sentence," Shaya adds. "Let the beans cook until they are practically falling apart." Pro tip: Shaya suggests soaking the beans overnight to "ensure they will cook evenly and relatively quickly."
② Baking soda is your BFF. You can do a lot with a little baking soda (hello, caramelized onions), especially with your bubbling pot of chickpeas. "It tenderizes both the skin and the actual chickpea, which makes a big difference," Rawia Bishara, the chef/owner of Tanoreen in Brooklyn, says. "This will help the chickpeas double in volume right from the start, adding to a fuller, silkier texture," Solomonov adds.
③ To peel or not to peel. Recipes often call for this extra-fussy step, but is pinching off the thin skins of cooked chickpeas crucial? Not all all. Bishara gives us a mini history lesson: "Traditionally, the chickpeas were boiled for 12 hours in clay pots, so that the skins would come off on their own and float to the top," she explains. "If there is some skin left, I don't worry about it. If you cook them long enough and blend them enough, you won't notice the difference." However, if you want to go the extra mile for that velvety mouthfeel, follow the lead of chef Mourad Lahlou of Mourad in San Francisco by passing the mixture through a chinois after blending.
④ Take note of your tahini. This thick sesame paste is key to most variations, but a light hand is needed. "Using too much results in a pasty hummus," Lahlou says. Bishara adds, "Tahini binds the hummus perfectly and creates that signature creamy texture and airiness that puts a smile on people's faces. I've seen this happen." And as far at store-bought tahini goes, the favorite among these chefs is Soom (available at Amazon), made by three sisters in Philadelphia. "It's the best," Shaya says. "They use toasted single-farm Ethiopian sesame seeds. I was put onto them by Michael Solomonov."
⑤ Throw tradition to the wind (kind of). "I like to call hummus canvas food," Bishara says. "A dish, because of its sheer simplicity, is open to interpretation." Shaya continues, "Imagine the Middle Eastern cousin to mashed potatoes. It takes flavor well from other ingredients without managing to overpower them."
And with that, we present our Technicolor takes on hummus.
—Make It Traditional Taupe—
"The best part of hummus is tasting the chickpeas," Lahlou says. "Adding other stuff to it just takes away from it. Leave the hummus alone in its simple glory." We hear you, Lahlou, which is why we came up with a foolproof, bells-and-whistles-free base recipe of classic hummus.
1 lb dried chickpeas, soaked overnight and drained + 1 tbsp kosher salt, plus more to taste + 1 tsp baking soda + ½ c tahini + 6 tbsp lemon juice + 6 tbsp olive oil, plus more to garnish + 4 garlic cloves, mashed into a paste + freshly ground black pepper, to taste + pita chips, for serving
In a 4-quart pot, cover the drained chickpeas with 2 inches of cold water. Stir in the salt and baking soda, then bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook until the chickpeas are tender, 45 to 50 minutes. Drain the beans, reserving 2 tablespoons of the liquid. Transfer the cooked beans to the bowl of a food processor. Add the reserved cooking liquid, tahini, lemon juice, olive oil and garlic. Purée until smooth, then season with salt and pepper. Transfer to a bowl and garnish with olive oil, then serve with pita chips.
—Make It Pink—
For a while, it seemed like everyone and their mom was making a beet hummus, including Bishara at Tanoreen. "To add beets, or add pumpkin or top with spiced lamb, all of these combinations change the flavor profile," she notes. So we took her advice and lent a little sweetness to earthy beets with balsamic vinegar.
2 medium roasted red beets, peeled and roughly chopped + ¼ c olive oil + 2 tbsp balsamic vinegar + Traditional Taupe hummus
In a blender, purée the beets, olive oil and vinegar until smooth, scraping as needed. Stir into the hummus.
—Make It Yellow—
Chefs like James Beard Award-winning cookbook author Joanne Weir use an abundance of carrots for humus. Here, we slipped in a surprise in the form of nose-clearing horseradish.
2 medium carrots, grated + ½ c olive oil + 2 tbsp white prepared horseradish + 2 tbsp orange juice + 2 tsp turmeric + Traditional Taupe hummus
In a blender, purée the carrots, olive oil, horseradish, orange juice and turmeric until smooth, scraping as needed. Stir into the hummus.
—Make It Green—
It's not easy being green. "I had an avocado 'hummus' that was really good," Shaya shares. "But it's still not hummus. There is only one!" In anticipation of spring (aka picnic weather), we stirred in sweet peas with their curlicues of tendrils along with licorice-y chervil.
2 c fresh or frozen peas + 2 c pea tendrils + ¼ c chervil + ¼ c olive oil + 2 tbsp lemon juice + Traditional Taupe hummus
In a blender, purée the peas, pea tendrils, chervil, olive oil and lemon juice until smooth, scraping as needed. Stir into the hummus.
—Make It Orange—
Serve this electric hummus with a side of #tbt. The 90s are alive with this roasted red pepper hummus, here, spiked with harissa and sweet paprika.
2 roasted red peppers (1 c) + ¼ c harissa + ½ c olive oil + 1 tbsp sweet paprika + Traditional Taupe hummus
In a blender, purée the peppers, harissa, olive oil and paprika until smooth, scraping as needed. Stir into the hummus.