The secret to making your own Israeli style hummus, just like you get at a famous hummusiyya (hummus joint)? Nothing other than good-quality chickpeas and tahini, time and patience, and an enthusiastic whirl in a blender. My recipe makes a batch about the size of a small tub you'd buy at the store, since homemade hummus doesn't have preservatives in it and will go bad faster. But you can easily scale up the recipe for a bigger batch.
Beloved. Debated. Divisive. Unifying. Also, the perfect food, although hummus isn't eaten; it's wiped, i.e. with a pita, or, if you're hardcore, raw onion. And enjoyed with friends, of course. How do you know you're at a good hummus place? 1. There is no menu. 2. The menu that doesn't exist contains three items and they're all hummus. 3. Or, hey, welcome to your kitchen!
Much like schnitzel, the perfect hummus is humbly simple and more a matter of method than skill. In other words: it's easy, but you have to know what you're doing.
In the world of hummus, there are lots of regional variations. But, for Israelis, there is only one correct hummus, and it's smooth, creamy, full of tahini, and served with tons of olive oil on top (only on top), plus possibly a sprinkling of paprika and/or parsley and/or pine nuts. Lemon and garlic dance on its margins, adding just the slightest note. There is no hummus made with anything other than chickpeas. There are no sun-dried tomatoes within 100 meters of hummus. There is no dessert hummus. And there is definitely none of that lemony Egyptian business or tahini-minimalist Lebanese nonsense.
Hummus is not a dip or an appetizer to be trifled with. It's more than a meal, it's an event, and you get the whole plate to yourself—unless you're doing a round of hummus with kebabs or shipudim (skewered meat, probably chicken) or the like, in which case, your waiter will helpfully keep bringing out more hummus and pitas till everyone's sated, which should take a while.
Ingredients for hummus
Hummus consists of exactly five ingredients, each of which is crucial, in the following order of importance (yes, the garlic is optional!):
- Tahini (sesame paste)
- Lemon juice
- Baking soda
Chickpeas: Read on for precisely which ones to use. Yes, it makes a big difference. Not that you can't make a decent hummus using whichever-brand dried or even canned chickpeas, but it won't be great.
The next heavy hitter is the tahini. Again, you can make a passable hummus with any-brand, but you simply can't make great hummus without great tahini, and once you track it down, you can't be stingy, because almost half your hummus is going to be tahini. That's what makes it Israeli style. I only use Soom tahini (no affiliation). It's the only brand I can get in the US that tastes right. It's also better than many Israeli supermarket brands. It's also, concomitantly, not cheap.
Lemon juice and salt make the list, but barely. They're going to get mixed with the raw tahini before you add it to your pureed hummus. The lemon juice reacts with the tahini and after clotting it unattractively, emulsifies the raw tahini beautifully into a light, creamy, flowy paste.
Baking soda is a controversial ingredient in hummus. A small amount, just a pinch, goes into the cooking water for the chickpeas. Proponents (such as myself) claim that it makes the hummus extra soft and silky. Detractors say it's just old kitchen tales and pay no attention. My trusty handbook for Galilean Arab cuisine says to use baking soda, ergo I'm a diehard on this point.
Which type of chickpeas to use
There are two basic kinds of chickpeas: small (desi) chickpeas, often used in Indian cooking (like in chana dal - above right in the photo), and large (kabuli) chickpeas, used throughout the world and in hummus (above left in the photo). Of the larger kabuli chickpeas, there are different varieties, and the variety matters. Large, Mexican-type garbanzos make poor hummus. You want the smaller, compact varieties of the larger kabuli chickpeas. (You with me? The smaller of the larger.) Chickpeas for hummus should be about the size of large peas, not small grapes. I play it safe and buy an Israeli brand at my kosher market. I've also had great hummus making success with this bulk bag by Palouse available on Amazon.
Soaking the chickpeas
You have to soak the chickpeas. Sorry. There's no other option. You want to soak them for a good long time, 8 hours or overnight. You don't want to soak them more than about 12 hours because they'll start to smell musty and sprout. Give them a lot of water to soak in, a few centimeters (at least an inch) of water above the chickpeas.
Cooking the chickpeas
Cooking the chickpeas for hummus (with that pinch of baking soda) takes a full two hours. You want them to be meltingly soft. As you bring them up to a boil, you'll see white foam beginning to form on top of the water. At a full boil, it'll come together as a wad of foam that you can easily skim off. Also, you have to watch the water, because chickpeas soak in a lot of it and it will likely dry upon you. Ideally, at the end of the cooking time there should be very little water left in the pot. But if you have lots of extra water and your chickpeas are ready, you can always drain your chickpeas, reserving about 2 tablespoons for blending.
Preparing the tahini for adding to the hummus
Another area where sharp differences of opinion lie is on the matter of how to add the tahini. Some people add in the raw tahini, putting the lemon juice and salt directly in with the hummus. The difference is slight, but I think you get a better result by preparing the tahini before mixing it in with the hummus. This means that you'll be whisking the tahini with the lemon juice so that it thins out and lightens, only then adding it to the hummus. If your tahini remains very thick, add ice water 1 teaspoon at a time, whisking vigorously after the addition.
Processing the hummus with the tahini
You can process your cooked chickpeas into hummus in either a food processor or a blender. They are almost indistinguishable, though personally I prefer the blender for ultimate creaminess. I can puree a single batch in my small blender; if I'm doubling the recipe, I use a food processor. Add up to 2 tablespoons of cooking water to make a paste, a little at a time.
I pulse in the tahini once I get the consistency I like in my chickpeas by themselves. Just one or two quick pulses, then try it and check the seasoning. I usually add a little more salt at this point; you might want more garlic. I don't like my hummus garlicky, so I don't usually add any.
Serving the hummus
Serve the hummus in a bowl. Using the back of a spoon, make a well in the center and pour in plenty of olive oil. Add whatever garnishes you like: a smattering of paprika, minced parsley, and toasted pine nuts are all common in Israeli hummus restaurants. Serve with the best pita you can find.
Israeli Hummus (parve)
- Blender or food processor
- ½ cup dried small chickpeas
- 4 cups water
- ⅛ tsp baking soda
For the tahini:
- ¼ cup raw tahini
- 2 Tbsp lemon juice
- ½ tsp salt - more to taste
- ¼ tsp minced garlic - optional
- olive oil
- minced parsley - optional
- pine nuts - optional
- paprika - optional
- cumin - optional
Soak the chickpeas:
- Soak the chickpeas 8 hours or overnight in the 2 cups water.
Cook the chickpeas:
- Drain the chickpeas and place in a pot. Fill the pot with about 4 cups of water, covering the chickpeas by 1“ / 3 cm or so. Add the baking soda. Bring to a boil over high heat.
- Skim off the white foam that forms at the top. Turn down the heat to medium-low so that the hummus is at at a medium simmer. Cook for 2 hours, adding more water as needed, until the hummus is very soft.
Prepare the tahini:
- Combine the raw tahini with the lemon juice, salt, and minced garlic, if using. Whisk until the tahini lightens, adding a teaspoon of ice water if needed to thin out the tahini slightly.
Purée chickpeas with tahini:
- Drain the cooked chickpeas. Leave aside a small amount of whole chickpeas, if desired for topping.
- In a blender or food processor, purée the chickpeas into a smooth paste with 1 tablespoon of cooking liquid, adding more as needed to form a paste. Add the tahini and pulse to combine.
- Serve with olive oil and other toppings as desired.