Plain Hummus with Za'atar and Paprika

by Maja Lukic


Sometimes, I feel that if my recipe is not a complex multi-step endeavor or at least somewhat inspired and original, I should refrain from posting it -- even if it's something I legitimately prepare and enjoy at home on a regular basis. This way of thinking serves as a decent gatekeeper most of the time -- i.e., I will never post a green smoothie or oatmeal unless there's something entirely innovative about the recipe (I make no promises about kale, though. I live for kale.). But, on occasion, I neglect a good, substantial recipe simply because I worry that it's not exciting or attractive enough. This hummus is one of those recipes. 

At some point, I realized that every food blogger/cookbook chef worth her/his salt has a basic hummus recipe. It took a lot of nerve to restrain myself from adding unusual flavors (jars of harissa and smoked paprika beckoning, open bags of sundried tomatoes resting on the counter, fresh herbs idling in glass jars in the fridge), but I said: "No, Maja. No. We're going to keep it lo-fi this time." And so, this is my plain, basic good hummus recipe, culled from the excellent Deborah Madison and Yotam Ottolenghi versions but refined through months (years!) of my own trial and error. 

It's a good one. To dress it up, I like to top it with whole chickpeas, fragrant extra virgin olive oil, paprika, and za'atar. Za'atar, if you're not familiar with it, is a Middle Eastern spice blend and my new favorite ingredient. It's kind of all over the place now in food magazines and on food blogs and there is good reason for that -- za'atar is delicious, infusing dishes with a bright, almost lemony flavor, which is a remarkable quality for a ground spice blend. The basic elements vary but the blends may include sumac, sesame seeds, sea salt, coriander, thyme, cumin, fennel seed, oregano, etc. I source it at Kalustyan's in my neighborhood but I've seen it at Whole Foods and various online spice shops. It's a great match for eggs and roasted vegetables. I find that it burns easily so it's best to use it fresh at the end of a meal but it can withstand a short cooking/baking time at lower temperatures. 

And now, the hummus. Sage advice from a lifetime of hummus preparation: you will always need more lemon juice, more tahini, more sea salt, and more chickpea cooking liquid than you think. Dried chickpeas far surpass their canned counterparts and, when you rely on canned chickpeas, you deprive yourself of the flavorful, starchy chickpea cooking liquid (do not use the vile canning liquid). Peeling the chickpeas (for instructions, see here) yields a creamier, smoother hummus but it's entirely optional. Notably, neither Madison nor Ottolenghi peel their chickpeas. My personal stance is that I do it when I have the energy/motivation to do so, which is only about 50% of the time. And if the prospect of peeling chickpeas is the only thing keeping you from making your own hummus, don't bother peeling. For a creamier hummus, you should always add more water, not oil -- save the oil to drizzle on top.

By the way, Veggies & Gin can now be found on Instagram (veggiesandgin) and Twitter (@veggiesandgin). Never miss an update. 

Plain Hummus with Za'atar and Paprika (v/gf)

Adapted from Plenty and Vegetable Literacy

Makes 3 cups approx.

1 cup dried chickpeas (or 2 cans)

2 large garlic cloves, minced

1-2 lemons

1/3 cup tahini

reserved chickpea cooking liquid

za'atar

paprika

extra virgin olive oil

sea salt

If using dried chickpeas, place the chickpeas in a bowl the night before and cover with an inch of cold water. Soak on the counter overnight. The following day, drain and rinse well. To cook the chickpeas, cover the chickpeas with about 6 cups of water in a large pot, bring to a boil, and simmer on low for about 1 to 1 1/2 hours, or until very tender. When cooked, turn off the heat, and add a tablespoon of sea salt to the cooking liquid. Cool slightly and then drain the chickpeas but reserve the cooking liquid. Peel, if desired. For canned chickpeas, drain and rinse well, and peel, if desired.

Reserve a few whole chickpeas to finish. Transfer the remainder to a large food processor and pulse until broken up. Add the juice of a lemon, garlic, and tahini and process until smooth. With the motor running, add as much chickpea cooking liquid (or plain water) as needed to reach a creamy, smooth consistency (about three to six tablespoons). Season with sea salt and more lemon juice, to taste. 

Turn the hummus out into a wide shallow bowl and spread it out. Sprinkle with paprika and za'atar. Finish with the reserved chickpeas and a healthy drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. Serve with pita bread or vegetables. 

The hummus can be stored in the fridge for a few days or in the freezer for up to a month.