Up until last week, I had never made hummus. This may not seem strange to you, but to me, a person who has been known to make a loaf of bread from scratch for the sole purpose of turning that bread into croutons as an accompaniment for salad (I didn’t say it was a smart thing to do, I am just pointing out that I did it), it seemed downright puzzling.
But I have a reason for my avoidance. It’s not that I thought making hummus would be too difficult or time consuming, and it’s not as though I thought that prepackaged hummus tasted good enough to permanently sit in for an attempt at making a home made batch. Embarrassingly, my hesitating was the result of something far less rational, and it went a little something like this:
If I am going to make hummus, it is going to have to taste as good as the hummus at Ya Hala.
That might not sound very reasonable at first mention, but hear me out. I know the basic components of hummus (chickpeas, tahini, lemon juice, garlic), and I know that I could have just retrieved those ingredients, thrown them in the food processor, and come up with an end result that was tasty and entirely edible, but that’s the basic end result that I get when I buy a pint of hummus from Trader Joe’s, and making something that tastes like it came from Trader Joe’s is not high on my list of worthy accomplishments. If I was going to make hummus, it had to be thick, but not impassably so. It had to be creamy, but not runny. It had to be garlicky enough to have a kick, but not so garlicky that my tongue felt scorched after one bite. In short, it had to be the delicious and dreamy hummus that, heretofore, I had only had the pleasure of eating at one of my favorite local Middle Eastern restaurants.
Then, as if by magic, my prayers to the hummus gods were answered. Flipping through an errant pile of papers on a dining room bookshelf, I found a newspaper profile of the family that runs a trifecta of fantastic Lebanese restaurants in Portland: Hoda’s, Nicholas, and the aforementioned Ya Hala. The article told of the family’s sojourn from Lebanon, their unlikely journey to becoming restaurateurs, and, what’s this? The article includes family recipes? For flatbread, kebabs and (this is when the clouds parted and an unearthly beam of light shined down from the heavens upon the newspaper before me) hummus?
This story would have a much tidier ending if I told you that I immediately dropped everything I was doing and headed straight to the kitchen to whip up a batch of this mythical hummus, but that’s not quite how things turned out. First of all, it was to my extreme consternation that I discovered the date on the newspaper read 2009, meaning that I had held onto this recipe for two full years without remembering so (note that I didn’t say I did not know I had the recipe, because what I almost instantly realized when I saw the recipe was that, oh, yeah, I remember reading this article and then saving it to try the recipes later and then, yes, completely and totally forgetting all about it). Secondly, it took at least another week before I could attempt the hummus, as often happens when life interferes with one’s greatest recipe intentions. But, oh, when I finally made the hummus, in all its creamy, tangy, and thick glory, it was, without a doubt completely worth the wait. If only the end of my wait hadn’t spent the last two years sitting a mere couple of feet from where I sit at the dining room table every single day of the week.
Ya Hala’s Hummus
From Mirna Attar, via the Oregonian
According to the article, and as evidenced by my repeated tastings, baking soda is the key to silky smooth hummus. Baking soda helps soften the beans so they cook quickly and break down easily when blended. According to the recipe, this hummus can be prepared up to 2 days ahead and stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator until ready to use (but we ate this hummus for a whole week and it was just divine). Additionally, I find that the hummus tastes best when allowed to rest for a few hours in the fridge before eating. Resting seems to allow the flavors to combine more smoothly and intensely. Straight from the food processor the flavor was good, but after spending a few hours in the refrigerator the flavor of the hummus became infinitely more silky and fantastic.
1 cup dry garbanzo beans
7 cups water (for cooking beans)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 heaping teaspoon minced garlic
1/4 cup tahini
1/2 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
Rinse the garbanzo beans, drain and cover with water to cover by 3 inches. Soak beans for 4 to 6 hours. Drain in a colander and rinse thoroughly. In a large pot combine soaked beans, the 7 cups water, and the baking soda. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer until the beans are falling apart, about 1 hour. Stir any foam that comes to the surface back into the beans while they cook. Pour beans and any remaining cooking liquid into a large bowl and cool to room temperature in the refrigerator.
Transfer beans and liquid to a food processor. Add the salt, garlic, tahini, and lemon juice and process until smooth. If the mixture is too thick (it should be the consistency of very thick cream), add water 1 tablespoon at a time until the hummus is smooth. Transfer to a medium serving bowl and allow to rest in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour. If desired, drizzle with olive oil before serving.
Makes roughly 2 1/2 cups hummus.