The Hummus Diet and zhoug – my new BFF
A new world record was set on May 12th 2010 in Lebanon – the biggest serving of hummus which weighed in at over ten tons. The war over hummus between Lebanon and Israel is set to continue, but I can personally vouch for the quality and quantity of this delectable chick pea dip by the most recent victor. I ate it at least once a day on an seven-day trekking trip for charity a few weeks ago – probably another kind of record and a proto-type of something I will patent as ‘The Hummus Diet’.
Making hummus is easy but getting exactly the right balance of taste and texture can take some practise. I thought I’d stepped up to the next stage of hummus-making recently with the addition of bicarbonate of soda to the soaking water. I was then warned by my ex-Domestic Science teacher Mother-in-law that this would strip out any nutritional value. Some people agree and some say it might actually break down the indigestible elements. Claudia Roden, the high priestess of Middle Eastern cuisine as far as I’m concerned, says that it was used widely especially with old chickpeas. It gives a light, fluffiness which was the sublime common denominator in all the hummus (houmous or hommos) I tried in Lebanon.
I’ve been back for a couple of weeks and was casting around for something to re-energize my hummus-jaded palette when I discovered something called zhoug – a Middle Eastern condiment from Yemen that I had never heard of or tried. Apparently it’s another dish that has been adopted by the Israelis with gusto and it’s often drizzled on hummus. I like the idea of adding the flavour on top rather than incorporating it; I’ve tried adding fresh coriander before and it turns a really unattractive shade of grey-green. I also thought I’d try to make something hot, earthy and spicy too – see what you think of my scarlet, harissa-inspired dressing (zhing?). I love the intensity of fresh green herbs used in abundance – like tabouleh – it makes me feel like I’m getting my entire vitamin intake for the week in a few forkfuls. Do you add any delicious ingredient to hummus? Is this legitimate variation on a theme or utter sacrilege? Recipes and tips on how to make the best hummus below.
1/2 teaspoon coriander seeds
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns
2 cardamom pods (green)
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 or 2 cloves of garlic
3 fresh green chillies (or to taste)
a few sprigs of flat leaved parsley
a small bunch of coriander (cilantro)
Extra virgin olive oil (about 100-200 ml)
Toasted or fried pine nuts (optional garnish)
Lightly toast the dry spices in a non-stick saucepan until the coriander seeds start to colour. Add the salt and pound in a pestle and mortar until fine (or use a spice blender). Put the spice powder and the rest of the ingredients (apart from the olive oil) into a blender. Put the stalks of the fresh herbs in as well as the leaves ( you could add to the mortar and carry on pestling!) With the motor running, drizzle in the olive oil until the ingredients are chopped finely and it all turns into a grassy emulsion. Store in a jar with a layer of olive oil on top in the fridge. Use as a dip for crudites, falafel or bread, spread over fish before cooking, or smear artistically onto a dish of hummus with toasted pine nuts if you like. I stirred it into yoghurt with a squeeze of lime juice and some salt for a delicious raita to go with poppadoms and curry.
I also made an all parsley version for coriander (cilantro) detesters. Use a small bunch and follow the recipe as above but add a spritz of lemon juice and a bit more salt (taste until you get the right blend of fresh, sharp and salty for you).
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground cayenne (or chilli powder)
Juice of a lime
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
3-4 tablespoons tomato paste (not the tin-tasting stuff from a tube. You could use sun-dried tomato paste).
Extra virgin olive oil
Mix all the ingredients together, drizzling in olive oil until you get a loose sauce consistency.
How to make the best hummus:
- Soak chickpeas (garbanzo beans) overnight.
- Throw the soaking water away and wash the chickpeas well.
- Boil for at least 2 hours if not more (4 has been my maximum) changing the water halfway. The chickpeas should be soft and crush easily between your fingers. Skim any foam and peels that float on the water and discard.
- Reserve the cooking water at the end and use to thin the hummus with.
- Rinse the cooked chickpeas well and pick out as many of the husks or skins as you can.
- Do not add salt until after the chickpeas are cooked.
- Blend for at least 3 minutes with the cooking water, garlic and salt until it becomes a velvety cream. Add tahini and lemon juice to taste.
I urge you to try making fresh, if you haven’t already, for the taste and the nutritional value. You can always freeze the hummus in small pots. If you want a more detailed recipe please drop me a line.