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Jason Hill toyed with the idea of putting hummus on Wisteria’s menu as he was preparing to open his popular Inman Park restaurant nearly 20 years ago.

“The girl I was dating loved hummus, and I used to make it for her at home,” he remembers. He saw its potential as a shareable starter. But he wasn’t sure how the Middle Eastern mainstay would fit with the restaurant’s refined Southern theme. So he tried swapping black-eyed peas for the chickpeas, and replacing the pita with sweet potato chips, pickled okra spears, and other house-brined local vegetables. Black-Eyed Pea Hummus remains a signature appetizer to this day.

That was before hummus became a grocery staple. Sabra, the Israeli dip company, joined forces with PepsiCo in 2008 and flooded supermarkets with plastic tubs filled with pre-made hummus in flavors from classic to sun-dried tomato to “taco inspired.” Sales skyrocketed, farmers raced to plant more chickpeas, and competitors jostled their way into refrigerator cases with their own versions.

High in protein and fiber with a mild, creamy taste that’s easy to digest and offends no one, hummus is that rare food that accommodates virtually every demographic and special diet: kid-friendly, nut-free, gluten-free, lactose-intolerant, vegan, kosher.

Even the store-bought stuff is good for you and welcome to have around for snacking by even the most discerning gourmet. Still, there’s no match for the velvety-smooth handmade hummus served in restaurants like the Olive Bistro, the Mediterranean stalwart with locations in Midtown and Vinings; and Aziza, the modern Israeli restaurant on Atlanta’s Westside.

It’s not hard to make at home. And there’s no better time to give it a try than while holed up as we ride out the coronavirus pandemic. All you need is a pot, a food processor or high-powered blender, and a few inexpensive staples. I was already up to my elbows in hummus experiments just as the city began shutting down, and I’ve found the process a calming distraction and the results gratifying.

For the most basic hummus, I followed the instructions by the New York chef Einat Admony in her 2019 homage to her roots: “Shuk: From Market to Table, the Heart of Israeli Home Cooking” (Artisan, $35). I made batches of Wisteria’s Black-Eyed Pea Hummus, along with other creative versions that caught my eye in the latest crop of cookbooks: one with roasted beets topped with the spiced nut and seed topping called dukkah; one with frozen peas and sunflower seed butter; and one with black chickpeas and preserved lemons that aroused my curiosity enough to order the main ingredients online.

I’ve eaten them as a snack with pita and carrot sticks, and as an entree topped with spiced ground lamb as is customary in the Middle East. I’ve packed up extras to hand to neighbors while keeping our social distance.

We’ve included those recipes. 

And if all you’ve got is a plastic tub of the pre-made stuff?

Take a tip from Joe Yonan, food editor of The Washington Post, author of the cookbook “Cool Beans,” and self-described hummu-phile:

“Take it out of the fridge and bring it to room temperature, or microwave it a few seconds to take the chill off. Whisk in a little water so it’s not so sludgy, swoosh it in the center of a plate, and drizzle it with some good olive oil. It will taste so much better.”

>> RELATED: AJC’s review of “Cool Beans”

Perfectly Balanced Hummus

In “Shuk: From Market to Table, the Heart of Israeli Home Cooking” (Artisan, $35), Einat Admony writes that the key to achieving smooth, silky hummus is to simmer the soaked dried chickpeas with a little baking soda to help soften them. Some serious hummus buffs insist on skimming off the chickpea skins for an even airier texture, but others don’t bother, claiming it weakens the flavor and removes nutrients. Your choice. If you’re short on time, start with 5 cups of canned, drained chickpeas and proceed as directed.

Perfectly Balanced Hummus

  • 2 1/2 cups dried chickpeas, preferably small ones
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda, divided
  • 3/4 cup best-quality raw tahini
  • 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 2 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 2 garlic cloves, smashed
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
  • 6 tablespoons ice water, divided
  • Chopped fresh parsley (optional), for garnish
  • Sweet paprika (optional), for garnish
  • Classic Tahini Sauce (optional, see recipe), for serving
  • Harissa, store-bought or homemade (optional), for serving
  • Pick through the chickpeas and discard any little stones or peas that look very irregular in color or in shape. Rinse the chickpeas thoroughly under cold water. Transfer them to a large bowl and add cold water to cover them by 3 to 4 inches. Add 1/2 teaspoon of the baking soda. Soak for at least 12 hours and up to 24 hours.
  • Drain and rinse the soaked chickpeas under cold water until the water runs clear. Transfer the chickpeas to a large pot, pour in 3 quarts cold water, and add the remaining 1/2 teaspoon baking soda. Bring to a boil over high heat, reduce the heat to medium, and cook at a lively simmer, uncovered, for 1 to 1 1/2 hours. Use a slotted spoon to skim off any skins on the surface (the more skins you are able to remove, the smoother your hummus will be).
  • When the chickpeas are fully tender, but not yet getting at all mushy, scoop out about 1 cup and set aside to use as a garnish. Cook the rest of the chickpeas until they are completely soft, slightly broken down, and can easily be smushed with your fingers, another 20 minutes.
  • Fill a large bowl halfway with ice and water and set another large bowl on top. Drain the chickpeas and transfer them to the bowl. You should have about 5 cups (plus the reserved 1 cup). Let the chickpeas cool completely. Or, if you are not in a hurry, transfer the chickpeas to the fridge and chill them for a few hours or up to overnight. If you’re so inclined, you can pick off more skins at this point.
  • Put the chilled chickpeas in a food processor and add tahini, lemon juice, salt, a few twists of pepper, cumin, garlic, olive oil, and 2 tablespoons of the ice water. Puree until smooth. If the hummus seems too thick, add the remaining ice water a bit at a time and puree until smooth. Taste and adjust the seasoning. (If not serving at once, transfer to an airtight container and refrigerate for up to 2 days.)
  • To serve, gently reheat the reserved 1 cup cooked chickpeas. Spoon the hummus into shallow serving bowls (you may plate your hummus individually or serve it family-style), spreading it around the rim of the bowls, leaving a crater in the center. Add the warm cooked chickpeas to the crater (2 tablespoons for an individual serving or up to the full 1 cup for a large plate). Sprinkle with parsley, drizzle with oil, and very lightly dust with paprika. Serve at once with optional Classic Tahini Sauce and harissa. Serves 10-12 (makes about 4 1/2 cups).

Nutritional information

Per serving: one tablespoon: 50 calories (percent of calories from fat, 36), 2 grams protein, 6 grams carbohydrates, 1 gram fiber, 2 grams fat (trace saturated fat), no cholesterol, 81 milligrams sodium.

Classic Tahini Sauce

Drizzle this creamy, tangy sauce over hummus or roasted vegetables. Sauce will keep several days in the refrigerator, but garlic should be added fresh to order. Excerpted from “Shuk” by Einat Admony and Janna Gur (Artisan Books, $35).

Classic Tahini Sauce

  • 1 cup best-quality raw tahini
  • 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice, plus more to taste
  • Ice water
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more as needed
  • 1 small garlic clove, grated or minced
  • Pour the raw tahini into a medium bowl and add the lemon juice. Mix with a fork or a whisk until the color turns a shade lighter. The texture may become weird and lumpy; don’t worry, this is part of the process.
  • Gradually whisk in about 1/2 cup ice water. The sauce should turn smooth, velvety, and almost white. The 1/2 cup water will make a thick dip; whisk in another 1/4 cup or so to make a thinner sauce, if you’d like. Keep tinkering with water, lemon juice and tahini until you get a consistency and flavor you like.
  • Whisk in the salt and garlic; taste and adjust your seasonings. Makes about 1 cup.
  • Tip: If you’re making a large batch, use a food processor or blender to get a lovely, fluffy tahini spread. In this case, instead of ice water, use a couple of ice cubes to keep the temperature down while the motor is running, which will improve the color and the texture.

Nutritional information

Per serving: one tablespoon: 100 calories (percent of calories from fat, 72), 3 grams protein, 4 grams carbohydrates, 1 gram fiber, 8 grams fat (1 gram saturated), no cholesterol, 76 milligrams sodium.

Wisteria’s Black-Eyed Pea Hummus

Chef-owner Jason Hill of Wisteria gives hummus a Southern twist by substituting black-eyed peas for chickpeas and pairing it with homegrown flavors. You can soak the peas overnight to shave off a little time, but it’s not necessary.

Wisteria’s Black-Eyed Pea Hummus

  • 2 cups dried black-eyed peas, rinsed
  • 6 cups water, plus more, as needed
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • Pinch of black pepper
  • 1/2 cup tahini
  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
  • Juice of 2 to 3 lemons
  • 1 tablespoon (4 or 5 cloves) minced garlic
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • Pinch white pepper
  • Black sesame seeds and ground pink peppercorns for garnish
  • Sweet potato chips and pickled vegetables for dipping
  • Place the black-eyed peas in a medium pot, cover with water, and season with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil for about 5 minutes, reduce to a gentle simmer, and cook until beans are very soft, an hour or so, adding more water as necessary to keep the peas covered.
  • Drain the peas, reserving the liquid. Transfer to a sheet pan, and let cool to room temperature. Transfer to a food processor along with the tahini, olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, kosher salt and white pepper. Pulse in spurts until smooth. If it’s too thick, thin with some of the reserved liquid (or water). Chill until ready to serve.
  • Scoop onto a serving plate, drizzle with more olive oil, and sprinkle with black sesame seeds and pink peppercorns.
  • Serve with sweet potato chips and pickled vegetables, or crackers and crudites of your choice. Makes 5 to 6 cups.

Nutritional information

Per serving: one tablespoon, based on 5 cups: 35 calories (percent of calories from fat, 54), 1 gram protein, 3 grams carbohydrates, 1 gram fiber, 2 grams fat (trace saturated fat), no cholesterol, 129 milligrams sodium.

Black Chickpea Hummus with Black Garlic and Preserved Lemon

Joe Yonan includes an assortment of hummus recipes in “Cool Beans” (Ten Speed, $30). I was most intrigued by this one calling for black kabuli chickpeas, which he says have a super-nutty flavor and deep black color that turns brown as it cooks. He adds that black chickpeas sold as ceci neri in Italian specialty stores can also be used, as can the lighter-colored, smaller ones sold as kala chana in Indian stores, which I found at Patel Brothers supermarket in Decatur. Slightly sweet, umami-rich black garlic and tart, salty preserved lemon add extra elements of intrigue. I ordered both online — if you’ve never used them, they’re fun ingredients to play with in a multitude of recipes you’ll find in a Google search. As a vegetarian, Yonan likes to turn this into a main dish by swooshing it on a platter and topping it with roasted cauliflower seasoned with sumac.

Black Chickpea Hummus with Black Garlic and Preserved Lemon

  • 14 ounces dried black chickpeas, soaked overnight and drained
  • Water
  • 2 (3-by-5-inch) strips kombu (dried seaweed)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt, divided, plus more to taste
  • 1/2 cup tahini
  • 1/2 cup chopped preserved lemon, plus more for garnish
  • 4 black garlic cloves
  • 1/4 cup smoked olive oil (may substitute regular olive oil)
  • Flat-leaf parsley leaves, for garnish
  • Combine the chickpeas, 6 cups water, kombu and 1 teaspoon salt in a large pot over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to medium-low, and cook, covered, until the chickpeas are tender, 60 to 90 minutes. Let the chickpeas cool slightly (or refrigerate for up to 5 days), then drain the chickpeas, reserving the cooking liquid.
  • (You can also make this in a stovetop or electric pressure cooker. Bring to high pressure and cook for 25 minutes if using a stovetop model or 30 minutes if using an electric model, then turn off and let the pressure naturally release.)
  • Scoop out 1/4 cup or so of the chickpeas to save for garnish.
  • Combine the remaining chickpeas with 1 cup of the reserved cooking liquid, the remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt, tahini, preserved lemon, and garlic in a blender, preferably a high-powered one such as a Vitamix (or a food processor). Blend until smooth, adding more cooking liquid, 1/2 cup at a time, if needed to keep the mixture from stalling the blender. Continue adding liquid and blending until the mixture is creamy and light textured but not runny. (It should be the texture of thick cake batter.) You might need to use all of the cooking liquid. Taste and add more salt if needed.
  • To serve, dollop the hummus onto a large serving platter, use the back of a large spoon to swirl it around the plate, and drizzle with the olive oil. Garnish with the reserved chickpeas, preserved lemon, and parsley. Serve with bread, pickles and/or raw vegetables. Makes about 4 cups.

Nutritional information

Per serving: one tablespoon: 42 calories (percent of calories from fat, 43), 2 grams protein, 4 grams carbohydrates, 2 grams fiber, 2 grams fat (trace saturated fat), no cholesterol, 62 milligrams sodium.

Spiced Lamb Hummus

In the Middle East, hummus often becomes a main dish by topping it with a spiced meat mixture, usually beef or lamb. Tieghan Gerard offers her own quick and delicious take in “Half Baked Harvest: Super Simple” (Potter, $29.99).

Spiced Lamb Hummus

  • 1 pound lean ground lamb
  • 1 medium yellow onion, diced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced or grated
  • Zest of 1 lemon
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1/3 cup fresh parsley, chopped
  • 2 cups homemade or store-bought hummus
  • 1/4 cup feta or goat cheese, crumbled
  • Seeds from 1 pomegranate (optional)
  • Extra-virgin olive oil, handful of fresh herbs, and flatbread or pita chips for serving
  • In a large skillet, combine the ground lamb and onion and cook over medium-high heat, breaking up the lamb with a wooden spoon, until browned, 5 to 8 minutes. Add the garlic, lemon zest, cumin, paprika, oregano, cayenne and a pinch each of salt and pepper and saute until the lamb is cooked through, about 5 minutes more.
  • Remove the skillet from the heat and stir in the parsley. Taste and add more salt and pepper as needed.
  • Divide the hummus among 4 to 6 bowls and top with the lamb, feta, and pomegranate seeds (if desired), olive oil, and herbs. Serve with flatbread or chips for dipping. Serves 4 to 6.

Nutritional information

Per serving: based on 4: 467 calories (percent of calories from fat, 42), 47 grams protein, 23 grams carbohydrates, 9 grams fiber, 22 grams fat (4 grams saturated), 132 milligrams cholesterol, 654 milligrams sodium.

Sweet Pea and Sun Butter Hummus

This simple hummus tastes of spring, with frozen peas standing in for chickpeas and sunflower seed butter (found in natural foods sections) for the tahini. It’s a great way to get kids to eat their peas. It’s from Lauren Angelucci McDuffie’s “Smoke, Roots, Mountain, Harvest” (Chronicle, $29.95).

Sweet Pea and Sun Butter Hummus

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped onion
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 2 cups frozen peas, thawed
  • 3 tablespoons sunflower seed butter
  • 1 tablespoon chopped mint
  • 2 tablespoons sour cream
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • Heat the oil in a medium pan set over medium heat and saute the onions until they’re soft but not browned, 3 to 4 minutes. During the last minute, add the garlic, keeping it whole. Transfer the contents of the pan, oil included, to a food processor or blender. Add the peas, sunflower seed butter, mint, sour cream and salt, and blend until smooth and creamy.
  • Transfer the hummus to a small dish and serve with plenty of crackers and veggies. Makes 2 cups.

Nutritional information

Per serving: one tablespoon: 30 calories (percent of calories from fat, 64), 1 gram protein, 2 grams carbohydrates, trace fiber, 2 grams fat (trace saturated fat), trace cholesterol, 44 milligrams sodium.

Beet Hummus

This magenta-hued hummus from Susan Spungen’s just-published “Open Table” (Avery, $35) is a dazzler in color and taste. She infuses canned chickpeas with extra flavor by roasting them together with fresh beets and garlic, then adds fresh garlic to the final blend. Dukkah — the fragrant nut and spice mixture that follows — takes it over the top.

Beet Hummus

  • 2 (15.5-ounce) cans chickpeas
  • 3 medium beets (about 14 ounces), scrubbed, trimmed, peeled and quartered
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 3 large garlic cloves, peeled; divided
  • 1/4 cup tahini
  • Juice of 2 lemons (about 1/4 cup), plus more, to taste
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon coarse salt, plus more to taste
  • Extra-virgin olive oil
  • Hazelnut-Pistachio Dukkah (optional, see recipe)
  • Watermelon radish or other radish, optional
  • Flatbreads or crudites
  • Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Line a large baking sheet with foil.
  • Drain the chickpeas, reserve the liquid, and rinse thoroughly. Spread the chickpeas over the prepared baking sheet and top with the beets, plain olive oil and 2 of the garlic cloves. Wrap loosely (but seal tightly) with the foil and roast until the beets are tender when pierced with the tip of a knife, 30 to 45 minutes.
  • Transfer the chickpeas, beets and garlic to a food processor and process until smooth. Add the tahini, the remaining garlic clove, the lemon juice, cumin and salt. Process until smooth, adding enough of the reserved chickpea liquid (about 1/2 cup) to thin it to a smooth, creamy consistency. Add a little more than you think you’ll need, as it will thicken a bit as it cools. If you run out of cooking liquid, you can use plain water.
  • Adjust the lemon juice and salt to taste and refrigerate if not serving within a few hours. Thin with more bean liquid or water if needed, drizzle with extra-virgin olive oil, and serve with the dukkah (if using), radishes (if using) and flatbreads or crudites. Makes 4 cups.

Nutritional information

Per serving: one tablespoon: 29 calories (percent of calories from fat, 31), 1 gram protein, 4 grams carbohydrates, 1 gram fiber, 1 gram fat (trace saturated fat), no cholesterol, 60 milligrams sodium.

Hazelnut-Pistachio Dukkah

This savory nut and spice mixture adds a jolt of flavor and crunch to practically anything. If you can’t find hazelnuts, almonds will do the trick. This is also from “Open Kitchen” by Susan Spungen (Avery, $35).

Hazelnut-Pistachio Dukkah

  • 1/2 cup raw hazelnuts
  • 2 tablespoons coriander seeds
  • 1 tablespoon cumin seeds
  • 2 tablespoons white sesame seeds
  • 2 tablespoons black sesame seeds
  • 1/2 cup raw pistachios
  • 1 teaspoon flaky sea salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spread the hazelnuts on a small baking sheet and toast in the oven for 10 to 12 minutes, until the skins are starting to flake off and the nuts smell and look toasty. Transfer to a bowl, cover with a folded dish towel, and set aside to cool. Rub off the skins (don’t worry if they don’t come off completely).
  • Heat a small, dry skillet over medium heat and add the coriander and cumin seeds. Toast until fragrant and slightly darkened, 4 to 5 minutes. Transfer to a plate and add the white and black sesame seeds to the same pan. Toast until the white seeds are golden brown, 3 to 4 minutes.
  • Combine the hazelnuts, pistachios, coriander and cumin seeds, and white and black sesame seeds in a mortar and pestle or a mini food processor and grind until everything is broken up but not finely ground — the idea is to leave some texture. Stir in the salt and pepper. Cool completely and store in an airtight container. Makes 1 cup.

Nutritional information

Per serving: tablespoon: 74 calories (percent of calories from fat, 73), 2 grams protein, 3 grams carbohydrates, 1 gram fiber, 6 grams fat (1 gram saturated), no cholesterol, 119 milligrams sodium.

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