Hummus – hippie, healthy and yummy

Foods come and go, and foods come and stay. Think of the meat and potatoes Canadian diet before pizza, pasta, stir-fries, curries and quiche added their variety and zing to our daily eats. And when you’re casting your thoughts over this menu, think of hummus. 


Two versions of hummus - the smooth one on left served with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, and the whole chickpea version on the right. See below for both recipes.

Two versions of hummus - the smooth one on left served with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and a few oil-cured black olives, and the whole chickpea version on the right. See below for both recipes.



It must have been the 60s when I first tasted the smooth chickpea dip. This was the decade when dipping went mainstream. Savvy hosts were moving beyond the bowl of French onion soup mix combined with sour cream, surrounded by potato chips ( a 50s innovation)  – moving onto the vegetable crudite platter, and the beginning of an appreciation of ethnic food. Fuelling an appetite for new cuisines was travel, immigration and an aspect perhaps not so well known, the Time Life series, Foods of the World. It was in the Middle Eastern Cooking volume that many of us were introduced to hummus. And then as the decade moved on and morphed into the 70s, the dip became part of the back to the land, all-natural, granola and whole grain phase – hippie food.

Every once in a while I get a real craving for hummus – not that I was ever a hippie, having missed being a boomer by a few years. I just like it.  And yes, I know hummus is available in 250 mL tubs in supermarkets everywhere, and I can go out and buy a tub to calm my desire for hummus. But when it comes to hummus, you can’t beat fresh, homemade. That way the cook gets to add more lemon or garlic, and save money doing so. 

A Fine Bowl of Hummus

I’m sure the arrival of the food processor had its impact on the spread of hummus. Whizzing up a batch is a whole lot easier with the processor’s speedy blade. No hand mashing or pressing through a food mill. But there is one time when I like to stop the blade, and that’s when it comes to adding the garlic. Whirling garlic in the processor can bring out its bitterness, so I recommend chopping garlic cloves finely and stirring them into the finished hummus. Even then, choose the best fresh firm garlic you can find, and if the cloves are doing what garlic does in the spring, i.e. sprout, halve each bud lengthwise and remove the bitter green sprout. 

1 can (19 oz/540 mL) chickpeas, drained and rinsed

1/2 cup (125 mL) cold water (approx)

1/2 cup (125 mL) tahini*

1/3 cup (75 mL) fresh lemon juice

1 tsp (5 mL) salt

1 tbsp (15 mL) extra virgin olive oil

1 tbsp (15 mL) finely minced garlic (3 large cloves)

. Combine all of the ingredients except the garlic in the bowl of a food processor. Whirl until smooth, scraping down the side of the bowl several times to ensure an even smooth paste. Add more water for a thinner hummus. Stir in garlic. (Make-ahead: Scrape into an airtight container, cover and refrigerate for up to 3 days.) 

. Makes about 2-1/2 cups (625 mL) hummus.

Tip: If you like to accentuate the sesame flavour, drizzle in a little dark sesame oil with the olive oil.

Hummus Variations

. Cumin Hummus: Add 1 to 2 tsp. (5 to 10 mL) ground cumin and a dash of hot pepper sauce to hummus.

. Roasted Red Pepper Hummus: Whirl 1/2 cup (125 mL) chopped roasted red pepper and a splash of hot pepper sauce with the chickpeas and other ingredients. Jarred flame-roasted red peppers are a handy ingredient to keep in the fridge. 

. Hummus with Herbs: Add 1/4 cup (50 mL) finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley to finished hummus.

. Other Legumes Hummus: Substitute white kidney beans for the chickpeas. 

* All About Tahini: This is the secret to hummus appeal. Tahini is the ground paste of sesame seeds and is available wherever Persian, Lebanese, Israeli  – Middle Eastern and healthfood groceries are sold. In my local supermarket, tahini is available in the aisle of  international dry goods. Since the oil tends to rise to the top, a lot like natural peanut butter, you need to stir tahini thoroughly before measuring. 

To Go with the Hummus: Pita bread, warmed and served in a covered basket is what to order at a Middle Eastern restaurant such as the Jerusalem Restaurant in Toronto. Like tahini, pita bread is now available in grocery chains. To turn pita bread into crisp dippers, or the base on which to spread hummus, the breads need to be split in half, then brushed on the rough cut side with olive oil and seasoned,  if you like with a sprinkle of dried oregano or thyme. Toast on a rimmed baking sheet in a 400°F (200°C) oven just until crisp and browning around the edge, about 5 minutes. Or, grill outside on the barbecue until grill marks make a nice pattern on both side, about 2 minutes per side. Cut the rounds smartly into wedges and serve hot, or cool to serve later. Choose whole grain pita breads for extra nutrition.

Here’s where healthy comes in. Carrot sticks or slices make the most reasonable dippers, and there’s celery, jicama, fennel, endive spears, hearts of romaine, broccoli or rutabaga sticks for variety. 

The Many Ways with Hummus

So, a big tub of homemade hummus chills in the fridge.

.Serve it with celery sticks or crackers for after-school snack.

. Pack with vegetables for lunch as a change from sandwiches.

. Put a bowl out on the table to spread on baguette instead of butter.

. For company, serve a bowl of hummus with a drizzle of olive oil and sprinkle of black cured olives as a living-room appetizer with a glass of wine.  

. Add a nice spoonful of hummus to a grilled veggie burger, or slathered on grilled portobello mushrooms tucked into a pita bread.

. If you have a panini or sandwich press, a grilled or roasted vegetable salad with hummus is a bit of heaven.

. Then, there’s always the option of going to the fridge with a cracker and dipping into the bowl of hummus for a bit of a private chickpea pick-me-up.

Whole Chickpea Hummus

There is a Syrian version of hummus made with whole chickpeas in Madhur Jaffrey’s World Vegetarian (Potter, $62.00). The recipe below, adapted from  hers, is not pureed, rather a chickpea salad accented with garlic and lemon, as in hummus, but with the addition of chopped tomatoes and flat leaf parsley. You can include it in an antipasto tray or incorporate it into a lunch with feta or creamy goats cheese, pita breads and olives.

2 large cloves garlic

1/2 tsp (2 mL) salt

3 tbsp (45 mL) extra virgin olive oil

2 tbsp (30 mL) fresh lemon juice

Pinch cayenne

1 can (19 oz/540 mL) chickpeas, drained and rinsed

1/2 cup (125 mL) chopped cherry tomatoes

2 tbsp (30 mL) minced fresh flat-leaf parsley

. Chop the garlic coarsely on a cutting board. Sprinkle with salt and with a fork or angled blade of knife, mash the garlic and salt together to make a fairly smooth paste. Scrape into a medium bowl. Add olive oil, lemon juice and cayenne; stir well to combine flavours. Stir in chickpeas. (Make-ahead: refrigerate, covered, for up to 1 day.)

. Add tomatoes and parsley; stir to combine.

. Makes about 2 1/2 cups (625 mL) salad, enough for 4 modest servings. 


Chickpea Thrift

While canned chickpeas make hummus in a hurry, on a day when you have a little more time you can cook a batch of chickpeas from scratch, measure them into  2-cup (500 mL) amounts – the quantity in 19 oz (540 mL) can, and freeze them so they’re handy for hummus, salads, chilis, curries and stews.

Here’s how: measure 2 cups (500 mL) dried chickpeas into a large saucepan. Cover with 3 times their volume of cold water. Let soak for 12 to 24 hours, or  for a quick soak, cover and bring to the boil. Reduce heat slightly and boil for 2 minutes; remove from heat and lets soak for 1 hour. If you want to remove chickpea skins, rub peas together in the water. The skins will rise to the top of the water. Skim off the skins. Drain and rinse chickpeas.

Combine chickpeas with 3 times their new expanded volume of cold water. Bring to the boil, cover and simmer until the chickpeas are tender, depending on the age of the dried chickpeas, anywhere from 45 minutes to 1 hour 30 minutes. Drain, discarding cooking water. 

Makes about 6 cups (1.5 L) cooked chickpeas.

Tip: If you use your own cooked chickpeas in recipes calling for canned, you may want to increase the salt slightly.