Ottolenghi meets Zahav: Introducing the ultimate hummus recipe

First there was Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi's recipe for hummus, published in  Jerusalem: a Cookbook in 2012. Then there was last year's sensation – the hummus tehina from Michael Solomonov and Steven Cook's Zahav: A World of Israeli Cooking, which just won the 2016 James Beard Book Award for Book of the Year. Finally, we had an easy way to make amazingly smooth, creamy and fabulous hummus, and America went nuts over it

Now that the excitement is simmering down, I started simmering up: I have at last (after receiving a review copy) given Solomonov's recipe my full attention and put it to the test. 

Yes, it is wonderful. But it's also somewhat more complicated than it needs to be. And there were a few minor issues. It needed more salt, and my chickpeas cooked much quicker than Zahav said they would. The recipe said they would be tender in about an hour; mine were falling apart after 25 minutes; 10 minutes later they were mushy to the point of being waterlogged, resulted in too-watery hummus. Covering the pot of chickpeas simmering over medium heat made the pot overflow the first time I tried it; next time I tried lower heat, but the same thing happened. 

I wondered: How did this differ from Ottolenghi and Tamimi's recipe? So I went back to that one for guidance. They didn't cover the pot. And their estimated time to tenderness was "between 20 and 40 minutes, depending on the type and freshness" of the chickpeas, "sometimes even longer." 

Aha. Two great recipes. How about synthesizing them, taking the best, most thoughtful aspects of each? The goal was to achieve maximum flavor and amazing creamy texture with a minimum of time and effort. (Of course if you want a quickie cheater version using canned garbanzos, you can do that, too.)

The thing that probably makes Solomonov's recipe brilliant for a restaurant actually makes it cumbersome for the home cook: It calls for 1 1/2 cups "basic tehina sauce," which you have to make first. The recipe for it – a whole separate recipe – yields 4 cups.  That's great for a restaurant doing serious volume, but silly for a home cook making one batch – which is already a ginormous amount of hummus. Ottolenghi's recipe simply has you put those ingredients (tahini, garlic, lemon juice) directly into the food processor without making a separate sauce first. However, Solomonov's recipe, in breaking out the tahini sauce separately, does something clever: He has you drop whole cloves of garlic into lemon juice, pulverize them together in a blender, let the mixture sit and mellow for 10 minutes, then you press it through a fine sieve and discard the solids. It's the mellowly garlic-infused lemon juice that goes into the tahini. 

Great effect, but it's kind of a pain in the butt. I found a compromise: While the chickpeas are simmering, you crush the garlic through a press into lemon juice and let it sit and mellow till the chickpeas are tender. No need for straining, pressing, discarding. 

So here's how it goes: You soak the chickpeas overnight, with a teaspoon of baking soda to start breaking down the garbanzo skins so you get that amazingly smooth texture. Next day drain and rinse them, and simmer them (uncovered) in a lot of water with another teaspoon of baking soda. Drain them and purée in a food processor. With the motor still running, add tahini, the lemon juice-and-crushed-garlic mixture, salt and a few tablespoons of ice water. And let it run and run – until the hummus is incredibly smooth, creamy and light. 

Wow, is it incredible – wonderfully warm, nutty and vibrant. It almost seems alive.  You will be licking your spoons and rubber scrapers like a kid with Tollhouse cookie dough. Such a simple food, and such an amazing one.