Saturday, August 06, 2011

Let's Talk About Hummus

I was a chef at a restaurant, one of the greatest experiences of my life. The kind of experience that has left me in memory debt to someone I despise. I could not have done it without him. Why did he have to destroy it? Why could he not learn to understand the nature of work, of its necessity? When a father buys his son a restaurant to teach him about business, or the world in general, he also purchases the heartbreak of those who do the work, and love the work, and love each other in and through the work, who also, desperately, need the work, and there it is, that's the point at which the edifice crumbled. He didn't need the work. He knew all along he could cry, “Daddy!” and Daddy would come and rescue him, like a new father reaches under the armpits of his young child and lifts him up from a phantasm of danger. “There, there” he says, “It'll be all right.” Meanwhile real working people go a looking for another job.

But we had real customers too, and many of them remained loyal throughout, even when the idiot boss's idiot friends might have drunkenly hollered racial slurs across the dining room, or at other times, rolling on the floor, making threats, have then thrown an arm around the shoulders of a complete stranger, a father, with family, to tell him how sorry, how really, really sorry he is to have been such a problem.

One such loyal customer emailed me the other week to ask about my hummus. He loved my hummus. I was proud to reply, and such as it is, my reply to him lies below. There is no exact recipe there, but you won't need one.


Dear Matthew,

I'm always willing to talk hummus. Ah, Petra. I loved that place almost as much as I hated it.

The main thing to remember with hummus is that it is simple as hell. Garbanzo beans, tahini, lemon juice, garlic, salt, pepper and olive oil. The tahini is probably the biggest X factor. I think I probably put about two tablespoons to one can of beans, more or less. Tahini is a weird substance, and different brands will be very different, and it isn't cheap, but it goes a long way. Tahini will contribute hugely to the thickness and consistency of your hummus. It is also super good for you.

Other factors will be whether or not you use the liquid in the can to lube the spinning beans, or a little water. This will change depending on the brand of bean. Some of them are dryer out of the can than others. If you like very lemony hummus, the lemon juice will be enough to get the beans spinning.

Something very important is that you use fresh lemons. I have one of those Mexican citrus squeezers so I can just cut the lemons and squeeze them right into the hummus. The amount of lemon juice will be a huge flavor factor, and once you decide how much you tend to like in your hummus, will be a defining aspect. I like a good amount in mine, but I don't like to make it outright lemony. That being said, when I'm eating someone else's hummus that IS outright lemony, I tend to enjoy it a lot, but still, when I make it at home, I don't make lemony hummus.

Garlic can ruin the party, literally. You're putting it in raw, so consider that you want it to be there, but you don't want guests burping garlic in each other's faces all night. However, when I'm making hummus just for myself, when I plan to be at home alone, I put in a shit-ton of garlic.

You can add olive oil right to the mix, put it on top, or leave it out. A good fruity olive oil can absolutely put your hummus over the top. A less flavorful oil will just smooth it out a little without adding much flavor.

Here's something to try, and it might help you get your head around the flavors. Make tahini sauce. Put at least a tablespoon of tahini in a bowl. You're going to add water, lemon juice, garlic, salt and pepper in such a proportion that the tahini becomes smooth and a bit wet. You should be able to drizzle it. I think this is one of the most underrated sauces in the world. Good on meats, good on vegetables, good on the finger. Tahini sauce is essentially hummus without chick peas.

Do you have a food processor, or are you using a blender? Blenders make shitty hummus I hear. I have never tried to use one.

[additional notes: Tahini is a paste of ground sesame seeds. Also, if you can find ground sumac, sprinkle some on top. It adds a nice pungent, citrus flavor. It's also good for seasoning meat.]