Hummus from the heart
I was at a family lunch recently when the conversation turned to hummus. Before this, my mum had been telling my cousins and me our grandfather's incredible life story. As we listened with amazement to the twists and turns of his early life, we nibbled on warm pitta smeared with creamy, nutty hummus.
When my mum had finished the story, our full attention turned to what we were eating and a debate started about how to create the perfect hummus. Things got heated and big questions were posed: what's the right ratio of chickpeas to tahini? Do you blend the chickpeas coarse or smooth? Lemon or no lemon? Everyone had a different opinion.
That family lunch was one I always want to remember for lots of reasons, and this hummus recipe will keep it alive in my memory. It's a combination of the passionate views expressed at the table and creates a fusion that I think is perfection.
Making your own hummus is so easy. And while shop bought varieties can be heaving with salt, additives and preservatives, the stuff you make yourself will only contain whole foods. You can also experiment with methods (like sprouting, as I do here) to increase its nutritional benefits and different ingredients to find the flavours and consistency you like best.
I won't try to deny that hummus with freshly baked, fluffy white pitta is one of life's great pleasures. But there are other ways to eat hummus that are equally delicious and provide more nutrients, a more sustained energy release and better digestion. Try with salad, carrot, pepper and celery sticks or on dark rye toast or whole grain crackers.
Hummus and nutrients
In the Middle East, hummus is traditionally eaten for breakfast as an energy dense meal to set you up for the day. As chickpeas are a good source of protein and fibre, they support blood sugar balance and keep you fuller for longer. Their high fibre content also aids healthy digestion and supports cholesterol balance.
Chickpeas are a phytoestrogenic food. Phytoestrogens are substances that can mimic or inhibit the effects of the female sex hormone oestrogen in the body. The gently phytoestrogenic properties of chickpeas may support the balance of oestrogen levels in women, so including them in your diet (along with other hormone balancing foods) could help reduce PMS symptoms or support post-menopausal hormone balance.
Tahini, an essential ingredient in hummus, is made from ground sesame seeds. These small white seeds are a fantastic source of calcium making them ideal for dairy-free diets. Sesame seeds also have good levels of protein and other minerals including zinc and magnesium.
Soak 'n' sprout
Soaking legumes such as chickpeas is an important step in their preparation. Soaking helps to remove phytic acid, making the precious minerals in the legumes available for us to absorb. It also gets legumes ready for sprouting and reduces cooking time. Soak for 8-12 hours in plenty of clean water for best results.
Sprouting chickpeas before cooking them is a method my cousin's husband uses in his hummus to increase nutritional benefits and make them even more digestible. Once sprouted, you can also use the chickpeas raw, as I have done here. The raw chickpea sprouts have a grassy flavour and crunchy texture, a bit like raw peas. Sprouting transforms the dried chickpeas into live plants, and this boosts their protein, B vitamin and vitamin C content. Watching your sprouts appear and grow is also pretty fun!
The right balance
I like my hummus creamy, so I've gone for my cousin's 50/50 ratio of chickpeas to tahini, but you can experiment with this to find your own perfect balance. My mum's hummus is always lemony, which I love, so I've added lemon juice for taste and an additional hit of vitamin C. I've kept to one clove of garlic, but you could try more (although it may be a bit anti-social).
Makes a big plate - around 4 servings
1/2 cup dried chickpeas
1/2 cup light tahini (mix well as the oil naturally separates)
Juice of half a lemon
1 large clove of garlic
2 tbsp pine nuts
1/4 tsp smoked paprika
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil plus a bit extra for drizzling
6 tbsp water (room temperature)
Generous pinch of sea salt (adjust to taste)
Soak the chickpeas in a bowl with plenty of clean water overnight or for 8-12 hours. Use enough water to completely cover them. After soaking rinse well and place in a large colander with a plate underneath. Keep out of direct sunlight and cover with a clean tea towel. Rinse the chickpeas 3 times a day (every 6-8 hours). After a day or so the chickpeas will begin to sprout. Continue the rinsing process for another day or two, or until the shoots are more developed. Rinse the sprouted chickpeas well and discard any skins that have come away. Reserve 2 tbsp of the sprouted chickpeas for the garnish and put the rest in a food processor with the tahini, crushed garlic clove, lemon juice, olive oil, salt and water. Blend until completely smooth.
Mix the reserved chickpeas and pine nuts with the paprika and toast on a low heat in a pan for a minute or two until the pine nuts turn lightly golden.
Put the hummus in a dish, sprinkle the chickpeas and pine nuts on top and drizzle with olive oil. Serve with rye toast, crackers, veg sticks or whatever you like!