Hummus has reportedly been around since Biblical times. Much like pizza, which has possible origins but no certain genesis, hummus is a pre-state, nearly pre-historical food. As such it admits of great variation—or it ought to.
Pizza has been interpreted in so many ways as to be nearly unrecognizable in some expressions. (Smh at you, Germanophones. Gefroren “Mickey Mouse Pizza Salami”?) But hummus suffers a staid orthodoxy: chickpea-based, maybe some pine nuts or roasted red peppers. The variations are few and obvious. It needn’t be this way, but it will be up to us to redeem it.
I’ve been making hummus since I was in college. Early ’90s veganism made homemade hummus indispensable. My Iraqi professor told me to add soy sauce and olive oil to it while blending. I made it with these and conventional ingredients for years before seeing white bean and basil hummus on a Soho (NYC) menu. I never tried that, but the idea of changing everything about the formula stuck. The only constants should be beans and nut butter, the axes of vegan protein intake.
I have to insist on a couple of things, though, if you want optimal results. You must use a Cuisinart. No blenders, janky French mills, weird juicers or second-rate food processors. I read in some long-lost book about making sprouted wheat bread that a Cuisinart must be used for blending the dough, because it had the best blade-to-bowl size impact ratio. (?!) Regardless, anything else I’ve tried does not yield a creamy hummus. And don’t moan about the price. You’ll have a Cuisinart for at least 2 decades and if you have a smartphone, it’s silly to complain about a $179 tool you’ll use for half your life while holding something that costs three times as much and barely outlives an inchworm.
You should almost certainly use a pressure cooker—it’s not necessary, but is vastly more efficient than boiling beans at atmospheric pressure. And whichever beans you use, they must be dried. (Fresh is probably even better but I’ve never tried that…note to self.)
I have thrown practically everything in hummus and usually it works great. You can also pair it with different foods so that it never gets boring. If you’d rather make it in bulk, it freezes just fine. As I write this, I’m eating it with Korean seasoned bonnet bellflowers. Here are some of my standard variations, but I encourage you to experiment.
Ground sumac berries and caramelized onions—I used to drizzle extra virgin olive oil and some smoked paprika on the top after stippling it into overlapping micro-wells with a spoon, but you really can’t beat ground sumac berries and caramelized onions. The berries are tart, lemony, astringent with an interesting granular texture, and the onions are smoky, chewy, a little plasticky – plus they trap all the oil so you don’t have to bring that along too. These toppings are best applied right before eating, as the berries become sodden and insipid and the onions soggy after a few hours on the wet hummus.
Caramelize onions by sautéing them in olive oil—as soon as the pan hits the flame, add salt. You’ll need a lot, about a tablespoon for 5 medium yellow onions. The salt leaches the moisture from the onions and speeds evaporation. Give it 45 minutes, stirring occasionally for even browning. If you do it right you can keep them at room temperature, but leave in any moisture and they’ll mold in a few days.
If it’s around, I sprinkle some nutritional yeast on too. This treehugger at Treehugger was just recommending nutritional yeast with garbanzo beans among 10 other things, so you know it’s good…for nutrition (esp. B12) and taste.
If you tipple, I suggest a stout with hummus. You won’t believe what happens when the caramelized onions and sumac hit the bitter chocolate smokiness of a Guinness. I think other beers might get lost; a porter, brown ale, Canadian or Belgian ale might soldier through tho.
Now the production:
3 c. cooked beans
Adzuki, Baby Lima, Black, Navy, Northern, Garbanzo all work great. Baby Lima has lower yields but is mad creamy.
1/4 c. nut butter
I think tahini is best, for both consistency and flavor. I don’t think sunflower seed butter worked. Other nut butters are either prohibitively expensive, less nutritious, or both.
Juice of one tart citrus
Lemon, lime, calamansi, etc. Flavors and preserves
1/2 oz med/light vinegar
Apple Cider is best, white balsamic also OK. Palm, rice wine and herb vinegars less desirable. Darker vinegars have overwhelming flavors
4 tbsp red miso
White hasn’t enough flavor. Miso has a great harmonizing and preservative effect on hummus; hummus will ferment before it goes bad—a different kind of tasty, more zippy & tangy. I ate 3c at once, quite safe.
Extra virgin olive oil is healthier & tastier than virgin for non-heated food applications.
2-3 cloves garlic (by size)
Too much garlic, while nice, overpowers other flavors. The miso is capable of integrating it nonetheless given 2-3 days’ time.
1-2 tbsp cayenne pepper
Cayenne is not only a preservative, but very health-promoting. Its spiciness helps distinguish the flavor of other ingredients, or give them some definition. A small amount (at the least) of it in everything you cook improves it.
1 tbsp black pepper
Fermented fish sauce or anchovy paste
These add an indescribable umami, but are Dead Sea salty, so use w/ care. The miso & caramelized onions are already salting it up hard.
These are the base ingredients and their variations, but the real magic is in the spices and condiments. Below is a table of combinations that worked, which I plan to update as I find new formulae. The best way to season hummus is to add things while blending it; give a good 30 seconds of blending to each batch of ingredients to be sure they meld thoroughly.
Baby Lima Bean + horseradish (2 tbsp) (fresh grated or jarred in vinegar) + fresh dill (one handful chopped)
Black Bean + cumin (1 tsp) + fresh parsley (handful chopped) + black pepper + lime (not lemon) + beer (bitter, e.g. Czech pilsner, 3 oz.) + a couple drops of hickory smoke flavoring
Garbanzo bean + Worcestershire sauce + cumin (1 tsp)
Soak 3 cups beans in fresh-boiled water for 12 hours. Change water once, rinse, repeat for a total of 24 hours. This is key to leaching of, or degrading indigestible compounds from, all beans and grains.
Cooking & blending
Cook beans in pressure cooker for 10-15 minutes with 3 medium-size bay leaves (bay leaves help extract the remaining aluminum salts and oligosaccharides from beans, and impart a nice flavor). Let cool or rinse, I’m not sure which is best, but I never put hot beans in the bowl. (If there’s BPA in the bowl’s plastic, that’s a cancer bonus.) Add to Cuisinart bowl with the primary ingredients and blend while you assemble the secondary ones.
Then have fun adding them to taste! Salud!