Hummus is fundamental throughout the Middle East, where it’s often the focal point of a meal and entire careers are dedicated to its craft. A great version is so silky that it can be poured off a spoon and exhibits vivid yet balanced tahini flavor, garlic presence that’s prominent but never “garlicky,” and a lemony backbone that’s tart without being sour.
And here’s the best part: Superlative hummus requires only a little more time and effort to make than that lunch box stuff. Here’s my component-by-component approach.
How you treat the chickpeas impacts the consistency of hummus more than any other factor, because they are firm (even when cooked) and covered in tough skins.
My most effective tricks were overcooking them and removing their skins. It takes hours to soak and simmer dried chickpeas, but simmering canned beans took about 20 minutes. (There’s no shame here: Dried and canned beans are equally good in this recipe.) I also added baking soda to the saucepan, which raised the water’s pH and helped the skins break down and slip off. By the end of cooking, there was a “raft” of skins floating on the surface that was easy to remove by draining and rinsing the beans a few times.
Tahini is hummus’s major source of richness and flavor and significantly affects its consistency. Brand and color matter here, since the tahini’s shade indicates how much the sesame seeds have been roasted. Lighter tahini, made with lightly roasted sesame seeds, tastes distinct but mild, whereas darker tahini, made with heavily roasted sesame seeds, is unpleasantly bitter.
One thing I discovered: It’s important to process the other hummus ingredients before adding the tahini. That’s because its proteins readily absorb water and clump, resulting in overly thick hummus. Processing the other ingredients without the tahini allows the water to disperse throughout the mixture; then, when the tahini is eventually added, its proteins can’t immediately absorb the water and clump, and the hummus doesn’t become stiff.
Water is often added to enhance the spread’s creaminess. I started with 1/4 cup and, depending on the consistency of the tahini and the hummus itself (it thickens as it sits), added more water by the teaspoon.
Typically, all the fat in hummus comes from tahini, but 2 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil made my version especially silky. To avoid overprocessing the oil, which can release bitter-tasting compounds, I added it with the tahini.
Instead of incorporating garlic directly into the hummus as most recipes do, I briefly steeped a few minced cloves in lemon juice, strained and discarded them, and added only the infused juice to the dip—a technique from chef Michael Solomonov’s popular hummus recipe and one that we’ve used in the past for Caesar dressing. The juice’s acid neutralizes alliinase, the enzyme that creates garlic’s harsh flavor. That way, we capture some—but not too much—of the garlic’s sharp, raw bite and strain out the pulpy bits.
The ultrasmooth, tahini-forward version of this spread is fundamental throughout the Middle East. We crown it with a vibrant spiced walnut topping.
The ultrasmooth, tahini-forward version of this spread is fundamental throughout the Middle East. We crown it with a topping of spiced beef and pine nuts.