By the end of December, most people have consumed enough cookies and candy and other calorific holiday treats to be ready for a change of pace. A change of pace isn’t the same as a 180, though: A New Year’s Eve party is no setting for rabbit food. Still, the night calls for hearty yet healthy snacks that won’t compound everyone’s feeling of post-holiday sluggishness. Hummus fits the bill perfectly.
With origins in the Middle East, hummus made its way into U.S. homes and restaurants thanks both to Israeli expats and American Jews (who encountered the chickpea dip on visits to the homeland) and to Arab immigrants who brought recipes from Lebanon, Kuwait, Egypt, and elsewhere. Indeed, the popularity of hummus throughout the Middle East has been seen, perhaps a tad dubiously, as “a glimmer of hope for reconciliation” between Palestinians and Israelis. As hummus’s popularity in America has skyrocketed over the past few years, though, whatever peace-bringing properties it possesses have been corrupted: There’s nothing hopeful about “Buffalo Style Hummus.”
Even without such unfortunate flavoring, mass-produced, store-bought hummus is a pathetic imitation of the real thing, thanks to canola oil (a cheap but flavorless replacement for extra-virgin olive oil) and citric acid (a preservative that tacks an unpleasant tang onto the end of each bite). Homemade hummus is so easy, so inexpensive, and so many orders of magnitude better than the kind in a plastic tub that, in a just and rational world, Big Hummus would be out of business.
All it takes to make hummus are a few easy-to-find ingredients—chickpeas, olive oil, lemons, and garlic among them. Tahini, which is sesame-seed paste, is another key component—the dish’s standard name in Arabic translates as, simply, “chickpeas with tahini”—though what no one ever tells you about hummus is that you can use peanut butter or another nut butter and it will still be delicious. (Just be sure to buy the so-called natural kind—that is, the kind with no added sugars or hydrogenated oils.) Hummus purists may balk, but peanut butter is usually quite a bit cheaper than tahini—a non-negligible consideration for many, especially after holiday spending sprees.
You’ll also want paprika to give hummus its characteristic warm flavor. Pimentón, which is paprika made from peppers that have been smoked before being pulverized, elevates hummus to an entirely new level of addictiveness—but you can use regular paprika if you’re not crazy about smokiness.
After procuring your ingredients, all that really remains to do is to mash (or to press a button, if you’ve got a food processor or blender). Hummus texture is a matter of personal preference. Some like it as silky-smooth as yogurt, but it can be excellent on the other side of the spectrum, too. I tend to like it somewhere in the middle—rough, but not alienating, like The National’s early stuff.
What’s important is not the texture of your hummus, but the fact that you made it from scratch. Include homemade hummus in your New Year’s festivities, and you’re guaranteed to emerge with your dignity intact, no matter what else you indulge in.
Smoked Paprika Hummus
Yield: About 5 cups (10 to 15 servings)
Time: 20 minutes
6 garlic cloves, chopped
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2½ teaspoons pimentón (smoked paprika) or other paprika
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon black pepper
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
4 cups drained cooked chickpeas, cooking liquid reserved
1 cup tahini, peanut butter, or other nut butter
⅓ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
1. Put the garlic, 2 tablespoons of the oil, 2 teaspoons of the pimentón, and the salt, black pepper, and cayenne in a large bowl, food processor, or blender. Mash or process until relatively smooth.
2. Add the chickpeas, tahini, and lemon juice, and mash or process until the hummus is uniform in texture and as smooth as you like it, adding the reserved garbanzo cooking liquid or water as needed if the mixture is too thick. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Sprinkle the remaining ½ teaspoon pimentón over the hummus, drizzle with the remaining 1 tablespoon oil, and serve immediately (or cover and refrigerate for up to a week).
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