Hummus is simple. Simple ingredients, simple method, simple eating. So I ask myself, “why do I find it hard to get it right!?!” Beyond the simple method, I see that there’s a special method to serving called ‘the swoop’.
I LOVE making and eating hummus, like I could live on it alone (with flatbread). It’s my desert island food. You can change it up so easily by adding different veggies and spices into it, with long roasted beets at the top of my list. However, as much as I looked to find the perfect recipe, and method, I kept on coming up with a good, but not great, final product.
I was a spoiled kid, who spent much of my early 20’s traveling around the world and was fortunate to have spent time in the Eastern Mediterranean and Middle East. I’ve eaten a load of amazing hummus, which is best found at small family restaurants where all the base ingredients are grown and produced within 5kms of the kitchen that I was eating from. I was young and naive and didn’t truly understand the level of freshness and complexity of flavours that I was dealing with, however the texture and flavour have not left my memory. I will one day get back to that part of the world, this time with my own kids to introduce them to the magical world of culture, history and food to be enjoyed throughout the oldest part of the civilized world. But until then, I’m going to do my best to recreate that magical Hummus, or as close to as I remember it.
As much as I enjoy and use information available online, and what’s in some of the most beautiful books available, I needed a lifeline. Nothing can be better than a professional to teach you how to cook, and help you along showing you the simple things that you’re doing wrong that add up to a less than awesome result. I wanted to know how to get my hummus as authentic as possible and figure out what the swoop was all about.
Enter Dallah El – This guy is the real deal, and quite possibly one of the most approachable and kind people I’ve met in a long time. I met Dallah while he was setting up his new super popular restaurant in Victoria, Superbaba, which is just down the block from Cook Culture in Vic. If you haven’t been, I highly recommend it and for those in Vancouver, there will be a Superbaba food truck in downtown by late Spring. Dallah has lived in Lebanon and Saudi Arabia, and learnt much of his Middle Eastern cooking methods from his Mom. I’m a huge fan of Mom and Grandmom cooking, so off we go.
Dallah came into our Howe Street kitchen to teach us his family method for making Hummus – or what he also calls ‘chickpea dip’ as he told me that Hummus translates directly to chickpea so he says that if you make Hummus without chickpea then it isn’t Hummus. Good to know.
By his instructions, I’d soaked the GRAIN chickpeas overnight and he set them off to boil with a few bay leaves and baking soda. This made sense as you want to add complex favours to Hummus, no? No. Dallah told me this was to eliminate the pungent aroma of cooking chickpeas. By adding bay leaves, the idea is that the wet dog smell that you get when cooking chickpeas will be greatly reduced.
So baking soda, good. What about salt? Dallah explained to me how baking soda breaks down the cell walls of the chickpeas, and salt will reinforce it. So use as needed. He put the chickpeas on the stove to cook, old school, as he is not a pressure cooker kind of guy. Fair, however in subsequent testing the results are identical using a pressure cooker.
The next step is where things completely diverted from any hummus recipe I’ve ever made. He made a Tahini sauce, with a load of lemon juice and lots and lots of garlic. I expected this to be way overpowering but he explained to me that the base of the lemon juice reacts with the garlic to take out the harsh bite. Awesome, everything that I love about garlic without the part that I don’t like! He also taught me to take out the germ, which is where the green stalk will grow from. He said that this is a pungent part of garlic that can make you feel sick.
Of course, we used a Vitamix A3500. Using this powerhouse, he quickly and easily taught me about the saucy consistency to finish the Tahini. The trick here was to use ice water, or very very cold water. This ensures that the sauce is light and fluffy and not dark and dense, which only adds to density when you add the chickpeas.
The end result was a dipping sauce that was perfect on its own. Sure, the chickpeas will take it up a notch but man was it good as is! He uses this Tahini sauce in his restaurant as a mainstay, and with good reason.
Enter the chickpeas. He rinsed them, took out the bay leaf and it was time to make Hummus. He slowly added them while he explained that the only way to get a velvety smooth finish, other than peeling the chickpeas, was to use a Vitamix, or any high powered blender. I didn’t need to be convinced of this. The last main point he had for me is that if smooth texture is your preferred result then add the chickpeas when they’re hot.
Once the hummus was made it was time for the legendary swoop. He tells me that there are two reasons for this. 1. Hummus is kind of ugly 2. To hold the olive oil.
He explained that there are many ways to do it but the concept is to manipulate the hummus so that you can layer in the olive oil so that when you dip your bread you get a healthy and even layer of olive oil. As you can see from the video, there is a simple but important method to this. From there you can top with whatever you have around, but it’s mostly nuts, seeds and spices.
Can I say Dallah changed my life? Yeah, I can. That is how much I like hummus. I love that it is a quick and simple, nutrient dense food which I can make in minutes (keep cooked or quality canned chickpeas). I can use a quality bakery bread (any Fol Epi bread goes very well with hummus), chopped veggies or make my own flatbread. I can feed my family fast and healthy food in a pinch, and a pinch is all I have some days.
My take-a-way: The focus on the Tahini sauce was missing from my method. I will never again follow an “add 3 tablespoons of Tahini” recipe again, and add lemon! Lots and lots of lemon! I hope these simple yet vital steps from Dallah will help you in your journey to the best Hummus ever! Check out the recipe and method here
A big thanks to Dallah for spending the afternoon with me in the kitchen. You can follow him on Instagram here: https://www.instagram.com/thedallah