Sunday, May 20, 2007


It is no small feat to get your chumus salad right. However, these days I make new portions for our household every week and I no longer am intimidated by the challenge. I have established a stable quality that has found wide praise and I have found the secret ingredient: ... naah, that would be telling. :)

I have browsed through many a cookbook, I have interviewed orientals in the neighborhood, who wouldn't want to be found dead with a bought chumus salad in their house, I have searched the internet and nobody mentions the ingredient I have discovered -- and I find it indispensable. If you want to get your salad right, nice and creamy, nothing that sits like concrete in the stomach, you are going to need it. All right, I am going to divulge it anyway, so let's go and mention it here and now: I get my salad right with ... water. Yes, water, as simple as all that. I suppose tap water will do, but I use bottled water, for what it is worth.
The problem is not with the chumus, that is the chickpeas (Nederlands: Kikkererwten), the problem is with the tchina, that is the tahin, the paste of sesame seeds. If you make chumus the way sephardi grandma's or Arab food stall owners tell you to do it, the tchina makes the salad lump like heavy dough. What, if you ask, makes the salad creamy, is either not answered or if it is, you will use too much of the additive: lemon juice or olive oil or the water in which the chickpeas were cooked (or held in case you use a can). Once it was even suggested you need to separate the peas from their skins. For one that was an awful lot of work, and second: it didn't make any difference.
You need lemon juice in chumus to lighten up the taste, but use too much and the lemon gets too dominant and the salad is too sour. Olive oil, I do not use at all. I may add it to a serving, but on the whole I try to keep the calories down in what I cook. Besides, oil doesn't make for creamy salad, it makes for oily salad, which is a different taste and also oily is heavier in the stomach -- what we wanted to prevent anyway.
Now, the chickpea brew... Here is what brought me to water. You see, the water from the can is salted, not so tasty, ripe with additives you may not like in home-cooking and ... Hey, I do not use canned peas anyway. I buy them dry, I soak them for half a day and then cook. What happens during cooking, is, apparently, some kind of starch gets separated from the peas into the water. If you allow the brew to stand and cool down you will see the starch thickening. Needless to say this is also heavy on the stomach. In addition, I have learned to cook the peas with baking powder (sodium bicarbonate) and I wouldn't want that in my food.
Hence, I tried my hand with water and it worked -- perfectly. So here goes. My recipe for around 500 grams of chumus salad.

250 grams dry chickpeas
200 grams tchina טחינה גולמית=
1 tea spoon salt
1 tea spoon ground cumin
1 clove of garlic
juice of 1 lemon
2 tea spoons sodium bicarbonate

Soak the peas at least 8 hours in water and one tea spoon sodium bicarbonate. Skim the foam that is separated from the peas. Note that while soaking, the peas make popping sounds. Don't go looking for a leaking tap, or a scurrying insect, the noise comes from the peas.
After soaking, cook the peas with lots of water and one teas spoon of sodium bicarbonate for circa 30 minutes. Right from the beginning there will be a lot of foam you'll need to skim away. Next, stir while cooking and observe how some pea skins come floating about. They are tasteless; if you have the patience, remove as many as you can. When the peas get the right taste and smell take them off the fire and throw them in a sieve and rinse with cold water.
Put the peas in a blender with salt, garlic and cumin. Make an initial blend. Add the tchina and blend again. The whole will develop into a thick dough. Start adding water and blend till you approach the correct texture. Then add the lemon juice. Blend again and taste. Maybe you will want to add just a tad more water and then you are done.