The best basic hummus

I am not a lunch person.

I love breakfast.  It's not hard to love a pot of sticky steel-cut oats bubbling on the stove, yogurt with fresh fruit, fruit smoothies, or roasted potatoes with a poached egg.  I love dinner, too.  I enjoy the time spent putting together a balanced meal and the time spent enjoying it with others.  But lunch is not my thing.  I end up snacking on random combinations of fruit, canned tuna, popcorn, peanut butter, and whatever vegetables are in my fridge far more often than I make a proper meal.  My solution is to make sure I have healthy snacks readily available for when 12:30 rolls around and I'm left staring into the pantry.

It's a daily struggle.  Nobody's perfect.

Hummus has been a long-time lunch staple for me when I'm on the go.  I love the smooth, creamy texture of store-bought hummus, but my stubborn I-can-do-this-myself chef-wannabe mind steps in and convinces me to make it myself instead of buying a tub each week.  And I've tried - several times - but it's never had the same dreamy, smooth-as-silk texture that the store-bought brands have.  I'm sure the fact that I was attempting to make hummus in a tiny, 2-cup food processor didn't help.  But now I know the secret: you have to skin the chickpeas.

Before you go thinking I'm totally off my rocker, let me assure you that this doesn't take that much time and it really is key to making hummus better than your favorite store brand.  That's right.  Trust me here.  Try it and you'll see.
Chickpeas, also known as garbanzo beans, are a nutrient-rich legume - one of the world's earliest cultivated legumes, actually.  It is extremely versatile in cooking and is filled with potential health benefits like weight management, better regulated blood sugar for those with diabetes, and potential prevention of heart disease and colon cancer as part of a balanced diet.  

Let's paint a picture: one cup of cooked chickpeas contains about 15 grams of protein and 12 grams of fiber.  These slow-digesting nutrients can help fill us up quickly and keep us full for hours, thus aiding in weight and appetite management.  There are two types of fiber that can be found in foods: soluble and insoluble.  Soluble fiber absorbs water and other materials in the gut, while insoluble fiber "sweeps" the digestive tract clean.  Chickpeas contain both soluble and insoluble fiber.  Both fibers take time to digest and leave the stomach more slowly than other foods, thus slowing digestion and the rate at which sugar is allowed to enter the bloodstream.  This can help create more stable blood sugars in those with diabetes.  Once in your intestines, the soluble fiber absorbs cholesterol and prevents it from entering your blood, which can help lower blood cholesterol levels over time.  Meanwhile, the insoluble fiber sweeps through the intestines like a broom to keep you regular (gross! Just kidding, we're honest here) and help prevent colon cancer. 

One cup of chickpeas also packs 71% of a woman's folate needs.  Folate is the nutrient that supports healthy spine development in a newly-forming fetus, and it is vital that women of childbearing age eat enough folate each day, just in case.  Chickpeas are also a good source of iron - about 5 mg per cup.

Nutritionally, canned chickpeas are not much different than dried, boiled chickpeas.  The main difference will be sodium.  Canned chickpeas can contain about 700 mg per cup - that's a lot when we're trying to stay under the recommended 2,300 mg per day.  If you have hypertension and are watching your salt intake, you can choose exactly how much salt goes into your hummus when you buy dry beans and boil them yourself or buy a brand of canned beans with no salt added.

Chickpeas with the skins removed.  Now you can get to blending that creamy hummus.

The best basic hummus
Serves 8 as an appetizer
Update: I've found that with a high-speed blender like a Vitamix, my hummus turns out super creamy even if I don't peel the chickpeas.

2/3 cup dry chickpeas (this is roughly equal to 1 15-ounce can)
1/4 cup tahini
2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
1 large clove garlic, minced
3/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cumin
4 Tbsp olive oil
3/4 cup reserved chickpea cooking water (or tap water if you used canned)
Olive oil and za'tar or paprika, to top
  1. Cover the dried chickpeas with plenty of water (at least 2 cups) in a medium saucepan and bring to a rapid boil.  Boil for 2 minutes, remove from heat, and let the beans soak for 2 hours.  Drain and rinse the beans, cover with fresh water, and simmer for 40-50 minutes or until tender.  Drain the beans again, this time reserving the cooking liquid to thin out the hummus with later.
  2. When the beans are cool enough to handle, carefully peel each one individually by gently squeezing it.  It should pop out of the thin skin fairy easily, but you may have to help some along by using your nail to cut the skin before squeezing.  This step is the key to a smooth, creamy hummus - it takes some time, but it's totally worth it.
  3. Place the peeled chickpeas in a food processor and pulse until they are coarsely ground.  Transfer to a large bowl.
  4. Put the tahini and lemon juice in the food processor and whirl for 30 seconds or so.  Add the garlic, salt, cumin, and oil and pulse to combine.  
  5. Add the ground chickpeas back to the food processor and run while adding the reserved cooking water until the entire mixture comes together.  Taste and adjust salt, cumin, lemon, and tahini to personal taste.  This is a great basic recipe that can be adjusted to emphasize the flavors you like - you can add roasted garlic, pine nuts, red pepper... the sky's the limit.
  6. Let the hummus sit in the refrigerator for 2 hours before serving, allowing all the flavors to meld together.  Top with olive oil and za'tar or paprika and serve alongside fresh, raw veggies and warm pita bread. 

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