More than just a dip
Hummus has become part of our national diet.
While it is not the staple food it is in Israel, supermarket fridges up and down the UK brim with the chickpea-packed paste.
However, according to Christian Mouysset and Ronen Givon — owners of Hummus Bros Levantine Kitchen — what we can buy here is a far cry from the real deal.
In their book of the same name — published this week — the pair term supermarket hummus as “sour slurry, seasoned with preservatives and solid enough to re-tile the bathroom”.
“Hummus is a very sensitive product and deteriorates quickly if you make it freshly. As soon as you add lemon to tahini it starts to change, so that it is not as good even the next day. So manufacturers add preservatives, which makes it taste totally different,” explains Israeli-born Givon.
And Givon and Mouysset should know: each night, from 10pm until 8am, their chefs churn out 200kg of it to sell in their four central London Hummus Bros eateries; getting through an impressive three to four tonnes of chickpeas each month.
“First they must sort through the chickpeas, then boil them with bicarbonate of soda. The bicarbonate speeds up the softening process. Once they are soft, they are ground with tahini,” explains Mouysset.
The hummus is made to a recipe developed by the duo — who are not actually brothers — after deciding that they wanted to build a business selling hummus.
“We studied computer sciences at Cambridge University, and in our third year, both switched to studying economics. We got on well and knew that we wanted to work together,” recalls Mouysset.
They completed their studies in 2003, and went their separate ways. A year later they were reunited and hit upon hummus as a potential business idea.
Givon, who came to the UK aged 11 with his parents, but returned to Israel after school to do his military service, says hummus became his “obsession” in his teens. In the book’s introduction, he recalls how he and his Israeli friends would sit in Tel Aviv’s hummus places and debate “which was cleaner, tastier, grainer”. He and his friends would put the world to rights over bowls of the chickpea product.
“In Israel, it was man’s food. It was our fast food; we didn’t eat burgers. It was tasty and accessible,” he recalls.
Here in the UK, the perception of hummus is entirely different.
“There were no hummus brands here on the high street or in supermarkets,” says French-born Mouysset. So he and Givon experimented with recipes until they were happy, and started taking it to local markets in north west London to gauge public reaction.
They worked hard to find the best chickpeas, importing tahini direct from Israel. It was a credit to their sourcing that when Israeli restaurant, The Palomar, opened in London this year, co-owner, Yossi Elad — a friend of Givon’s from Israel — asked if the pair could supply The Palomar’s tahini too.
By day, the service style of their London outlets is over the counter, but it is not fast food — a description conjuring up all number of unhealthy deep-fried delights. In the book the authors reinforce how good hummus is for you.
“Chickpeas are very healthy because they do not contain any cholesterol or saturated fats. They are also rich in protein. Tahini is also high in protein and is a great source of valuable calcium.”
As London’s first hummus outlet, the challenge has been persuading people that hummus is more than a dip.
“We add toppings and turn it into a meal with chicken or guacamole in order to get people in. After a few tries, customers try it with more Israeli toppings like fava beans,” explains Givon.
The book shares their recipe for hummus and for some of the toppings, side dishes, salads, breads and desserts served in their restaurants. Inspiration is drawn from the Levant — or Eastern Mediterranean countries, which include Israel, Syria, Lebanon and Turkey.
The pair are clear on the essentials for the perfect hummus, warning that it will take time to allow for the overnight soaking and long cooking of chickpeas.
“In Israel, most people don’t bother making it as it is relatively low-cost to buy and a bit of an art to make,” laughs Givon.
If you want to taste authentic hummus then you may want to invest the time. If it all sounds a bit of a faff, then you know where to go to try the real deal.
Hummus Bros: Levantine Kitchen , Pavilion, £14.99
Hummus Bros' Top tips for perfect hummus
1. Use dried, soaked chickpeas and cook them until they are super soft.
2. A dash of bicarbonate of soda in the cooking water helps speed up the process.
3. Use only four ingredients: chickpeas, tahina, lemon and salt.
4. Add garlic, cumin and more lemon juice to season.
5. If you can find it, look for tahini made with organic humera sesame seeds usually grown in Ethiopia.
Hummus Bros' Tabouleh Salad
Packed with chopped mint and parsley (you’re aiming for half herbs to bulghur), this lemony dressed bulghur or cracked wheat salad is great served with virtually any savoury main dish, or as a simple starter with baby cos lettuce leaves to scoop it up.
Preparation: 15 minutes
Soak: 30 minutes
Cook: 10 minutes
100g fine grade bulghur wheat
4 tbsp virgin olive oil
juice of 1 lemon
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
25g fresh mint, finely chopped
55g fresh flat-leaf parsley
2 plum tomatoes, finely diced
¼ cucumber, diced
½ bunch of spring onions,finely chopped
¼ pomegranate, seeds removed from casing
- Tip the bulghur wheat into a bowl, cover with cold salted water and leave to soak for at least 30 minutes until softened.
- Using a fork, make the dressing by stirring the oil, lemon juice and a generous sprinkling of salt and pepper together in a small bowl.
- Drain the bulghur wheat if required and spoon into a salad bowl, then pour over the dressing and stir together.
- Add the chopped herbs, tomatoes, cucumber and spring onions to the bulghur wheat, stirring gently.
- Scatter the pomegranate seeds on top as you are about to serve.