I n this country, hummus is a dip to be picked up at the supermarket and eaten with a stick of carrot or celery. In Israel, however, hummus is an obsession. The trendy hummus places have queues around the block as Israelis flock to eat the best version of this seemingly humble dip. At weekends there are traffic jams created by people driving to remote Arab villages to experience what is regarded as the most authentic hummus made by locals.
Having attempted for years to make my own hummus, usually with disappointing results, I eventually came upon an article about a Palestinian cook who had been making the stuff all his life. There were, he said only three ingredients to the true hummus — chickpeas, tehina (sesame seed paste) and salt. This did not mean it was easy to make. Oh, no. First the chickpeas needed to be soaked overnight, then boiled until exactly the correct texture and finally crushed into a creamy paste. The other ingredients — lemon, olive oil, herbs and spices — were all garnishes to be added at serving.
Inspired, I decided to have another go. Obviously I modified the recipe. Instead of soaking, then boiling my chickpeas, I opened a can of them and emptied it into a food processor, added the other ingredients and blitzed. Again the results were not up to scratch — the hummus was grainy rather than creamy. I went to the internet in search of the answer. Eventually I found it. The unpalatable truth is that to get the perfect creamy Palestinian/Israeli hummus you don’t have to cook your own chickpeas. You need to peel them. Hold the chickpea between thumb and forefinger and gently pop it out of its filmy skin — then repeat 100 times until every chickpea in the can has been skinned and you are experiencing the first symptoms of repetitive strain injury. The good news is that even with this laborious job, you can still have your hummus in 30 minutes, or 15 if you can enlist a helper.
Blitz the chickpeas until they completely disintegrate, then add water a little at a time until the texture is smooth. Add salt to taste, two tablespoons of tehina, a little lemon juice, mix and serve in a bowl with a good glug of olive oil, a sprinkling of zatar spice mix (if you can find it), or paprika (if you can’t). Then sit in the shade of of a levantine olive tree — or failing that, a suburban kitchen — dip in some warmed flatbread and experience the true taste of the Middle East.