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How to Make Humus

I am writing down this recipe because Verna has been bragging about my humus to her friend Teri. My humus is different every time I make it, but Verna must have tasted one of the good batches. Then Verna told Teri, and last night Teri phoned me for the recipe and I couldn't give her a straight answer. I said that I put in a bit of this and some of that . . . it varies . . . And Teri said, "Oh, an artiste." I could tell by the way she said it that artiste was spelled in italics. Teri really meant if I had half a clue I would have just given her the recipe in the first place. So I thought I would write down how I made the humus today, and then Teri could have a copy and you might as well have a copy too. It may not be the best humus I have ever made but it will give you a baseline to work from.

One of the tricks to making good humus is ensuring that all the ingredients are fresh. Well all except the chickpeas. Chickpeas are the main ingredients in humus, but oddly they are the least critical as far as taste goes. Buy canned chickpeas: it's much quicker. Drain the chickpeas and rinse them well with cold water. Hot water would probably work better for rinsing, but it is not as environmentally friendly. (It's bad enough you were lazy and used canned chickpeas instead of dried, but then you were only following directions, weren't you.) Some people think it's OK to add the juice from the can of chickpeas to your humus. Do not do this. The sugars that are dissolved in the juice will make you fart. It is bad enough that your breath will stink from the fresh garlic (see below), without drawing attention to your other extremities as well.

Garlic is the first ingredient I add to the blender. I want the garlic to be well mixed so I usually mince it with our garlic press first. I usually put in two large fresh cloves, but today the garlic seemed a little old so I added an extra clove to be sure. I know I said that all the ingredients had to be fresh, but this was the freshest garlic we had on hand. At least I didn't use garlic powder.

After the garlic, add the parsley. I only use fresh parsley from the garden. Parsley is never in short supply, because we planted a small bunch when we bought our house eight years ago and it has self-seeded most of our yard. Parsley is a real testament to the reproductive capacity of a natural system, but that's a whole other story. Since I am being absolutely honest about this recipe, I should say that sometimes I use parsley that I picked and froze the summer before. Frozen parsley works just as well as fresh parsley -- that's a little culinary tip for you -- but dried parsley is a waste of time.

Pick a good handful of parsley. Since this is a recipe perhaps I should be more specific. Let's say, add about a cup of parsley packed loosely or firmly according to your pleasure. Discard the parsley stalks. The stalks won't hurt you, but this is a classy recipe, and parsley stalks don't have that same ability to impress your guests that you can expect from the delicate parsley branches. This is a good time to look for any crawling insects that may still be on the parsley, although you needn't be fanatical about this. Humus is rough peasant food that benefits from the union of strong flavours and the parsley is going into the blender anyway. The use of coarsely ground black pepper later in the recipe provides additional protection for the unduly squeamish.

I always make sure that the parsley has been blended to the appropriate size before I add the next ingredient. I used to add the parsley last, but it was hard to blend properly and I ended up having to pick the big pieces out of the humus before serving.

Once the parsley has been minced you are ready to add the rinsed and drained chickpeas to the blender. I use a large can: 19 fl oz or 540 ml is fine depending on your age or nationality. I have been using Unico brand exclusively for the last year because Margaret bought a whole case on sale and I don't make humus that often. You might try to blend the chickpeas directly, but in my experience the blender blades accelerate to a phenomenal speed, while the chickpeas float around on a cushion of parsley. You can try putting the peas in first and the parsley in later, if you don't believe a single thing I wrote in the previous paragraph. Or you could do as I did and solve the problem by adding a lubricant to the mix.

I used to add olive oil -- the cheap stuff that comes in a big jar -- drizzling in just enough to get the blender blending properly. It does work, but the humus turns out a little oily. After I had been making humus that way for a while, some one said it didn't taste very lemony. I wasn't surprised because until that very moment, I had no idea that lemon juice was generally considered to be a standard ingredient in humus. I realized that if I added some lemon juice it would help with the blending process, cut the oily effect of the olive oil, and as likely as not enhance the flavour too. That's probably why people started putting lemon in their humus in the first place.

Anyway, in addition to the olive oil I now add the juice of a fresh lemon to my humus. If I find any leftover lemon in the fridge cooler I always add that too. One lemon is enough but I just don't like to see pieces of lemon lying around. It's a personal thing. Today the humus received the juice of one and one half lemons. The half lemon was a little dry because it had come unwrapped from the cellophane, but that didn't seem to matter. I know from tasting it, that no one is going to say this batch of humus isn't lemony enough. Whatever you do, don't substitute concentrated lemon juice. It has as much in common with the flavour of fresh lemon as manure has to T-Bone steak.

Once you add the lemon juice, turn the blender to medium and start working the chickpeas toward the bottom. I use a rubber spatula for this because the blender blades are very sharp and a metal spatula can be quite noisy under certain conditions. If you inadvertently touch the blades with a rubber spatula, the little pieces that are torn off can simply be allowed to become part of the mix. You can't do that with metal fragments because the sort of person likely to enjoy humus is also likely to have a mouth full of dental fillings.

You are now ready to add my secret ingredient, peanut butter. Humus recipes always call for tahini paste, which is made from ground sesame seeds. It comes in little jars and compared to peanut butter is quite expensive. Once when I didn't have any tahini paste I substituted peanut butter out of desperation and found I preferred the flavour. When I mentioned my discovery to my friend the chef, he told me all the restaurants use peanut butter to save money. So there you have it: peanut butter is cheaper and tastes better too. I always use organic peanut butter with no additives, because we bought a large jar of it once for sentimental reasons and the kids won't eat it. I always put in a good dollop, say about a cup if you want to get anal retentive about quantities. I always add a tablespoon of tahini paste, even though I prefer the taste of peanut butter, because we still have a jar of that too and I can't imagine what else to do with it.

If the mixture is too thick you can add a little more olive oil to smooth it out. Don't allow it to become too smooth, however, or it won't disguise the spatula fragments. Add a bit of salt and some freshly ground black pepper and your humus is ready to eat. Test it for flavour by hooking a finger full out of the blender and adjust the salt and pepper accordingly.

That's my recipe for humus. I have a feeling that having disclosed my secret methods I may not be asked to bring it along to parties any more. Humus is so easy to prepare, once you know how, that from now on you will probably just want to make it yourself.


Tom Brown, Management of Technology MBA, SFU Business