Machane Yehuda market, fondly known as ‘The Shuk’ (after souk), in Jerusalem was the first Middle Eastern market I ever visited. For me, it was an absolutely mind-blowing and an astonishingly wonderful experience as over 250 vendors and stall holders invited me to try their beautiful chaos of fresh fruits and vegetables; bread, pastries and halva; fish, meat and cheeses; nuts, seeds, herbs and spices all piled high and literally zinging with colour, flavour and aroma. In and around the market are authentic food sellers ready to feed hungry Jerusalemites as they go about their daily business. Falafel, falafel, shawarma, kibbeh, kebab, shashlik, kanafeh, baklava, zalabiya and hummus, that archetypically Levantine paste made from cooked chickpeas blended with tahini, olive oil, lemon juice, garlic and salt. Everyone has their own version, which is curious because the dish contains pretty much the same ingredients and, in Jerusalem, I have sat amongst friends who would argue until the early hours about which is the best hummusiya in the city. Whether served chunky or smooth and creamy, plain or topped with zhoug, fuul, crispy chickpeas, toasted pine kernels, sesame seeds or simply, just a swirl of good extra-virgin olive oil, this version is just about as authentic as I can make it. Once tasted, you will never be tempted by the shop-bought muck again; unless, of course, you’re lucky enough to find a deli that lovingly makes its own. I say ‘lovingly’ because a lot of love goes into it; there is simply no point in cutting corners because you’d be cheating on your heart.
250g good quality dried chickpeas, soaked overnight in plenty of water
1 tsp biocarbonate of soda
2-3 cloves of garlic, according to your taste
2 tbsp tahini paste (I use much less than most recipes recommend, that’s just my taste)
1 tsp ground cumin
Juice of 1 large lemon
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to your taste
How I make it
Drain the soaked chickpeas and pick out any that appear damaged. Tip into a large saucepan and cover with plenty of water. Bring to the boil, partially cover and simmer for five minutes. Skim off the foam and then add the bicarbonate of soda and watch it go bonkers. This may seem a bit mad but it an important part of the process because it helps to soften the peas. Skim off the foam, partially cover again and simmer for between 30-40 minutes, skimming often, until the peas are soft. Drain the peas over a large bowl because you need to save around 250ml of the cooking liquor.
Immediately tip the peas into a food processor with the cooking liquor and the garlic, and blitz until you achieve your preferred consistency, adding more liquid if you need to – I like mine quite coarse. Add the remaining ingredients and blitz again.
Taste, season and add more lemon juice if you like.
Pour into a large bowl and cover with cling film straight away (this will prevent a skin forming as the hummus cools).
When it’s cool, dress the hummus as you wish; go crazy with it – the version here features freshly made zhoug and toasted pine kernels – and serve with Lebanese flatbreads.