Life Table Talk

Tuesday 30 September 2014

Putting hummus into action

From fussy toddlers' fodder to potential anti-cancer tool, hummus is a versatile dish

Susan Jane White

Published 04/05/2014 | 02:30

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Hummus

There's a good reason why they're not called blokepeas – chickpeas are puffed with feminine-friendly compounds.

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There's magnesium – a mineral that many of us crave once a month, when we become a crazed version of a slightly-less-bonkers self. Magnesium has the ability to relieve cramps by helping our blood vessels to relax, which is good news for headaches and varicose veins, too.

Then there are isoflavones – a plant-based phytooestrogen considered by some as ammunition in the fight against breast cancer. It looks like our body converts isoflavones into compounds that mimic some of the effects of oestrogen. Why is this important? The female reproductive system is influenced by oestrogen.

Studies on the specific benefits of plant-based phytooestrogens have yielded mixed results, but they seem to have some correlation to reduced risk of hormonal cancers, and may even play a role in bone density. Phytooestrogens have been used to improve menopausal symptoms. Some women prefer to take them, rather than opt for Hormone Replacement Therapy. I do like the idea of being prescribed hummus for hot flushes!

If you haven't cooked chickpeas from scratch, you are missing out on one of the creamiest beans on Earth.

Tinned chickpeas are fine, but they hardly make me breakdance. Try this hummus recipe, and make MC Hammer proud while you're at it.

The Very Best Hummus Recipe

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Yotam Ottolenghi is the high priest of hummus. We have an altar in our fridge built for his recipe, and we dip into it all week. Even fussy toddlers struggle to resist its charms.

You will need:

250g (9oz) dried chickpeas

1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda

270g (9½oz) tahini

2-4 tablespoons lemon juice

4 garlic cloves, crushed

1 teaspoon sea salt flakes

100ml (3½fl oz) ice-cold water

Olive oil; or pomegranate seeds; or date syrup and fresh coriander; or dried paprika and chilli flakes, (optional), to serve

Start the night before by rinsing the dried chickpeas and cover them with at least twice their volume of cold water. Leave them to soak overnight. The following day, drain the chickpeas and tumble them into a medium-sized saucepan. Crank up the heat and add the bicarbonate of soda. Cook the chickpeas and bicarb for a few minutes, stirring constantly. Add 1.5 litres (about 2½ pints) of fresh water and bring it to a rolling boil. Using a slotted spoon, skim off any foam that floats to the surface during the first few minutes.

The chickpeas can cook for anywhere between 20 and 40 minutes, depending on their size and type. Once they are done, they should be very tender, and break up easily when one is pressed between your thumb and finger. They should be almost, but not quite, mushy.

Drain the cooked chickpeas and transfer them to a food processor bowl. You could also use a hand-held blender. Add the tahini, the lemon juice, the crushed garlic and the sea salt flakes and whizz into a stiff paste .

With the motor still running, drizzle in the ice-cold water and allow it to mix until you get a very smooth paste.

Chef Ottolenghi recommends transferring the hummus to a cling film-wrapped bowl and leaving it to rest for at least 30 minutes. But I found this step difficult. I think you will, too.

If you'd like to stamp your signature on it by using a garnish, swirl some glossy olive oil on top, or sprinkle with pomegranate seeds, or perhaps use date syrup and fresh coriander, or dried paprika and chilli flakes. Over to you.

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