The secret to amazing hummus is freshness, says Hrant Arakelian.
The Lebanon-born owner and executive chef of Lyra in Nashville balks at the tubs of hummus in the deli case at the grocery store, particularly the more outlandish variations made with chocolate or black beans. “That’s not hummus,” he said.
As in Lebanon, which Arakelian said has as many hummus shops as bakeries, Lyra serves hummus as a vehicle for flavorful toppings, including chili-roasted turnips and candied onions, wood-roasted jalapeño relish and spiced lamb merguez.
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“Hummus is a very simple recipe,” Arakelian said. “If you don’t have all top-quality ingredients, things will stand out a little more.”
That means perfectly fresh garlic, and not too much or too little. That also means top-notch tahini paste. Arakelian prefers Al Kanater, a Lebanese brand that he says is increasingly hard to find.
“It’s roasted perfectly,” he said. “It’s not too bitter. Some impart a sweet flavor, but this one is perfectly balanced, creamy and nutty.”
Lyra’s hummus starts with dried chickpeas, soaked overnight and cooked with just a bit of baking soda to help break down the skins. Too much baking soda will turn the beans into watery mush, Arakelian warned, so be cautious when trying this at home.
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At Lyra, once the chickpeas are cooked until very soft, the kitchen makes a tahini sauce, blending garlic, lemon and tahini into a paste. Cooked garbanzo beans are then added to the paste and further pureed. No oil goes into the mix; it’s drizzled over the finished hummus right before it’s served.
Beyond that, you could add pickled onions, roasted jalapenos, grilled vegetables, fresh herbs and other salad ingredients for serving.
“You could add sausage or ground meat,” he said. “You can do anything on top of hummus, and it will taste great. With some fresh bread out of the oven, that can’t be beat.”
Lyra’s basic hummus recipe
This will yield about 2 quarts of hummus. It holds well in the fridge for 4-5 days covered tightly. You’ll notice this is an oil-free recipe, but you can serve it with a good glug of extra virgin olive oil to finish.
4 cups dried chickpeas
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup tahini paste
3-4 garlic cloves
3-4 lemons, juiced
salt to taste
Water as needed
Soak chickpeas overnight in about 12 quarts of water with 1/4 teaspoon of baking soda added. You can leave them at room temperature as they soak.
The next day, drain off the water and put chickpeas in a pot. Cover with water to two inches above the peas. Add 1/4 teaspoon of baking soda and 2 tablespoons of salt. Bring to a boil, then immediately reduce to a simmer. Cook for about 1 to 1 1/2 hours. Do not skim the foam as it cooks, but do not allow pot to boil over.
Cook the chickpeas until they are very soft—almost a puree in the pot. The softer and mushier the better for creamy hummus.
Drain off any excess water from the chickpeas. You should have about two quarts of peas.
Combine the garlic and 1 tablespoon of water in a food processor and puree until smooth. Then add the tahini paste and half of the lemon juice. Puree again. You will see the tahini get thick and chunky. Add a little more water until it becomes smooth. Then add the chickpeas to the processor and puree until very smooth. You may need to work in batches. If the puree is not smooth enough, add water about a teaspoon at a time until you get the right consistency.
Check for consistency by running a spoon through the hummus. If you get a nice wave that holds its shape, you are good to go. Taste and adjust for salt and lemon if needed.
Mackensy Lunsford is the food and culture storyteller for USA TODAY Network’s South region and the editor of Southern Kitchen.