Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Failure report: channa dal hummus and the question of chickpeaness

Nota bene:  this is a report of a kitchen failure -- not a disaster, just a failure.  While it contains links to recipes and cookbooks, it does not contain any of my own recipes. 

My favorite recipe for hummus is Joan Nathan's from The Foods of Israel Today.    (This recipe may be found online on the MyJewishLearning website.)  It uses home cooked chickpeas rather than canned, which enables the cook to use the delicious cooking liquid to think the hummus to the right, creamy texutre and avoids the disgusting slime in which canned chickpeas are suspended.  I am in flux over whether life is too long or two short to perform a variety of time-consuming kitchen tasks, but I think that I am now firmly on the side of preserving your own lemons and cooking your own chickpeas (which I may then season in a soup with Osem powder, but we all have our own standards.)

However, I firmly believe that life is far to short to peel your chickpeas.  This is one step to far on the road to culinary obsession. I once had my cousin Leslie, a patient and tolerarnt soul if ever there was one, peel about a pound of chickpeas for use in a chicken couscous.  It took her nearly an hour and she was practically cursing me by the end.   However, some say that the only way to make truly creamy hummus is by peeling your chickpeas. Recently, the Smitten Kitchen Blog featured a recipe for Ethereally Smooth Hummus  which involves peeled chickpeas, canned or dried.  She adapted this recipe from Ottolenghi and Samimi's Jerusalem but the method is her own and she uses either cooking liquid, or in the caseof canned chick peas, plain water to thing the hummus.  It is worth checking out, but I am pretty sure that nothing can convince me to peel my chickpeas. 

But I did not want to give up on the ultimate hummus and thought I had a kluge. Channa dal is a kind of split chickpea used in Indian cooking and is particularly popular in Bengal.  So, I thought why not make hummus with channa dal, which are already peeled?  I soaked them an simmered them until barely cooked so that they would not dissolve into a puree.  I drained them, and then followed the Smitten Kitchen's recipe.  And the result was......underwhelming.  It lacked what my wife Amy called "chickpeaness."  I guess the key is in the "kind of split chickpea."  While very similar to chickpeas, the flavor was different and the hummus wasn't right.  It definitely lacked chickpeaness. 

One of my favorite jokes, from a Prairie Home Companion Joke Show, is:

"What's the difference between bonds and men?"

"Bonds mature."

However, it is not always males who fail to mature. We often joke at home that Amy has the sense of humor of an early-adolescent boy.  She thought that chickpeaness was very funny.  Much better than the channa dal hummus. 


  1. I read your post just now so this totally kept me from making the same mistake, thanks!!

  2. Sadly, yellow split peas are often sold as channa dal - they look similar but are much cheaper. I share your pain with peeling chickpeas. Check your source and test again?

    1. I wonder if this might have happened to me, I think I got the dal in question from the bulk aisle in Central Market in Austin, and who knows what they sell you ultimately. However, I have continued to work on my hummus and not longer really find it burdensome to cook the fresh soaked ones to death, esp w a pinch of baking soda.