Hoummous au basilic

Basil hummus? Why not? I discovered this recipe thanks to my friend Yana, a Ukrainian artist who’s lived in Paris for the last 30 years. What she makes is idiosyncratic, often with an artist’s touch. Her anchovy dip is fantastic, but when I discovered that it involved nothing but anchovies and pure butter, I gasped at how much I’d consumed. The basil hummus is lighter. She served it on a summer’s evening, with basil plucked from her garden.

Hoummous au basilic / Basil hummus

The addition of puréed basil leaves is the only thing that differentiates this hummus from standard hummus, but that difference adds depth of flavor and zest. The other ingredients are chickpeas, tahini, olive oil, garlic, cumin, salt and pepper, and if you’d like extra bite, a crushed cayenne pepper. Sounds easy, right? Well, yes and no.

The first time I made basil hummus I followed Yana’s instructions to the letter. This led to a cauchemar en cuisine — or ‘Nightmare in the Kitchen’, the name of a popular series over here in which a well-known chef, Philippe Etchebest, comes to the rescue of struggling restaurants. In their kitchens, if it can go wrong, it will. So what did I do wrong?

The first thing was to start with dry chickpeas, which need to be soaked overnight before being boiled for a couple of hours until totally tender. I set the chickpeas to boil and then forgot about them, having neglected to set a timer. I remembered when the smell of burning invaded my apartment. The chickpeas were wrecked. I had to chuck them.

So I started again, this time with canned chickpeas. Yana had assured me that the result would be much the same. However, she said, it was advisable to slip the skins off the chickpeas before puréeing them. This would make for a smoother and more digestible dip. Well, dear readers, I did it, but will never do it again. It took about half an hour to remove the skins from 301 chickpeas — I counted them. Boring…

In any event, once your chickpeas are ready, it’s a simple matter to puréé them with the rest of the ingredients. The basil is puréed separately with a little olive oil, much as you’d do when making pesto. This works better than trying to purée the basil leaves directly into the chickpea mixture — I tried that first, with less success.

I have now simplified the recipe to make it both easy and quick. And the result was satisfactory, judging from the reaction of my guest, who lapped it all up. You can serve basil hummus during cocktail hour with veggie sticks or pita triangles, or as a starter as part of a mezze spread. Yana says it is also delicious over grilled vegetables.

Meantime I have updated The Everyday French Chef’s menus for winter — a good thing, as we’re heading towards spring at last — and have also refreshed two winter favorites that needed new photos, sauté de veau and Normandy apple tart.

Happy cooking.

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