I think it’s time to stop listening to ‘accepted’ kitchen wisdom. I first embarked upon this strand of culinary anarchy about four years ago, when I decided to take the dramatic - and, by all accounts, wholly inadvisable - step of baking a strawberry. Inspired by a berry upside-down cake I ate at a market in Prague, I whipped up a plain cake batter, lined a tin, and scattered handfuls of berries over the bottom with reckless abandon. Amongst their number was the controversial strawberry: hitherto I’d been warned by many a cookbook that strawberries are emphatically not a cooking fruit; they are simply too watery and will ruin whatever you dare to throw them into, bleeding like fresh corpses into your cake and polluting your puddings. The resulting dessert was a triumph, the cake crumb lightly flavoured by the intense sweetness of the berries, and I’ve been exercising my rebellious streak ever since.
There appears to exist a conspiracy amongst food writers regarding the humble chickpea. This poor, squat legume is the subject of much derision. Desperate to be loved, cooked from scratch with care and liberal overnight soaking, instead the majority of recipes call lazily for picking up a can. While this is, of course, a useful fix for the time-poor, general wisdom seems to be that it is inefficient and time-consuming to bother cooking chickpeas from scratch, unless you have a pressure cooker. I’ve seen articles and cookbooks suggesting that these maligned pearls of starchy, nutty goodness can take up to four hours to collapse to melting softness in a boiling pan. And, in this day and age of instant gratification and meals that can be condensed into fifteen minutes, who has the energy or presence of mind to soak anything overnight?
So, once again in the spirit of rebellion, I made houmous from scratch a couple of months ago using dried chickpeas. So little had I encountered them before, being a ‘tin person’ (which makes me sound like a hoarder of pasteurized, textureless comestibles, but I promise I’m not), that their beige, nubbly forms looked somewhat alien to me – more like gravel than something I’d consider blending with tahini. I persevered, embarking upon the houmous preparation a good four hours before I needed to serve it – after all, this is how long chickpeas take to cook, right?
Wrong. Strawberries can be baked, and dried chickpeas take about half an hour. What other lies are we being spoon-fed by the culinary literati? I shudder to imagine.
I’ve cooked chickpeas a few times since, and they’ve never taken longer than 45 minutes. Apparently older legumes can take longer, so if your bag has been sitting around for a while, this might explain it. But meanwhile, go forth and make houmous from scratch. Embrace your freedom. Don’t let the eternally solid chickpea get you down. It’s entirely worth making houmous using freshly boiled chickpeas: you get a fuller flavour and a much silkier texture, which comes from using the chickpea cooking liquid to blend the hoummus. Its starch thickens the mix, making it wonderfully smooth – a tip I learned from the wonderful Honey & Co cookbook.
Since it’s autumn and I constantly have a huge Crown Prince pumpkin in my fridge, lopping chunks off it most nights with a bread knife at great personal risk to my life and limbs, I decided to experiment with a pumpkin houmous. I imagined that chunks of fudgy, spiced roast pumpkin would blend wonderfully with earthy chickpeas, adding colour, sweetness and depth. I was also keen to try out my new Nutri Ninja blender this week, thanks to the lovely people at Steamer Trading Cookshop. I’ve heard a lot of hype about this blender online – it seems to be the latest darling of the Clean Eating Brigade, ensuring your kale and avocado smoothies are that bit smoother than ever before, so silky that you could take them intravenously if you wanted (surely the next diet fad – you heard it here first). I experimented this morning with a pineapple, mango and grapefruit mint juice for breakfast (no kale or spinach in sight, though, please) and it does make exceptionally smooth juices, blending fruit, ice and herbs to a veloute-like consistency in seconds.
This houmous is little more than cooked chickpeas, their liquid, a little tahini, garlic and lemon juice, and then the unconventional but delicious addition of roast pumpkin chunks, spiced with paprika and a little cinnamon, and flat leaf parsley for freshness. The result is a luscious, silky-smooth puree, the colour of early marigolds, flecked with tiny speckles of parsley and tasting deeply of chickpeas and sweet pumpkin, with a nutty, creamy hit from the tahini. The Nutri Ninja needed a little stirring to help things come together, but otherwise made short work of the ingredients, giving a beautifully-textured houmous better than any I’ve made before with a normal food processor (but you could, of course, use any blender or food processor – just make sure you add enough liquid to blend everything properly).
I love this autumnal twist on everyone’s favourite dip – the deep gold feels just right as leaves begin to collect on the ground outside, and the hint of spice is perfect for chilly October days. Pumpkin in houmous might be unconventional. Cooking chickpeas in half an hour may be apparently impossible. But let’s embrace anarchy and just go with it like the apron-clad rebels we are.
Thank you to Steamer Trading Cookshop for my Nutri Ninja blender; all opinions are my own.
Spiced roast pumpkin houmus (makes around 400ml):
- 150g dried chickpeas
- ½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
- 300g pumpkin or butternut squash, cut into 1-inch cubes (prepared weight)
- ½ tsp smoked paprika
- ¼ tsp ground cinnamon
- Salt and pepper
- 2 tbsp olive or rapeseed oil
- 4 tbsp tahini
- 1 clove garlic, chopped
- A small bunch of flat leaf parsley, roughly chopped
- Juice of ½ lemon
- 2 tbsp pumpkin seeds, to serve
Begin by soaking the chickpeas in cold water overnight. When ready to cook, drain the chickpeas, put in a large saucepan and cover by about 4 inches with fresh cold water. Bring to the boil. Boil for 5 minutes, then add the bicarbonate of soda – it will fizz and froth. Simmer the chickpeas for around 40 minutes, or until tender – you should be able to crush them against the side of the pan with a wooden spoon. Drain, reserving 250ml of the cooking liquid (this is important).
Meanwhile, pre-heat the oven to 200C. Put the pumpkin chunks on a baking sheet and toss with the paprika, cinnamon, generous salt and pepper and the rapeseed oil. Roast for 30-40 minutes, turning occasionally, until the pumpkin is tender and crispy on the outside.
Allow the chickpeas and pumpkin to cool for 5 minutes. Pour half the chickpea cooking liquid into the blender (or Nutri Ninja cup), followed by the roast pumpkin and the cooked chickpeas. Add the garlic, tahini, lemon juice, parsley, and 1 tsp salt. Blend well – you might need to add the rest of the chickpea liquid to get it to blend evenly. Don’t worry if it looks a bit runny – it will thicken a lot as it cools. Stir to mix up the ingredients if it isn’t blending evenly. Taste and check the seasoning – you might want a little more lemon juice, salt or some smoked paprika.
Spoon into a serving dish and sprinkle with the pumpkin seeds. Serve with warm pitta bread or, as I did, alongside courgette fritters and a fennel, orange and pomegranate salad.