Originally created 02/22/06

Vegetarian: Seltzer hummus has a nice fizz



CONCORD, N.H. - Years went into the making of my favorite hummus. A moment of laziness persuaded me to dump it.

It wasn't an obsession, just a project. For years I tinkered and fiddled with recipes. Sometimes a bit more oil, sometimes a little less spice. Then after many attempts resulting in good-but-not-great hummus - success. I was happy.

Now I had my master recipe for whenever hummus was called for. It's reliably good, creamy, savory and spicy. It goes equally well on a sandwich or on its own with chips. The secret? Cashew-nut butter and hot pepper sauce. Amazing.

But this column isn't about that recipe. It is about how a moment of laziness has prompted me to abandon it for a new hummus.

Traditional hummus is little more than chickpeas, tahini, garlic, lemon juice and olive oil. Problem is, not enough garlic and lemon juice leaves the hummus flat. Too much garlic or tahini and it tastes raw.

I can deal with basic variations on that theme - I've tasted one made from white beans that was particularly good. It's the strange variations that trouble me, such as one made with spinach and radishes. That was particularly bad.

Despite my suspicious about strange variations, I tried one of my own today.

I was making hummus for my son, who is 1½. He's not all that picky, so I usually don't bother getting fancy. Today the plan was just chickpeas, lemon juice, olive oil, garlic and salt. I dumped everything in the food processor and let it whirl.

The result was a little thick, so I tossed in a few hot red peppers, figuring their liquid content would help smooth it out. And for fun, I added the zest of a whole lemon, just to see what would happen.

But still too thick. It needed water. That's when the glass of seltzer water I was sipping caught my eye. Odd, yes. Actually, really odd. But what the heck. I poured a bit in and flipped the switch.

Perfect consistency. But the taste? It blew me away. The seltzer water somehow heightened the flavors of the garlic and peppers, while also adding a quality that was - for lack of a better word - effervescent.

The hummus wasn't bubbling, and it was still the usual paste-like consistency. But it almost sizzled on the tongue, for just a second. I'm afraid I can't do this taste/feel combination justice - it probably sounds disgusting.

But it is so good. In fact, good enough that now I wouldn't consider making hummus without seltzer water.

Mind you, this is not a make-ahead recipe. After a couple hours, the fizzle fades. But with a recipe this easy, it shouldn't be a problem to make it just before serving.

Seltzer Hummus

(Start to finish 5 minutes)

1 whole lemon

15-ounce can chickpeas, drained

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 teaspoon salt

4 garlic cloves

¼ cup (or to taste) pickled hot peppers, such as jalapeno

¼ cup seltzer water (not tonic water)

1 teaspoon smoked Spanish paprika

Use a fine grater to carefully zest the lemon, placing all of the zest in the bowl of a food processor. A vegetable peeler also can be used, but take care to remove only the thin outer layer of yellow, not the white.

Cut the lemon in half and juice it into the processor bowl. Add the remaining ingredients and pulse until very smooth. Serve immediately.

Makes 2 cups.