One of my all-time favourite places is Bar Saracen in Melbourne, a restaurant “of Middle Eastern appearance”, with mostly Lebanese food. The restaurant is owned by Joseph Abboud, a wonderful Lebanese-Australian chef, but the head chef is the talented Tom Sarafian. This is his recipe for hummus and it’s incredibly decadent and delicious.
In the Middle East, hummus isn’t just a dip, it’s a meal. This version isn’t just a meal, it’s an event, luxed-up with shellfish and given complex layers of flavour with toum, a garlic paste. Even if you don’t want to make the whole dish, give Tom’s hummus recipe a go: it’s one of the best versions I’ve ever tried and for a hummus-obsessive like me, that is no easy statement!
Tom spent AGES working on this recipe to make it as amazing as it is. “When we were planning Bar Saracen, we thought we’d put hummus on the menu but it would have to be the best hummus ever,” he says. “I did a research trip to Lebanon, Iran and Turkey, ate a lot of hummus, took a lot of notes.” Each version of their hummus is has been a play on hummus kawarma, a traditional Middle Eastern hummus with minced lamb on top. “We opened with a calamari hummus, then we did a mushroom, then I came up with this one with prawn and crab and we all loved it so much we aren’t going to change it anymore.”
So what are the important elements to a great hummus? “What makes a good hummus is freshness,” says Tom. “You have to use really good chick peas. You need good lemons, good garlic, quality sea salt and olive oil and tahini.” And temperature is important too. “Traditional hummus isn’t served from the fridge, it’s room temperature,” says Tom. “You have to let it come to temperature to let the flavours shine through.”
Technique is important too. “I tried a lot of different methods to get it as good as possible,” says Tom. “If you can remove some of the skins from the chick peas it will be smoother. A lot of old Lebanese ladies will rub every single one off.” Tom doesn’t go that far but he does give the cooked chick peas a bit of a rub and skims off any loose skins. “It definitely makes it smoother,” he says.
After a year of experimentation – “a little bit more or less oil, salt, tahini, every time we’d alter it” – Tom felt like he’d nailed his hummus recipe. But there was an ultimate test. “My girlfriend is Lebanese and her mum makes a great hummus. I went to her family’s home for a birthday party and I brought some hummus. Her mum liked it – that was a big tick of approval. It felt really good.”
Hear more from Tom about what Australian food means to him.
Makes: 2L of hummus; seafood element serves: 4 – 6 as a starter
Time: 2 hours, plus overnight soaking and 3 hrs chickpea cooking
- 500 grams (17.6 oz) dried chickpeas (see Tips)
- pinch bicarbonate of soda
- 250 grams (8.8 oz) ice cubes
- 100 ml / grams (3.5 oz) extra virgin olive oil
- 2 tsp sea salt flakes
- 300 grams (10.6 oz) tahini
- 50 ml / grams (1.75 oz) lemon juice
- 50 grams toum (1.75 oz) (recipe below)
- 75 grams (2.6 oz) garlic (see Tips), peeled
- 75 ml / grams (2.6 oz) lemon juice
- 400 ml / grams (14.1 oz) canola oil or other vegetable oil
- 1/2 tsp sea salt
Prawn and Crab Sauce
- 3 large brown onions
- 100ml / grams (3.5 oz) olive oil
- 500 grams (17.6 oz) whole raw king prawns
- 150 grams (5.3 oz) salted butter
- 1 tsp sea salt flakes
- 1 tsp maras pepper (see Tips)
- ⅓ tsp pinch ground cinnamon
- pinch ground allspice
- 100 grams (3.5 oz) toum (see recipe above)
- 250 grams (8.8 oz) raw crab meat (see Tips)
- 1 bunch coriander, washed
- ½ tsp cracked black pepper
- pinch sweet smoked paprika
- Crudités, fresh pita bread and cold beers!
1. Soak chickpeas for 10 hours in 5 litres of water with a pinch of bicarb. Change the water after 10 hours then continue soaking for a few hours or until ready to cook (there’s no need to add more bicarb).
2. Drain the chickpeas and place in a large pot, covered with fresh water. Bring to the boil. Turn down to a gentle simmer and cook for 3 hours or until completely soft. If the centre is still a little raw (like pasta or rice can be) it will make your hummus chalky.
3. Working quickly, drain the chickpeas in a colander, discarding the cooking liquid, and leave to drain for a few minutes. Once dry, pour the chickpeas into a Thermomix or other food processor and blitz on high speed for 5 minutes (2 min/speed 10 in a Thermomix, stopping to scrape down if necessary). The hotter the chickpeas are when blitzing the better.
4. After time has elapsed, add the ice, half the olive oil and all the salt. Blitz for another 3 minutes (1 min/speed 10 in a Thermomix, stopping to scrape down if necessary). Scrape down the sides with a spatula and add the tahini. Blitz for another 3 minutes (1 min/speed 10 in a Thermomix, stopping to scrape down if necessary), then scrape hummus into a container. Cover with remaining olive oil to prevent a skin forming and put a lid on top. Refrigerate until cool. (During this time, make your toum – recipe below.)
5. Once chilled, place lemon juice and toum in Thermomix and top with the hummus. Blend for 5 minutes (2 min/speed 10 in a Thermomix, stopping to scrape down if necessary). Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and lemon to your preference. Keep hummus in an airtight container in the fridge, bringing out 30 minutes before serving to bring to room temperature.
6. Toum is an emulsified garlic sauce. The idea is that it thickens like aioli but it can be tricky. If it doesn’t thicken, it can still be used in the hummus! (See Tips.) Having all the ingredients cold helps stop it splitting so place the bowl of blender or Thermomix in freezer for an hour. You can also chill the garlic and oil. The colder everything is the less likely the toum is to split.
7. Blitz garlic and salt for 3 minutes (in a Thermomix, blitz 2 sec/speed 8, then scrape down and repeat until finely chopped). Scrape down the sides with a spatula and add half the lemon juice.
8. With blender running (or Thermomix on speed 4 with Butterfly), blitz for 10 minutes slowly adding oil in a thin and steady stream (in a Thermomix, pour oil onto lid, allowing it to slowly drip through and blend until combined). Add remaining lemon juice and stir through. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary.
Prawn and Crab Sauce
9. Peel and thinly slice the onions. Add to a saucepan with the olive oil and gently cook on a low heat until completely soft but not browned, stirring frequently.
10. In the meantime, peel and chop the prawn meat into small pieces around the size of a chickpea. Tom also squeezes the meat out of the heads and uses all the juices in the sauce too, adding extra flavour.
11. When the onions are ready add the butter, salt, maras pepper, cinnamon, allspice and toum. Stir until mixed well then add the prawns. Stir gently and continuously until the prawn meat is almost cooked then add the crab meat. Continue stirring until the crab is just cooked through (or warmed, if using pre-cooked) then remove from heat.
12. Roughly chop coriander and add most of it to the sauce with black pepper and paprika. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary.
13. To serve, use a large spoon to dollop the hummus into the centre of a plate then smooth out to the edges in a circular motion, as though you were putting tomato paste onto a pizza. Try to make the edges thicker than the centre to give the hummus a bowl shaped effect.
14. Pour the sauce into the centre of the hummus and put more freshly chopped coriander on top.
15. Serve with crudités, fresh pita bread and cold beers.
- Tom looks for large, Australian dried chickpeas.
- Tom looks for organic Australian garlic.
- Maras pepper is dried Turkish chilli flakes, available from Middle Eastern grocery stores.
- Tom prefers raw spanner crab but you can also purchase cooked and picked crab from fishmongers.
- This recipe makes a LOT of hummus but if you’re soaking chickpeas you might as well make a big batch – it keeps for a week in the fridge and freezes really well. The seafood quantities serve around six as a starter, with about 1/4 of the batch of hummus. You can also halve or even quarter the hummus recipe.
- Extra toum can be stored for a month in the fridge. As well as being used in hummus, it can be used to marinate lamb or chicken, or as part of a salad dressing. The longer you keep it, the more mellow the garlic flavour.
- My hummus obsession knows no bounds. Dive in to more hummus recipes here.
- Read my review of a hummus obsessed restaurant.
- I love hummus so much, I had to talk about it on the radio.
- Check out my interview with chef Tom Sarafian on what Australian food means to him.
- Want more dips? I have plenty of delicious dip recipes right here.