A Genius Trick for Lighter, Smoother Hummus

June 24, 2015

Every week—often with your help—Food52's Executive Editor Kristen Miglore is unearthing recipes that are nothing short of genius.

Today: Why an ingredient you've been throwing away is actually the key to smoother hummus. Oops!

To make the most ethereal hummus, first, you must not make hummus.

Technically, because there are no chickpeas, this is only a close cousin, but it has all the star players that make hummus irresistible—bright lemon on smoky tahini on fiery garlic on tides of olive oil, swelling together. Only the medium is different.

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The medium, in this case, is the Swiss chard stems we're always instructed to strip away when cooking the dark, leafy greens—though next time, the medium could certainly be something else (say, beets). Though this recipe was inspired by ones from Paula Wolfert and Clifford Wright, there's a whole family of "Mediterranean vegetable spreads that start with a roasted, grilled, or boiled vegetable and add tahini, garlic, olive oil, and lemon," author Tara Duggan told me. "I've made a delicious version with roasted turnips, and of course there's babaganoush."

But Duggan decided to call this recipe hummus in her book Root to Stalk Cooking anyway, to make it more recognizable to American cooks, and to widen our understanding of the classic spread. And, perhaps, to make chard stalks—a real underdog in the kitchen—a little friendlier.

Yes, this recipe is a smart way to minimize wasted kitchen scraps, but unlike other waste-not recipes like asparagus nub soup or strawberry top water, there's no need to obscure or strain out any offending texture. Somehow, despite everything we know about chard stalks, the results are actually the better for it.

Usually we discard stems and other scrappy bits because they're fibrous or tough—their unforgiving nature is a hassle we don't always want to deal with (or perhaps we don't even know how). And that's generally true of chard stems, which can be stringy or watery or both. You can pickle, sauté, or grill them, but if you aren't in the mood (or don't love the results), you're unlikely to bother.

So, no offense to stalks, but you need something that's going to be worth the effort—and extra points if it requires hardly any.

Enter this hummus ("hummus"). Here's all it takes: Chop the stems, boil them till tender (roughly 18 minutes), blend with all five other ingredients at once. Any strings have surrendered in the boiling; any wateriness emulsifies in to lighten the dip. Depending on the color of the stems, it will come out anywhere from Pepto Bismol to mauve to khaki.

It spins up fluffy and warm, and goes really well with toasted focaccia and grain salads and hard-cooked eggs. Incidentally, it will also work nicely with the greens that you'll now be looking for ways to use up.

Tara Duggan's Chard Stalk Hummus

Adapted slightly from Root to Stalk Cooking (Ten Speed Press, 2013)

Makes 1 cup 

Chard stalks from 1 pound whole chard, trimmed and chopped
1 whole clove garlic, peeled
1/4 cup tahini
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

See the full recipe (and save and print it) here.

Got a genius recipe to share—from a classic cookbook, an online source, or anywhere, really? Please send it my way (and tell me what's so smart about it) at [email protected]. Thanks to Riddley Gemperlein-Schirm for this one!

Photos by Alpha Smoot

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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Alex Txn
    Alex Txn
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  • mizerychik
I'm an ex-economist, lifelong-Californian who moved to New York to work in food media in 2007, before returning to the land of Dutch Crunch bread and tri-tip barbecues in 2020. Dodgy career choices aside, I can't help but apply the rational tendencies of my former life to things like: recipe tweaking, digging up obscure facts about pizza, and deciding how many pastries to put in my purse for "later."


Alex T. June 30, 2015
My mom has been doing with Swiss chard stalks since I was a kid , and it is delicious.
Jacqueline B. June 29, 2015
I have loads of swiss chard in the garden so this recipe has come in handy. I made it today for a picnic and I will note that this hummus holds better on chips and bread than vegetables. Because of the light & smooth texture the hummus slid off the baby tomatoes & carrots we used as dippers. I'm excited to experiment with more veggies or tossing in a couple of beans to give it a slightly heartier texture.
Kiki June 29, 2015
As a true Swiss - and not only with regards to Swiss chards :) - I was more than astonished to read that you usually discard the stems..... we learned to use absolutely everything and our stems never ever seem to be hard, wooden, and stringy. We might use a different kind of this wonderful, slightly bitter vegetable, as I personally only ever ate (brilliant) red swiss chard once in UK, 'ours' are white, maybe with a bit of green in the stems - this might well be ..... Always use the leaves as a sort of 'spinach'... Wonderful, inspiring article - shall keep this for my future cooking. Thank you so much!
Vermont L. June 28, 2015
I am also allergic to legumes, so I make mine with small zucchini's instead of the chick peas, you can't tell the difference. Use small zucchini's because they are denser.
mizerychik June 28, 2015
I'm allergic to all legumes, so this is perfect for me. I'm definitely going to try it for my next party.
catalinalacruz June 28, 2015
Now that we just learned how to use garbanzo bean water in place of egg whites to whip up some meringue, you offer us a hummus recipe that doesn't help me use up my stockpile of garbanzo beans! :)
Anna June 28, 2015
Do you think this would work with rhubarb?
James C. June 28, 2015
Very interesting, I'll try it with squash.
Joe K. June 26, 2015
I've added collard leaf ribs to a hummus along with the usual chickpeas. Next time I'll try leaving out the chickpeas.
Joe K. June 26, 2015
I've added collard leaf ribs to a chickpea hummus. Next time I'll try leaving out the chickpeas.
Marian B. June 25, 2015
yum i love this and the book that it comes from
Karena D. June 25, 2015
Cannot wait to try this. I've been using zucchini.
arianna June 28, 2015
Me too!
placidplaid June 25, 2015
What about kale stalks?
Kristen M. June 25, 2015
So glad you asked! I tried this with both lacinato and a sturdier red-stemmed kale and it worked out nicely -- the stems are more fibrous, so it looked a tiny bit less smooth than the chard version, but the texture wasn't noticeable when scooping it up with bread. The key is to boil the stems until they're very tender.
Ali S. June 24, 2015
I ate a lot of this hummus and had no idea until this moment that there weren't chickpeas. I feel duped (in a good way).
AntoniaJames June 24, 2015
Perfect timing! I have been hauling home armfuls of beets to pickle and can these past few weeks. Definitely going to put the yellow beet stems to use this way. And then sprinkle the hummus generously with dukkah:
Love this -- especially not having to cook up chickpeas to satisfy my hummus cravings between batches of the Ottolenghi - Tamimi Genius hummus. Thank you! ;o)
Riddley G. June 24, 2015
This is hands down my favorite hummus.
Kenzi W. June 24, 2015
Thank you for this recipe; thank you for letting me eat it with a spoon, still warm and out of the bowl of the food processor, on the day you shot it.
Sarah J. June 24, 2015
Ah, it is so good warm, sprinkled with some salt! It is also good on toast for breakfast.
jbban June 24, 2015
The stems are my favourite part of chard, but this looks like a brilliant application for them!
Stephanie June 24, 2015
Um, Wow!