Before opening Zahav restaurant in Philadelphia, chef Michael Solomonov visited hummus parlours all over Israel trying to find the best recipe. "Hummus is the hardest thing to get right," he says. "It has to be rich, creamy and mildly nutty." To make his hummus luxuriously smooth, he soaks the chickpeas overnight with baking soda to soften them. While Americans now flavour hummus with everything from pureed red peppers to fresh herbs, Solomonov says among the fanciest garnishes you can find in Israel are whole chickpeas, paprika and lemon-spiked tahini, used for hummus masabacha.
Combine beans, 1 teaspoon baking soda, and 2 tablespoons salt in a large bowl and cover with 6 cups cold water. Stir to dissolve salt and baking soda. Let stand at room temperature overnight. Drain and rinse beans thoroughly.
Place beans in a large Dutch oven or saucepan. Add remaining baking soda, 1 tablespoon salt, onion, celery, carrot, garlic, and bay leaves. Add 6 cups water and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce to a simmer, cover with lid slightly cracked, and cook until beans are completely tender, to the point of falling apart, about 2 hours. Check on beans occasionally and top up with more water if necessary, they should be completely submerged at all times.
Discard onion, celery, and bay leaves. Transfer chickpeas, carrot, and garlic to a food processor or high-powered blender (such as a Vitamix, BlendTec or Breville Boss)(see note above) with enough cooking liquid to barely cover them. Cover blender, taking out the central insert on the blender lid. Place a folded kitchen towel over the hole in the centre of the lid to allow steam to escape. Holding the towel down firmly, turn the blender to the lowest possible speed and slowly increase speed to high. If the mixture becomes too thick to blend, add cooking liquid until it has the texture of a very thick milkshake, always starting the blender on low speed before increasing to high. If your blender comes with a push-stick for thick purees, use it. Continue blending until completely smooth, about 2 minutes.
Transfer hot chickpea mixture to a large bowl. Whisk in tahini and lemon juice. Whisk in salt to taste. Transfer to a sealed container and allow to cool to room temperature. It should thicken up until it can hold its shape when spooned onto a plate.
Serve hummus on a wide, shallow plate, drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with za'atar, paprika, whole warm chickpeas, and/or chopped parsley. Leftover hummus can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 1 week. Allow to come to room temperature before serving.