Drain and rinse the chickpeas. Place in a stock pot with baking soda and cover with at least 1 inch of cold water. Bring to a boil and simmer until the chickpeas are tender, about 1 1/2 to 4 1/2 hours, depending on the age of your chickpeas. Drain well, reserving 1/4 cup of cooking liquid.
Pour the chickpeas onto a very clean, dry kitchen towel. Rub vigorously until dried and the paper skins start to fall off. (It is not required to remove all skins, but roasted chickpeas taste better if you do.)
In a food processor, combine chickpeas, salt, and garlic and blend for 30 seconds, periodically stopping the processor to scrape down the sides of the bowl.
Add tahini, lemon juice, and reserved liquid and process 15 seconds. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and continue to process until you have a smooth puree. With the machine running, slowly drizzle in the olive oil and process until incorporated.
Transfer to a serving bowl and drizzle with clarified butter. Top with (or stir in) Za'atar spice if desired.
Dried chickpeas: Starting with soaked, dried beans is my preferred method for the creamiest and best homemade hummus. Add the beans to a bowl and cover with at least 2 inches of water, then soak overnight. Drain and discard soaking liquid, then proceed with the hummus recipe instructions below.
Garlic: You can use raw if you enjoy the punchy flavor, or to mellow it out a bit, blend in roasted garlic. To roast garlic, preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Cut the top off a bulb of garlic so the cloves are exposed. Set the bulb on a piece of foil large enough to wrap the bulb. Top the exposed cloves with olive oil and wrap the bulb tightly in foil. Bake for 45 to 60 minutes or until a knife slides easily into the middle of the bulb. The garlic can be made up to a week in advance and stored in the refrigerator.
Clarified butter: Also known as ghee, this is butter that's been cooked down so it's possible to remove the milk solids. To clarify butter, melt the butter over low heat (do not boil). Skim off the foamy milk solids that rose to the top. Ladle the butterfat from the saucepan in to a second (clean) saucepan or bowl. Leave the water in the bottom of the original saucepan (it will look like a white, milky substance). One pound of butter will yield approximately 12 ounces clarified butter; store leftovers in the refrigerator or freezer.
Za'atar: The za'atar spice (a simple Middle Eastern blend) is awesome, but optional. I tried this combination at a restaurant during a trip Des Moines, Iowa, and I couldn't stop thinking about it once I arrived home. To make za'atar, in a small bowl or jar with a tight fitting lid, combine 1 tablespoon dried thyme, 1 tablespoon sesame seeds, 1 tablespoon sumac, and 1 teaspoon salt. Store covered in the pantry for up to 6 months.
Yield: This hummus recipe makes 10 generous 1/3-cup appetizer-sized servings. Pair with plenty of fluffy, warm pita and crunchy crudites. Or, you know, your spoon.
Storage: Store leftover hummus covered in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.
Your can plan: If you can't find (or don't want to soak) dried beans, simply trade in two 14- to 16-ounce cans of chickpeas. Reserve 1/4 cup of the canning liquid for use in Step 3.