By Catharine L. Kaufman—a.k.a. The Kitchen Shrink
For centuries, hummus—a seasoned and herbed combination of cooked and puréed chickpeas, sesame seed-based tahini sauce, garlic, olive oil, fresh
lemon juice, herbs and spices—has been a nourishing and versatile staple throughout the Middle East, where it was served as an appetizer, dip, side-dish or snack. Pride and fierce regional competition have helped to refine hummus preparation skills and the artful shadings of its flavors.
Politics often entered the competition, in recent years when the Association of Lebanese Industrialists (ALI) petitioned the European Commission to grant protective status for hummus as a uniquely Lebanese food. Possibly prompted by Israel’s growing export market for its Sabra brand hummus products, the ALI claimed that its political rival has now usurped the national dish of Lebanon. Luckily the conflict’s non-violent resolution had a decided element of fun, when the two countries decided to compete for the title by preparing the biggest bowl of hummus ever made. Lebanon’s 14,000 pound ‘crate’ of hummus (now a Guinness Record) easily trumped Israel’s (puny by comparison) 9,000 pound bowl of the dish.
Such regional arguments and even occasional boycotts aimed at winning hummus authenticity contests eventually became obsolete, when the dish made its breakout debut as an international favorite and ubiquitous addition to restaurants and buffet tables everywhere. Media fame came with the release of a documentary film, “Make Hummus Not War,” followed by spinoffs, TV series and food blogs, all of which added spice to the controversy and inducted the dish into American pop culture.
We’re Talking Millennial History Here…
Some of the earliest are Biblical references to a simple, cooked (probably unseasoned) version of the chickpea legume (also called garbanzo bean, gram or Egyptian pea), as well as writings elsewhere about thousands of years of its cultivation throughout the Mediterranean basin, Middle East and India. Food historians found mention of such crops in ancient Babylon and Mesopotamia, as well as of various preparations being consumed as street food in regions ruled by the Roman and Greek Empires. It is interesting to note that even then, the Greek philosophers Plato and Socrates described those early version of hummus in their writings as highly nutritious—a conclusion likely based on personal experience and observation, since it was reached long before modern science confirmed it.
Versatile “Chameleon” Dish Adapts To Any Meal
As later scientific analyses of its components revealed, the creamy and spreadable hummus we enjoy for its bursts of savory flavors, is also packed with fiber, folate, immune-boosting Vitamin C, energy-balancing potassium, blood-enriching iron and enough B- Vitamins to defuse stress and dial up brain power. Turbo-charged with the mighty sesame seed, the tahini sauce adds a rich and piquant flavor to the mix, as well as an abundance of the amino acid methionine to complement the chickpea’s proteins—which combine with bulgur wheat and other whole grain pita or crackers to complete a mighty whole-protein source.
While omnivores also count hummus among their favorite dishes, it is considered a culinary Rock Star by vegetarians and vegans, as well as filling and nutrition-packed lifesaver for Celiac- and gluten-sensitive sufferers.
The dish has achieved universal appeal as a main course when accompanied by salad, bread or other grain product and olives; as a sandwich enriched with a topping of roasted peppers or eggplant; as a buffet banquet with sliced hardboiled eggs garnish, or mixed with avocado for a more exotic and unexpected dip for scooping with pita chips or crackers. Hummus goes well with toasted whole wheat bagels, flat breads layered with braised kale and a poached egg; or when expanded to a mouthwatering lunch, prepared Asian-style as a ‘sushi’ wrap with edamame and seaweed; or as a sampler of meze platter with assorted hummus flavors, soft Mediterranean cheeses, roasted and mashed eggplant babaganoush and pickled vegetables.
Creative cooks may slather hummus on chicken or wild-caught salmon and roast to a crispy crunch; or blend into a favorite pasta dish or mashed potatoes. Dessert lovers will be glad to hear that Israeli ice cream makers have come up with some quite delicious hummus-flavored gelatos.
Here is a homemade hummus recipe I cadged from Chef Jonathan Sudar of the Four Seasons Residence Club, who graciously agreed to share it with you.
Roasted Garlic Hummus
- 4 cups of chickpeas—canned (drained, skins removed), or raw (soaked overnight, then covered with spring water and with a teaspoon of baking soda added; then boiled up briefly and simmered on low heat until tender—about 90 minutes—drained, skins removed)
- 1 and ½ cups tahini paste
- juice from one lemon
- ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
- 4 garlic cloves
- sea salt and black pepper to taste
Place garlic in ovenproof dish. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with sea salt. Bake in oven set to moderate heat until tender. Set aside.
Place canned or cooked chickpeas (still warm) into food processor and pulse until coarsely chopped. Add garlic, tahini, lemon juice and seasonings. Pulse until smooth. Drizzle in olive oil and gently blend.
If hummus is too thick, add ice water to desired consistency.
Transfer to a decorative bowl and garnish with roasted chickpeas, olives, chopped parsley, Persian cucumber slices or paprika.
(From FRC Editor: Since I like to improvise while cooking, my riff on this recipe includes all organic ingredients, 5-6 cloves of raw (not roasted) garlic, cayenne instead of black pepper and adding almond milk instead of water when the hummus turns out too thick in the food processor.)