Hummus - the dish of the Middle East
"And just like the region it represents, hummus has had its share in bringing some sabre-rattling out of its inhabitants and those passionate about its politics." © Morane Barkai
Hummus - the dish of the Middle East
Last updated: April 29, 2013

Hummus: A Middle Eastern pea science

If ever a dish represented a whole region, then it would certainly be Hummus. For someone as food-obsessed as me, whenever the mention of a trip to far-away places comes up in a conversation, my first thought is: what is the cuisine going to be like? As far as the Middle East is concerned, my mind, like a well-trained Pavlov dog, goes “Hummus!”

And just like the region it represents, hummus has had its share in bringing some sabre-rattling out of its inhabitants and those passionate about its politics. The latest bout of hostilities surrounded the sale of Israeli-manufactured hummus in a Brooklyn co-op, tending to the taste buds of savvy New-Yorkers, some of whom called for the boycott of Israeli imports. 

In 2008, the Association of Lebanese Industrialists also demanded that the European Union recognises hummus as a national Lebanese dish, a sort of “protected designation of origin”, similar to the status endowed upon Greek Feta cheese and French Champagne. The Lebanese contested Israel’s booming world-wide export of the golden chickpea paste, claiming in essence the country was making huge profits on the back of a Lebanese invention. While the issue, awaiting resolution, is drifting from shelf to shelf in the corridors of the European Union’s many councils, the Lebanese and the Israelis resolved to solve the problem in a show of muscle, with each side setting up in turn a new Guinness world record for the biggest Hummus dish. Currently, Lebanon holds the title.                                 

The hummus war is emblematic of the tendency in the Middle East to seek causes for dispute surrounding a common cause. If anything, one would expect the peoples of the region to unite around this mashed culinary phenomenon, coming together to take the chickpea to new heights. But who knows? Perhaps, one day, the baklava can succeed where the hummus has failed?

Getting down to business:

First, a word of warning. The following recipe, mostly inspired by blog humus101.com, calls for the use of dry chickpeas, not the canned ones, like many western recipes do. This means you need to start (minor) preparations at least on the eve of hummus D-day. It also entails removing the chickpeas’ skin – a task requiring patience and calm. But the result, after a bit of practice, is definitely worth the effort.  

What you need:

2 cups small, dried chickpeas

1 onion

5 garlic cloves

1 tsp crushed coriander seeds

2 tbs parsley leaves

1 cup raw tahini

Cumin

Salt

Juice of 2 lemons

Good quality olive oil

3 tbs parsley leaves

A bunch of pine nuts

Tahini sauce (optional)

What you need to do:

1. On the eve of cooking, place 1 tbs of coarse sea-salt at the bottom of a large recipient and put on top the chickpeas. Fill with water, letting it rise high over the chickpeas, since those will swell as they soak up the water. You can even do this two days before cooking, and change the water at least once in between.

2. Wash the chickpeas thoroughly in order to wash away all the salt. Also take out any ill-looking chickpeas - you don’t want them in your hummus.

3. Place the chickpeas in a pot filled with water and cover. Turn the heat to strong until the water boils, then lower the heat and let the chickpeas simmer. Add no salt to the cooking water – it slows considerably the process. After about an hour and a half, take the chickpeas out and rinse them with cold water. Now starts the really fun part – pilling away the white, translucent skins. Some would already start to get off, as you wash the chickpeas. You can either remove the skins away by squeezing the chickpea between your fingers, or by taking a bunch of them and rubbing them between your hands. Before you start this, put on your radio, or your favourite podcast, because this will take a while... I normally  allow myself only half an hour for this. Not all the chickpeas are skinless by then, but as the Persian carpet weavers have taught us – perfection is for God only.

4. Place chickpeas back in the pot, cover them with fresh water, add quartered onion and pealed garlic cloves, 2 tbs parsley leaves, and crushed coriander seeds, and cook for another hour or until chickpeas are very soft. You should be able to mash one easily with your fingers. The softer your chickpeas are, the nicer will the texture of your hummus be.

5. Drain the chickpeas, onion, garlic cloves, and herbs, and place them in a food processor. Reserve cooking water.

6. Puree the chickpeas for about two minutes, until you obtain a smooth paste. If you think it is too thick, add a little of the cooking water. Add a bit of the raw tahini, lemon juice, salt and cumin. Blend again, taste, and adjust the quantities of lemon, tahini, and seasoning to taste. Add also a dash of olive oil. Like in the case of tahini sauce, the secret of hummus is very elusive and fixed quantities can be misleading, since the type of chickpeas and tahini can alter the results. This means you need to taste again and again, adding each time a bit of this or that, till you are satisfied with your creation.

7. Before serving, place the hummus on a plate, and top with olive oil, 3 tbs shredded parsley leaves and pine nuts. You can also place in the centre of the plate a spoonful of tahini sauce.

Serve with pita bread and falafel, and enjoy!

For more food stories and recipes by Morane:

The story about Tahini

Baba Ganoush: Quintessentially Levantine

Morane Barkai
Morane is a freelance journalist and editor based in Amsterdam.
blog comments powered by Disqus