Hummous (Arabic: حمّص), or as it’s known by it’s full name, Hummous bi Tahineh (حمّص بطحينة), is one of the most well-known and popular Middle Eastern dishes known to the Western palate. This is in large part due to Middle Eastern immigration, marketing, and expatriates. Plus, it just tastes really good.
It’s a dish that ubiquitous all over the Middle East. It’s eaten for breakfast, lunch, with dinner, and as simply a snack. It’s cheap, filling, and packs a lot of protein.
Hummous is also a very healthy dish. It is high in iron, vitamin c, folate (B9), and B6. The chickpeas make it an excellent source of protein and dietary fiber. Tahineh paste is ground sesame seeds, which are an excellent source of amino acids. And, depending on the recipe, hummous has high amounts of monounsaturated fat. Hummous is also a compliment for vegetarian and vegan diets.
This is a dish that my sisters & I grew up with. We had it often enough that we learned to make hummous from a very young age. While this is a dish that is part of my father’s cultural background (he is Palestinian), Mom makes a mean hummous as well.
And one of the things we learned is that hummous is a simple dish with simple, and, yes, ancient ingredients. The basic ingredients in hummous – chick peas, tahineh, lemon, and garlic – have been around for millennia. The dish itself has a rather murky history. Some culinary historians trace the dish back to the 13th Century and the warrior Saladin. However, more recent research finds that the first known documentation of a cold dish of chick peas and tahineh comes from the Egyptian Abbasid period (1251-1516). But, it most likely isn’t what we know now as hummous. The earliest known documented form of “modern” hummous comes from Damascus, Syria in the late 19th Century.
(Some historical and nutritional information from Wikipedia)
A short editorial is called for here. This is a purist recipe. I have seen hummous made with different types of beans, black seeming to be one of the more popular, with sweet potatoes, and, I have seen vegetables added as well.
I’m against all of that.
I’m usually not one to argue against experimentation in cooking. It’s what keeps the culinary world fresh and exciting. But, to me, this dish is perfect in it’s simplest, purest form. Putting stuff that shouldn’t belong in the first place is an anathema to me. If you do decide to make hummous, and you decide to put anything more than the recipe calls for or decide to use a different bean or legume, or heaven help me, a pureed vegetable, I really don’t want to know.
Perhaps it’s a cultural bias. Perhaps it’s because this is what I know from eating this dish for most of my life. When it comes to Middle Eastern food, I’m very much a traditionalist, ingredient & flavor-wise.
Now, for the recipe.
I will say that generally, I don’t measure when I make hummous. I go by texture and taste. So, I had to really make a conscience effort to measure the ingredients this time around.
Also, I do see the irony in using modern tools to make an ancient dish after my stance on traditionalism. I’m sure this dish was made originally with dried chick peas that were perhaps cooked or soaked overnight, stone-ground tahineh, and mixed with a mortar & pestle.
Hummous bi Tahineh
1 ea. 14-oz can chick peas (garbanzos), drained, liquid reserved (save a few whole chick peas for garnish if you like)
1/2 c. tahineh (The oil and the solids separate, like natural nut butters. Be sure to stir before using)
4 cl. garlic, stem ends removed
1 tsp. salt (I use kosher)
3 tbsp. lemon juice
1/4 c. pine nuts, optional
Paprika or sumac, for color, optional
1. Set up a food processor. With the processor running, drop the cloves of garlic through the feed tube. Process until the garlic is finely minced.
2. Stop the processor, remove the lid, and pour in the chick peas and 1/4 cup of the reserved liquid. Process again until you make a rough paste.
3. Add the tahineh and salt. Process again until smooth. Add the lemon juice and process again. Taste for seasoning.
If you prefer a thinner hummous, use more of the reserved liquid. If you like a thicker hummous, use less.
4. Now, there are several ways to present hummous. Reserving a few whole chickpeas or a little chopped tomato or cucumber as garnish (not mixed in!) are some traditional methods of garnishing. But, my favorite way is to brown some pine nuts and serve the hummous with them. Just like Dad does.
There are two ways this can be accomplished. The healthier and vegan way of doing this is to brown the pine nuts in a 350F oven for 3 -5 minutes. They brown quickly, so you need to err on the side of caution. Once the pine nuts begin to smell like popcorn, you’ve gone too far. And pine nuts are too expensive to waste.
The other, more indulgent way to brown the pine nuts is to cook them in butter. Which is my favorite way. Not healthy, admittedly, but, delicious.
Melt the butter over medium-high heat. Add the pine nuts and stir constantly. Once the pine nuts begin to brown, take them off the heat immediately and pour them, butter and all, over the hummous.
If you do use the butter-browning method, wait until you’re just about to serve. Otherwise, the butter will harden and that’s pretty unappetizing.
For color, sprinkle on a bit of paprika or sumac. Very traditional.
5. Now, hummous is almost always served family-style. So, everyone gets to dig into the plate. If you’re in a traditional Arab home and this is a situation you find yourself in, there is a proper way to eat hummous without offending anyone and embarrassing yourself. (Of course, this applies to any family-style dish.)
To begin with, make sure your hands are clean. I’m not kidding. If you’re sharing a large dish with people, they don’t want to eat after someone with dirty hands.
Make sure you always eat with your right hand only. In Bedu (Bedouin; i.e. traditional Arab) culture, the left hand is used for, well, things other than eating. If you’re a southpaw, learn to become ambidextrous when eating.
Stick to your side of the platter. Don’t dig into the center. It’s rude. Find a corner, so to speak, and stick there. Move in as everyone else does. Take your cues from them.
And don’t be afraid to ask if you have etiquette questions. People will be more than happy to help guide you through the ritual.
Now, of course, if you’re moving through a buffet line and you spoon food on your plate, then the above tips won’t apply to you. Except for the right-hand thing.
6. Tear off a small piece of pita bread and make a scoop.
As I said before, take your scoop of pita with your right hand and dip into your designated “corner” of the bowl or platter.
And, there you are.