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dipping into hummus...
its origins and its destiny
Hummus is a traditional Middle Eastern dip of Arab origin, derived from the ancient Aramaic language for chickpea, the main ingredient of this widely fought over dip for both culinary ownership and cultural appropriation.
This classic savoury dip has held claims to its culinary creation by almost every Middle Eastern nation, with little certainty or proof to any individual assertions. There is clear evidence however, that the humble chickpea, proclaimed a nutritional powerhouse has been indigenous to the region for over 10,000 years. It is widely believed to have been one of the earliest cultivated legumes from the Fertile Crescent, and a rich source of protein during the biblical era to the wandering Israelites, leaving no doubt in the cultural heritage of hummus.
The oldest written record for ‘pounded chickpeas’ called Himmas Kassa was found in the 14th century Egyptian cookbook, Kanz al-Fawa'id fi Tanwi' al-Mawa'id. The anonymously written recipe was translated by Iraqi food writer and researcher Nawal Nasrallah, and found to have the addition of aromatic spices, fresh herbs and earthy nuts, elevating the region’s basic staple to its national signature dish.
”Take chickpeas and after they boil, pound them finely with vinegar, olive oil, tahini (sesame paste), black pepper, atraf teeb (spice blend), mint, parsley, and dried thyme. Add [and continue pounding] shelled walnut, hazelnut, almond, and pistachio, as well as Ceylon cinnamon, toasted caraway seeds, coriander seeds, salt, lemon preserved in salt, and olives. Stir all to blend, and them spread [on a plate] and set aside overnight, and eat it. It will be wonderful, God willing.”
Not only is its origins a matter for contention, so often is the spelling and naturally the making of this dip too. Whether written on a menu as hummus or houmous, it can be found on every street corner throughout the Levant, in both Jewish and Arabic quarters and always made from the family ‘secret’ recipe, handed down through the generations and carried out to the exacting amounts for smoothness and above all flavour. The credibility of any homemade hummus within the region, relies heavily on the cooking of the chickpeas and the addition of a quality tahini paste, which when blended with lemon juice, garlic, salt and water or olive oil creates a thick, creamy texture with a harmonious balance of flavours. Bicarbonate of soda is often added when cooking the chickpeas to soften them, make them easier to peel and aid digestion.
The authenticity of the traditional staple is also reliant upon its temperature and toppings and is usually served as part of a meze for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Hummus is a dish best served slightly warm or at room temperature, never cold and garnished modestly with extra whole chickpeas, olive oil, paprika and parsley, with pitta breads acting as the vessel to eat it with. Regionally it is served with other local toppings including the Lebanese version of a hearty plate of hummus with spicy ground beef and toasted pinenuts, known as hummus ma lahma. The Israeli variations are often based on the cuisines of their Sephardic and Mizrachi immigrant population and include the addition of cumin and other spices. It is frequently topped with zhoug, a Yemenite hot sauce made from chilli and fresh coriander, fried aubergines and in true Iraqi style with hard boiled eggs. It is never far away from falafel, a plate of chips, pickles or a chopped salad.
Hummus seems to be veering away from its heritage and the simplicity of the customary chickpea dip, in favour of a more contemporary starter using beetroot, fava beans and sweet potato amongst other vegetables for flavour, texture and hues. Blended with an array of fresh herbs, fragrant spices, a citrus zing or foraged wild edibles, toppings often include salty cheeses, earthy roasted nuts and seeds with a drizzle of flavoured herb or plant based oils for the modern take on this cultural dish. There is no doubt that the origins of hummus will always be cause for debate, however it is clearly evident that this moreish blend of mashed chickpea has more than stood the test of time, culinary tradition and will always sit proudly on every Middle Eastern table.
This is a traditional Arabic hummus recipe, from the family run restaurant ‘King of Kings’ in Deir al Assad in Northern Israel, which was shared with me by the owner Abed.
2 cups / 450g dried chickpeas
½ teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 cloves garlic, crushed
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
juice 1 lemon
whole chickpeas, tahina, flat leaf parsley & extra virgin olive oil to garnish
place the dried chickpeas in a large bowl, cover with cold water & leave to soak for 12 hours, drain & rinse under fresh cold water
place the soaked chickpeas in a large saucepan with ½ teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda which helps to soften the chickpeas whilst cooking & cover the chickpeas completely with cold water, bring to the boil & simmer on a low heat for 1 hour or until the chickpeas are soft & crush between your fingers easily, a foam will appear on the surface of the water, so scrape it off during the cooking process as it forms
once the chickpeas are cooked and soft, drain but reserving the cooking liquor in a jug, place the chickpeas into a food processor with ½ cup / 100mls of the warm cooking water, process for about 30 seconds before adding the salt, garlic & olive oil, pulse a couple of times to incorporate into the chickpeas, then with the motor running on the processor, add the tahini very slowly, once incorporated, add the lemon juice & keep processing until all is combines and smooth, adding a little more warm water if needed to make a silky puree, taste for seasoning and add more salt or lemon juice if needed
spread onto side plates, drizzle over extra virgin olive oil, some whole soft chickpeas, tahina & flat leaf parsley & serve with warm pitta bread