There’s a certain food making the rounds of many a table today. It’s made from garbanzo beans and is of Arabic origins. You’ve probably had some in the last month or so, if not more recently. Do you know what I’m talking about?
If you said hummus, you’re right! Didn’t know you were eating garbanzo beans? Thought it came from Whole Foods not a whole other country? Well, say a big “hmmmmm” and read on about hummus!
If you know anything about hummus, you might know that it is made from chickpeas, which are also known as garbanzo beans! What you may not know is that “hummus” is actually an Arabic word that means “chickpea.” So what exactly is hummus though?
In its purest form, hummus is a dip or spread made from mashed chickpeas and blended with tahini, olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, and salt. Extremely popular today because of its low-fat content and nutritious properties, hummus has actually been around for centuries and is one of the oldest known prepared foods. But is it Greek? Middle Eastern? Jewish?
Many cultures and regions around the world claim hummus as their own, but its exact origin has never been completely verified. Chickpeas, on the other hand, are another story. Vegetables that have been cultivated and grown throughout the Middle East and India for thousands of years, chickpeas were one of the earliest crops in Mesopotamia and were a common food on the streets of ancient Rome according to Top Food Facts. Some even claim they were known to grow in the gardens of Babylon. And if that’s not enough history for your appetite, chew on this little nugget: Plato and Socrates both mentioned chickpeas in their writings. Get out!
Arabs and Greeks are equally adamant that they “own” hummus, and even Israelis have joined the debate. No one really knows for sure, but the earliest known hummus recipes date back to 13th century Cairo and most historians and foodies say hummus most likely originated in Egypt. But, does it really matter?
It actually makes sense that multiple cultures were involved in the creating of hummus. Chickpeas have always grown abundantly in the Middle East and the Greeks and Egyptians were trade partners for centuries so many of their dishes intermix. In addition to hummus, baklava, the famous Greek dessert, is also made in the Middle East.
Today hummus is enjoyed the world over as an appetizer or dip most commonly served with pita or other flatbreads. It can also serve as a side dish or accompaniment to falafel or chicken and fish dishes. Common garnishes include chopped tomatoes and cucumbers, parsley, red peppers, onions, and pine nuts. Cruise down any grocery store aisle and you’ll come across hummus in a humongous assortment of flavors and styles. My favorite is the roasted red pepper.
In Egypt still, hummus is a popular dip while in Israel it is regarded a national food and is a common part of almost daily meals as its ingredients follow Jewish dietary laws. The spread is equally popular among Arabs who are adamant that the word is not only of Arabic origins, but the dish itself is too. It has long been an Arabic staple food served at breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Me? I like it as an appetizer but then again, I could live on appetizers. I haven’t always liked hummus though. It was the texture that had me questioning its appeal, but once I found the roasted red pepper flavor, I was sold. Now I love it.
What many love about hummus, besides its flavor, is its nutritional value. Chickpeas are chalk-full of fiber, protein, potassium, B vitamins, iron, vitamin C, folate, and manganese. Equally impressive is that it is low in calories, carbohydrates, and sugar. Most of the fat found in hummus comes from the tahini and olive oil that go into the making of it. Tah-what?
Tahini. Also based on an Arabic word meaning “to grind,” tahini is made from ground sesame seeds and is sometimes served as a dip on its own. It’s also a major ingredient of hummus, baba ghanoush, and halva. Very common in the foods of the eastern Mediterranean region, the Middle East, China, Korea, Japan, and India, tahini comes in either liquid or paste form. In Greece it is spread on bread and topped with jam while Israel considers it a staple food.
Like chickpeas, tahini has excellent nutritional value. It is a great source of calcium, manganese, the amino acid methionine, and healthy omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. When made from raw sesame seeds rather than from roasted seeds, it is even lower in fat.
So there you have it, the history of hummus. Who knew?
Now it’s time to make some hummus. I came across this photo on Ina Garten’s “Barefoot Contessa” Instagram feed and just knew it would be fabulous. She called it “Israeli Vegetable Salad on Hummus” but I just call it yummy. Basically chopped tomatoes, cucumbers, and salad greens like arugula served on top of hummus. So easy!
And on that note, here’s an easy basic hummus recipe from Epicurious:
2 cups drained and well-cooked canned chickpeas, liquid reserved
½ cup tahini paste
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, peeled
Salt and pepper to taste
1 T cumin or paprika
Juice of 1 lemon
Chopped fresh parsley leaves for garnish
Put all ingredients except the parsley a food processor and process.
Add reserved chickpea liquid as need to produce a smooth puree.
Serve drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with spices and parsley.
Recipe author, Mark Bittman of “The Best Recipes in the World,” says chickpeas are among the best legumes around and surprisingly, though generally not a big fan of canned beans, but for whatever reason canned chickpeas are not bad at all so he always keeps some on hand to make a batch of this at the last minute. He also adds that you can make hummus without tahini; but it will be a little looser and less complex tasting but still good. For my two-cent’s worth, I would totally leave out the cumin as I’m not a fan, and I might add some red pepper and crushed garlic on top.
Experiment and have fun with it and be ever so grateful to those little chickpeas!