Hummus

From hole-in-the-wall restaurants in the United States to the United Arab Emirates to Afghanistan and even Indonesia, one thing I've had a lot of, is hummus. It's a middle eastern staple. Whether you're being served beef tava or kuzu tandır, maraq shuit or kubba, odds are you're getting pita bread and hummus beforehand.

The history of hummus is a war of its own among the hundreds that can be found in the Middle East. The Lebanese claim hummus as their invention, Jewish people— especially in Israel— claim that hummus is their invention, "Palestinians" claim hummus as their invention, and the Turks claim hummus as their invention. Unfortunately for these cultures (and many others who claim hummus as their own), however, the exact origin of the dish is a mystery. The earliest known mentions are in published Egyptian cookbooks that have been dated back to the 13th century C.E. But this was a bloody period in Egyptian history when the forces of Saladin and the crusaders battled one another in the region, and surrounding peoples flooded into the land of the pharaohs to aid one side or the other, before eventually the Mamluks (a group of slave soldiers) overthrew the Ayyubids (rulers established by Saladin) and held occupation over Egypt until 1382. So again, due to the fact that multiple cultures were in Egypt fighting each other and being enslaved in the 13th century, the culture where hummus came from is a mystery.

What isn't a mystery is its deliciousness. But this opens up another can of worms: Forget which culture started hummus... which culture has the most delicious hummus? And here is where I must throw gasoline onto an already raging fire. It's Israel folks. Israelis have the best hummus.

The reasons for this are that the Israelis overcook their chickpeas on purpose (giving the hummus more of a "smokey" taste), they rely more on tahini and less on olive oil, and they hand-whip the mixture rather than throw it in a blender (which has the effect of making the hummus thicker).

First though, there are some myths about hummus that need to be addressed. A lot of people talk about how hummus is a high-calorie food. That depends. If you buy the packaged hummus at the grocery store, then yes, it will likely have more calories. If you make your own hummus— and especially if you make it with an emphasis more on tahini than olive oil— it should be much lighter in calories. Another myth is that you need a lot of olive oil (or canola oil) in order to create a thick texture. No. You do not need a lot of oil in order to make hummus thick. Once again, more tahini and less oil, and I promise you will be just fine.

Good things about hummus: It's rich in protein, high in Omega 3, the chickpeas lower cholesterol, hummus contains a lot of iron which helps deliver oxygen to your red blood cells (lowering your risk of anemia), and finally hummus contains a pheromone that when consumed makes one irresistible to Natalie Portman.

Ingredients for Israeli hummus:

1 cup dried chickpeas
2 teaspoons of baking soda (divided)
4 garlic cloves, unpeeled
⅓ cup of lemon juice
1 teaspoon of salt
⅔ cup tahini (I recommend the Philadelphia-based brand Soom, but Trader Joe's also has a good brand)
¼ teaspoon of ground cumin
Olive oil

Servings: 4 cups

How to make it:

Place the chickpeas and a teaspoon of baking soda into a bowl and add 2" of water. You're going to cover the bowl with a napkin or cloth, and leave this bowl for 8 to 12 hours. You're trying to get the chickpeas to double in size. Once that's done, take the chickpeas and your last remaining teaspoon of baking soda, and combine them in a saucepan and then cover them both up with 2" of water again. Bring this to a boil (medium heat for appx. 45 minutes), until your chickpeas begin to fall apart. 

During this approximate 45 minutes, use the time to take your garlic and lemon juice and salt, and put it in a food processor. If you do not have a food processor, you can go caveman and put all the shit in a ziplock bag and use a meat tenderizer, but honestly I recommend just going out and buying a food processor. You want to get the garlic and lemon and salt to where they're a thick liquid (you can see then why a meat tenderizer and a ziplock bag would take forever). Once your three ingredients are a liquid, you're going to let it sit 10 minutes so the garlic can mellow.

After that, strain your lemony-garlic happy juice until all the remaining chunky bits are out. Add the tahini to the liquid and add ¼ cup of ice water, then get a big spoon and start stirring. After a minute or two of doing this, add the chickpeas and cumin and continue stirring for 4 minutes. Then lightly— lightly dammit lightly!— drizzle olive oil over the hummus and enjoy.

A suggestion for toppings:

Spanish paprika, parsley, and a few drops of orange juice.

Enjoying some hummus at a Turkish restaurant in Kabul (August 2016).

Enjoying some hummus at a Turkish restaurant in Kabul (August 2016).

Hummus I made with lamb for topping.

Hummus I made with lamb for topping.