Hummus is immensely popular in Israel, where it is widely acknowledged to be of Arab origin. Ask anyone where to find the best hummus in Jerusalem and they’ll send you to the Arab Quarter. You might think this would be a problem for Arab-Israeli relations, but actually, as noted in a recent article in The Economist, the only thing Israeli and Arab negotiators could agree on in Shepherdstown, West Virginia ten years ago, was the fact that the American hummus was ghastly. Who knows, maybe the Israelis and Arabs will agree to share Jerusalem, so everyone can continue to get their daily chickpea fix. It brings new meaning to the idea of whirled peas.
Having everyone sit down to a meal may sound like a simplistic way to solve such complex international issues, but Senator George J. Mitchell, President Obama’s Special Envoy to the Middle East, had quite a bit of success with just that tactic in the Northern Ireland peace negotiations. He hosted a dinner during which the negotiators were forbidden the topic of politics and were encouraged to discuss more personal things such as family and hobbies. A few days after that dinner, the first glimmers of mutual understanding were seen among the parties, leading eventually to the signing of the Good Friday Agreement. If he tries it again, I would advise Senator Mitchell to get the best hummus money can buy. Or better yet, have the negotiators contribute their own family recipes.
As with many traditional dishes, we don’t know the origin of hummus. The word comes to us through Turkish, from the Arabic. As is often the case with food words, it simply means what it is, “chickpeas.” The full Arabic name of the dish is hummus-bi-tahina (chickpeas with tahina, or sesame paste). If you’ve only ever bought it in the grocery store or made it with canned chickpeas, you may think of hummus as heavy and pasty. The real dish is nothing like that, when freshly made, with good ingredients, it is light and fluffy, with bright lemon and earthy garlic bringing out the flavor of the staid chickpea.
adapted from Mediterranean Street Food by Anissa Helou
Makes about 2 cups
1/2 cup dried chickpeas, soaked in water for 4 hours or overnight
1/3 cup tahini
2 cloves garlic, peeled
4 tablespoons lemon juice or to taste
fruity olive oil
Drain and rinse the chickpeas. Put them in a saucepan and enough water to cover them by about an inch. Bring to a boil and then lower the heat to a simmer. Simmer the chickpeas partially covered for about 45 minutes or until very tender.
Drain the chickpeas and reserve the cooking water. Place the chickpeas in a food processor with the tahini and garlic. Process into a smooth puree. Check the consistency, it should be creamy, if it’s too thick add a couple of tablespoons of the chickpea cooking water to thin it out.
Add salt to taste, processing to blend it in.
Add the lemon juice a little at a time, processing to blend, until it tastes the way you like. At this point you may need to add more salt to balance the lemon juice. I find that I go back and forth between the two until it tastes just right.
Serve in a shallow bowl or on a small platter. Make a slight depression in the center of the hummus, sprinkle the paprika on top and pour some nice fruity olive oil into the depression. Garnish with olives if you like.
Serve with pita bread and vegetables for dipping.