Hummus 101: No Ho-Hum Allowed

Its official name in Arabic is hummus bi-tahini – literally “chickpeas in tahini”. But we just call it hummus: a Middle-Eastern vegan dip that’s made from chickpeas (or sometimes other sorts of beans), and blended with tahini (sesame seed paste/sesame butter), along with olive oil, lemon juice, salt, and garlic.

Hummus is popular throughout the Middle East and along the entire Mediterranean seacoast, as well as in Middle Eastern cuisine around the globe. Increasingly, it is popular in the US and Europe, too.

Nearly every country and region within the greater Middle East claims to be the location and cuisine that originated hummus – but it’s nearly impossible to “prove” who first thought of this versatile dish. Chickpeas (aka garbanzo beans) are eaten throughout the region (the Levant), and hummus’ basic ingredients—chickpeas, sesame, lemon, and garlic— have been popular staples in cuisines from Egypt to Italy to Israel and Jordan for centuries. Written recipes for hummus-like spreads date back to Egypt in the 13th Century!

How we eat it. These days, folks eat hummus as an appetizer, spread on wedges of pita bread, or dipped with cold, crunchy vegetables, or as part of a mezze platter (kind of like a Middle-Eastern antipasto spread). A dollop of hummus is also a great accompaniment to main dishes like falafel, grilled eggplant or zucchini, chicken or fish.

We’ve got a great recipe for traditional spiced hummus in the AllSpice recipe database.

Hummus recipes that are a little bit more far out:

Hummus also makes an unconventional backdrop for other ingredients, as in this recipe for Hummus and Vegetable Pizza.

Some folks like to put other ingredients on their hummus as garnishes (like whole chickpeas, chopped tomato or cucumber, Kalamata olives, sliced hard-boiled eggs, or pine nuts).

Other non-traditionalists put additional herbs and spices on (and in) their hummus, like coriander, cumin, turmeric, parsley, (a drizzle of) olive oil, mint leaves, paprika, sumac, or even curry powder and non-Middle Eastern spices (like we did with our Thai Coconut Curry Hummus recipe).

A popular, traditional Palestinian dish is laban ma hummus, which is hummus made with chickpeas and yogurt (instead of tahini) and butter (instead of olive oil). This dairy-filled hummus is eaten with pieces toasted bread, not unlike “regular” hummus and pita.

Even farther out. Sometimes adventurous cooks take the basic hummus “rules” and toss them out the window, adding instead decidedly non-Middle Eastern ingredients and making something completely new and different, like these

and dessert-centered hummus recipe variations, like

That’sa lotta hummus.  The Guinness World Record for the largest dish of hummus in the world was set in Lebanon. Three hundred cooks in the village of al-Fanar, near Beirut, made a batch of hummus that weighed over ten tons (23,040 lbs)!  According to local media reports at the time, the recipe included eight tons of boiled chickpeas, two tons of tahini, two tons of lemon juice, and150 lbs of olive oil.

Hummus and chill? In closing, we have to mention some more hummus lore – there’s an actual hummus-themed movie. There’s a short film called “West Bank Story” that is a riff on West Side Story, which features a rivalry between two fictional restaurants, the Israeli “Kosher King” and the Palestinian “Hummus Hut”. The movie won the 2006 Academy Award for Best Live Action Short Film. Not sure whether this is available on iTunes or Netflix, but we certainly know what would make a great snack to eat while you watch this on tv.