The third Thursday in May was declared as National Hummus Day in the United States in 2012 and has now grown to be International Hummus Day. I wouldn’t call this an earth-shattering event, but I like hummus and it is a movable celebration, so why not celebrate?
Hummus is a Middle Eastern dish made from cooked, mashed chickpeas or other beans, blended with tahini, olive oil, lemon juice, salt and garlic. The word “hummus” comes from the Arabic word حمّص (ḥummuṣ), meaning “chickpeas” but the complete name of the prepared dish in Arabic is حمّص بطحينة (ḥummuṣ bi ṭaḥīna), which means “chickpeas with tahini.”
Many cuisine-related sources (especially online) describe hummus as an ancient food, or connect it to famous historical figures such as Saladin. Certainly, its basic ingredients—chickpeas, sesame, lemon, and garlic—have been eaten in the region for millennia. But, there is no clear evidence for this purported ancient history of hummus bi tahina. Though chickpeas were widely eaten in the region, and they were often cooked in stews and other hot dishes, puréed chickpeas eaten cold with tahini do not appear before the Abbasid period in Egypt and the Levant.
The earliest known recipes for a dish similar to hummus bi tahina are recorded in cookbooks published in Cairo in the 13th century. A cold purée of chickpeas with vinegar and pickled lemons with herbs, spices, and oil, but no tahini or garlic, appears in the Kitāb al-Wusla ilā l-habīb fī wasf al-tayyibāt wa-l-tīb, and a purée of chickpeas and tahini called hummus kasa appears in the Kitab Wasf al-Atima al-Mutada. It is based on puréed chickpeas and tahini, and acidulated with vinegar (though not lemon), but it also contains many spices, herbs, and nuts, and no garlic. It is served by rolling it out and letting it sit overnight, which presumably gives it a very different texture from hummus bi tahina.
As an appetizer and dip, hummus can be scooped with flatbread, such as pita. It is also served as part of a meze or as an accompaniment to falafel, grilled chicken, fish or eggplant. Garnishes include chopped tomato, cucumber, coriander, parsley, caramelized onions, sautéed mushrooms, whole chickpeas, olive oil, hard-boiled eggs, paprika, sumac, ful, olives, pickles and pine nuts.
Making your own hummus is not difficult, and you should experiment with quantities to your own taste. Of course, you can also buy it readymade, but quality varies. If you make it yourself you know what you are getting. If you like you can start with dried chickpeas, soak them over night then simmer them for 2-3 hours in fresh water until soft. I find canned to be easy. Tahini is a sesame seed paste akin to peanut butter.
400g canned chickpeas
3 tbsp tahini
2 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
1 tsp salt
6 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
3 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
Drain the chickpeas and reserve the liquid. Place them in a food processor along with the tahini, crushed garlic, salt, lemon juice and a tablespoon or two of the liquid from the cans to aid the processing. Run the processor on medium speed. When the ingredients begin to combine and become smooth, keep the processor running and slowly pour in the olive oil. Continue until the mixture is smooth.
Tip into a serving dish. Optional garnishes include a drizzle of olive oil, chopped cilantro, and/or paprika.
You can add whatever you want to the basic recipe such as avocado or pine nuts, but I prefer to keep mine simple. Hummus with flatbread makes a quick and easy snack or lunch. Sometimes I’ll add a sliced boiled egg with cumin. You can also serve it as a side dish with meats such as skewered lamb. In this case I wrap the meat and hummus in pita and sprinkle on some fresh olive oil and rosemary. Here’s a gallery to stir your imagination.
Happy Hummus Day.