The Hummus Factor

Pronounced most properly as "who-mousse" (not hum-muss), this now ubiquitous chickpea spread landed as number six on Google's most frequent recipe search.  Yet, a recent article in The Jewish Week stated that 82% of Americans have never tried it.  Huh?  Statistically then, hummus recipes are voraciously desired by a rather small universe.   According to Amy Spiro, who wrote the story, in 1995 hummus was a $5 million industry with just a handful of companies manufacturing it.  Today sales have reached $350 million a year.  Maybe the universe for delicious dips is expanding. I have always loved hummus.  During 10 visits to the Middle East since 1980, I have pursued the best and most authentic.  I am generally surprised how thick and ultra-suave the texture is (mine never quite gets that way).  Hummus is a chickpea puree flavored with tahini (sesame seed paste), fresh lemon, garlic and cumin.  Cold water is generally added to help emulsify the ingredients and loosen the sesame paste.  There are as many versions as there are characters in a Tolstoy play: I love it served warm and topped with toasted walnuts and dukkah (a spice blend from Egypt); served cold with spicy warm ground lamb; topped with zhug (a very spicy Yemenite condiment) and a hard-boiled egg, or just as is with a sprinkling of pine nuts and a pile of toasted pita.  In my new book Radically Simple, I saute a mess of wild mushrooms and pile them atop a mound of lemony hummus as a great first course for the vegetarians I know and love.  Hummus, is also my "go to" improv hors d'oeuvre for any last-minute guests.  And although hummus is most delicious made with dried chickpeas you cook yourself, it is perfectly credible made with canned chickpeas:  They are always in my pantry.

Generally considered a dip, hummus has become a most universal food:  It is breakfast for some, a wholesome lunch for others.  It can be a snack, a sandwich spread, something with which to fill cherry tomatoes, an edible bed for grilled chicken or fish.  I like to sneak a mound of hummus under a hillock of lightly-dressed greens for fun.  Look, surprise, hummus!

Here's my favorite recipe adapted slightly from Little Meals: A Great New Way to Eat & Cook (written by me in 1993.) Hummus Serve with a pile of toasted pita bread or with a grand array of fresh vegetables for dipping.  The recipe is easily doubled and tripled and lasts several days in your fridge.

1-1/2 cups freshly cooked chickpeas (or a 15-ounce can) 3 to 4 tablespoons freshly-squeezed lemon juice 3 tablespoons tahini (well-stirred) 1 medium clove garlic 2 to 3 tablespoons cold water 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin 1/2 teaspoon salt extra-virgin olive oil for drizzling optional: toasted sesame seeds and smoked paprika for dusting on top

If using canned chickpeas, drain them under cold water and shake dry.  Put chickpeas, 3 tablespoons lemon juice, tahini, garlic, 2 tablespoons water, cumin and salt in a food processor and process several minutes until very smooth.  Add more lemon juice if desired and a little more water to make a smooth consistency, if necessary.  Pack into a shallow dish or spread the hummus on a large plate.  Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with sesame seeds and smoked paprika, if using.  Makes 1-1/2 cups