Although the "holiday," started by Ben Lang in Tel-Aviv, is still very new (celebrating only its fifth year of existence this Friday), hummus has been consumed in the Middle East for centuries. Ben, co-founder of the company Mapme, wanted to bring that part of the world together: “We were inspired by Nutella Day. Thought we needed a version for the Middle East, hence hummus.” Thanks Ben. You’re so right.
Hummus is as controversial as politics. Back in 2008, Lebanon tried to claim the term hummus as its own—the Association of Lebanese Industrialists went so far as to threaten legal action in order to stop Israel from selling hummus under the name. The next year, Israel and Lebanon competed to break the world record for single largest hummus plate. But, funny enough, hummus is one thing that (at least sometimes) brings the Middle East together. It doesn’t matter if it’s an Arab- or Israeli-run hummus place: Everyone is welcome. The debate over which shop makes the best hummus, however, is a different story...
The word hummus translates to "chickpea" in Arabic. This brings me to the part where I tell you that if there are no chickpeas in your hummus, it’s not actually hummus: It’s just a dip. Sorry Trader Joe’s White Bean Hummus… not a hummus. I’ll go as far as saying that you can flavor hummus with roasted garlic, sundried tomatoes, roasted red peppers, herbs, or spices. But hummus made from edamame… not a hummus. I’m sorry! Top it with all the awesome things, but hummus is made from chickpeas. That’s not to say that your black bean dip isn’t delicious... it’s just not a hummus.
[Editors' note: Some commenters on Genius Chard Stalk "Hummus" would agree.]
Don't ask me about dessert hummus (see explanation above), but hummus as a meal for breakfast, lunch, or dinner is totally legitimate. In the U.S., we're used to hummus as a cold tub from the grocery store that we snack on during work with a side of baby carrots.
In the Middle East, hummus is a whole meal served warm for breakfast or lunch with a side of pickles and pita. It’s filling and cheap. Hummusiot, hummus joints, are as abundant in Israel as the corner pizza shop is in NYC. The best ones have lines that go down the street. Breakfast could be a plate of hummus with warm chickpeas and a hard boiled egg. For lunch or dinner, try a plate of hummus with sautéed mushrooms or grilled meat.
Authentic hummus is made from dried chickpeas. Canned are okay, but using dried garbanzos will usually result in a better-tasting hummus (and one free from preservatives). Just as important as the chickpeas, is the tahini. Use the best quality tahini—pure sesame paste—that you can find. And my rule is: The more tahini, the better the hummus.
So get ready because International Hummus Day is upon us! Start by soaking your chickpeas and making a real homemade, classic hummus. Top it with whatever is fresh at the farmers' market! A good vegetable-topped hummus is both delicious and perfect for spring. Asparagus, radishes, favas, beets, morels, sautéed spinach, charred scallions, herb-filled tabbouleh salad, kohlrabi… the list is endless.
This recipe, for hummus topped with grilled Aleppo asparagus and a tangy sumac radish salad, screams spring:
For the hummus:
- 1 cup dried chickpeas
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 1/3 cups high-quality tahini (sesame paste)
- 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- 1 teaspoon salt
For the asparagus, radish salad, and garnishes:
- 1 bunch asparagus
- 1 splash olive oil
- 1/2 teaspoon Aleppo pepper flakes or crushed red pepper flakes
- 1 dash zest of half a lemon
- 1 pinch Maldon or other finishing salt
- 4 to 5 medium to large radishes, julienned thinly
- 1 teaspoon chopped cilantro
- 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
- 1/2 teaspoon olive oil
- 1/2 teaspoon ground sumac
- 1 dash black sesame seeds, garnish
- 1 pita, for serving
Do you like your hummus plain and simple, or do you top it with all sorts of doodads? And if so, which ones? Tell us in the comments below!