Richard’s Hummus, Lina Style. Photos by Dan Kacvinski. Food coordinated by Judy Zeidler
Who makes the best hummus? Everyone in Israel is passionate about the taste of genuine hummus, and each individual believes deeply that his or hers is the best.
In Jordan, Lebanon and Syria, hummus remains a daily staple. Village streets are dotted with tiny shops that prepare hummus swirled in a brown-and-cream-colored bowl, drizzled with extra virgin olive and sprinkled with paprika or cumin.
Many cuisine-related sources describe hummus as an ancient food. The earliest known recipes for a dish similar to hummus bi tahini are recorded in cookbooks published in Cairo in the 13th century.
Hummus is a simple, wonderfully flavorful dip or spread made from garbanzos (chickpeas) and tahini (sesame seed paste). Its texture is velvety, rich and firm enough to scoop up with wedges of pita bread or crisp vegetables. The taste is robust, nutlike, garlicky and so satisfying that you won’t be able to stop eating it.
One significant reason for the popularity of hummus in Israel is the fact that it is made from ingredients that follow Jewish dietary laws, and it may be combined with either meat or dairy meals. It is seen as almost equally popular among Israeli Jews and Israeli Arabs, and as a result, hummus has become a sort of “national food.”
My prize-winning recipe takes as long to make as the time it takes to measure the ingredients and blend them in the food processor. For a change of color and flavor, I sometimes add roasted peppers when blending in the tahini, but the peppers are delicious on their own, too.
Some say that authentic hummus must be thick, so that you can carve deep valleys over its surface and fill them with olive oil. Then just tear off pieces of fresh pita bread to scoop up the pungent dip and pop it into your mouth.
Laurie Harris and Richard Hecht, who teach at the University of California, Santa Barbara, recently returned from four and a half months in Israel. While there, they were determined to enjoy every type of hummus they could discover. They sampled plates in Mahane Yehudah Market, the central shuk in West Jerusalem; along the pedestrian mall that is now Jaffa Road; and in shops in Musrara, not far from the city center and the Old City walls.
Hecht, who wrote “Abu Steve Is Coming Out of Retirement,” a small book about a man who opened a Jerusalem hummus restaurant, said, “Jerusalemites take great pride in the hummus at Abu Shukhri in the Old City. They will tell you that it’s a matter of minor gradations in taste — more garlic, less lemon. Hummus is basically all the same, but in Tel Aviv, they say the best hummus is at the very small restaurant Sultan, in the Arab town of Qalansuwa.”
The very best in Jerusalem, in the opinion of Hecht and Harris, is the hummus at Lina, a restaurant in the Christian Quarter of the Old City.
Hecht has his own ideas about what distinguishes top-notch hummus.
“It begins with the selection of fresh chickpeas in the shuk or market,” he said. “If you can’t find the fresh chickpeas, then use the dried.”
Still, no serious hummus connoisseurs would ever think of using garbanzo beans from a can nor use a food processor. True hummus is prepared in a large pottery cooking vessel with a narrow neck, over a low flame. The beans are stirred gently with a long wooden spoon until the right texture is achieved. Some use mortar and pestle to slowly grind the chickpeas.
Hecht also shares his special recipe for hummus and musabbaha, which is a breakfast hummus, served in the morning as we would eat hot cereal or cooked rice.
From “The Gourmet Jewish Cook” by Judy Zeidler
∗ 1 can (15 ounces) garbanzo beans, with liquid
∗ 1 cup tahini (sesame seed paste)
∗ 1/2 roasted pepper (optional, recipe follows)
∗ 1/2 cup lemon juice
∗ 4 garlic cloves, peeled
∗ 1 teaspoon ground cumin
∗ 1/3 cup olive oil
∗ 6 fresh parsley sprigs, stems removed
∗ 1 to 2 teaspoons salt
∗ Minced fresh parsley for garnish
Place the garbanzos and their liquid in a food processor or blender; process until coarsely pureed. Add the tahini, roasted pepper (if desired), lemon juice, garlic and cumin; process until smoothly pureed. Add olive oil in a thin stream and continue blending. Blend in the parsley sprigs and l teaspoon salt. Add additional salt to taste. Garnish with minced parsley. Serve with hot pita bread and sliced vegetables, such as carrots, zucchini, mushrooms and jicama.
Makes about 3 cups.
PEPERONI ARROSTITI CON ACCIUGHE (ROASTED PEPPERS WITH ANCHOVIES)
From “Italy Cooks” by Judy Zeidler
∗ 4 to 6 firm, crisp, red, yellow or green bell peppers
∗ 2 to 3 garlic cloves, minced
∗ Olive oil
∗ 1 jar or can (2 ounces) anchovy fillets
∗ Parsley sprigs for garnish
Preheat the oven to 425 to 450 F.
Place a large sheet of foil on the lower rack of the oven. Put the peppers on the rack above, in the middle or top of the oven. Roast for 15 to 20 minutes or until the skin has puffed and darkened slightly on top. Turn each pepper over and continue roasting for 10 to 15 minutes longer.
Remove the peppers from the oven. While they are still warm, carefully peel off the skins. Pull out the stems and discard the seeds. Cut the peppers into segments that follow their natural ridges. Layer the peppers in a bowl with the juices, garlic and enough olive oil to cover. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate. When ready to serve, arrange the peppers on a serving dish and garnish with anchovies and parsley. Or place an anchovy fillet in the center of each segment, roll up and place a toothpick in the center.
RICHARD’S HUMMUS, LINA STYLE
∗ 3 cups fresh or dry chickpeas or garbanzo beans, soaked overnight in water in a large pot
∗ 1 teaspoon baking soda
∗ 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
∗ 3/4 cup tahini sauce or paste
∗ 1 large garlic clove, finely minced
∗ 1 teaspoon ground cumin
∗ Salt to taste
∗ 1/4 cup lemon juice or more to taste
∗ 1/4 cup pine nuts
∗ 1 to 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
∗ 1/3 cup finely minced fresh parsley
Drain the chickpeas, cover with fresh water and baking soda, and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, partially covered, until chickpeas are tender, about 50 minutes. Strain and cool about 20 minutes.
Pour 2 cups of the cooked chickpeas into a food processor, reserving the rest to be used later for garnish and the Breakfast Hummus. Add 1/4 cup olive oil and slowly process the mixture, adding the tahini, garlic clove, cumin and salt. Add the lemon juice and the remaining 1/4 cup olive oil. When the mixture is smooth, remove from the processor. If the mixture is too rough, continue blending until smooth. With a rubber spatula, spread the hummus into a shallow dish in circular motion, leaving an indentation in the center of the dish.
In a small frying pan, lightly brown the pine nuts. Add 1 to 2 tablespoons of olive oil into the indentation in the center of the dish. Place the reserved whole beans into the indentation. Sprinkle the pine nuts and parsley over the olive oil and beans in the center of the plate. Serve with whole warmed pita for dipping.
Makes 4 to 5 cups.
MUSABBAHA (BREAKFAST HUMMUS)
Use the basic hummus recipe, but prepare the following sauce.
∗ 1 cup boiled chickpeas (reserved from Richard’s Hummus, Lina Style)
∗ 3 cloves garlic, minced
∗ 1/4 teaspoon cumin
∗ 1/3 cup tahini or more to taste
∗ Juice of 1 large lemon
∗ 2 tablespoons olive oil
∗ 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
∗ 1/2 teaspoon salt
∗ 1/4 teaspoon chili powder
∗ 1/3 cup finely minced parsley
In a small saucepan, combine the chickpeas, garlic, cumin, tahini, lemon juice, olive oil, pepper, salt and chili powder. Simmer gently; do not boil. When the mixture is warm, serve for breakfast or pour into the center of the plate of Richard’s Hummus, Lina Style, and sprinkle with parsley.
Makes about 1 1/2 cups.