Middle Eastern dish becomes a rock star on American tables

Hummus, which was once a distinctly Middle Eastern dish, has been woven almost seamlessly into the f
Hummus is a popular snack to share at The Wine Bar in Saratoga Springs.
Hummus is a popular snack to share at The Wine Bar in Saratoga Springs.

Hummus, which was once a distinctly Middle Eastern dish, has been woven almost seamlessly into the fabric of American cuisine. It graces the tables of restaurants and informal gatherings and is a staple in many households.

The dish itself is simple, with few ingredients and little preparation. Hummus is basically garbanzo beans (also called chickpeas) puréed with lemon juice, olive oil, garlic and tahini, a paste made from sesame seeds. It’s a breeze to whip up and easy to serve with pita bread or chips or vegetables.

The exact origins of this humble dish are unknown, but its roots are Arab. The main ingredient, chickpeas, dates back thousands of years. In fact, some archeology sources present evidence of domesticated chickpeas as far back at 10,000 B.C.

Ancient protein source

Ancient peoples probably ate chickpeas for some of the same reasons people do today. Chickpeas are high in vitamins and minerals including iron, folic acid, and vitamins C and B6. They have about 14 grams of carbohydrates in 3.5 ounces of hummus dip, as well as 8 grams of protein. In addition to being filling, hummus is inexpensive to make.

Hummus is a staple in the Middle East, and there are restaurants that specialize just in this dish. Israelis adopted hummus in the 1950s, and today Israeli and Arab chefs spar in the “hummus wars.” On May 8, 2010, Chef Ramzi Choueiri and 300 culinary students at Al-Kafaat University in Lebanon broke the world record, held by Israel, for the largest bowl of hummus, which weighed in at 23,042 pounds, 12 ounces, substantially larger than the previous record of four tons.

Hummus made its way to the United States in the early 20th century with the waves of immigrants from the Middle East, and its popularity has continued to grow as people have become more interested in ethnic cuisine. Today, Americans consume hummus in record amounts. From 1995 to last year, the U.S. hummus market went from $5 million per year to $325 million. While U.S. per capita consumption of other dry beans has decreased, the per capita consumption of garbanzo beans from 2008 to 2010 increased 58 percent over the levels in the year 2000.

Today, you’ll find hummus on restaurant menus served by itself or as a filling or spread for sandwiches. Chef Dominic Colose of The Wine Bar in Saratoga Springs has hummus on his menu. “We have a lot of people who are coming in for just a glass of wine and maybe something small to eat,” he said.

Hummus fits the bill, and goes along with the establishment’s cuisine, which is largely Mediterranean-based. He likes it for its simplicity and serves it up garnished with some extra virgin olive oil and accompanied by warm pita bread.

The classic works

Despite the explosion of hummus flavors — you can find red pepper, cilantro, artichoke, guacamole, horseradish, cucumber dill, spinach-feta and, believe it or not, even chocolate — Colose prefers to make just one classic hummus.

“Hummus is hummus and anything else is something else,” he said. “Things like that I like to keep pretty honest,” he said.

Customers at Gaffney’s Restaurant in Saratoga Springs are greeted by a plate of white bean hummus garnished with balsamic vinegar, accompanied by slim dry breadsticks. “We tried to do something different and unique,” said executive chef Kevin Myers, explaining the white beans versus chickpeas, and bread sticks instead of bread. “People don’t eat a lot of the breads anymore. They’re looking for something a little healthier and that’s the trend,” he said.

The restaurant also uses a roasted red pepper hummus in some of its wraps as a healthful alternative to mayonnaise.

For upcoming celebrations and summer gatherings, hummus is an easy choice when using canned chickpeas or beans. “We can make a batch of hummus in five minutes,” Colose said. “If we run out, we can make it. People at home can make it in five minutes,” he said.

Classic Hummus

Recipe by Executive Chef Dominic Colose of The Wine Bar in Saratoga Springs

Place the following into food processor bowl:

2 cans (16 ounces) chickpeas drained and rinsed.

1 clove garlic crushed

4 tablespoons sesame oil

3 tablespoons lemon juice

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon white pepper

1 teaspoon ground cumin

Olive oil

Turn on processor and slowly drizzle in olive oil until a smooth paste is achieved. Taste, and add more salt, lemon or even some hot pepper to taste. Process 30 seconds more.

White Bean Hummus

Recipe by Executive Chef Kevin Myers of Gaffney’s Restaurant in Saratoga Springs

This recipe serves a crowd.

1 No. 10 can of northern white beans, drained (approximately 13 cups)

4 ounces white wine vinegar

8 ounces olive oil

1 tablespoon garlic

White pepper and salt

Put all ingredients in a food processor (in batches if necessary) and blend.

Lower Sodium Hummus

Recipe by Joanne McFadden

Opting for dried chickpeas rather than cans makes for a lower sodium version.

4 ounces dried chickpeas

2 cloves garlic

3 tablespoons lemon juice

1 1⁄2 tablespoons prepared tahini (available in grocery stores)

2 tablespoons olive oil

Cover the chickpeas with water and soak overnight. Cook on low in a Crock-Pot until tender (this will take several hours). Drain, reserving cooking liquid. Place chickpeas in food processor with other ingredients and blend. Add some of the reserved cooking liquid to make the hummus the desired consistency.

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