April 8, 2009

Simple homemade hummus

Today, hummus is as ubiquitous as any other classic American dip, and there’s hardly a question why. The versatile and nutritious spread is a fantastic accompaniment to not just flat breads, but raw vegetables, wraps and sandwiches, and grain salads such as tabbouleh. The main components of traditional hummus are mashed garbanzo beans and tahini, which give it a wonderful nutty and buttery flavor. Other ingredients usually include olive oil, lemon juice, garlic and spices, but variations exist throughout the Middle East (for instance, Egyptians add cumin and Moroccans add harissa).

Garbanzo beans, or chickpeas, originate from the Middle East and date back about 7,000 years. The word hummus is actually the Arabic word for chickpea and hummus bi tahini is the term for what we have come to know as the classic dip. The bean is a good source protein and has long been integrated in the traditional diets of the Middle East, the Mediterranean and India. The legume’s pasty and starchy texture make it a versatile ingredient and can be found in many ethnic salads, stews and curries, falafels and other dips.

Tahini is a paste made of sesame seeds: tiny, flat oval seeds that come in a variety of colors, including white, black, red and yellow. Sesame seeds were first cultivated in India nearly 4000 years ago, and later spread to the Middle East, Africa and Asia. The tiny seeds are loaded with vitamins and minerals and are valued for their high oil content, which is resistant to becoming rancid. Throughout the world, the seeds are added to breads, salads, and sweet confections such as halvah. The seeds were introduced to colonial America by African slaves in the 17th century. Nearly one-third of imported sesame crop in the U.S. is used for McDonald's hamburger buns. I really think that we need to be more innovative with our use of sesame seeds. My grandfather would attest to that--he puts sesame seeds on everything from pancakes to ice cream.

Once you realize how easy it is to make hummus, you may never buy it again. It is a great condiment to have on hand and it is fun to experiment with different spice/herb mixtures. I will leave you with a basic hummus recipe that has a spicy, smoky kick.

Homemade hummus

I have found that the proportions of garbanzos, tahini, water and olive oil yield a perfectly creamy and smooth hummus. You may want to adjust the quantity of water depending on the desired consistency. Garlic, paprika and cayenne pepper give it a nice spicy kick, but see below for other suggestions.

My favorite ways to eat hummus: as a dip with raw broccoli and carrots, spread on crusty bread with cucumber slices, topped on greens that are dressed with lemon and olive oil, and of course the classic…with warm, fresh pita bread.

1 (14.5 ounce) can garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
2-3 garlic cloves, peeled and coarsely chopped
3 tablespoons tahini
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons water
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 teaspoon paprika, plus more for garnish
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt

For garnish (optional)
Drizzle of olive oil
Pinch of paprika
Chopped parsley
Whole garbanzo beans


1. In a food processor, combine garbanzo beans, garlic, tahini, lemon juice, water, and olive oil. Process until smooth. Stir in spices to taste.

2. Spoon into serving dish and add garnish.

Other additions you might try: cumin, coriander, red pepper flakes, roasted red peppers, harissa (Moroccan hot red pepper paste), roasted garlic, cilantro

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