Writer: Matthew Hanna
In today’s globalized world, hummus is almost as ubiquitous as any other Americanized topping or dip—you can find it in the most rural supermarkets and five-star restaurants alike. I am the grandson of Palestinian immigrants and whenever I browse past the chilled foods section in a grocery store and see foods like “chocolate chip hummus” or “pesto hummus spread” I really do think I can hear an audible sigh from my people.
I think one of my grievances with the appropriation of Palestinian and larger Arab cuisine is partly the fact that it is never reattributed to the culture from where it was derived and it additionally almost exclusively caters to the white, bland, tasteless, Americanized palate. This struggle isn’t localized in any geographic region in the world, either. Almost every single culture from around the world has recipes that have been watered down, simplified, swapped out and changed for the consumption of someone else who has no interest in the sacred nature of food. To me, hummus and other Palestinian food isn’t something I get when I’m craving a particular dish—its the livelihood and living memory of my culture and people that are continuously under attack of being erased.
In this article, you will find a baseline hummus recipe that I often make. You’ll be pleased to hear that it honestly is much simpler to make than one might think and it does not require a whole lot of ingredients. Hopefully, you can try this recipe one day instead of buying store bought hummus—I guarantee it will taste better and will most likely be less costly as well.
I follow a very simple ratio for making hummus. This is the best way to do so because depending on how many cousins, relatives, or family friends that come over—in the Arab world, this can be upwards of dozens—you’re going to need A LOT of hummus to adequately feed the room. Now, if you’re not used to Arab cooking, you might not like this part of the recipe… In typical Palestinian fashion, you continue to add ingredients until you think the outcome is perfect. That’s something else I love about making food this way—you can customize it to your liking (as long as you aren’t adding chocolate or anything else to it!!!) This is a method that has been ingrained with me ever since being in the kitchen with my grandparents. If I asked how long something needed to be cooked, the response would always be “until it seems done.” Never mind the fact that at that young age I didn’t even know how to turn on the stove, much less realize when a dish as intricate as stuffed grape leaves or squash would be tender and ready to eat. Palestinian and Arab cookbooks don’t have times or measurements—it says “cook until done” and “season to taste.”
But, I digress. My baseline ratio is as follows:
1 15 oz can of garbanzo beans/chickpeas
1 clove of garlic
1 ½ teaspoon of salt
1 tablespoon of tahini
1 lemon, squeezed
1 dash of cumin
Olive oil for desired consistency
Do you see how simple that is?? The even better part—all you have to do is put all the ingredients into a food processor and BLEND. There is no need to cut the garlic or anything! Typically, I would blend this for about a minute because I want as much air incorporated into the hummus as possible. After that, you must taste and adjust. Sometimes you might want more garlic, or more salt, or more lemon juice—you can make this however you like. Personally, I think the best way to make hummus is with a lot of garlic (you probably should plan not to go on a date this particular night) and a lot of lemon so it gets nice and tangy.
Recently, I was making hummus for my family and I didn’t have two cans of chickpeas. So, I was forced to resort to one can of chickpeas and one can of cannellini beans. The end result—I could not tell the difference between the mixed bean hummus and hummus made only with garbanzo beans. I suspect a combination of garbanzo and any white bean would yield a similar tasting result, but if you don’t want to take the risk, just stick with garbanzo beans. Lastly, scrape the hummus into a bowl and place it in the fridge to cool. Letting hummus chill always seems to make it taste better. When ready to plate, you can garnish with a couple dashes of paprika and some olive oil—this is always how my grandparents would serve it. Serve the hummus with julienned carrots, cucumbers, and peppers, as well as pita bread for dipping.
Now, you might be thinking. “After talking about how cookie dough hummus ruins the sanctity of the dish, why would he be okay with using half garbanzo/half cannellini beans??” My answer: this does not change the integrity of the dish. At its core, you are still using it for its primary purpose, and its relative proximity to authenticity is still there. Adding pine nuts to garnish or cannellini beans as a base does not change the fact that it is still, at its core, hummus. And to boot, it still tastes like hummus, not masquerading as a new trendy food for someone to partake in and discard. Pesto hummus, cookie dough hummus, chocolate hummus—these should not have hummus in the name. They aren’t hummus, they are just pesto, cookie dough, and chocolate spreads made with garbanzo beans!
This speaks to the larger issue I have with the commodification of cultural items for Western capitalism and globalization. The food of my people, whether it be hummus, za’atar, or falafel, is continuously appropriated and marketed as the new “obscure and exotic superfood.” I continue to see recipes made by white women that work at corporate American cooking companies *cough cough Bon Appétit* touting za’atar as a superfood from this mysterious land from afar. Like no, that’s actually what I ate almost every day for breakfast growing up. And why do these cooks always put a spin on cultural foods they don’t know how to prepare, nor care to learn about the meaning and cultural integrity of particular ingredients?
This phenomenon, where cuisines from around the world are mangled and adjusted to fit the palate of people that think a jalapeño is too hot, transcends continents. How many times do we have to search for real, authentic Mexican food that isn’t curated for people that refuse to eat cilantro? It is time to stop mistreating food from cultures around the world and it is time to start respecting the lived tradition that is cuisine.