In 1972, my younger brother came home to Denver after studying at Hebrew University and introduced our family to a delicious “new” dip.
Back then, hummus wasn’t the ubiquitous, many-flavored item available in nearly every store where food was sold. In fact, we didn’t know of any store or restaurant in the entire state where you could get hummus, not even the Greek grocery where we regularly shopped for olives, feta and other must-haves for my Turkish father.
My family fell in love with hummus, at first mashing together the few ingredients by hand, then in our trusty blender. Before long, we were introducing hummus to friends at parties and potlucks.
I even started making it in my dorm room when I returned to Boston University that fall…which just happened to coincide with my becoming a vegetarian. A coincidence? Maybe, but one that helped nourish me (along with cottage cheese and pineapple) during those early years before salad bars and vegetarian choices appeared in college dining halls. And there’s science behind my claim—chickpeas eaten with grains makes a complete complementary protein.
I like to think my family and I contributed to the spread of hummus across the geographic and cultural boundaries of North America. Well, my brother was one of a growing number of students and backpackers traveling to Israel and the Middle East during the ‘70s, bringing home backgammon boards and hummus. Soon “hippie” health food stores that started popping up were making and selling their own hummus.
We American hummus aficionados joined a long line of hummus lovers that reaches back to Biblical days. Hummus has been around so long that the exact origin has been lost. We do know that chickpeas have been grown in the Mediterranean, Middle East and India for thousands of years.
Hummus is thought to be one of the world’s oldest prepared dishes, enjoyed by our Biblical ancestors, ancient Romans and Mesopotamians. Depending on where you were in the ancient world, some of the early versions used vinegar instead of lemon juice and omitted the garlic while adding other herbs.
Today, not only is hummus available in numerous varieties from red pepper to horseradish to edamame and in everything from snack packs to giant tubs, but you can also find it spread on sandwiches and wraps from local cafes to chain restaurants. Hummus was even the official snack food of the National Football League for the 2013-14 season. Need I say more?
I must confess that for several years, I fell under the spell of easy-to-grab, store-bought hummus, but, believe me, those days are over now! I have rediscovered my love of homemade hummus—easy, quick, more flavorful and much more subject to my influence, whether it means adding fresh basil or chopped chives, a bit of spicy Aleppo pepper or even an extra squeeze of lemon.
There is something so much more satisfying about making hummus by hand the way it’s been made for centuries. Mashing the chickpeas and garlic with a fork or a mortar and pestle (another gift from antiquity), you smell each ingredient as it joins the happy mixture. And if I’m really in a rush, I can throw all the ingredients into my food processor to create creamy, tangy and healthy hummus in minutes.
No matter how I make it, fresh homemade hummus takes me back to the first tastes of this enduring dish brought to my family from Israel so many years ago.