Hummus is gaining in popularity in the U.S., and you’ll find it in many a refrigerator now. It’s nutritious and tasty. But have you hade homemade hummus? It’s worth it.

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On Nutrition

Want to eat in a more plant-based way in 2018, feel more excited by your food and stay on top of food and flavor trends without spending a lot of time in the kitchen? Prepare simple staples that are much tastier than what you could buy at the store, and add some spice.

One super-versatile staple is pulses (bean and lentils), which offer a nutrient-rich mix of plant protein and high-quality carbohydrates. The United Nations didn’t declare 2016 to be the International Year of Pulses for nothing. One pulse that’s trending is the chickpea, which you may also know as the garbanzo bean. A half-cup of cooked chickpeas is an excellent source of fiber and folate, and a good source of protein, iron and magnesium.

 

The hummus revolution

Chickpeas play frequent roles in Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cuisines, which have a number of other overlapping elements. Locally, chickpeas can be found everywhere from salad bars to falafel patties to vegan “tuna” salad to baked goods, but when many people think chickpeas, they think hummus. Hummus dates back as far as the 13th century in the Middle East, but today it’s steadily gaining popularity in the U.S., nearly rivaling guacamole. Roughly 1 in 4 American homes have hummus in the refrigerator, and the amount of U.S. farmland acreage devoted to chickpeas has doubled since 2013, with further increases anticipated, including here in Washington state.

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Hummus is the Arabic word for chickpea, so the creamy dip is technically called hummus bi tahina, or “chickpeas with tahini.” Traditional hummus combines mashed or puréed cooked chickpeas with tahini, lemon juice, olive oil, salt and garlic. Tahini is a paste made from ground sesame seeds. It’s a little bitter on its own, but delicious in hummus or in a salad dressing with olive oil, lemon juice, garlic and salt.

One reason hummus is a staple food throughout the Middle East is that the ingredients are affordable and its flavor is easy to like. Hummus might be served for breakfast, lunch or dinner, as an entree or as a small part of a larger spread. In my household, hummus is a staple because it’s always delicious, and always versatile, often used as a dip with vegetables or pita wedges, or to dress up a simple salad with leftover grilled chicken. Here are some other ways I like to use hummus:

• Dressed with Spanish paprika, fresh lemon juice and chopped fresh parsley

• Garnished with ground sumac, Kalamata olives and crumbled feta cheese

• Topped with a purée of roasted red peppers and walnuts

• As a sandwich spread instead of mayonnaise

• As a creamy dressing on sturdy greens like kale

 

Spice up your staples

A highlight of a trip to Istanbul about a year ago was the spice bazaar. Some of the spices I stuffed my extra suitcase with are getting noticed by more American cooks, for good reason (and not just because they’re good for you). Here are some of my favorites:

Aleppo pepper. A medium-hot, dark-red ground chili pepper, named for the Syrian city. It’s very popular in Middle Eastern cooking, and has some flavor similarity to ancho chilies. It has a rich, slightly fruity flavor.

Sumac. These ground-up berries from a bush that grows throughout the Middle East have a pleasantly fruity, tart flavor that lends a nice acidity to a variety of dishes. It’s both beautiful and delicious sprinkled on a plate of hummus, but it also works well on fish, chicken, feta cheese, vegetables and salads. In Istanbul, I fell in love with a simple red onion, parsley and sumac salad.

Urfa biber. The mild urfa chili pepper (“biber” means pepper in Turkish) has a smoky, almost raisin-like flavor, and pairs wonderfully with roasted bell peppers, eggplant and root vegetables, with feta cheese and yogurt, and with lamb. In Turkey, where it comes from, it’s used widely in kebabs.

Za’atar. This spice blend varies in its constituent parts but typically includes toasted sesame seeds, sumac and dried thyme. Mix into a tahini-based salad dressing or yogurt-based dip. Sprinkle it on chicken before roasting or grilling. Toss with roasted vegetables or mix with olive oil as a dip for bread.

You can find all of these spices at Big John’s PFI near the stadiums and World Spice Merchants near Pike Place Market, which also sells online.

Hummus

Store-bought hummus has nothing on hummus you make at home. You get the best flavor and texture if you soak and cook dried chickpeas, but if that feels like too much of an obstacle, don’t hesitate to use a can of chickpeas.

 

1 cup dried chickpeas

2 teaspoons baking soda, divided

½ cup tahini

2-4 garlic cloves, peeled.

3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, or more to taste

1 teaspoon sea salt, or more to taste

½ teaspoon cumin, or more to taste

½ teaspoon sumac, optional

½ cup ice water

Olive oil for serving

 

1. Place chickpeas, 1 teaspoon baking soda in a large bowl. Add enough cold water to cover by at least 2 inches. Soak overnight.

2. Drain the chickpeas and put them in a large saucepan with 1 teaspoon of baking soda and 6 cups of cold water. Bring to a boil, skimming off any foam that rises to the surface, then reduce heat to medium-low. Simmer with the pan partially covered until the chickpeas are very tender (almost, but not quite, mushy) which may take up to an hour. Drain the chickpeas.

3. Add the chickpeas and garlic, lemon juice and salt to a food processor or sturdy blender (like a Vitamix). Process until the chickpeas form a stiff paste, then with the machine running, add the tahini, salt and spices.

4. Drizzle in ice water and continue to mix until the hummus is smooth and creamy, scraping down the sides of the bowl occasionally.

5. Taste for seasoning, adding more salt, lemon juice or spices as desired.