O Lord Give Us This Day Our Daily Hummus and Pita

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The days of cold are past

And days of spring have buried winter’s rain

We see the doves returning to our land

They flock near to the newly sprouted leaves

So my friends, be true and keep your word

Be careful and do not disappoint your friend

Come into my garden

Roses are waiting, beautifully fragrant and ready to pluck

Come and drink with me, among the buds and birds

Gathered there to sing the summer’s praises

Wine, red as my tears for loss,

Of friends, or red as the blush on lovers’ cheeks.

— Samuel the Nagid (993-1055 A.D.)

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A feast is made for laughter, wine makes life merry, and money is the answer for everything. Ecclesiastes 10:19

Food is everything. Without it, you wouldn’t be reading this book and you certainly wouldn’t have had dreams of opening a restaurant. If it weren’t for food, newspapers would have a hard time getting their readers interested in politics, culture, business—or any other subject. Travel writers and novelists would have trouble invoking personal memories or making sentimental associations. And scholars would be at a loss to understand not just how crucial aspects of life evolved on our planet but also how global history was shaped by what our distant ancestors put in their stomachs.

It is said that Adam’s sin was to come forth into the world through the stomach rather than the loins—and that humanity was thereafter forever condemned to toil for food by tilling the soil and feeding on a diet of cereals instead of the nectar and ambrosia that flowed in the Garden of Eden. It was the ancient Egyptians who first developed agriculture around 3100 B.C. and refined many cooking techniques, particularly for bread, vegetables, legumes and beer.

In 1799, the French emperor Napoleon began consolidating his empire in the Mediterranean, setting the stage for a sweeping European expansion into North Africa and the Middle East that introduced new foods—and food habits—across that region and beyond. The result: the famed Mediterranean diet—a mix of indigenous traditions and foreign influences.

The Mediterranean Diet 

The Mediterranean diet is indisputably healthier than the diets of affluent Western societies. The people of the Mediterranean have a lower incidence of heart disease, cancer and digestive disorders, attributed directly to their diet and lifestyle. A high proportion of the total energy (more than 60%) in Mediterranean food comes from cereals, while a low proportion of total energy (less than 30%) comes from fats. A high concentration of the fats in the Mediterranean diet, in turn, comes from olive oil, thereby making the diet low in saturated fatty acids. Further, the Mediterranean diet is has a relatively high proportion of fruit and vegetables, which account for roughly half the dietary fiber consumed.

Mediterranean cuisine is as diverse as its society and cultures. The sweet and sour flavors of Sicilian dishes contrast sharply with the complex spices of North African cooking, which are missing from Greek or Cypriot cuisine. There are, however, a number of key ingredients that are common to Mediterranean cuisine and distinguish it from other cuisines. Today, we think of the Mediterranean diet as consisting of olive oil, pasta, fish, bread, vegetables and fresh fruits. But since ancient times, traditional the Mediterranean diet was based on cereals, legumes, fish and produce—the legacy of a string of great civilizations of the past. These included not just the Greek and the Romans but also the Phoenicians, Carthaginians and the Arabs.

The reason why so much is known about the food habits in the ancient Mediterranean, particularly Egypt, Greece and Rome, is because of the work of historians and scholars of the classics, who used a variety of sources to chronicle everyday life in the region. These literary sources range from Homer’s Iliad and the Odyssey to the detailed work of the 3rd-century Greek scholar Athenaeus, a librarian who composed a 15-volume work titled The Deipnosophists (Banquet of the Learned), which contains elaborate notes about Greek food and cookery.

Ancient Egypt

The bulk of information about food in ancient Egypt dates back to the period after Egypt became a centralized state in 3100 B.C. during the era of the pharaohs. The core of the Egyptian diet consisted of bread and beer, which were consumed by the rich and poor alike. (The first written word in the world, it is said, was an Egyptian hieroglyphic alluding to an order for beer.) Bread was most commonly made from emmer, an ancient grain, although barley and sprouted wheat were also used. Fruits and vegetables were regarded as non-necessity foods largely unavailable to the poor because the high cost of watering and tending them. The poor are said to have supplemented their diet instead with wild plants such as amaranth, sorrel and wild grasses.

Rich Egyptians, on the other hand, had access to vegetables, fruits, meat and wine. Olive oil, first imported from Palestine, was also consumed by the rich. In fact, an excavated tomb of a wealthy Egyptian from the third millennium B.C. contained barley, porridge, cooked quail, fish, beef, bread, cheese, wine, pastries, figs, berries and beer.

A number of ancient Egyptian dishes have survived to this day and are enjoyed by modern Egyptians. These include kofta, or Egyptian meatballs, made from lamb or beef, and often grilled. These days, kofta is usually eaten in a pita bread sandwich. The national dish of Egypt, ful medames, or fuul medammis, is a fava bean preparation that is slow-cooked and seasoned with olive oil, parsley, onions and lemon juice. It’s a popular breakfast food, eaten with bread.

Ancient Greeks

The staple foods of the Greeks of yore were wheat, barley and lentils. The Greeks loved wheat, even though it was expensive, and made a variety of breads of out of wheat flour. The most popular were flatbreads, with toppings baked on them. These included boletus, or rolls shaped like mushrooms; cubo, a square bread flavored with anise, cheese and oil; and streptikos, a twisted bread made with milk, pepper and lard. The Greeks ate their bread with mint sauce or a mixture of vinegar and garum (fermented fish sauce). Ancient Greeks ate their staples along with vegetables, cheese, eggs, fish and sometimes the meat of lamb, sheep, goat, pig or game birds. These foods were washed down with wine—and followed by a variety of sweets and desserts.

The ancient Greeks appeared to have somewhat strict rules about the types of food they consumed at different times of the day. Soldiers, for example, ate a lot of bread—but only as a snack or as a meal in itself, never for dinner. A soldier’s dinner consisted mostly of roasted meat. Appetizers included olives, sea urchins, wild hyacinth bulbs (also used in love potions), stuffed grape leaves, grasshoppers and cicadas. Soups were made from barely or legumes such as lentils. And because they live on an island, the ancient Greeks had access to a variety of seafood—everything from lobster, shrimp and tuna to octopus, squid and swordfish. Desserts consisted of a ricotta and honey mixture, fried dough balls, cheese-based pies, soft cookies, sweet breads and even a sweetened lentil dessert.

Ancient Greeks made such great cooks that they are believed to be the first people to elevate cooking to an art. They were especially good at innovating and experimenting in the kitchen by making use of all the ingredients available to them and combining them in new ways. This culinary innovation has become the hallmark of today’s Mediterranean food—who has not heard of a kitchen in any respectable Western restaurant where the chefs continually experiment with new tastes. And it was the enormous appetites of the ancient Greeks that fostered culinary innovation, as author Betty Wason explains in The Mediterranean Cookbook:

Darius, king of the Medes and Persians, maintained a staff of gastronomic detectives whose sole function was to search for new and delectable foods to tempt the appetite of the ruler. Xerxes, Darius’s son and successor, demanded such variety for his table that the countryside, wherever he traveled, was laid bare. “Wherever Xerxes took two meals, dining as well as supping,” wrote Herodotus, “that city was utterly ruined.”

Ancient Rome

Wheat, olives, pork and fish was pretty much the diet of Romans in the first several centuries of their recorded existence. Only when Roman conquests began at the end of the third century did the Romans encounter a whole new world of foods—not just “exotic spices from Indonesia, pickles from Spain, ham from Gaul, wine from the provinces, oysters from Britain and pomegranates from Libya” but “new seasonings, ingredients and flavors from North Africa, Egypt, the Middle East, and most notably, Greece.”

The Greek culinary influence in Rome spanned the gamut from cumin, coriander, oregano, poppy seeds and hyssop to honey, anise, dill, thyme, vinegar and wine. It’s hard to imagine that the Roman ancestors of present-day Italians ate a bland diet until the expansion of the Roman empire, but the truth is that Roman cooks learned pretty much everything about Italian food as we know it today from their foreign encounters. And while these influences radically altered Roman food, not everyone benefited: the poor, and the slaves, peasants and soldiers, still ate an insipid diet of pulses or gruel, sometimes flavored with fennel or mushroom, both of which grew wild. Only those who could afford it, added lentils, legumes such as chickpeas or fava beans to their gruel.

To this day, Sicilians—whose ancestors were known to be the best cooks in the Roman empire—eat a dish known as maccu, or fava bean soup, a staple food since ancient times. The dish can sometimes found on restaurant menus as a nostalgic peasant food. The dish is made by boiling fava beans with fennel sprigs, fennel seeds, salt, pepper and olive oil. Pasta, onion or tomatoes are sometimes added to the soup.

Romans ate four meals a day—lunch, a midday meal, a substantial afternoon snack and finally dinner. Like the Greeks, the Romans developed phenomenal appetites. With time, the Roman banquet became famous for its elaborate rituals and consumption of food, vividly depicted in paintings from the times that show men reclined on couches, propped on the left side and eating and drinking with their right hand. A large staff of servants and slaves was always in attendance. It included a praegustator, who tasted the food beforehand to see if it was delicious enough to serve, and a nomenclature, who informed the nobility about the names of each dish.

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Wheat dates back more than 10,000 years in the Mediterranean region. It is by far the most important grain throughout the Mediterranean, although historically grains such as emmer—a bread grain of ancient Egypt—and barley were the major grains of the region. Wheat is grown in Spain, Greece, Italy, Tunisia and Syria. The most preferred type of wheat in Mediterranean cuisine is the hard or durum variety, which makes for a high-quality, protein-rich flour known as semolina. Durum wheat is said to date back to the Neolithic era and was probably imported to the Mediterranean region from the Middle East.

Not for nothing is wheat called the monarch of foods. Practitioners of ayurveda, the Indian system of herbal medicine, believe that no other dietary staple, with the exception of fresh yogurt buttermilk, provides such greatly concentrated nourishment for all the seven tissues of the body—the bone, marrow, muscles, nerves, skin, semen and blood. Like its cousin barley, wheat is not associated with any particular deficiency disease. In contrast, corn is associated with pellagra and rice with beri-beri. Further, the human system digests wheat more readily than any other grain or cereal because of wheat’s capacity to absorb water, thereby conducting heat uniformly throughout the grain.

The Mediterranean Region in Modernity

Centuries after the last Roman banquet of one of the world’s greatest empires, Queen Margherita of the House of Savoy, tried a pizza topped with tomatoes, basil and mozzarella on a visit to Naples in 1889. How the pizza margherita got its name may be a footnote in history, but anyone who sets up an Italian restaurant—or a pizzeria—would do well to commit that detail to memory.

The next big culinary “development” occurred during World War II, from 1939 to 1945, when widespread destruction and food shortages wracked the Mediterranean region. The postwar period not only brought decolonization but a host of liberalized trade policies that affected how people ate. Nutritional intake improved, as did the amount and variety of food available for purchase. But it wasn’t until 1975 that people began to get interested in the Mediterranean diet. What sparked their attention was a book, titled How to Eat Well and Stay Well the Mediterranean Way, by an American physician named Ancel Keys. Unfortunately—or perhaps inevitably—the decade of the 1980s was marked by the expansion of American fast-food restaurants into parts of the Mediterranean and Europe. And then the pendulum swung back in 1989 as the so-called Slow Food movement, a reaction to the “McDonaldization” of the planet, gained momentum.

Mediterranean food is a fascinating blend of tradition and innovation—a set of practices and attitudes that are as diverse as they are simple. This is a cuisine that combines the food cultures of present-day nations stretching from Egypt, Lebanon and Israel to Spain, Morocco and Greece. Lebanon and Israel, both gateways to the Occident, are places where the cuisine was modified to suit Western tastes. What makes Mediterranean food stand out is the extraordinary dedication of its people to how the food is bought, prepared and consumed. This is food that is natural, fresh and deliberately uncomplicated—precisely the opposite of industrial food as well as haute cuisine. The people of the Mediterranean have long been known for their hospitality. This cultural value is so important that there are specific codes of conduct applied to it. For one, people have an obligation to be hospitable at just about every opportunity that arises in their social interactions, including business meetings and encounters with others while shopping.

Traditionally, shopkeepers are supposed to play host to anyone who walks into their store by offering them a casual cup of coffee—mingled with conversation—before any business is done. And although this is not exactly part of the Mediterranean food code, the act of business almost always entails some earnest bargaining. To many Westerners, bargaining seems distasteful. But besides being loads of fun, a good bargain establishes a buyer-and-seller relationship that is unmatched in the Western worldview of “fixed prices” for the simple reason that it is based on mutual trust, respect—and occasionally true friendship. Any discussion of Mediterranean cuisine must begin with bread, not least because it is by far the most important and frequently consumed food in the entire history of human nutrition. Think about it: Not only is bread synonymous with life and spiritual rebirth—through the Eucharist—people throughout history have traveled from one country to another in search of it. There are those who believe their homeland is where bread is. Others invoke bread to express their sense of belonging to a particular place.

The Polish poet C.K. Norwid, for example, wrote nostalgically that he missed the country where people have such respect for bread that they pick up the slightest crumb from the ground. (In India, where that happens all the time, people take the crumb and touch it to their heads.) The earliest historical information about bread in the Mediterranean region can be traced to Mesopotamia, the cradle of civilization in modern-day Iraq, located roughly between that nation’s two major rivers, the Euphrates and the Tigris. Cuneiform writing in Mesopotamia around the beginning of the 4th millennium B.C. depicts the activity of eating through a pictogram of a head—with a piece of bread. It’s not surprising why bread was treated with a kind of reverence in Mediterranean culture that might seem somewhat absurd to Americans.

There are historical reasons for this. Over the centuries, bread was considered such an important food that rulers, churches and governments carefully monitored the availability and price of flour to prevent any shortages that could result in rioting. In some Mediterranean regions, especially North Africa and the Middle East, the price of bread is still a political issue. In Egypt, where millions subsist at or near the poverty line, high bread prices threaten the population’s existence.

The Poem of Gilgamesh, considered the world’s oldest piece of verse, not to mention one of the most valuable literary works, bread is remembered by both those suffering from hunger and those wanting to feed them. In fact, bread had such a divine status in Mesopotamia that bakers were exempt from military service. (Imagine if that happened in America during the Vietnam War—donut shop owners would be free to curate confectionary with names such as B-52 Bomber.) In fact, many Middle East nations still observe a special day that is set aside for bread—the first day of April. The Assyrians, inhabitants of Mesopotamia, have long celebrated April 1 as their New Year—an occasion for a national feast that heralds the onset of spring. On that day, Assyrian bakers are said to have baked loaves of bread weighing just under 50 pounds (30 kilograms, to be precise). Gigantic rounded cakes resembling the sun or the full moon, rounded flat bread is still eaten by almost half the world’s population.

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No discussion of bread is complete without examining the most important grain that goes into its making—wheat. Wheat dates back more than 10,000 years in the Mediterranean region. It is by far the most important grain throughout the Mediterranean, although historically grains such as emmer—a bread grain of ancient Egypt—and barley were the major grains of the region. Wheat is grown in Spain, Greece, Italy, Tunisia and Syria. The most preferred type of wheat in Mediterranean cuisine is the hard or durum variety, which makes for a high-quality, protein-rich flour known as semolina. Durum wheat is said to date back to the Neolithic era and was probably imported to the Mediterranean region from the Middle East.

Not for nothing is wheat called the monarch of foods. Practitioners of ayurveda, the Indian system of herbal medicine, believe that no other dietary staple, with the exception of fresh yogurt buttermilk, provides such greatly concentrated nourishment for all the seven tissues of the body—the bone, marrow, muscles, nerves, skin, semen and blood. Like its cousin barley, wheat is not associated with any particular deficiency disease. In contrast, corn is associated with pellagra and rice with beri-beri. Further, the human system digests wheat more readily than any other grain or cereal because of wheat’s capacity to absorb water, thereby conducting heat uniformly throughout the grain.

Bulgur is a cereal food made from wheat, often durum wheat. After the wheat is parboiled and dried, its husk is removed and grain is cracked. Bulgur is also referred to as cracked wheat, although it differs from cracked wheat because it’s parboiled and does not have any bran. A coarse form of bulgur is used to make tabbouleh, which is a salad made out of bulgur, tomato, parsley and mint. Bulgar is also used to make pilaf, a dish in which the grain is mixed with onions, tomatoes and peppers, sautéed in butter and frequently boiled in meat stock.

Pita, which should probably be spelled “peeta” to distinguish it from the Hindi-language pronunciation of the same word that means “father,” is another name for Syrian bread. It’s Biblical name is kikkar. Arabs call it khobiz or khubz adi, the Egyptians aish and baladi. The Farsi—Persian—name for pita is naan, which is also what the Indians and Pakistanis call it. In Yemen it’s salufe. It is said that because the people of the Middle East did not use silverware, pieces of pita bread were ideal for grasping food. (Indeed, the flatness of the bread probably rendered plates redundant.) When pita wasn’t being used to shovel food, it was torn into bite-sized chunks, spread over a platter or in a bowl, and a stew was poured on top. Warm pita served with honey and a clarified butter known as samneh was an exceptional treat. Pita, a word typically—but erroneously—associated with the Greek language, has been baked throughout the Middle East since the beginning of recorded history.

The Greek nexus is almost surely misleading because there is no ancient Greek terminology to trace the word back to. Pita almost surely derives from the Hebrew word paht, which means “piece of bread.” The equivalent of the word in Aramaic, the language Jesus spoke, is indeed pita, and has been in use for millennia. Abraham, in the book of Genesis, spoke of path lechem (piece of bread). Pita had not appeared in the Greek language until at least 1492, when the nomadic Sephardim people arrived in the town of Salonika in the eastern Mediterranean in large numbers. It is thought that they tried to differentiate the relatively small and round flatbreads they encountered in Spain with the thicker loaves they made back home by calling them pita. The Sephardim also use the word pita to refer to variety of savory pies.

And because Jews constituted the majority of Salonika’s population from 1519 to the early 20th century, it was somewhat natural that the word spread not just to people who weren’t Jewish but throughout Greece. In fact, the 16th-century Neapolitan word pizza appears to be derived from pita. Pita bread as we know it today is a round loaf that has a natural pocket between its upper and lower layers. This ingenious, distinctive creation appears to be a relatively recent one by bakers in the Levant or Egypt. The compartment between the bread’s surfaces is produced by baking a slender and moist piece of yeasty dough in an extremely hot oven where the heat turns the water inside the dough into steam, thereby puffing the dough and separating its interior into two layers. One of the strange things about pita is that it is rarely homemade—even in countries where it is part of the staple diet. Instead, pita is one of the most purchased foods in supermarkets from Israel to Inglewood.

In 2010, Angel Bakery, Israel’s largest bakery based in Jerusalem, baked 10,000 machine-made pitas every day for the city. Numerous more pitas, some of them handmade, were produced by smaller bakeries. It’s not surprising, then, that Israeli immigrants have helped make pita popular in America. The word first appeared in the United States in an article in the December 16, 1949 issue of The Jewish Criterion, a newspaper in Pittsburgh. Titled “A Guide for Tourists,” the article referred to the “bland succulence of ‘tehina’ and ‘chumus,’ eaten with pita. Despite attempt to popularize pita in New York City’s 1964 World Fair, it wasn’t until the 1970s that pita migrated from America’s ethnic enclaves to become mainstream fare. It is now sold in just about every grocery store from New Jersey to New Mexico.

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Pita is often paired with falafel, also spelled felafel, which are Middle Eastern deep-fried balls of highly spiced, ground chickpeas. A yogurt sauce or tahini is often added to the falafel, and hummus is also frequently combined. Another highly popular pairing with pita is that of shawarma, an ancient Middle Eastern combination. It is a piece of thinly sliced roasted, seasoned lamb. Other spellings include chawarma, shaurma and showarmaShawarma consists of highly seasoned slices of marinated meat, usually lamb, stacked about two feet tall on a skewer and roasted slowly on a vertical spit facing a flame.

It is the Arabic name for what many in the Middle East call döner kebab (döner means “one that turns”), which Middle-eastern immigrants carried to Germany and England and turned it into a favorite fast food. The roots of shawarma can be traced back to Egypt around the 1830s, not long after the mechanical, vertical rotisserie was invented, paving the way for this dish to become one of the favorite Middle Eastern foods. Shawarma is best when it’s prepared fresh to order. As the rotisserie turns, paper-thin slices of caramelized meat are carefully shaved from the roasted surface with a sharp knife. The falling shards are then piled into a pita—traditionally—or eaten with rice.

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Shawarma has a close cousin—kebab. Often referred to as the shish kebab, especially in South Asia and America, it is a form of Middle Eastern gilled or broiled meat that originated in medieval Persia. The Farsi name for kebab is kabab, while some also call it kebap. The Persian name for kebab is said to have derived from the Aramaic word kabbaba, which means “burning” and “charring.” In 1226, a cookbook from Baghdad by Muhammad ibn al-Hasan ibn Muhammad ibn al-Karim al-Katib al-Baghdadi, contains what’s probably the earliest written record of kebabs and stews. Roasting small pieces of meat is a practice dating back to antiquity.

Bedouins—nomads—in the Middle East as well as soldiers cooked meat over open fires. It wasn’t until the 16th century that the Mediterranean’s grilled and broiled meat as kebabs. In fact, sis is a term that means “sword” or “skewer.” It was attached as a prefix to the Persian kebab, and in the late 19th century döner kebab became a synonym for shawarma. The kebab has made inroads throughout Asia, introduced to the continent by sea-faring Arab traders. In Indonesia, the dish takes the form of the slightly sweet chicken satay. Thais typically make their kebabs from pork.

Vietnamese add lemongrass as a marinating ingredient and serve their kebabs with a dipping sauce that includes fish sauce, lime juice and sugar. The Japanese serve chicken yakitori, accompanied by a syrup of soy sauce, sake and sugar. But it’s in India where the largest variety of kebabs can be found—thanks to several centuries of Muslim influence. In India, kebabs are roasted, broiled, baked, shallow-fried, deep-fried, cooked in pots, on heated stones and even in eggshells. They are made with minced meat, shredded meat, cubed meat or cooked meat.

The term shish kebab made its way into the English language around 1913. Known as shashlik in the Caucasus, basturma in Georgia and frigarui in Romania, it refers to any kind of meat—beef, lamb or chicken—cut into roughly one-inch-square or larger cubes and grilled on skewers. In parts of the Arab world, these roasted chunks of meat are called lahm mishwi. In Iraq—and India and Pakistan—they are called tikka. Whatever the terminology, roasted pieces of skewered meat have been eaten for centuries across the Indian Subcontinent to the Caucasus and the Balkans. Many recipes call for the meat to be marinated but also be kept moist while being grilled.

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For many people, Mediterranean or Middle Eastern cuisine is synonymous with hummus bi tahini, which is typically eaten with warm pita bread. Hummus is a sauce made primarily from four ingredients—cooked and mashed chickpeas seasoned with a paste of tahini (sesame oil) or olive oil, lemon juice and garlic.

One of the world’s first cultivated crops, chickpeas stand out in the world of legumes. Unlike beans and lentils, the chickpea does not have a smooth surface. Instead it is wrinkled and roundish, although its sides are flattened, with a projecting radicle that resembles a chick’s beak. Chickpeas also do not share a pod with other seeds, as most legumes do. Instead, a chickpea has just one mature pea per pod. Sweet-flavored and smooth-textured, the chickpea is known to have health benefits for the spleen, pancreas, stomach and heart. The chickpea provides more vitamin C and nearly twice the amount of iron than most legumes.

Tahini is made from hulled sesame seeds. A creamy and smooth paste high in protein, it is a culinary staple of the Middle East as well as some Asian cuisines. It is also used as an oily ingredient in sauces and desserts. In some cuisines, tahini serves as a replacement for oil, egg or milk.

The people of the Levant are said to have secret techniques and flavorings, passed from generation to generation, which create special tastes and textures. A hint of cumin is considered to be vital for good hummus—as is the use of dried chickpeas soaked and cooked from scratch instead of relying on the canned variety. The puree of hummus is usually served as a smooth, creamy paste, although there are those who prefer the texture a bit coarse. A drizzle of olive oil, lightly sprinkled with sumac, sweet paprika or cayenne, rounds up the dish deliciously. Some like hummus topped with pine nuts, whole chickpeas, chopped parsley or minced garlic.

The precise history of hummus is not clear. It was once a peasant food, and therefore not mentioned in medieval Persian or Arabic texts. The earliest record of a related chickpea dish is a recipe for Hummus Kasa (kasa means a “coarse woolen cloth”) in an anonymous 13th-centuryu Cairo cookbook titled Kitab Wasf al-Atima al-Mutada. The recipe calls for pounding chickpeas after boiling them and combining them with vinegar instead of lemon juice, oil, tahini, pepper, atraf tib (mixed spices), mint, parsley, dry thyme, ground walnuts, hazelnuts, almonds, and pistachios, cinnamon, toasted caraway, dry coriander, salt, salted lemons and olives.

The elaborate concoction is then to be stirred, rolled flat and left overnight before it’s served. The word hummus first appeared in English in the December 16, 1949 issue of the Pittsburg newspaper The Jewish Criterion. The paper referred to “the bland succulence of ‘tehina and chumus,’ eaten with hunks of the platter-shaped bread peeta.” By the end of the 20th century, hummus, like pita, would be part of the American culinary fabric. The United Kingdom has adopted hummus with even greater enthusiasm. Usually spelled houmous, the dish is known to have been eaten by more than 8 million Brits on a regular basis in 2008, compared to 15 million in the U.S., although the U.S. has five times as many people as England.

References:

  • Food and Society in Classical Antiquity, by Peter Garnsey, Cambridge University Press, 1999.
  • The Alphabet: A Key to the History of Mankind, by D. Diringer, Wojciech Hensel, Warsaw, 1972.
  • Encyclopedia of Jewish Food, by Gil Marks, John Wiley & Sons, 2010.
  • Look &  Feel: Studies in Texture, Appearance and Incidental Characteristics of Food, Oxford Symposium on Food and Cookery, 1993, Prospect Books, 1994.
  • Food Culture in the Mediterranean, by Carol Helstosky, Greenwood Press, 2009.
  • The Mediterranean Cookbook, by Betty Wasson, Harry Regnery, 1973.
  • The Pharaoh’s Feast: From Pit-Boiled Roots to Pickled Herring, Cooking Through the Ages with 110 Simple Recipes, by Oswald Rivera, Four Walls Eight Windows, 2003.
  • Dhanwantari, by Harish Johari, Rupa Paperbacks, 1992.
  • Photo credit: Zankou Chicken

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