I hope you are all well, and that you and your family are safe and sound!
I, like many others, have been quarantining at home. At home, I love to cook, but like me, are you also at home cooking often? If so, do you feel that the more you cook, the more creative you want to be in how you cook?
If “yes”, then you also know that it’s wonderful to have millions of recipes at your fingertips online. You can find extremely entertaining top rated chefs with impeccable images and tantalizing video tutorials, but what about all those hidden recipes you can’t find online but can only be revealed through your parents and your family heritage?
Since today is May 13, the official international day of hummus, I’ll share with you my hummus story, and my father, Oded Harari, who to me, is the hidden hero of hummus. At bottom of the article below, I also include a link to my father’s 3 minute audio recording on how to make “the best hummus you can eat,” which is also “is very simple” to make.
It started back in the the late 1970’s, when my parents immigrated from Israel to the U.S.
Back then, you couldn’t find hummus anywhere in America. People never heard the word “hummus” or even knew what it was, it was just a weird sounding dip from a tiny region of the world.
Even though I grew up in the suburbs of Washington, D.C., one of the most ethnically and racially diverse areas of the U.S., there was no hummus.
But, this would not deter my father, who loved hummus very much. But, in order for my father to eat hummus, he had to make it hummus, from scratch. Not having hummus to buy wouldn’t stop him from eating hummus, and my father took a lot of pride in his hummus-making abilities.
Why was hummus hard to find?
Hummus had many challenges for an American consumer culture that craved popular brand names and familiar packaged products. People just thought hummus was just the most odd-looking and odd-sounding item to consume. Even though hummus was popular in countries like Israel, Lebanon, Syria, Egypt, Turkey, and the Middle East, hummus was an underdog in the U.S.
1. Hummus looks like mud.
I remember my friends and their parents found it strange that my father would take vegetables and dip them into mud. Remember, this was over 30 years ago, and no one knew hummus. The more normal and American thing to take was a potato chip or nacho and dip it into a more normal thing like ranch dressing or salsa dip.
As a kid, I remember witnessing adults dip vegetables into hummus for the first time of their lives. No one ever seemed to know what to do with assorted fresh vegetables and a bowl of mud dipping sauce when my parents put them on a plate when entertaining guests. My father had to explain to them it was a Middle Eastern dish and told tell them it’s perfectly okay and healthy to eat, even though many were reluctant to do so at first. The way hummus looked was suspect to so many people.
2. “Hummus” sounds horrid.
Hummus never sounded appetizing to anyone who knew what it actually was.
Americans love names that sound good. Out of all the things to eat, this sounded like the most disgusting option. “Khoo-mus”, with leads with that Hebrew and Arabic sound “KHEH”, didn’t sound appetizing to the average American.
3. Hummus didn’t have a cool brand or fun packaging.
It was cool to buy or to eat foods made by brands with cool packaging. With hummus, there was nothing cool about the brand or packaging of garbazno beans (the check peas, which hummus is made of, and tahihi, toasted ground hulled sesame). Snack foods like Pringles, Ruffles, Lays, Tostitos, and Fritos had great brands. Hummus did not.
4. Fresh vegetables weren’t trendy.
As mentioned previously, snack foods with great brands and packaging were cool, vegetables were not. Vegetables just came unbranded from the produce section of the grocery store. My father didn’t go for the snack food brands with cool packaging, he instead went for the unbranded vegetables without any packaging.
My father also knew how to pick vegetables, as only the best vegetables were to be used for dipping into his hummus.
He also knew how to inspect each vegetable and how each should feel.
Others in the produce section would just take into consideration how the vegetable visibility looked. They would quickly go through the aisle picking the best vegetables which were the best looking with the least visible flaws.
My father, on the other hand, would spend hours in the produce section. He spent a lot of time picking up, looking, touching, and analyzing each vegetable. I thought it was unusual for my father to be touching and feeling vegetables.
To me all these vegetables all relatively looked the same and it didn’t matter to me which were better, it wasn’t that important. To my father, picking the best vegetable from each bin was very important, even if it took more time to do so. He would pick them up and put them down, when ever other adult was just using their eyes, my father would use his hands.
Every time I went to the grocery store with my father, we were always in the produce section for the longest amount of time out of everyone else in the store.
5. Hummus is weird to make.
Hummus is made with blenders, and blenders are marketed to Americans to make fun things like milkshakes and smoothies, using exciting ingredients like ice cream, strawberries, and chocolate.
My father, on the other hand, would use his blender to blend chick peas, tahini, and garlic. While the parents of my friends used their blenders to blend desserts, my father used his blender to blend assorted vegetables.
But now, hummus is everywhere.
I cannot believe the triumph of hummus in the past 30 years – going from nowhere to everywhere.
It went from looking weird and sounding weird, to trendy and cool. It went from only being eaten by a tiny population in a tiny part of the world to now eaten by people all over the U.S.
Hummus is in every grocery store and can be found at a restaurant in every city in the U.S. Hummus hits on all the recent food trends like organic, gluten-free, vegan, healthy, etc. In New York City, there are even restaurants named Hummus Kitchen and Hummus Place.
Hummus should be one of the great American rags to riches stories.
Here’s Jamie Oliver introducing Americans to how to make hummus with a blender using garbanzo beans, just like my father did 30+ years ago.
Hummus also now has a cool brand, called Sabre. They have even introduced their own hummus condiment to compete with ketchup and mustard.
What was weird is now normal.
Think about all the challenges hummus had to overcome to be so widely available in the U.S. and the heroes like my father to make them from scratch and introduce them to Americans for the first time.
My father’s story taught me that we all have our unique qualities and experiences that differentiate us, and to be who you are and do what you love, no matter how it appears to anyone at moment.
I also love how hummus has built common threads between Jews, Muslims, and Christians, taking an ancient dish and making it modern, all the while promoting health and wellness.
Listen to my father’s “Best Hummus You Can Eat” recipe!
- Two cans of chick peas
- 1 jar of tahini
- 2 lemons
- 1 clove of garlic
- Extras: olive oil, salt, paprika
My father’s 3 minute hummus recipe:
- Take the two cans of chick peas, put them in a pot, and heat them on the stove (don’t boil it, just heat it so the chick peas become soft)
- Blend the chick peas in a blender
- Put half a jar of the tahini in the blender
- Squeeze the lemons into the blender
- Put half clove of garlic in the blender
- That’s it!
- You can serve the hummus with olive oil, salt, and paprika
It also makes me think, what food or drink exists out there, that has been around in a different part of the world for a while, that millions of people in the U.S. will love, that’s just not quite there in our hands yet.
Which one will be next?