Kitchen Window -- Give Chickpeas A Chance In the Middle East, the origins of traditional dishes like hummus are the subject of contentious debate across cultures and borders. But Israeli food writer Vered Guttman suggests that these culinary similarities are reason for hope.

Give Chickpeas A Chance

Lebanese chefs celebrate around a large plate of hummus -- weighing 23,520 pounds -- after setting a new Guinness world record May 8 in Beirut. Lebanon set the original record in 2009, then neighboring Israel beat it in January 2010. Behind this food fight is a deeper political and culinary dispute that boils down to the question: Whose hummus is it anyway? Anwar Amro/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

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Anwar Amro/AFP/Getty Images

It took 300 chefs, hours of work and 10 tons of hummus, but on May 8, Lebanon broke the world record for the largest bowl of hummus.

This record more than doubles the last record of 4 tons held by Israel, which broke the former record of 2 tons held by Lebanon, which broke the modest record of 700 pounds held by Israel. This, in short, is the history of the Big War Of Hummus.

In this time, when tensions are on the rise yet again, it's almost comforting to watch this comic battle between two nations that experienced a horrific war as recently as four years ago.

Behind this food fight is a deeper dispute. It touches on deep national sentiments and boils down to the question: Whose hummus is it anyway?

According to Fadi Abboud, president of the Association of Lebanese Industrialists, Lebanon has been losing tens of millions of dollars a year because Israel is marketing dishes like tabbuleh and hummus to the U.S. market. Abboud threatened Lebanon would file an international lawsuit against Israel for violating its food copyright. The only Israeli response has been to break the record again and again.

The truth is, no one is really sure about the origins of hummus. Chickpeas were cultivated about 6,000 years ago in the Middle East and have been widely available there ever since. Archaeologists found the first evidence of hummus in the area that is now Israel from the time of the crusaders.

About The Author

Vered Guttman is the chef and owner of Cardamom & Mint Catering, which specializes in Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cuisines. Her cooking adds a creative touch to Israel's ethnic melting-pot dishes. Vered's cooking was featured in the Washington Post, and she is a contributor to culinary publications and websites. Learn more at her website.

Hummus is enjoyed every day in small cafes and private homes in Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan and Syria. As an Israeli, I watched it become a national obsession in my country. Small hummus joints are filled with diners, each one an expert on the science of hummus and a devotee of one place. It's either the Galilee hummus or the Jerusalem kind, with or without fava beans, topped with warm chickpeas or served without. Even with the "swallow, don't chew" attitude of many of these establishments, encouraging you to make room for the next diner, you'll see people sitting on sidewalks outside their favorite place, gleefully holding a bowl of warm hummus topped with olive oil in one hand and a fresh pita bread in the other.

Hummus polls, countless articles and even a hummus blog help Israelis articulate their passion. And the longing to try the famous Damascus hummus remain a big incentive for peace in the Middle East.

The conclusion is that our two people are closer than we'd like to admit, that we share the same foods, and that maybe this is a good thing. A food fight involving hummus may sound messy (don't try this at home), but it's cleaner than other types of fighting. It offers hope.

As of May 21, Israel is holding the world record for the largest falafel ball. Really.

Parsley Tahini

This is a wonderful, strong-flavored dip. Spread it on pita bread, adding pickled cucumbers and Israeli salad for a light meal.

Makes 1 1/2 cups

1/2 cup water

5 tablespoons lemon juice (about 1 1/2 lemons)

Small bunch Italian parsley, roughly chopped

2 to 3 garlic cloves

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup tahini

Put all ingredients but tahini in a food processor and run until the parsley and garlic are crushed.

Add the tahini to the thickness you prefer. Taste and adjust salt, lemon juice or garlic.


This is my version of this popular dip. Feel free to adjust the quantities of each of the ingredients to your liking. You can spread the hummus in a shallow bowl and top it with the fava bean salad or the seasoned chickpeas, the parsley tahini and the lemon dressing (recipes below), or you can serve each salad separately on a mezze table. Serve with warm pita bread.

Vered Guttman for NPR
Vered Guttman for NPR

Makes 5 cups

1 pound dry chickpeas

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

1 1/2 teaspoons salt, divided

1 cup cooking water

1/2 cup lemon juice

8 to 10 garlic cloves, peeled

1/2 teaspoon salt

8 ounces tahini

Soak the chickpeas in water in a large pot overnight unrefrigerated, or soak for 24 hours in the refrigerator.

Drain the water and cover with fresh water an inch above the chickpeas.

Start cooking the chickpeas over high heat. When the water boils, skim the foam. Add baking soda, mix and remove remaining foam. Lower the heat and cook for at least 3 hours over the lowest heat. Stir occasionally.

When the chickpeas are very soft and start to break, add 1 teaspoon salt and continue to cook for another 30 minutes. Let cool for 30 minutes in the cooking water.

Using a strainer, measure 4 cups of the cooked chickpeas, reserving the cooking water. Put the chickpeas in a food processor. (Reserve the leftover chickpeas for the seasoned chickpeas recipe that follows.)

Add 1 cup of the cooking water, lemon juice, garlic cloves and the remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt to the food processor and puree the chickpeas. Run the food processor for a minute, until the mixture is very smooth (it will be liquidy.)

Add the tahini and run the food processor for another minute. Taste for seasoning -- you might want to add more garlic, lemon juice or salt. When satisfied, continue to run the food processor for another 5 minutes.

Serve the hummus on a plate with parsley tahini, fava bean salad, seasoned chickpeas and lemon dressing.

Lemon Dressing For Hummus

3 tablespoons lemon juice

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 serrano, jalapeno or Thai chili pepper, sliced

2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed

Salt, to taste

Mix all the ingredients. Drizzle on top of the hummus

Seasoned Chickpeas

To the chickpeas left over from making hummus, add salt, cumin, garlic and lemon juice to taste. Mash the chickpeas a little with a fork.

Fava Bean Salad

This salad emphasizes the strong flavors of the garlic and cumin. To make the process easier, you can use canned pre-cooked fava beans, available in Mediterranean grocery stores.

Vered Guttman for NPR
Fava Bean Salad
Vered Guttman for NPR

Makes 4 to 6 servings

1 cup dry brown fava beans, not the yellow peeled fava

1/4 teaspoon cumin seeds

4 garlic cloves

1 teaspoon kosher salt

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 lemon

Small bunch Italian parsley, roughly chopped

Soak the fava beans in water in a pot overnight unrefrigerated.

Drain the water and cover with fresh water, a couple of inches above the fava beans.

Start cooking the fava beans over high heat. When the water reaches the boiling point, cover the pot and cook for about 2 hours over the lowest heat, until the beans are soft. Stir occasionally.

Drain the beans.

Over low heat, roast the cumin seeds in a pan until they release their aroma.

Put the cumin, garlic and kosher salt in a mortar, and use the pestle to create a smooth paste. Alternatively, crush the garlic in a garlic press and mix with the cumin and salt. Mix the olive oil into the mortar, and pour the mixture over the warm fava beans.

Section the lemon, and add the peeled sections into the salad together with the parsley. Mix and serve.

Israeli Salad

I'm Israeli, so I call this salad Israeli salad. I do realize this salad is Palestinian as well. My grandmother used to make it, my mother still makes it every day, and I prepare it for my family, who finish their share until the last bite and then drink the juices remaining at the bottom of the bowl.

Vered Guttman for NPR
Israeli Salad
Vered Guttman for NPR

Makes 4 to 6 servings

3 tomatoes

5 to 6 Israeli cucumbers*, unpeeled

1/2 yellow onion

Juice from 1 lemon

2 tablespoons olive oil

Salt and black pepper, to taste

Chopped parsley, grated radish, chopped peppers, lettuce (optional)

Chop the vegetables as small as you can.

Mix with the lemon juice, oil, salt and pepper.

Try adding other vegetables. Try it the Palestinian way with a little chili pepper chopped inside. Also tastes wonderful with a little tahini drizzled on top.

* These are small, thin-skinned cucumbers available at Mediterranean markets. Other cucumbers may be substituted, but the waxed ones should be peeled.