By Benjamin Goodin
If you’ve been riding the rising tide of dietary health, then you’ve probably seen an inundation of new (and sometimes not-so-new) food trends designed to tickle your pallet and give you a healthy fullness. A popular approach to new sources of nutrition has been to look away from our own eating practices, which have fallen under scrutiny, and search both history and other cultures for new infusions of inspired tastes and healthy sustenance.
Hummus is one such food that fulfills both the call for ancient, whole nutrition and capitalizes on fresh flavors and clean nutritional practices of other cultures. Hummus has been a staple in Mediterranean and Middle Eastern diets for nearly 13 centuries and has weathered the fickle eddies of popular nutrition. In fact, hummus has been consistently popular as a health food for so long that it’s not likely to raise eyebrows from the healthy eater or objections from the picky eater.
Hummus takes its name from the Arabic-language word for its primary ingredient: the chickpea. Although many regional variants and modern twists on the recipe continue to emerge, hummus consists of only six basic ingredients: a chilled paste of ground chickpeas, olive oil, minced garlic, lemon juice, salt, and tahini (a creamy, oily paste of sesame seeds, not totally unlike a more-savory peanut butter).
Popular variations include additional seasoning in the form of paprika or cumin, using flavor-infused olive oils, or adding roast peppers for flavor or a notable heat profile. The permutations on this classic recipe are various, likely because hummus seems to go very well with just about everything. This culinary amiability has led to a bit of a classification crisis for hummus — is it a dip to compliment salty snacks, fresh veggies, and toasted breads? Is it a sandwich spread to compliment hearty breads, crunchy vegetable slices, and seasoned meats? Is it a sauce for a flavorful summer pasta salad? Or, is hummus a fortifier for heartier soups and sauces? It may defy classification, but everyone can agree that there is no singular way to enjoy very versatile and delicious hummus.
More than just adaptable, hummus provides healthful nutrition. While it is not a low-calorie food, it is nutritionally dense. You can expect about 108 calories and 12 carbohydrates per serving, which is about four tablespoons, not including the veggies, pita, or other dippables. That carbohydrate profile is probably enough to frighten carb counters, but it is worth noting that 2.4 of those are filling dietary fiber, and the rest are starchy carbs — meaning that they provide a slow digesting, consistent release of energy throughout the day. Alongside of the hearty, blood sugar-friendly energy, the same serving of hummus contains 4.8 grams of protein, making hummus a snack food that provides satisfying satiety, very efficient and long-lasting energy, and better digestive function. You’ll feel full quickly, so you won’t find yourself mindlessly shoveling in more than you should, like many of us do with chips and fatty, dairy-based dips.
Speaking of fats, those four tablespoons of hummus contain 5.6 grams of fats, the bulk of which are polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats from the olive oil— the healthy fats that help regulate blood sugar and blood pressure, fight arterial plaque and bloodstream triglycerides, and generally promote cardiovascular health. Three of the primary ingredients in hummus — garlic, olive oil, and chickpeas — are known anti-inflammatory agents, meaning that they fight factors that lead to visible aging and the root source of many diseases and illnesses in the human body. The folate, iron, vitamin C, and other trace minerals in hummus further promote cardiovascular function, support bone health, and strengthen the immune system. The strong presence of B-complex vitamins helps to turn the rich nutrition in hummus into effective energy for the body.
Hummus is a simple, frugal dish that can easily be assembled and enjoyed within a few minutes. You may or may not have a bag of dried chickpeas or a few cans in the pantry. The dried and canned varieties, unlike many other legumes, don’t vary greatly in taste and texture.
Reconstituted or soaking in aquafaba, chickpeas will always be firm, almost crunchy, and have a slightly nutty flavor. Stockpiling chickpeas for hummus and other recipes is a frugal decision as they cost very little and have a long shelf life. Tahini is less likely to be in your pantry and may not be as easy to find as the other components of hummus, but it should be available in the health food or specialty sections of grocery stores. It has about the same shelf life as peanut butter, and it needs to be refrigerated to stabilize the flavorful oils. The alternative to scouring the aisles for tahini is to make your own. In this case, a bag of sesame seeds — hulled or un-hulled, white or black — and a few teaspoons of a mild oil, preferably olive oil, spun in the food processor until it is your desired level of creaminess is all it takes to make your own healthy and tasty tahini. If all of this sounds too energy intensive for a quick snack, then prepared hummus can be easily located in almost every supermarket, and the nutritional statistics don’t vary much from the homemade variety.
While hummus makes a superior substitute for sandwich spreads and dips, be sure to compliment it with equally healthy whole-grain breads, crackers, and fresh veggies. However you’re planning on spreading your hummus, be sure to have enough to share!
2 Tbsp Sabra Hummus (any flavor)
1 slice whole-wheat or hearty bread, toasted
1/2 c avocado, sliced
1 sliced radish
1/4 c tender arugula
1 Tbsp tablespoon chopped pistachios
salt, to taste
pepper, to taste
Spread hummus on toast.
Top with avocado, radish, arugula, and pistachios.
Sprinkle with salt and pepper, to taste.
Recipe provided by Family Features.
Quick Basic Hummus
1 15-oz can chickpeas
1/4 c lemon juice
1/4 c tahini *
1 small garlic clove, minced
2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 tsp ground cumin
Salt to taste
Combine tahini and lemon juice in food processor and process for 1 ½ minutes, scraping sides and bottom as needed.
Add olive oil, minced garlic, cumin, and a 1/2 teaspoon of salt and process another minute or so until well-blended. Scrape sides of bowl several times.
Drain and rinse the chickpeas. Add half of the chickpeas and process for 1 minute. Scrape sides and bottom of the bowl, then add rest of the chickpeas and process 1 – 2 minutes until thick and smooth
Add salt to taste. Serve with drizzle of olive oil.
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