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July 20, 2009

Musabbaha Whole Chickpea Hummus with Cumin and Parsley : Flavor and Fragrance

Hummus, a creamy paste of chickpeas and tahini scented with lemon and garlic, is rightly one of the most beloved Middle Eastern dishes. Similar chickpea pastes flavored with cinnamon, ginger, parsley and olive oil are mentioned in medieval Arab cookbooks as early as the 13th century. In recent years, hummus and baba ghanoush have become the emblematic dishes for pan-Middle Eastern cuisine. Yet, despite its ubiquity, when properly made, hummus offers one of the most comforting and satisfying dishes with its complex interplay of flavors and rich contrasts between spice, tartness and creaminess. In addition to the commonly encountered creamy hummus, Middle Eastern cuisine offers a number of interesting regional variations, out of which the Syrian-style hummus, musabbaha, is one of my absolute favorites.

In contrast to the classical creamy hummus bi tahina (hummus with sesame paste,) musabbaha is made with chickpeas left whole. Chickpeas are first marinated while still warm in plenty of lemon juice, olive oil and garlic before being blanketed in tangy parsley tahini sauce. The textural contrasts of whole tender chickpeas and creamy, enveloping sauce is very special, while the depth of flavors is almost surprising. Each one comes like a wave: first, the brightness of lemon and garlic, then the chestnut aroma of beans and the nutty aroma of sesame paste, and finally, the gentle warmth of chilies. Once the chickpeas are cooked, the whole dish can be put on a table within 15 minutes. It makes a great appetizer, salad or even a side dish for grilled fish or chicken. Following the example of my Syrian friend who shared this recipe with me, I like to have it for breakfast with some toasted flatbread and tomato-cucumber salad.

Musabbaha Whole Chickpea Hummus with Cumin and Parsley مسبّحة

Ingredients: Serves 6 as part of an appetizer spread, or 4 as a main item.

1 cup whole dried chickpeas (soaked in water overnight)
2-4 cloves of garlic (or to taste, depending on your love for garlic), crushed to paste with some salt
1/4 t cumin
1/3 cup tahini
Juice of 1 large lemon (about 1/4 cup)
1/3-1/2cup parsley, very finely minced
black pepper, hot chili powder, salt, olive oil

Cook chickpeas in salted water for 2 hours or till tender. Allow to cool till lukewarm. Mix lemon juice with garlic to tame its bite and leave for a couple of minutes. Mix chickpeas with half of the lemon-garlic mixture, add cumin, black pepper, chili powder, salt to taste and enough olive oil to coat.

Mix the rest of the lemon-garlic mixture into tahini, add salt to taste and add more lemon juice, if needed. The sauce should have a pleasant tang. Fold almost all of the parsley into the sauce, saving a bit for garnish. The parsley is an important ingredient in musabbaha, so do not skimp on it.

Arrange chickpeas on a deep serving plate and spread the sauce on top. The idea is to layer the dish, so do not mix the sauce, but instead let it coat the chickpeas like a blanket. Drizzle some more olive oil and sprinkle the top with minced parsley. Enjoy!

Photo © Bois de Jasmin.



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