Hummus is smeared across my shoes, embedded into the breathable synthetic fiber, clinging tenaciously inside the vents. It’s as much a part of me as it is my footwear now, inextricably melded into the very foundation of existence.
In Israel, hummus is not an appetizer or a condiment; hummus is a meal. Thick swirls of silken chickpea puree undulate behind lashings of fiery red or green schug, mountains of minced garlic and onions, whole beans, and a flurry of smoked paprika, to be scooped up in warm, soft, pillowy pita bread, all in one fell swoop. Mind you, that’s only the most basic preparation, the bare minimum for admission.
Generous pools of toasted sesame tahini and grassy olive oil meet and mingle, blending, harmonizing together. Tiny rafts of minced parsley float on top, pushed along by the lively desert air. A few heavenly bites in, and small dish of fresh chopped tomatoes and cucumbers suddenly arrives at the table, unannounced. Are they complimentary? Did I order them and forget? This is best left unquestioned, because their brightness is an indispensable part of the party now.
More people pull up chairs, dropping mashed eggplant and strings of pickled red cabbage as they land. Roasted mushrooms sparkling in the midday sun, teasing umami flavor across every bite. A pinch of za’atar here, a sprinkle of sumac there, herbaceous, tangy, tart; no two tastes are ever quite the same. Chasing the same high becomes maddening, an impossible pursuit, yet never once does the endeavor disappoint.
Temperatures begin to fall as the sky glows orange, slowly fading to deeper and darker shades of red. Still, the central bowl remains as bountiful as the conversation, changing shape and color as friends filter in and out, adding their own flavors into the mix. Sometimes spicier, sometimes saltier, the unique blend always seems to suit the personalities gathering around.
Should the bottomless platter of pita travel too far out of reach, outstretched forks and spoons dart out like heat-seeking missiles, locked on to the central schmear. For all intents and purposes, it’s a creamy salad at this point, so why not skip the formalities and go straight for the good stuff?
When the moon trades shifts with the sun, stars blaze ahead, never once allowing darkness to descend. Alley cats cautiously emerge to scavenge for scraps; perhaps an errant chickpea that escaped, a messy dollop of baba ganoush splattered on the sidewalk below. The day continues on heedless of time, interrupted only by the intermittent silence of chewing. Only when the spread is fully demolished, dishes wiped clean, does the party finally pack it in.
Hummus is not just a type of food. Hummus is a way of life.
Lest I leave you hungry for more, here are a few of my favorite hummus recipes: