I love to experiment with my mind. First film came out of that, then humor. I don’t really know when food became my new experiment, but I found who I was through trying different recipes, most notably, chickpeas. Fascinated with this legume, I dreamed of making all the chickpea recipes I found in vegetarian cookbooks.
So I started by roasting chickpeas in olive oil, with a little garlic and onion powder, cumin, and cayenne pepper sprinkled throughout. Best right out of the oven and popped into the mouth before they pop out of the tray because of the heat, I ate them even they got mushy and inedible days later. I ate them out of starvation because I was convinced they were healthy and definitely cheaper than already prepared food from McDonald’s or my nearby supermarket. So I ate them dutifully, figuring they were my equivalent of candy.
My love affair with garbanzo beans didn’t end there. I went right to the heart of what chickpeas are all about; the be all end all food of all chickpea fanatics like myself: hummus. I must confess, I fantasized about the perfect concoction of this expensive supermarket food. First, I put in no olive oil; no good- too pasty. Then, at the advice of a friend, I started piling in the spices: cumin, chili powder, cayenne pepper, kosher salt, celery seed, and probably more if I could have, so addicted was I to this appetizer.
Did hummus save me from processed foods? In a way I think it did, although too much of a good thing can be downright cruel. Still, it was tasty and addictive; I am convinced more addictive than French fries, though no one will believe me. This is what I think to myself when I taste my hummus: at least I’m not in partial hospitals- taste that tahini. At least I’m not in love with a drunk anymore and stalking him on top of that- feel that cilantro slip under your tongue.
Hummus is just a little too important to me. Accounts vary as to when it was first prepared, from the 12th century to the 18th. The main ingredient, chickpeas, has been around for, again, sources vary, anywhere from 10000 years ago in ancient Mediterranean and Middle Eastern worlds, to the Sumerians harvesting the legume before 2500 BC and 4000 BC.
In fact, chickpeas are not even the oldest legumes grown. Lentils are widely believed to be the first bean grown for humans. I, personally, am scared of lentils and when I think of another bean, fava beans, well I just think of Silence of the Lambs when Anthony Hopkins mentions that he likes them a la cadaver.
White and black beans seem the safest and closest cousin to the chickpea, in that they can be used as dips (like hummus). White beans (or cannellini, great northern, or white kidney beans), are heavily associated with Tuscany, which is still known today for its bean smorgasbord. Italy, apparently, still can’t get enough of beans, while Americans could care less.
But back to fava beans. To give them their props, in Egypt, the national dish is a spread made out of fava beans. According to a Lebanese producer of hummus, one of the reasons fava beans are not popular in the US is because they are heavy on the stomach. People can’t digest them well.
Lentils, on the other hand, cannot be made into an edible spread, but this does not seem to matter because they’re very popular in India.
Back when I was struggling with insanity, chickpeas and hummus were my refuge from the people who thought I could never make anything out of myself. They were for the fat, immature, psychotic girl that I had become. I could eat them, not only because they were healthy, but because I could manipulate my taste buds into thinking they were better than food; they were salvation. I look at the hummus I’ve made and see art. Maybe the store bought hummus is art too, but I want to know what I’m eating.
Yes, all hummus is good and good for you, but I don’t want hummus to be just “good.” I want to accentuate each morsel and know that my hummus might actually be what was eaten in the 12th century by Plato and Socrates. Because I want to experience the history of hummus. And yes, the experience is about more than taste. It’s about bonding over a dish that would not have been here in America if it were not for the Lebanese immigrants that came to America in the 1800s or 1900s.