Please pass the hummus

There was a time when the idea of consuming anything made from mashed-up chick peas offended my naive sensibilities, not to mention my uncultured palate. I remember seeing a friend of mine order a bagel with a schmear of what I then considered offensive paste and wanting to gag.

But that was before I sampled this traditional Middle Eastern dish for myself. Once I did, I was hooked.

I discovered quickly that hummus pairs wonderfully with all manner of foods. Fresh vegetables, seasoned flatbread, triangles of pita or even corn tortilla chips all compliment it nicely. And using these various implements, I have tasted my way through any number of variations on this tahini-tinged chick pea theme. That includes everything from roasted red pepper, roasted pine nuts, basil and dill to Tribe of the Three Sheik’s mysterious “40 spices.” And garlic. Don’t forget garlic. (The only recipes I categorically refuse to try are those which involve olives of any kind. I despise olives.)

In general, I’d say what’s not to love about hummus. But over the last dozen or so years, I must admit that I’ve encountered a bit of “the good, the bad and the ugly.” I’m not sure if I’d go so far as to call myself a hummus connoisseur per se, but my palate is much more refined when it comes to judging the subtleties of this, one of my favorite dishes, than I did when I sampled it for the very first time.

I didn’t even know what the perfect hummus was until I discovered it. But now that I have, I’m not sure any other hummus will ever do.

I’ll never forget the first time this most perfect of concoctions touched my lips. I was sitting at my friend Julie’s kitchen table, interviewing her husband Lyndon (LJ Gates) about an upcoming release party he was having for his latest CD. I heard not a word about his music, however, as my own senses were engaged in their own version of the “Hallelujia” chorus.

I was struck first by its smooth, creamy texture. Then the garlic, which I later learned was fresh from the garden, caressed my tastebuds in a way no garlic had ever done before. The finish held just a touch of tangy lemon, balanced by the subtle sweetness of the tahini’s seseme base.

One bite of that simple, delectable hummus and I knew I’d never look at another the same way. Julie is, in my humble estimation, the undisputed Queen of Hummus.

If she had an official fan club, I’d proudly be a charter member.

Lucky for me, Julie has a heart as amazing as her hummus. That first night, she wouldn’t allow me to leave empty handed, sending me home with a container of “the good stuff,” as I like to call it. She’s done the same many times since.

It’s conceivable, I suppose, that this isn’t entirely altruistic, but rather the only way she can get me to leave her house.

Julie has also introduced me to a new way of eating hummus - with lettuce and avocado. Considering I had never even attempted to pick out a ripe avocado at the store, I would never have discovered this delectable combination on my own. (I’m proud to say that, thanks to her careful instruction, I was actually able to select the perfect avocado just last week. It was a momentous occasion.)

Julie is always incredibly generous with her hummus, but I’ll admit that I felt a little guilty for siphoning from her own hummus supply, which was already being depleted on a regular basis by her youngest son. I’d occasionally contribute a few chick peas, but I just didn’t feel that was enough. So one night, I convinced her to let me help her make a batch. I figured if I could even make a pale imitation of hers, I’d no longer need to ride on her hummus coat tails.

A couple of days later, I paid a trip to the grocery store and stocked up on hummus-making supplies. And one afternoon I set about making her recipe my own.

The process is a rather simple one, just combining the appropriate ingredients in an adequately-sized food processor and, well, processing away until you have reached the desired taste and consistency.

Which, when you are trying to follow someone who doesn’t actually measure anything, can be a challenge. Especially when you have such high standards to live up to.

My first attempt amazed even me, although I’ll admit that perhaps I overdid slightly on the garlic. (Trust me, anyone who tasted the stuff had nothing to fear from vampires.) I toned it down a bit on the second batch.

I took samples over to Julie’s so the hummus expert herself could evaluate my efforts. She gave me a slanted look, which I struggled to read, after popping the first hummus-laden chip into her mouth. But then she reached for a second, so I figured I passed.

I asked her youngest son his thoughts, and he merely shrugged. “Tastes like mom’s,” he said. To me, that was the best compliment I could ever receive.

I have to disagree with him, however. No matter how good my hummus,, it could never hope to equal Julie’s. To even suggest that it could would be hubris of the worst kind. Blasphemy even.

But, imitation, they say, is the sincerest form of flattery.

Now, please pass the hummus.

Follow me on Twitter ... @evesunmelissa.

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