Which American city is considered an equal destination for both dining and drinking? With a reputation for brewing world-class beers, cocktails and spirits, Chicago is the city for sampling all kinds of delicious beverages. Naturally, a good drink can create a craving for accompanying bar bites — and one in particular that is equal parts healthy and tasty has invaded The Windy City…
Hummus — the Arabic word for “chickpeas” — is a Levantine and Egyptian dip and spread made from chickpeas blended with tahini, olive oil, lemon juice, salt and garlic. The classic Mediterranean food is part of an everyday diet in Israel — a concept that seems to be catching on in the US. Additionally, it is one of the few foods that can be combined with both dairy and meat meals, following Jewish dietary laws. Particularly popular in the Middle East, North Africa and in Middle Eastern cuisine everywhere, hummus is now a favorite on many menus. Before you start snacking, read on for five fast facts about Chicago’s latest trending dish:
1. Obscure origins
Hummus is so popular that competing claims over the dish by various ethnic groups have caused the exact historical origins to become unclear over time. However, it is widely considered to have roots in the Middle East, and believed to date back to at least the 13th century, when the earliest known recipes for a similar dish were recorded in cookbooks published in Cairo. (Chickpeas — the tan, round legumes that serve as the main ingredient in hummus — were discovered around 3000 BC, and are thought to be one of the earliest cultivated vegetables.) It became particularly popular in American restaurant and food culture after the mass Armenian migration from Lebanon to Southern California and the East Coast after the end of the Lebanese Civil War in 1990.
2. Top it off
Besides traditional hummus, variations served with garlic, sun-dried tomato and other seasonings add bold flavors. Chopped tomato, cucumber, parsley, olives, pickles and pine nuts — among countless other toppings — can serve as garnishes. Hummus can also be an accompaniment to falafel, grilled chicken, fish or eggplant. Outside the Middle East, hummus is usually served with tortilla chips or crackers.
3. The good-for-you grub
Rich in minerals like potassium, magnesium, calcium, iron and zinc, this Mediterranean staple is a good source of protein, which helps with weight management by curbing excessive snacking. Hummus is also a source of iron and fiber — supplements known to boost energy and lower cholesterol, respectively. It’s also thought to benefit cardiovascular health, muscular functions and the digestive system. Unsurprisingly, hummus is a mainstay in the Mediterranean diet — a diet proven to reduce heart attacks, strokes and death from heart disease.
By 2012, hummus sales in the US reached $800 million. By the end of 2014, 20% of US households were regularly purchasing hummus — a figure that is continually rising due to the growing popularity of healthy varieties, like those blended with spinach, artichoke, and lemongrass (among other ingredients). The explosion of popularity around hummus may have something to do with the increasing national focus on health and nutrition — or, it could be because it’s just so good.
Typical American variations of hummus can include ingredients like spinach, roasted red pepper and roasted cumin powder. In Palestine and Jordan, hummus is typically enjoyed warm and with bread for breakfast, while in Canada it’s usually eaten along with other dishes like falafel, kibbe and tabouleh. In Turkey, hummus is usually oven-dried with pastirma, a highly seasoned, air-dried beef.
Where to find it
Craving this healthy snack with a side of cocktails? Plenty of restaurants in Chicago offer up the spread to start off a meal or a night at the bar.
In River North, The Kitchen is a New American restaurant with a simple house hummus as a pre-dinner snack.
Smoked pumpkin, spiced pepita, red onion, paprika and naan bread accompany the chickpea hummus at this traditional American destination in River West — perfect for sharing with friends.
The Boarding House, a New American eatery in River North, offers a jaffa hummus that comes with shallots, cumin, lemon juice and housemade crackers.