Hum­mus? That’s just for starters

With its earthy flavour and tex­ture, the ver­sa­tile chick­pea has united foodie cul­tures around the world, says Diana Henry

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Dur­ing the re­cent protests against Trump’s travel ban, one plac­ard made me smile: ‘ We gave you hum­mus,’ it read. ‘Have some re­spect.’ This chick­pea purée has in­deed been a gift. I didn’t eat it (or chick­peas in any form) un­til I came to live in Lon­don in the mid-1980s. Now I’m not sure what we snacked on be­fore we dis­cov­ered hum­mus. The taste of chick­peas puréed with gar­lic, olive oil and tahini is as fa­mil­iar to us as it is to an Egyp­tian.

The pop­u­lar­ity of hum­mus may have held the chick­pea back, though. In my head, chick­peas com­bined with cumin and sumac, or tossed into sal­ads with pomegranate seeds and heady dress­ings, were firmly placed in the Mid­dle East. But Arabs took this sturdy lit­tle pulse – that looks so like a hazelnut – across the Mediter­ranean, to Al­ge­ria and Morocco, Spain and Por­tu­gal. Even­tu­ally I ate chick­peas in Spain, in gutsy stews of sausages and smoked paprika, then in Nice, where I fell for socca, the salty chick­peaflour pan­cake you buy from food trucks. Fi­nally, I ate them in Italy in a com­bi­na­tion that sur­prised me: starch and starch – why would any­one eat pasta with chick­peas? But when I tasted the chick­peas – fried in abun­dant olive oil with gar­lic, some tomato purée and a lit­tle dried chilli, then tossed with soft tagli­atelle – I com­pletely got the point (it’s as much about tex­ture as flavour).

I’m cur­rently in love with what I think of as a kind of Ital­ian hum­mus: cooked chick­peas mixed with a lit­tle stock, tiny dried chillis, roast gar­lic, soft chunks of ham or ba­con and co­pi­ous amounts of ex­tra-vir­gin olive oil. This is puréed and served warm, some­times with cros­tini, some­times as a kind of mash for spicy lamb or pork, or with braised chicory or radic­chio on top.

Chick­peas are so ro­bust that only se­ri­ous over­cook­ing will make them fall apart. And tinned is fine by me. I al­ways have plenty in my larder – enough to start my own hum­mus fac­tory or whip up much more be­sides.

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