Hummus bi Tahini

Lebanese Chickpea Puree with Sesame Cream

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Preparation info

  • Serves

    6 to 8

    as an hors d’oeuvre with pita
    • Difficulty


Appears in

A Canon of Vegetables

A Canon of Vegetables

By Raymond Sokolov

Published 2007

  • About

Anissa Helou, like any Lebanese, has a special attachment to chickpeas. They are an indigenous vegetable all over the Mediterranean. We know this because early Greek poetry refers to them, and they are the essential ingredient in the most fundamental food of the Levant, the tahini-flavored puree known throughout the world as hummus.

Chickpeas start out looking a bit like garden-variety peas. As Helou writes in Lebanese Cuisine (1998): “There is a short moment in early summer when chick peas are available fresh. Green bunches laden with the peas still in the pod are sold by street hawkers, usually to children who spend hours squeezing each pod open to extract and eat the green chick peas. A very healthy snack.”

Chickpea flour is a traditional staple in Nice and elsewhere, all the way to India, where it is called gram. But the world recipe is hummus. It is everywhere now, in degraded industrial, flavored hummus products that give no inkling of the “smooth ivory” texture Helou talks about. And, almost as important as the basic preposition of the puree, is the ingenious traditional method of serving (see steps 5 and 6 below) in which hummus spread out on a shallow plate is mounded slightly at the edges and the center, creating a natural receptacle for olive oil and a platform for displaying a few whole chickpeas.

This arrangement was clearly designed for a circle of people all scooping up hummus and moistening it in oil with a little pouch of pita bread held in the right hand. It also looks beautiful, and it inspires thoughts of Arab hospitality going back centuries.

Tahini is the other crucial ingredient, a thick “cream” made from pressed, roasted sesame seeds. Quality varies greatly among brands; Helou favors imported tahini from the eastern Mediterranean. You can easily test this proposition by staging a blind tahini tasting. Then serve rosewater-tinged martinis and make hummus to go with them from the tahini brand you have picked.


  • 2 cups dried chickpeas
  • 3 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
  • Juice of 2 large or 3 small lemons, about ½ cup
  • 1 cup tahini
  • Salt
  • ½ teaspoon cayenne (optional)
  • teaspoons ground cumin or paprika, to sprinkle on the hummus
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • Pita wedges


  1. Soak the chickpeas overnight.
  2. Boil the chickpeas in plenty of water for at least an hour until they can be mashed with a fork.
  3. Save ½ cup of the cooking water. Drain away the rest and put the chickpeas and the ½ cup water in the jar of a blender (reserving 6 chickpeas for a garnish) with the garlic and half the lemon juice. Blend until smooth. Scrape into a mixing bowl.
  4. Work in the tahini and beat until completely mixed. The color will lighten. Add salt to taste. Add more lemon juice if you want a sourer spread. Add the cayenne if you want a bit of heat.
  5. When you are ready to serve the hummus, spread it over a shallow plate. Run the back of a serving spoon in a circle through the hummus so as to leave a trough between the center and the edge. Put the reserved chickpeas on the mound at the center.
  6. Heat the cumin briefly in the olive oil. Then drizzle it around the trough in the hummus. Sprinkle additional cumin or paprika around the raised outer rim of the hummus.

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