Category Archives: MidLaw Diet

Cahiers de Hoummous: Consider the eggplant

Baba Ganoush, or Baba Ganouj

MidLaw has railed in the past against the misappropriation of the term “hummus” for non-chickpea purposes.

“Pumpkin hummus”, ” butterbean hummus.” Bah! Pumpkus and butterbumkus!

Consider the eggplant.

For thousands of years, eggplants have provisioned their own dip.

Eggplant dip is virtually identical to hummus, differing only by the substitution of eggplant for chickpeas in the traditional recipe.

But eggplant has never sought to be known as “eggplant hummus.” It’s had its own name from the start: baba ghanoush (which, by the way, has its own sort-of-interesting etymology and also suffers from competing Arab and Jewish identities). Curiously, while hummus and baba ghanoush come from the same place and same time, nobody wants eggplant’s name. There’s no bababutterbean, no pumpkinoush.

Baba ganoush, by the way — although never known as “eggplant hummus” —  is a mighty good dip.

Your move, butterbean.

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Cahiers de hoummous: chickpea hummus?

MidLaw has warned — no, thundered! — that no good can come of using the term “hummus” to denominate dips made of foreign substances.  “Pumpkin hummus,” “beet hummus,” “sweet potato hummus.” Bah!

Well, the chicks have come home to roost.

MidLaw was at a fancy event in a hotel the other night. Fancy hors-d’oeuvres were served. Each separate offering was accompanied by a small card naming the dish. And there at the end, on the far side of the artichoke dip, was a bowl of what was labeled “chickpea hummus.”

Chickpea hummus?

If you do not label it “hummus b’tahini,” that’s OK. But this label said “chickpea hummus”. Might as well have said “chickpea chickpeas,” or “hummus hummus”.

Would you say “eggplant aubergines,” or “green bean haricots verts”? Bean wrap burrito.

One must hold the line — in large things and small.

Cahiers de Hoummous: Yuletide hummus, a MidLaw tradition

In the spirit of the season, garnish your hummus with a sprig of holly. The dark green leaf, the bright red berry: they rest so well on a rich bed of beige. (Recipe for the beige: The MidLaw Hummus Way.)

But do not eat that holly. Remember: Holly is toxic and can cause death to small animals and little children.

Merry Christmas to all! And a Happy New Year!

Cahiers de Hoummous: The BBC leaps into the fray

Apparently, a recent Cahiers de Hoummous post here provoked the BBC. Last week, it published another one of those who-invented-hummus? articles. (For one of the best in the genre, see Church of the Chickpea.)

Demonstrating that the author had read that recent MidLaw cahier, the BBC article opened up with the fundamental axiom: “The recipe for hummus b’tahini (as the dish is named: ‘hummus’ simply means ‘chickpeas’), consists of chickpeas, tahini, garlic and lemon.” (No mention here of the possibility of pumpkins or beets.)

For 9 pages, it reviews the perennial hummus questions: smooth or lumpy? oil in it or on it? what condiments and accompaniments? Chickpeas, the BBC agrees, are some serious beans. They go back 10,000 years, it says. They are indubitably without peers among legumes. (With apologies to red kidney beans, chickpeas’ only real rivals among legumes are Edgecombe County peanuts. (Yes, Virginia, those nuts are legumes).) And, there is a not-to-be-missed discussion, mid-article, of the traditional practice of serving hummus in red clay bowls with raised edges. The hummus is whisked against the edges and mounded in a way that promotes good pita-dipping. The texture of the hummus (as between too liquid and too thick) is gauged by how well it mounds around the edge.

Inevitably, one supposes, the BBC asks “Who invented hummus?” But, was it really necessary? MidLaw put this old quarrel to rights long ago. Hummus originated in Greensboro at an indeterminant date, sometime in the last 10,000 years.

Along the way, this newest article also sets more rabbits running. Is hummus a Greek thing? (MidLaw has addressed this.) Did hummus actually originate in India or Nepal? (Admittedly, a new one.)

In the end, they found a guy in Haifa who shrugged (a sure sign of authority) and said:

It doesn’t matter where it’s from. What matters is the way it’s been co-opted and sold commercially in grocery stores in plastic containers. “That’s not hummus!” he said, tearing a piece of pita. “There should be a sign on that humus the way there is on “kosher shrimp.” It should be labeled “fake hummus”. There should be an international law.

The guy is a MidLawfarian.

Roll your own!

[A tip of the MidLaw cap to C.L. Dibble for the BBC referral.]
[Special Note: Be on the lookout for a reprise of MidLaw’s celebrated “Yuletide Hummus” cahier. It’s coming any day now in response to overwhelming demand!]

Cahiers de Hoummous: Pumpkin hummus? Pumpkus!

[Wherein MidLaw reprises a holiday favorite cahier from Christmas past.]

They speak to me at Christmas time of pumpkin hummus.

It is the get of the multi-culture. Some at this season reprise even the beet fallacy.

Look it up. There is no plural of hummus.

Hummus is of chickpeas.

Rightly, we contest dried versus canned chickpeas. And then we conclude that either can do. And avidly, we pour into our food processors other pulses, other beans, and other vegetables to mash them up. But those are not hummus. They are dips and pastes and sauces. That must find their own names.

Anything else is the theft of a word that is the property of the chickpea. Chickpeas, garbanzo beans, ceci nuts, sometimes also known as Egyptian peas, Bengal grams, and Kabuli chana: they own hummus.

You may flavor your hummus as you will. After all, you are not choosing a plastic cup on a supermarket shelf. This is MidLaw. You are rolling your own. Radical self-determination is the essence of MidLaw Mind.

So, roasted red peppers are fine. A soupcon of vinegar from time to time perhaps. Frankly, pumpkin spice sounds a bit effete, but OK. For flavor. That’s up to you.

But do not take a simple and sturdy word that has stood for millennia. It does not belong to you. “Hummus” comes from the Arabic word meaning “chickpeas.” It does not mean pumpkins.

Pumpkus?

CHRISTMAS NOTE: The single question that MidLaw receives most often is, “What is your recipe for hummus?” Longtime MidLaw readers know that hummus culture is a journey, not a destination. Lifelong learning is at the core of MidLaw Mind. Revelation is continuing. Still, in recognition of the season and feeling the onset of winter, MidLaw will bring back key hummus-recipe-and-tips links for an upcoming holiday special. You must return to MidLaw for the holidays.

Cahiers de Hoummous: Hummus, an old-fashioned Thanksgiving tradition, and celebration of differences

mssabbaha2MidLaw was the first to suggest that hummus may have originated in Greensboro.

And, just as there are those who may disagree, there may also be those who disagree that the traditional centerpiece of an old-fashioned North Carolina Thanksgiving Dinner is a big mess of hummus with pita bread and all the trimmings (drizzled olive oil, toasted pine nuts, parsley, za’atar, smoked paprika, boiled eggs, and sumac).

MidLaw does not shun or reject those who have a different point of view. The essence of The MidLaw Way is to welcome differences with respect, a willingness to listen, and openness to learning something new.

There are many traditional family hummus recipes and celebrated regional differences — such as those between Eastern NC hummus and Piedmont hummus. Along The MidLaw Way,  “there are countless paths, each with its own landmarks, its own route.”

MidLaw gladly welcomes differences and is grateful for them in the great American tradition of Thanksgiving. (Was it the Native Americans or the Pilgrims who brought the hummus to the first Thanksgiving?)

And in that grand spirit, MidLaw wishes a Happy Thanksgiving to all its readers, worldwide!

Cahiers de Hoummous: At the right end of the Mediterranean they make hummus, at the left end …

I have come among the people who invented mayonnaise.

If you live in a warm, dry place adjoined by the Mediterranean Sea, which is full of good food, not the least of it shellfish, and if, already, you have wines that complement the climate, and then you invent mayonnaise – and fresh allioli – might you not conclude that you have come to the end of history?

My last challenge is that, as I doze, the sun moves across the sky. I must shift my position to stay in the sun. It keeps me young.

 

The Splendid Table comes to Greensboro, not for the hummus

The Splendid Table” is readily recognized as a radio program/podcast/website/blog focused on food. To see “Greensboro” identified as a subject of a recent installment was a minor jolt.

My knee jerked: “Please, not another paean to North Carolina barbecue.”

Maybe, hummus?  MidLaw was the first to posit the theory that hummus originated in Greensboro.

As it turns out, The Splendid Table’s focus is neither barbecue nor hummus. It is “the Greensboro Four” who historically sat in for lunch at Woolworth’s in the 1960’s. In a brief interview, Joseph McNeil gives a dignified and generous account of the sit-ins (it’s impossible not to like the guy), reprising the now iconic, unidentified white lady who encouraged the students, and crediting the solidarity of the UNC-G (then, Women’s College) students who came out to support the Four. But he trashed the food.

The Splendid Table picked up the interview from New York’s Other People’s Food. The theme is “the universality of food to find common ground amid racial and cultural differences.”

MidLaw is able to attest: “universality” and not “quality” is the right theme for downtown food in Greensboro at the time. In the 1970’s, when MidLaw set up shop at Brooks Pierce in downtown Greensboro, Woolworth’s was one of a limited few venues for lunch downtown.

Joseph McNeil does not recount being served in 1960, but he does recall returning to Woolworth’s in the 1970’s after the lunch counter was integrated. He says the coffee was bad and the apple pie was bland (“it sucked,” he says).

There weren’t many choices for lunch in downtown Greensboro back then. The big department stores were departing for the shopping centers, taking with them their cafeterias and dining rooms. What was left were lunch rooms in office towers and a small handful of stand-alone restaurants. MidLaw recalls Mathews Grill, a meat-and-two-vegetables place whose proprietor was busy parleying restaurant proceeds into real estate; The Lotus, a mid-century Chinese restaurant that was far from home; Randy’s Sandwich Shop, which served the standard sandwiches of the day; the Southeastern Soda Shop; and a delicatessen whose name I can’t recall that famously served “Kosher Dogs” (hot dogs smothered in sauerkraut). And Woolworth’s. Mr. McNeil’s word captures everything except the kosher dogs: “bland.”

Woolworth’s led the way. The meats at Woolworth’s were such that the smartest order was a Vegetable Plate. The vegetables came largely from cans and frozen packets. Macaroni and cheese was prepared in large sheets and cut into squares with a knife to make a serving. Greens from a can. The squash casserole was redeemed, if at all, by cheese melted in the juices of the squash and onions. Salt was the key ingredient.

Except those who were members of the Greensboro City Club, lunch most often required flight to the shopping centers, where the great American culinary innovation of the day awaited: the all-you-can-eat salad bar.

So, Joseph McNeil’s commentary on mid-1970’s downtown Greensboro food is about right.

Today though is different. Today, there are a couple of places downtown who might actually earn a place on The Splendid Table.

Here again, McNeil gets it right. He says “we’re going to make progress sometimes in spite of ourselves.”

Hummus Alert — Time Sensitive — Tomato-hummus perihelion at peak this weekend

This seasonal notice should, ideally, have been posted earlier. Regrettably, it was not.

Of course, the foundational post was here all along as loyal followers know. You might have protected yourself.

There is still time. This weekend marks the peak of the tomato-hummus perihelion. Act now. Here is what you do.

Although a preference for Edgecombe tomatoes has been identified in the past, those sourced at the Greensboro Farmers Market have been determined to be equivalent in quality and most dimensions of flavor. MidLaw acknowledges that vine-ripened tomatoes from other North Carolina sources may also meet immediate needs.

WARNING! This alert is subject to unpredictable forces in the tomato markets, including spikes in demand and supply imbalances.

Caveat emptor.

                                  

Cahiers de Hoummous: I am a moveable feast

I learned recently that there are more organisms — each one a separate little fellow — in the last two inches of my colon than all the human beings who have ever existed.

They work together, these fellows, for good. Shaping up digestion, toning up the immune system, and, apparently, limiting weight gain.

When things go wrong, you will regret it, but when they are treated right, the little fellows go about their business without complaint, promoting harmony, efficacy, and a sense of well-being.

Sauerkraut and yogurt are particularly popular with them, but they like most kinds of healthy organic foods. Vegetables mostly. They like diversity.

Not surprisingly, chickpeas are popular. So is hummus.

Knowing that they are down there – all 70 trillion* of them – going about their business and mine – bumping, jostling, collaborating, getting along – pleases me.

I am a moveable feast, a peaceable kingdom.

*  Figures are approximate and may vary by tens of trillions in either direction.