Reality Checking Hummus
As a sort of ‘Reality Check’, I feel I’m duty-bound to de-bunk some ‘Greek food myths’ and the first one is hummus – it’s one that really drives me nuts! THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS HUMMUS.
OK, I can hear you all running to your fridges and checking that your pot of hummus is still there and any trip to a U.K. supermarket will expose this statement as partly nonsense. Of course, hummus is a thing, it just doesn’t exist in Greek cuisine. It drives me to distraction when I see it parcelled up with tzatziki and taramasalata as ‘Greek’ dips; the labeling, more often than not, in that rather irritating ‘pretend ‘ GRΣΣK font! But you will really struggle to find any of the stuff in Greece – unless, that is, you are in a Middle Eastern restaurant. It doesn’t appear in traditional Greek cookbooks and Greek housewives probably have never heard of it, let alone know how to cook it.
There is no such thing as hummus!!!
I suppose that our perception of the Hellenic origins of hummus comes from Cypriot tavérnes in the U.K. Cypriot cooking is heavily influenced by its proximity to the Middle East and they have adopted many Levantine dishes – one of them being hummus.
So, now I’ve got that off my chest (feel better for that already !) I can now introduce you to hummus‘ closest Greek cousin – Fáva.
The Real Deal
Fáva is more subtle than hummus – there’s neither garlic nor tahini; neither is it made from chickpeas. Instead, it is made from a type of pulse that, although bears a passing resemblance to the split pea, is in fact the seed of the grass pea or white vetch. It grows well in arid locations, so it is little surprise that the best fáva comes from Santorini – considered so special that it has been given a P.D.O.(Protected Designation of Origin) status. You can have a go at using split peas – Yotam Ottolenghi uses them in a recipe he has for fáva – but the taste is not the same. Real fáva is sweeter and has less of the ‘pease porridge’ flavour. And although I generally worship Yotam, his addition of turmeric is a little uncalled for!
When you can get hold of the real thing, fáva is so easy to make and always a very welcome mezé. It is usually served with plenty of chopped onions and a good drenching of olive oil. I like finishing it with a topping of caramelized onions, a liberal sprinkle of oregano, and a scattering of capers.
So next time you are in Greece, or a Greek deli here, pick up a packet of fáva. I promise that you will not be disappointed.
1 shallot – or half an onion, coarsely chopped.
Half a courgette, peeled and chopped into chunks (optional)
1 bay leaf
I small onion, chopped finely or 1 large onion, thinly sliced and caramelized.
Lemon juice, capers, as required
Salt and ground black pepper
First of all, spread the fáva out on a plate, or a board, to check for any occasional small, stray stones!
Next, put the fáva into a sieve, and give it a good rinse under the cold tap.
Put the washed fáva into a fairly large saucepan, cover with water, add the chopped shallot (or coarsely chopped onion), the salt, the bay leaf, chopped courgette (if you’re using it) and a glug of olive oil – about a tablespoon.
Bring the mixture to the boil, taking care it doesn’t boil over – it does have a tendency to do that! Allow to simmer for about 25 minutes. While it is cooking, a froth will appear on the surface – carefully skim off as much of this as possible.
Make sure that it doesn’t boil dry too, it needs to have some cooking liquid left.- it should have the consistency of slightly runny porridge.
When the fáva is cooked, remove the bay leaf and allow to cool for a couple of minutes. Take a stick blender and blend the mixture until you have a fairly thick, smooth purée – something like the consistency of runny mashed potato.
Put the mixture onto plates or into small bowls, and serve, either cold or warm, with onions – either raw or caramelized, some dried oregano, and a good drizzle of olive oil. Lemon juice and capers may be added as required.
Serve with plenty of crusty bread or warm pitta bread.