Himmas Kassa: The Mother of all Hummus
The Oldest Documented Recipes for Hummus
وصفات عربية قديمة للحمّص بطحينة
An important detail also tucked at the end of the recipe is about the dip's consistency: it has to hold its shape when picked up with a piece of bread. Like today, this food was offered as an appetizer: a cold dish -- a dip with bread -- to be consumed before the main hot dishes.
Eleven recipes are given, including one similar to the recipe quoted above, in the 14th-century anonymous Egyptian cookbook Kanz al-Fawa'id fi Tanwi' al-Mawa'id (Infinite Benefits of Variety at the Table). Here is one of them:
The recipe this time does not use nuts, but it is also garnished the same as the one above it: It is spread in a shallow bowl, and sprinkled with black olives, crushed toasted hazelnut, a bit of spices, rue, and mint.
A modernized recipe for making medieval himmas kassa:
Unfortunately, after the 14th century, there was a long period of silence, until we approach the second half of the 19th century. A Lebanese cookbook entitled Kitab Tadhkirat al-Khwateen wa Ustadh al-Tabbakheen (The Mater Chef's Culinary Memento for Housewives) by Khaleel Sarkees (1885) contains a recipe called Hummus Mutabbal bi'l Zait:
A Hummus bi Tahina Recipe, with a Bit of History:They dug a pit in the sunlight.
Then Gilgamesh went up on the mountain.
He poured out his chickpeas into the pit.
"Oh, Mountain, grant (me) a dream…"
(Epic of Gilgamish, quoted in Martin Levey, Chemistry and Chemical Technology in Ancient Mesopotamia, p.50)
Both sesame (Akkadian 'samsamu') and chickpeas (Akkadian 'amusu') were valued field cash products, grown in abundance in the entire ancient Fertile Crescent region. Sesame oil has always been an essential food item in their diet until recently. As for chickpeas, their nutritious value has always been acknowledged, as in the Epic of Gilgamesh, where it was chosen as one of the victuals he carried with him on his journeys.
The above recipe from the first cookbook in the history of modern Iraq Recipes from Baghdad, 1946, is a basic hummus recipe for an appetizer, which seems to have already become the hallmark of the mainstream Middle Eastern-Arab cuisine.
Now to my recipe: Although hummus, fresh or canned, is readily available in stores, homemade variety is definitely tastier and cheaper. You may use whole chickpeas, which you soak and cook yourself. However, canned chickpeas can be very handy if you want to make hummus in just five minutes. For a smoother texture, use dried yellow split chickpeas (dried split peas will give similar taste, and they do not need to be soaked overnight).