Delectably creamy, nutty and decidedly vegan, the simple plate of hummus has taken its place on mainstream plates across the globe. And why not, the dish is relatively low in fat and calories, and serves our need for detoxifying agents. This is a bonus after a 3-day bender.
Nutrition aside, lets extol the taste virtues of hummus. Made up of smashed chickpeas, olive oil, tahini (sesame seed paste), garlic and lemon juice, hummus is packed with loads of flavor agents. This is one of those dishes that if you bring to a party you will most assuredly have an empty Tupperware bowl to take home.
I often ponder the origins of such dishes, and wonder (sometimes aloud to the dismay of people in elevators) who might have been the first person to consider making hummus. What went through their head?
Consider that hummus can be dated back nearly 10,000 years ago when the chickpea was first harvested for food by mankind. Then think of the olive. The first dude to make hummus had to pulverize the chickpea, then had to think of a way to extract oils from the olive. And what of the sesame paste, how bored was this guy?
Unfortunately for these early tribes Al Gore hadn't invented the internet yet (but I am sure he was working on it), and there was no Guitar Hero or big screen plasma televisions invented at that point in history. I suppose early man had plenty of time to play with their veggies.
It is believed that hummus was the first portable and prepared food. I submit it was even the first fast food. It just took a few centuries to develop that drive through window. But I still envision a line of chariots waiting for their order of kabobs and hummus with a side of falafel.
With all rhetoric aside, you might have guessed that today's Toque to Toque challenge is the ancient yet delicious dish of hummus. I spent several gaseous days sampling some marvelous versions of hummus.
Dallas is ripe with Mediterranean restaurants, each with a slightly different take on hummus. Each uniquely wonderful, each worthy of a few paragraphs of their own. But this is a battle of two, so today we selected a few worthy opponents, as I am sure you will agree.
Enter in Izmir Market and Mediterranean Deli (fondly referred to as Izmir Deli) and Fadi's Mediterranean Grill in the Toque to Toque Hummus Hoedown.
I have always been a fan of hummus. Perhaps it made me feel proper eating a good-for-you dish while thinking about lamb-laden sandwiches smothered in tziziki sauce smothered in a smattering of feta cheese. Or could it be that I enjoy bringing hummus to my vegetarian friends and announce that I have 'vegan hummus', giving them pause to consider what sort of hummus have they been eating all these years. (Hint: unless there's a haunch of lamb hidden at the bottom of the bowl it's all vegan).
I begin my quest for the definitive hummus on Greenville Avenue at Izmir Deli. This is not to be confused by their flagship operation, Cafe Izmir a mere city block away. Cafe Izmir is a full service operation that is a cozy people watching location with similar menu items and a terrific wine selections, serving what they call Mediterranean tapas.
Izmir Deli features longer hours than the Cafe, and makes deliveries in the evenings. So you are able to get your kabobs, gyros, and a Turkish coffee along with your order of hummus. They also feature a dish not commonly found in this area called eegra, (a spicy roasted eggplant dip similar to babaganouj).
I stopped in Izmir Deli on a particularly windy day that promised rainfall, so the tiny shop was almost empty. I sat at the cozy bar and perused the menu items and settled for a solo order of hummus with a side of warm pita since I had several other hummus stops to make that day.
Within moments I was offered my lunch topped with a rich green puddle of olive oil and a dash of paprika. I quickly delved into the platter with a hot triangle of pita and enjoyed the cool and creamy hummus prepared by the Izmir cooks.
Fay Nazary, one of the owners, was on hand that day and I asked her how they were able to make their hummus stand out so incredibly creamy. She shuddered with the thought of revealing their family trade secrets but did offer that quality ingredients, specifically the tahini, made the difference.
She claimed that the tahini was more than double the cost of the average counterpart. I could taste the difference. And I could taste the fresh lemon and garlic. Although I had many other orders of hummus awaiting me, I finished the entire plate.
My next stop was not far from Greenville Avenue on Knox just off Central Expressway. It is there I found Fadi's Mediterranean Grill. Entering Fadi's is an exercise of olfactory wonderment. The scents from the long line of offerings from the many salads, dips and grilled meats is nothing short of amazing. At the Toque to Toque Department at the City of Ate we call this adversarial pay-dirt.
Shimmying up the line, by-passing temptations such as Pomegranate Eggplant and stacks of freshly baked meat pies. I stood before the largest pan of hummus I have yet to encounter, all layered with swirly designs and glazed with a shower of olive oil that beckoned me in my quest.
I asked for a small hummus then grabbed a few freshly baked and puffy loaves of pita and headed for a seat. The bread was fresh baked and melted in my mouth. I ripped apart a chunk of the round loaf and dug into the hummus. My first taste was that of lemon. It was fairly velvety but lacked the intense creaminess that Izmir slapped me with earlier. An excellent example, but lacked any essence of garlic and screamed citrus.
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I would go back to Fadi's if for no other reason than the pita. I sat nibbling on my bread watching patrons enjoy their lunches and would call Fadi's, with its several locations in Dallas and Houston, a great place for a Mediterranean lunch.
In this battle we titled the Hummus Hoedown, bread can be an important factor, but the prize is in the garbanza bean. For their liberal use of quality tahini, olive oil and garlic we award today's Toqueto Toque Hummus bragging rights to Izmir Market and Mediterranean Deli and thank the genius that decided 10,000 years ago to play with his food. In this modern world we need both the hunter and the gather/er for the perfect plate.
Izmir Market and Mediterranean Deli
3607 Greenville Ave. Dallas
Fadi's Mediterranean Grill
3001 Knox #110 Dallas