Strange but true: I ate some of the best hummus in Brazil. Smack-dab in the middle of the Amazon jungle, to be exact, about 1000 miles from nowhere, otherwise known as Manaus. While I and my intrepid band of World Cup travelers endured a purgatorial stay at the Hotel Brasil (an establishment that made you wonder what heinous crime you committed in a previous life to get yourself stuck there) in advance of the second US match, we spent a lot of time in the one moderately bright spot of the hotel: the outdoor café.
Run by a proprietor we affectionately dubbed Angry Syrian Man – he of the flowing peach-hued linen blouses and foul-smelling cigarettes, chain-smoked each day from dawn to the wee hours – the tiny 4-by-4 lunch counter boasted a large sidewalk seating area, a scratchy corner TV showing soccer round the clock, and an impressively large menu, one of those multi-page plastic jobs, with a spiral binding and lots of pictures for the Portuguese-inept. One would wonder how such a small kitchen could manage four pages of varied menu items: Middle Eastern, Brazilian, a few Western/American tossed into the mix (complete with soup, which was apparently deserving of its own, hand-lettered, dedicated signage: “TEMOS SOPA”). One would wonder, that is, until one tried to order anything from the menu.
“Falafel?” Angry Syrian Man’s sidekick and main waiter, Pleasant Syrian Man, would say. “No falafel. Out.” “Shawarma?” “Out.” “Kebabs? No, no kebabs. Friday kebabs.” And so it went, on down the menu, until we hit hummus: “Hummus? Yes. One plate? Two plate? Hummus. Yes. Yes.” Hummus. Plates and plates of hummus, with warmed pita bread (always more than Angry Syrian Man wanted to give us), and cups and cups of tiny, strong Turkish coffees. I called it “breakfast.”
Unlike their supply of Skol, which we seemed to demolish on a daily basis, and unlike nearly everything else on the menu, the hummus supply was inexhaustible: always, “Hummus? Yes, hummus. Yes.” And it was good hummus: silky smooth, lightly flavored, with none of that new-fangled roasted red pepper or pine nuts, sun-dried tomato and basil, or (god help us) cilantro and lime. Just chickpeas, tahini, good olive oil, maybe a touch of garlic. Simple, good, and most of all, available.
This hummus – my hummus – is nothing like that hummus. I’m too lazy to peel all the skins off of the chickpeas to make a super-silky-smooth hummus. And I’m fairly sure that Angry Syrian Man would consider preserved lemon in hummus an outrage akin to running out of cigarettes (or flowy peach-hued linen). But it’s good: really good, with its lemony tang, salty-funky kick, and overall simple flavor profile. I whipped up a batch for lunch in all of 10 minutes, brewed up a cup of strong coffee, and thought, “There must be some Champion’s League on.” Hummus? Yes, hummus. Yes.
- 1 ½ cups cooked chickpeas, rinsed (from a ¼ lb dried, or 1, 15-oz can)
- juice of 1 smallish lemon
- 4 – 6 tbsp tahini
- ¼ preserved lemon, peel & pulp included, seeds removed (unrinsed for maximum funky flavor, rinsed for a lower salt version)
- 1 garlic clove, smashed
- pinch Aleppo pepper
- 2 – 3 tbsp olive oil
- slivered fresh mint, for serving
- In the bowl of a food processor combine chickpeas, lemon juice, tahini, preserved lemon, garlic, and Aleppo pepper. With the motor running, drizzle in olive oil until the mixture is blending freely. Process for 2 to 3 minutes, until smooth and airy. Taste and adjust seasonings. Serve at room temperature, drizzled with a bit of olive oil and topped with Aleppo pepper and fresh mint.
Yields about 2 cups hummus.
- As made, the hummus is pretty salty; I love the funky saltiness, but some would find it overpowering. If you’d like less salt, rinse the preserved lemon before adding.
- Teri tells us that you can make super-silky-smooth hummus without peeling the chickpeas if you whip it up in the Vitamix. Good to know!
Refrigerated, with plastic wrap pressed down to the surface of the hummus to prevent oxidation, for up to 1 week.
Reblogged this on year 24 – travel.diving.photography.food. and commented:
I wanted to re-blog this post on Year 24 for a number of reasons:
1 – It made my mouth water! I want this hummus.
2 – Beautiful photography paired with a good story.
3 – Clear, easy to follow recipe.
I also want to get into the habit of blogging about food, whether or not I am traveling! Travel, diving, photography, FOOD….
Thank you for sharing Kaela!
Preserved lemons: what a brilliant idea.
By the way, would you consider adding an angry Syrian re-enactment to that to recapture some of those golden moments?
I don’t think I can carry off that much peach. 😉
I loved your story. I could just picture myself in the room with Angry Syrian Man, trying to order something from the exhaustively-limiting menu… But then again, so many of my own experiences in the Middle East have mirrored this exact story! And I love the pairing of preserved lemon and hummus. Will try – I’m an equal opportunist hummus, as long as it’s made out of dry chickpeas.
And when you’re in a country that speaks primarily Portuguese, but also lots of Spanish, and you’re ordering Middle Eastern food from a Syrian.. there are a whole lot of languages getting tossed around. Brokenly. Maybe that hummus was so good because of the sheer effort of will it took to get it to the table! But it is the same everywhere you go, right? Part of the comedy of travel.
This sounds fantastic! I love preserved lemons but usually refrain from buying a jar because I only have one recipe (until now!) that uses them.
Great World Cup anecdote, too. And yes, there is always a Champions League game on this time of year…it’s inescapable.
Great story. Shall try this recipe on my friends this week. Thanks
I have never heard of preserved lemons! Where do you buy them? What are they preserved with?
Preserved lemons are a salt-fermented pickle, popular in Moroccan and Middle Eastern cooking. At their simplest, you just bury lemons in salt, add enough lemon juice to cover, and let it sit on the counter until the rind is soft. Recipes abound on the internet: http://foodpreservation.about.com/od/Salting/r/Moroccan-Style-Preserved-Lemons.htm
You can also buy preserved lemon at many specialty food shops.
I love this post! I just came back from Israel, so I’m depserately missing some good hummus. I think it’s time I made my own- the store-bought stuff doesn’t hold a candle to homemade hummus!
Reblogged this on NutmegAndNickels and commented:
This looks great!
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