Musabbeh Al Kaabi, executive Oriental chef at Jumeirah Zabeel Saray, says once you’ve learnt how to make hummus, it’s easy to modify with ingredients such as chilli, avocado and pesto. Reem Mohammed / The National
Musabbeh Al Kaabi, executive Oriental chef at Jumeirah Zabeel Saray, says once you’ve learnt how to make hummus, it’s easy to modify with ingredients such as chilli, avocado and pesto. Reem Mohammed /Show more

A dish of pharaohs, warriors and sultans - just what makes hummus so special?



A dish consumed by pharaohs, warriors and sultans, with nutritional values noted by great philosophers such as Plato, the humble hummus has come a long way to become the traditional and symbolic dish in Arab and Turkish cuisine.

Roughly translated, hummus means “chickpeas”, but the dip we eat today is more accurately known as hummus bi tahini or tahina.

With Turkish, Greek, Egyptian and Levantine claims on its origin, the history of hummus is shrouded in mystery and there are many legends tied to it. One of the more popular suggests it was first prepared by the 12th-century commander and leader Saladin, the first Ayyubid sultan of Egypt and Syria.

“The Arab cuisine is one of the biggest kitchens out there, with many traditions and historic ties, where every dish has a story,” says Emirati chef Musa­bbeh Al Kaabi, the executive Oriental chef at Jumeirah Zabeel Saray hotel. “Hummus is one of the most famous and most recognisable dishes around the world.”

Chickpeas were one of the earliest crops in Mesopotamia and a common food on the streets of ancient Rome, so it is befitting that this year hummus gained recognition, along with other pulses, when the UN declared 2016 the International Year of Pulses. The initiative aims to raise awareness of the health benefits associated with dried beans and peas, boost their production and trade, and encourage new and smarter uses.

“Pulses are important food crops for the food security of large proportions of populations,” says José Graziano da Silva, director-­general of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO). “They have been an essential part of the human diet for centuries. Yet, their nutritional value is not generally recognised and is frequently underappreciated.”

Pulses include lentils, beans, peas and chickpeas, and are a vital source of vitamin B, plant-based proteins and amino acids. They can prevent and help manage chronic diseases such as diabetes, coronary conditions and cancer.

The FAO website describes pulses as “leguminous plants that have nitrogen-fixing properties, which can contribute to increasing soil fertility and have a positive effect on the environment”. With hummus widely consumed around the world, it is perhaps the pulse’s greatest ambassador.

For the uninitiated, traditional hummus is made by blending cooked, mashed chickpeas (also known as garbanzo beans) with tahini (a paste made from sesame seeds), lemon salt and salt. Olive oil, cumin and mint leaves are added on top of the creamy dip, and some people also add garlic to the mix.

“The important ingredient is ice, which gives it the lighter colour. The temperature of the mix is what makes the diffe­rence between creating a great hummus dish and a bad one,” says Al Kaabi.

As someone who has a Bedouin background, the Hatta-raised chef appreciates the fact that simple dishes can be the most fulfilling.

“It is not just delicious, it is healthy. You get vitamins, protein, minerals and fibre from hummus, and it fills you up,” says Al Kaabi, who has been a chef for more than 17 years and was the UAE’s first Emirati professional chef.

Each country and culture has developed its own variation of hummus. For instance, “Beiruti” hummus has parsley and pine nuts in it, the Iraqi version has meat added and the Turkish one is crunchier and less creamy. Egyptian hummus has garlic in it, as “Egyptians worship the garlic and put it in everything,” says Al Kaabi.

“From saffron to pesto to beetroot to paprika to chilli and even avocado, once the foundation is there, one can gently add other ingredients to create a new take on hummus.”

Dating back to 1469, hummus that was served to sultans in the Ottoman Empire was more “sweet”, with cinnamon, currants and pine nuts.

“The Ottoman Empire cuisine has these as the core: garlic, onion, tomato, hummus and olive oil. Every dish has all of them, or some of them,” says Al Kaabi.

In 13th-century Arabic cooking, hummus recipes used vinegar instead of lemon or garlic. The Emirati version of hummus is called nakhi. In this version, the chickpeas are not crushed, but left whole and combined with dried chilli, salt and some vinegar. It is a traditional dish served during Ramadan, and usually eaten before starting the day’s fast to help keep the stomach full.

Al Kaabi quotes a famous Arab proverb to show the significance of hummus: “Iza rah anak Al dhani, alek bel hummosani”. It loses its rhyming singalong sound when translated into English: “If you have no meat, go get hummus.”

Besides its taste and nutritional value, one of the reasons hummus has endured the test of time and crossed borders, is its affordability. “It is a dish that anyone can buy or make,” says Faysal Younes, chief exe­cutive of eathos, the food and beverage company that brought the Lebanese Kababji food chain to the UAE.

A hummus dish can cost any­where from Dh10 to Dh40, depending on what ingredients have been added.

“Being Lebanese, I took hummus for granted,” says Younes. “We don’t realise how special it is as it is always there. So with initiatives like the UN one on pulses, it helps promote the importance of this dish and many others that are made from pulses.”

It also inspires a sense of “togetherness”, says Younes. “When you sit with family and friends and share a hummus dish, and we all dip into this dish together, it cultivates a sense of collectiveness and togetherness,” he says. “Hummus brings joy to those who eat it and share it.”

rghazal@thenational.ae

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EMIRATES'S REVISED A350 DEPLOYMENT SCHEDULE

Edinburgh: November 4 (unchanged)

Bahrain: November 15 (from September 15); second daily service from January 1

Kuwait: November 15 (from September 16)

Mumbai: January 1 (from October 27)

Ahmedabad: January 1 (from October 27)

Colombo: January 2 (from January 1)

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Three and a half stars

Mercer, the investment consulting arm of US services company Marsh & McLennan, expects its wealth division to at least double its assets under management (AUM) in the Middle East as wealth in the region continues to grow despite economic headwinds, a company official said.

Mercer Wealth, which globally has $160 billion in AUM, plans to boost its AUM in the region to $2-$3bn in the next 2-3 years from the present $1bn, said Yasir AbuShaban, a Dubai-based principal with Mercer Wealth.

Within the next two to three years, we are looking at reaching $2 to $3 billion as a conservative estimate and we do see an opportunity to do so,” said Mr AbuShaban.

Mercer does not directly make investments, but allocates clients’ money they have discretion to, to professional asset managers. They also provide advice to clients.

“We have buying power. We can negotiate on their (client’s) behalf with asset managers to provide them lower fees than they otherwise would have to get on their own,” he added.

Mercer Wealth’s clients include sovereign wealth funds, family offices, and insurance companies among others.

From its office in Dubai, Mercer also looks after Africa, India and Turkey, where they also see opportunity for growth.

Wealth creation in Middle East and Africa (MEA) grew 8.5 per cent to $8.1 trillion last year from $7.5tn in 2015, higher than last year’s global average of 6 per cent and the second-highest growth in a region after Asia-Pacific which grew 9.9 per cent, according to consultancy Boston Consulting Group (BCG). In the region, where wealth grew just 1.9 per cent in 2015 compared with 2014, a pickup in oil prices has helped in wealth generation.

BCG is forecasting MEA wealth will rise to $12tn by 2021, growing at an annual average of 8 per cent.

Drivers of wealth generation in the region will be split evenly between new wealth creation and growth of performance of existing assets, according to BCG.

Another general trend in the region is clients’ looking for a comprehensive approach to investing, according to Mr AbuShaban.

“Institutional investors or some of the families are seeing a slowdown in the available capital they have to invest and in that sense they are looking at optimizing the way they manage their portfolios and making sure they are not investing haphazardly and different parts of their investment are working together,” said Mr AbuShaban.

Some clients also have a higher appetite for risk, given the low interest-rate environment that does not provide enough yield for some institutional investors. These clients are keen to invest in illiquid assets, such as private equity and infrastructure.

“What we have seen is a desire for higher returns in what has been a low-return environment specifically in various fixed income or bonds,” he said.

“In this environment, we have seen a de facto increase in the risk that clients are taking in things like illiquid investments, private equity investments, infrastructure and private debt, those kind of investments were higher illiquidity results in incrementally higher returns.”

The Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, one of the largest sovereign wealth funds, said in its 2016 report that has gradually increased its exposure in direct private equity and private credit transactions, mainly in Asian markets and especially in China and India. The authority’s private equity department focused on structured equities owing to “their defensive characteristics.”


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