A Guide to the Wide World of Hummus, According to Reem Kassis

In Jerusalem, hummus isn’t just a dish—it’s a cultural icon. Cookbook author Reem Kassis dives into the many forms of hummus you’ll find at shops around the region and shares her tips on how to make these dishes at home.

Overhead view of tablescape of multiple hummus plates
Serious Eats / Mai Kakish

Picture narrow, cobbled streets. Locals are chatting, with some rushing to get a headstart on the day’s errands, and colorful fabrics float around shop doors. The air is filled with the scent of spices and freshly baked bread. If you listen carefully past all the bustle in and around Jerusalem’s Old City—where I grew up and still think of as home—there’s a rhythmic pounding. That noise is the unmistakable sound of cooks mashing chickpeas and tahini for hummus. In Jerusalem, hummus isn’t just a dish—it’s a cultural icon.

The city's hummus shops, often family-owned and passed down through generations, are gathering spots for a diverse set of characters. They’re where imams and priests, the rich and the poor, and tourists and locals alike find common ground. The menus, if they exist, are straightforward, and are often just handwritten lists on the wall. On them you’ll find hummus b’tahini, a quintessential Palestinian dish, and its various iterations garnished with pine nuts or meat. You may also see local favorites like msabaha, a dish of loose chickpeas with tahini, and qudsiyeh, hummus topped with fava beans.

While hummus has become an increasingly popular staple in the United States, most people are only familiar with its most basic form: hummus b’tahini. In Arabic, the word hummus simply means chickpeas; hummus b’tahini refers to the version where cooks mash the humble chickpea with tahini paste, itself often milled just down the street from the hummus shop. It's a worthy dish, but one that barely scratches the surface of the chickpea’s culinary depth.

Overhead view of hummus
Serious Eats / Mai Kakish

Branches of other enticing dishes have since grown from this fundamental dish. If you stroll the old city streets of Jerusalem, Amman, Beirut, or Damascus and walk into hummus shops that have been around for generations, hummus b’tahini is but one of many options on the menu where its myriad “cousins'' share in the spotlight, offering a taste of the region’s culinary diversity.

The exact dishes and how they are presented may vary from shop to shop, as they naturally would from family to family. Even the names might differ depending on which city, neighborhood, or country you find yourself in. My knowledge of these dishes is informed by a childhood spent between Jerusalem and the Galilee, where my paternal grandparents lived. It was there that my palate learned to distinguish the nuances of a humble plate of hummus.

I can immediately tell when there’s too much lemon juice or citric acid, or if there’s an unpleasant soapiness that comes from soaking or cooking your chickpeas with too much baking soda. I can feel the gritty consistency from beans that weren’t cooked until they were truly tender. And I can taste when a dip has, or lacks, the distinct nuttiness of tahini. Conversations overheard amongst friends and family around which shop made a better plate may have colored my view on what makes a certain hummus “the best,” but over the years, I’ve learned that, for the most part, there’s no right or wrong answer, simply personal preferences. It’s no surprise that most people have a favorite dish; and with the number of options available at hummus shops, it’s hard to go wrong. The dishes below are just a few examples, and illustrate how loved the chickpea is among Arab cuisines.

Essential Dishes You'll Find at Hummus Shops

Msabaha (Hummus With Whole Chickpeas)

The word itself comes from the Arabic verb “to swim.” In Jerusalem, “msabaha” refers to a dish of warm chickpeas tossed (or swimming) in a loose tahini sauce with garlic, chiles, and lemon, which is similar to baleela mentioned below. Msabaha is what some might call deconstructed hummus. In the Galilee, they call it mshawasheh, which, humorously, simply means confused.

Hummus Fatteh (Hummus With Crisp Pita, Fried Meat, and Toasted Pine Nuts)

To make this dish, cooks top toasted day-old bread with warm chickpeas and a tahini sauce, along with buttery pine nuts, morsels of fried lamb, and a punchy lemon chile dressing. (A vegetarian version uses more chickpeas and pine nuts in place of the meat.) It’s one of many fatteh-style dishes, where people transform old bread into a more substantial meal by combining it with a soup, salad, or stew.

Qudsiyeh (Hummus Topped With Fava Beans)

Al-Quds is the Arabic name for Jerusalem. Directly translated, this eponymous dish means native to Jerusalem and refers to hummus b’tahini topped with cooked fava beans. It probably has other names throughout the Levant, and many refer to it by its basic description as “hummus ma ful” or hummus with ful. Most humus shops make both of these dishes, so even in a place that doesn’t serve up qudsiyeh, it’s not uncommon for someone to ask for a dish of half and half and essentially receive qudsiyeh!

Baleela (Creamy Chickpeas With Cumin and Pine Nuts)

Originally a simple street snack of warm chickpeas dusted with cumin, the dish is now a staple at restaurants, where it’s available in a slightly more elevated form as a part of a mezze spread. I make my baleela by lightly mashing the boiled chickpeas with some of its flavorful cooking liquid, then season it with garlic and lemon juice to add a sharp, savory flavor.

Makhloota (Chickpeas and Fava Beans With Tahini)

In Arabic, “makhloota” simply means “mixed together.” In this case, the name refers to the combination of lightly crushed chickpeas and fava beans in the dish, which comes with a lemon garlic dressing and tahini sauce. The ingredients vary depending on where it’s made, and can include an assortment of different legumes and grains, like lentils, kidney beans, wheat berries, or bulgur wheat.

The History of Hummus

How did one legume—the chickpea—become such an essential part of Arab cuisine? Archaeological evidence suggests that humans first domesticated the chickpea around the 10th millennium BCE in the Fertile Crescent. How it spread throughout the Middle East, South Asia, Ethiopia, and the Western Mediterranean remains a mystery, but the legume has been a staple crop throughout much of the Levant since ancient times. According to historian Andrew Dalby, the author of Food in the Ancient World From A to Z, Palestinians were cultivating chickpeas by 8000 BC.

At some point, someone had the innovative idea to pound chickpeas with tahini, a rich sesame seed paste. One of the earliest mentions of this concept is in the 13th-century Syrian cookbook Al-Wusla ila al-Habib al-Tayyibat wal-Teeb, which culinary historian Charles Perry has translated into English as Scents and Flavors: A Syrian Cookbook. The cookbook details a simple recipe that calls for mashing cooked fresh chickpeas, then topping it with a tahini and vinegar blend followed by layers of crushed walnuts, lemon juice, and spices like cinnamon and coriander and herbs like mint and parsley.

Overhead view of salted chickpeas
Serious Eats / Mai Kakish

Some netizens claim that hummus appears in the Torah and the Bible and therefore means the dish predates medieval Arabic cookbooks. Scholars, however, have refuted these assertions by illustrating how the references in both Ruth 2:14 and Isaiah 30:24 more accurately describe vinegar or animal feed produced from fermented chickpeas, rather than the contemporary version of hummus. Though the origins of hummus remain contested, the spread’s appearance in Scents and Flavors suggests that that hummus as we know it today likely first emerged in what is now Syria.

History aside, once we go past the basic plate of hummus b’tahini, there are many more delicious ways to enjoy the chickpea. The names of these dishes sometimes vary by locale, so if you recognize a recipe under a different name, you may very well be right. These are simply the versions that I grew up with as a Palestinian. 

Regardless of their names, the recipes I’ve shared here should serve as a blueprint for the many ways you can prepare chickpeas and their trusty sidekick, fava beans. There are myriad possibilities and I recommend you approach this guide in that spirit. This is not a scientific text meant to be followed to a tee (although if you do, you will have some delicious dishes to enjoy!).

Overhead view of chickpeas and fava beans
Serious Eats / Mai Kakish

Rather, I want to show how certain ingredients, like cumin, lemon, and garlic can elevate these earthy beans, or how tahini can brighten their flavor, or how nuts and toasted bread can add texture. If you’re short on time, start with my hummus b’tahini, which is made with canned or jarred chickpeas and will show you just how quick and easy it is to whip up hummus whenever you want. If you have more time on your hands, you can start by boiling a pot of chickpeas—because from there, you’ll have so many options for what to do.

Guiding Principles

Legumes are wonderfully versatile and delicious. Affordable and sustainable, they're packed with protein and fiber that keep you fuller for longer. It’s incredibly easy to prepare large batches of legumes, and they’re an efficient and nourishing way to feed large families. Chickpeas and fava beans are the most common legumes used in Palestinian cuisine and within other parts of the Levant. It is no surprise that, when possible, many families—including those in Gaza facing starvation—rely on this most basic food group to sustain themselves during times of need. 

Not only are chickpeas nutritious and tasty, but they’re also relatively simple to prepare. It’s hard to mess up chickpeas: They make a satisfying and delicious meal even when they’re just boiled, dusted with salt and cumin, and eaten as is. Still, there are several guiding principles to keep in mind as you work with legumes like chickpeas and fava beans. The tips below are ones I swear by, and will help you make the most of legumes so you can enjoy them in as many ways as possible.

Don’t Be Afraid to Use Jarred or Canned Legumes

One of the best modern conveniences is the availability of jarred or canned legumes. Yes, they are usually inferior to their dried and freshly boiled counterparts—but given the time constraints many of us (including myself) face, it’s better to go for the pre-cooked variety if the alternative is to skip this food group entirely. 

Nowadays, there are good-quality options for canned or jarred varieties that offer exceptional quality and flavor. To make the most of these beans, though, I recommend you drain and rinse them very wellto remove any unpleasant flavors from the can that may linger and control the amount of liquid before proceeding with your recipe. If you need flavorful cooking liquid, you can reheat the beans by placing them in a saucepan, covering them in water, and simmering them with some ground cumin and a whole garlic clove (cumin’s citrusy smokiness alongside the sharp fruitiness of garlic makes them perfectly complementary to chickpeas) for 10 to 15 minutes.

…But It’s Worth Making Your Beans From Scratch

Still, boiling your own legumes is an investment that pays dividends. While I call for cooking small quantities of beans in the recipes shared here, I generally hesitate to do so because soaking and preparing beans takes time. So I recommend you double (or even quadruple) the amount and freeze them in airtight containers for quick, easy meals down the road.

Fresh Is Best

It’s especially important to use fresh ingredients when preparing a dish as simple as hummus, as there’s no place for anything to hide. Bottled lemon juice just doesn’t stand up to the bright sharpness of freshly squeezed lemon juice, and pre-peeled garlic, while convenient, will never be as flavorful as fresh garlic that’s just been crushed or grated. Same goes for herbs like parsley. As for cumin, it may take a bit more effort, but toasting and grinding your own at home is truly a way to take a dish from good to sublime. The stuff in stores is never that fresh and almost certainly not toasted before being ground. But again, if this is what is going to stop you from making hummus, then go ahead and make it with what’s easily and readily available—it’s better than not making it at all! 

Overhead view of topping hummus and fava beans with dressing
Serious Eats / Mai Kakish

If you can swing it, I recommend investing in some good extra-virgin olive oil that tells you when exactly it was harvested and where it comes from. Store it in a cool, dark place to prevent oxidation. Olive oil is what lifts all of these dishes and brings them together—if you have good-quality olive oil, this is absolutely the place to use it.

Use Your Senses

Once you’ve taken care of these essentials, the rest will take care of itself as you prepare hummus and its variations. The most important thing I’ve learned over the years is that hummus demands a certain alchemy, or nafas— what I described as “a certain intimacy that stretches beyond the physical attributes of a dish” for the New York Times to truly shine. 

There's no single recipe for a perfect plate of hummus; even the most seasoned cooks will find variations in flavor with each batch. While enthusiasts might debate over the best methods for preparing chickpeas—from soaking and peeling to the ideal ratios of tahini, lemon, and spices—achieving sublime hummus transcends these technicalities. It's about the convergence of skill and senses—touch, sight, sound, and, of course, taste—in the hands of the person bringing it to life.

The only way to make extraordinary hummus is taking the time to understand the myriad nuances of cuisine, which are often the result of years or generations of experience. This isn't meant to deter you from making hummus, but rather to inspire you to continuously experiment. Only through practice and repetition will you be able to really develop the sense for what makes a plate of hummus perfect for you.

This Classic Middle Eastern Recipe Turns Hummus Into a Celebratory Meal

Transform humble ingredients like chickpeas and pita into a satisfying meal by combining them with tahini, toasted pine nuts, and tender pieces of fried meat.

Overhead view of hummus fatteh
Serious Eats / Mai Kakish

Fatteh is a versatile cooking technique across the Levant—Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Palestine—and other parts of the Arab world like Egypt. Originating from the Arabic verb “fatt,” which means “to break bread and steep in liquid,” fatteh can be as simple as tossing day-old bread in lentil soup or into a salad like fattoush, which is also derived from the same word. It could also be a more elaborate preparation in which cooks soak stale bread in soup, stew, or yogurt-based dishes, then layer it with various toppings, such as chickpeas, eggplant, rice, and meat. These dishes are usually finished with a yogurt-, tahini-, tomato-, or lemon-based sauce and garnished with nuts, herbs, and spices for extra crunch and flavor.

Fatteh likely stems from both economic necessity and the availability of ingredients. Historically, grains like rice weren’t as readily accessible as wheat, making bread the primary carbohydrate for Levantine Arabs. Its widespread availability and affordability also made it an effective way of extending meals to feed more people, especially when meat was scarce and expensive, or when other foods like legumes, grains, and fresh vegetables were limited.

Even though bread remains a staple today and continues to be a way of stretching a meal for people living with food insecurity—like Palestinians under siege in Gaza today—fatteh has transcended its origins as a dish of scarcity. Instead, it is now often seen as a celebratory meal, with bread specifically prepared for the dish, ranging from toasted paper-thin slices to crispy fried pita. There are many variations that incorporate whole dishes like kafta (ground meat patties) or msakhan (Palestinian flatbreads) into the fatteh format, alongside a plethora of sauces and garnishes. 

Hummus fatteh (also sometimes called fattet hummus) stands out as one of the oldest and most traditional forms of fatteh, with its preparation varying significantly across the Levant. Though its essence lies in its combination of toasted bread with a chickpea and tahini mixture, garnished with meat and pine nuts—or just pine nuts for a vegetarian option—each family has their own unique recipe. The fine details are dictated by personal preference; some incorporate actual hummus b’tahini, while others may opt for yogurt in place of tahini or use a creamy dressing made from whisking the chickpea cooking liquid and olive oil together. 

The ingredients list for this dish, or any fatteh dish, might seem long at first. But a closer look reveals they’re affordable pantry staples many people keep on hand, and the dishes themselves very simple to put together: simmering chickpeas, toasting pita, whisking together creamy yogurt with tahini, whipping up a zesty lemon dressing, and finally, browning the meat. Though you don’t have to, I recommend preparing the beans from scratch, which will allow you to use the flavorful chickpea-cooking water in the dish itself. But it’s also perfectly acceptable to reheat jarred or canned chickpeas in water until boiling and use that liquid to complete the dish, too. 

This recipe is how my mother makes her hummus fatteh. After years of trying different versions of the dish at restaurants or other people’s homes, hers is still my favorite way to eat and make it. It’s the quintessential Palestinian brunch meal, and you transform humble ingredients like chickpeas and pita into something truly magical when you combine them with creamy tahini, tender, bite-sized pieces of fried meat, and toasted pine nuts. 

As much as I love to mop up hummus with bread, I use a spoon to eat this particular dish, where the toasted pita is at the very bottom to soak up all the sauces and juices. For a delicious vegetarian version, simply skip the meat and add some extra nuts—either more pine nuts or any combination of almonds, cashews, or pine nuts. With toasted pita, creamy chickpeas, and smooth tahini, you can always count on hummus fatteh for a contrast of soft and crunchy, warm and cool, and a satisfying savoriness that begs you to help yourself to more.

For the Fatteh: In a large bowl, cover chickpeas with 6 cups (1.4L) cold water. Let stand at room temperature for at least 8 hours or overnight. Drain and rinse chickpeas thoroughly.

Overhead view of rinsed chickpeas
Serious Eats / Qi Ai

In a 6- to 8-quart Dutch oven or saucepan, combine chickpeas and cumin. Add enough water to cover by 2 inches (about 8 cups; about 1.9L) and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce to a simmer, cover with lid slightly ajar, and cook until chickpeas are completely tender but not falling apart, 1 hour 15 minutes to 1 hour 30 minutes. Check on chickpeas, stirring occasionally, and top off with more water if needed; chickpeas should be fully submerged at all times. (See notes if using canned chickpeas.)

Overhead view of chickpeas cooking
Serious Eats / Mai Kakish

Meanwhile: Adjust oven rack to middle position and preheat to 350ºF (175ºC). Place sliced pita on a rimmed baking sheet and transfer to oven. Toast, using a spoon or spatula to turn pita occasionally, until squares are completely dry and crisp and starting to darken in color, about 15 minutes. Remove and set aside until ready to use.

Overhead view of cooked pita chips
Serious Eats / Mai Kakish

In a medium bowl, stir tahini, garlic, salt, yogurt, and lemon juice together until smooth; the sauce should be thick and sticky. When chickpeas are done, add 1/2 cup to 3/4 cup of chickpea cooking liquid to bowl with tahini mixture and whisk well to incorporate. The sauce should have a consistency similar to maple syrup: thick but easily pourable. Set aside until ready to assemble.

Two image collage of mixing tahini dressing
Serious Eats / Qi Ai

For the Lemon Dressing: In a small bowl, combine garlic, green chile, lemon juice, and extra-virgin olive oil. Whisk well to combine and season to taste with salt. Set aside.

Overhead view of dressing
Serious Eats / Mai Kakish

For the Meat: n a 10-inch skillet, heat olive oil and butter over medium heat until butter has melted. Add pine nuts and toast until light golden brown and fragrant, about 1 1/2 minutes. Using a fine-mesh sieve, immediately strain nuts over a small bowl and transfer to a paper-towel lined plate. Set aside. Return fat to pan. Increase heat to medium-high and add lamb or beef and season with spices and salt. Cook, stirring occasionally until meat is nicely browned and cooked through, about 4 minutes. Season to taste with salt.

 Two image collage of pine nuts and meat cooking
Serious Eats / Mai Kakish

To Assemble: Arrange toasted pita on a large, deep serving platter and spoon half of the lemon dressing on top of the pita. Using a ladle, scoop chickpeas, along with about 1/2 cup of their cooking liquid, over the bread, reserving 2 tablespoons of chickpeas to garnish with. (You want the bread to soak up the liquid but not become a mushy mess.)

Overhead view of layering dressing and chickpeas
Serious Eats / Qi Ai

Pour the tahini and yogurt mixture evenly over the chickpeas. Top with the fried meat and pine nuts. Garnish with the reserved chickpeas, chopped parsley, and pomegranate seeds, if using. Drizzle the remaining lemon dressing over and top with more olive oil if desired. Serve warm.

Overhead view of finished hummus fatteh
Serious Eats / Mai Kakish

Special Equipment

Rimmed baking sheet, 6- to 8-quart Dutch oven or stockpot, whisk, 10-inch skillet

Notes

Two 14-ounce cans of chickpeas, drained and rinsed well, can be substituted for dried chickpeas. In a medium (4 - 6 qt) pot, cover chickpeas generously with water and add cumin. Bring to a simmer over medium heat until beans are heated through. Maintain a low simmer until you finish prepping the rest of the dish. 

Lebanese 7 Spice or baharat can be purchased at Arabic grocery stores or online. 1 teaspoon Lebanese 7 Spice or baharat can be substituted with 1/4 teaspoon each of ground allspice, ground cumin, ground black pepper, and ground cinnamon. 

Pine nuts are the traditional choice of nut to use, but any combination of pine nuts, cashews, or almonds will work.

If you are staying in the spirit of keeping this a frugal dish or simply want to avoid chopping meat, you can use ground beef in place of the lamb loin and beef tenderloin called for here.

Make-Ahead and Storage

The toasted pita chips can be made up to a week in advance and stored in an airtight container

The chickpeas can be cooked the day before, refrigerated in their liquid, then reheated in reserved broth when ready to assemble. Reserve chickpea cooking liquid if you plan on preparing the chickpeas and sauce ahead of time.

If making tahini and yogurt sauce ahead of time, loosen with chickpea cooking liquid that has been reheated to a simmer, 1 tablespoon at a time, until you reach your desired consistency, before assembling the dish.

Hummus for Breakfast? Yes, Please

Served with a boiled egg and pita, qudsiyeh—hummus topped with fava beans—is a common breakfast throughout the Levant.

Overhead view of Qudsiyeh
Serious Eats / Qi Ai

I have a hard time making decisions at restaurants because I usually want to try everything. I dream of being able to combine two dishes into one, which may be why I love qudsiyeh, a meal of hummus b’tahini topped with tender fava beans. It’s the best of both worlds. Served with bread such as pita, taboon, or ka'ak, qudsiyeh is a common breakfast, though it can also be served for lunch or dinner.

Qudsiyeh is named after the city it was supposedly invented in—its name literally means from al-Quds (or Jerusalem). Today, the dish is a staple in many hummus shops across Jerusalem, and its popularity has extended into other parts of the Levant, including Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, and even within Palestine itself. Though its most basic form consists of hummus b’tahini and fava beans, variations with different mix-ins—like fresh tomatoes, parsley, or onion—abound.

Ful, or mini fava beans, can be purchased dried or canned. (Make sure they are the mini ones, not the large ones, as they tend to hold their shape better and it’s easier to spoon them over the hummus.) I personally prefer buying them dry in bulk, then soaking and cooking them before portioning and freezing for ease. Though you can easily find both dried and canned ful in any Middle Eastern grocery store, they are also readily available online, though often at a premium. 

Qudsiyeh epitomizes the creative use of basic, accessible ingredients to make filling meals that can feed a crowd. This is the kind of meal that many families turn to during food shortages or times of need—such as during the war in Gaza—as they struggle to find fresh produce. Cans of ful or dried fava beans are usually part of food aid convoys, as are dried chickpeas, and mixing them together can really help stretch a meal while also providing some variety.

This dish is quite heavy and satisfying. If you prepare it for a weekend breakfast or brunch, don’t be surprised if it holds you over until dinner—especially if you enjoy it with a side of boiled eggs and bread, as is commonly done on weekends in Palestine.

In this recipe, I've tried to remain faithful to the traditional version served in Jerusalem, where a heap of ful is placed in the center of a bowl of hummus and then drizzled with a sauce of garlic, chile, lemon juice, and olive oil. While you should enjoy it by scooping both components together with bread—and you can even mix them before eating—the visual appeal of keeping them separate, as is customary in Jerusalem hummus shops, is my preferred way to serve it.

For the Fava Beans: If using dried beans, place them in a large bowl and cover generously with cold water. Let soak at room temperature for at least 8 hours or overnight. Drain and rinse beans thoroughly. (See notes if using canned fava beans.)

Overhead view of rinsed fava beans
Serious Eats / Qi Ai

In a 4-quart pot or Dutch oven, combine beans and 1 teaspoon salt. Cover beans with 2 inches water and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat as needed to maintain a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, until beans are tender and almost falling apart, 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Stir occasionally and top off with more water as needed; they should be submerged at all times. (See notes.)

Overhead view of fava beans in pot
Serious Eats / Qi Ai

When the beans are cooked, set aside 1 cup cooking liquid. Using a colander, drain beans. Using a mortar and pestle or potato masher, coarsely mash the beans, adding more reserved water, one tablespoon at a time, if necessary, to form a chunky purée. (You don’t want a smooth paste and you should still see plenty of partially broken down beans; see notes if using canned beans).

Two image collage of mashing fava beans
Serious Eats / Qi Ai

For the Lemon Dressing: Meanwhile, In a small bowl, stir together garlic, chile, lemon juice, and olive oil, and season to taste with salt. Set aside. (See notes.)

Overhead view of dressing
Serious Eats / Qi Ai

For Serving: Fill a shallow bowl with hummus b’tahini and, using the back of a spoon, form a well in the center. Spoon the mashed fava beans into the well, forming a mound. Pour the lemon dressing on top and drizzle with more olive oil. Sprinkle with parsley, if using, and serve with pita, sliced tomatoes, onions, and pickles.

Four image collage of building bowl
Serious Eats / Qi Ai

Special Equipment

4-quart pot or Dutch oven, colander, mortar and pestle or potato masher

Notes

In general, mini fava beans tend to be sturdier than large ones so they won’t become too mushy when cooked. One can of plain ful mudammas (small fava beans) can be substituted for 1/2 cup dried fava beans. Sizes of cans vary from 14 to 16 ounces; all work in this recipe.

If using canned beans: pour contents of the cans into a small pot. Bring to a boil over high heat and heat beans are warmed through. Proceed with the rest of step 4. Season to taste with salt.

Make-Ahead and Storage

The fava beans can be cooked up to two days in advance and stored in their liquid. Reheat and proceed with recipe from step 3. The finished dish is best enjoyed immediately.

The Simple Chickpea and Fava Bean Dish Our Editors Adore

Brighten up chickpeas and fava beans with a punchy lemon, garlic, and chile sauce, then drizzle it all with olive oil and a creamy tahini dressing.

Overhead view of makhloota
Serious Eats / Mai Kakish

If you’ve noticed that many Arabic dishes are named based on where they come from (e.g. Qudsiyeh from al-Quds, or Jerusalem), the vessel they are cooked in (qidreh, which means pot), or manner in which they are prepared (maqlubeh means “flipped over”), you won’t be surprised to learn that “makhloota” simply means mixed together. What is actually mixed together, however, can vary depending on region or locale. In Lebanon, it traditionally refers to a dish of boiled mixed legumes including any combination of chickpeas, kidney beans, fava beans, lentils, wheat, and bulgur. 

The version of makhloota I am sharing here is one I came across in Palestinian hummus shops across the Galilee region, which borders Lebanon. Made with a combination of cooked chickpeas and fava beans, it appears to be a version of Lebanese makhloota. The beans are usually lightly mashed, then dressed with a lemony garlic sauce. The two legumes are served on the same plate, either adjacent to or on top of each other. Some places serve this mixture on a bed of hummus b’tahini, while others will simply drizzle a tahini sauce on top. 

I first tried this dish in the Galilee. I was probably a teen; I remember making a face at my parents when they ordered it as if to say: Why order such a basic dish? It’s just beans mixed together! But I also remember the first bite because it caught me by surprise—and was a good lesson in how a simple or basic dish is often just as, if not more, delicious than a fussy or complicated one. 

To this day, I often prefer makhloota on its own, heavy on the garlic and lemon, with some green chiles and parsley on the side. It’s the way Hummus Issa, my go-to spot in Akka, serves it.  But that’s not to say there isn’t a time and place for elevating the dish with a generous drizzle of tahini sauce on top, which is why I have included this option in the recipe as well. Regardless of which option you choose or find yourself in the mood for, the one thing I recommend (as always!) is to boil extra of both the favas and the chickpeas and freeze the additional portions because you can then make makhloota in the time it takes to reheat these legumes. 

The recipe calls for you to mix the fava and chickpeas separately with the flavorings for a prettier presentation, but for a quick weeknight dish you can certainly mix everything together in the same bowl. If using canned beans and you don’t mind the presentation, you could also heat them both together. However you make your makhloota, be sure to serve it with plenty of bread to scoop it up, and make sure to get a bit of everything in each bite.

In a medium bowl, cover chickpeas with 4 cups (946ml) cold water. In another medium bowl, cover fava beans with 4 cups (946ml) cold water. Let stand at room temperature at least 8 hours. Using a colander, drain and rinse both thoroughly.

Overhead view of beans
Serious Eats / Mai Kakish

In a medium saucepan or pot, combine chickpeas with enough water to cover by 2 inches. Bring to a boil over high heat, reduce to a simmer. Simmer, covered with lid slightly ajar, stirring occasionally and topping off with more water as needed to keep beans fully covered, until chickpeas are completely tender but not falling apart, 1 1/2 hours to 2 hours.

Overhead view of chickpeas in pot
Serious Eats / Lorena Masso

At the same time the chickpeas are cooking, in a separate medium saucepan or pot, combine the fava beans with enough water to cover by 2 inches. Bring to a boil over high heat, reduce to a simmer. Simmer, covered with lid slightly ajar, stirring occasionally and topping off with more water as needed to keep beans fully covered, until fava beans are completely tender but not falling apart, 1 1/2 hours to 2 hours.

Overhead view of fava beans in pot
Serious Eats / Mai Kakish

In a small bowl, combine garlic, lemon juice, chile, salt, and cumin. Transfer half to another small bowl. Using a slotted spoon, transfer cooked chickpeas and 3 to 4 tablespoons of the braising liquid to the first bowl. Using a slotted spoon, transfer cooked fava beans and 3 to 4 tablespoons of the braising liquid to the other bowl. Stir each to combine until slightly thickened, using the back of a spoon to mash some of the beans as you stir—you are looking for a consistency in which most of the beans remain intact but are coated by a thick stew-like liquid Season to taste with additional lemon juice and salt.

Overhead view of making makhloota
Serious Eats / Mai Kakish

For the Tahini Sauce: In a small bowl, whisk tahini, lemon juice, yogurt, and salt with 2 tablespoons water until well-combined. (For a looser consistency, add an extra tablespoon of water.) Set aside.

Two image colalge of whisking tahini
Serious Eats / Mai Kakish

To Serve: Place the dressed chickpeas on one side of the serving bowl and the fava beans on the other. Drizzle with tahini sauce, if using. Garnish with parsley and drizzle generously with olive oil. Serve with pita for scooping.

Overhead view of makhloota
Serious Eats / Mai Kakish

Special Equipment

2 medium saucepans

Notes

Canned chickpeas and/or fava beans can be substituted for dried. To use canned beans,  drain and rinse well. In a small pot, combine chickpeas and 1/2 teaspoon cumin. Cover with water and simmer over medium heat for 10 minutes, until fully heated through. Repeat with fava beans.

These Creamy Chickpeas Are a Street-Food Favorite

Transform humble chickpeas into a spectacular snack with a topping of crunchy, buttery pine nuts and a dusting of earthy cumin.

Overhead view of baleela
Serious Eats / Mai Kakish

Made with boiled chickpeas and seasoned with cumin, olive oil, and often garlic and lemon juice, baleela is a humble dish enjoyed across the Levant, especially in Lebanon and Syria. It’s so popular that you’ll find vendors walking the streets of old towns and neighborhoods calling out “baleela baleela'' in hopes of serving it to passersby. They’ll place a scoop of boiled chickpeas in a disposable paper cup, then dust the legumes with ground cumin and a drizzle of olive oil, before handing it over with a toothpick or plastic spoon. 

While baleela was once mostly a street food, it can now be found in some hummus shops, as well as part of mezze spreads in restaurants in the Levant. In the version of baleela typically served in restaurants, some of the beans are often mashed lightly with the flavorings before they’re topped with more olive oil, cumin, and a sprinkling of toasted pine nuts. It sounds quite plain, but it is this very simplicity that allows the flavors of each ingredient to shine: creamy chickpeas, bright olive oil, and earthy cumin against the tart lemon sauce and smoky, buttery flavor of the toasted pine nuts. While baleela is perfectly satisfying on its own, the addition of the pine nuts brings a satisfying crunch and toastiness.  

Overhead view of toasted pine nuts
Serious Eats / Mai Kakish

If you prefer your baleela to be thicker, lightly mashing a few of the chickpeas while mixing is a great way to add body and create a velvety mouthfeel. But if you want the distinct bite of individual chickpeas, you can certainly skip this step. 

I am a big proponent of using good quality jarred or canned chickpeas in many dishes, but I do find this dish is much better with chickpeas you have soaked and boiled yourself. Not only do you have the flavorful chickpea braising liquid to use in the dish, but you can also control the exact level of doneness of the chickpeas. 

Whenever I find myself boiling chickpeas for another recipe—like hummus b’tahini—I always prepare more than I need so I can scoop out a few spoonfuls to make a plate of this warming and fragrant dish. Like the vendors in the Levant, I call out baleela baleela to announce to my family that it's ready—and though I'm not serving it in a paper cup, it's delicious just the same.

In a large bowl, cover chickpeas with 6 cups (1.4L) cold water. Let stand at room temperature for at least 8 hours. Drain and rinse chickpeas thoroughly.

Overhead view of chickpeas in water
Serious Eats / Mai Kakish

In a 6- to 8-quart Dutch oven or saucepan, cover chickpeas with enough water to cover by 2 inches (about 8 cups; about 1.9L) and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce to a simmer, cover with lid slightly ajar, and cook until chickpeas are completely tender but not falling apart, 1 hour 15 minutes to 1 hour 30 minutes. Stir chickpeas occasionally and top off with more water if needed; chickpeas should be fully submerged at all times. (See notes if using canned chickpeas.)

Overhead view of cooking chickpeas
Serious Eats / Mai Kakish

When chickpeas are cooked, set aside 1 cup of cooking liquid. Using a colander, drain chickpeas. (Reserve chickpea cooking liquid for reheating the dish if you plan on making this in advance.)

Overhead view of chickpeas in colander
Serious Eats / Mai Kakish

In a large bowl, whisk garlic, cumin, salt, lemon juice, and olive oil together until combined. Add cooked chickpeas to the bowl, along with 2 to 3 tablespoons of the reserved cooking liquid, and mix, using the back of the spoon to mash a few chickpeas. (This will help thicken it slightly.) Season to taste with lemon juice and salt.

Four image collage of mixing dressing and mashing chickpeas
Serious Eats / Mai Kakish

To Serve: Garnish with toasted pine nuts and cumin and finish with a drizzle of olive oil. Serve with pita for scooping or enjoy with a spoon.

Overhead view of baleela
Serious Eats / Mai Kakish

Notes

You can use two 14-ounce cans of chickpeas, drained and rinsed well, in place of the dried chickpeas. In a medium (4- to 6-quart) pot, cover chickpeas generously with water and bring to a boil, then simmer over medium heat until beans are heated through before continuing with step 3.

Make-Ahead and Storage

Dried chickpeas can be cooked through the end of step 2 two days in advance and reheated before. When ready to eat, proceed from step 3 and assemble the dish.

The prepared baleela can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 3 days. Reheat on the stove before serving, adding a few splashes of reserved chickpea cooking liquid as needed to loosen it up. 

Fattoush Is a Showstopping Salad That’s Easy Enough for Weeknights

Crunchy, refreshing vegetables, crisp pita, and a tangy pomegranate dressing make this a satisfying salad you’ll want to eat every day.

Overhead view of Fattoush
Serious Eats / Mai Kakish

Many salads are an afterthought, but not fattoush—the many contrasting textures and flavors in this vegetable and pita salad make it a star in its own right. It is often the salad of choice at Arab dinner parties because it is substantial enough to satisfy someone who may prefer to not eat meat, but is still light and refreshing enough to complement heavier dishes. It has become emblematic of iftar dinners, and rarely have I sat at a Ramadan iftar table without a platter of fattoush. Fattoush’s popularity for iftar and in general could in part be due to the fact that it’s nutritious because of the variety of vegetables it includes, but also because it’s customizable and a good way to use whatever greens and vegetables you have at home. Plus, many of the elements of fattoush can be prepared ahead, which makes it a simple dish to assemble. 

Like other fatteh recipes, fattoush is derived from the Arabic word “fatt,” meaning to break bread into morsels and steep in a liquid like a soup or stew. Fattoush is a variation on that word, using the suffix “oush,” which is often used endearingly in nicknames or to refer to cute things in several Arabic dialects. 

Fattoush is a traditional Levantine dish eaten across Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, and Palestine throughout the year. While stories about its creation and naming abound, it’s likely that its origin, like that of many Arabic dishes, harkens back to times of austerity, when various ingredients like meat, legumes, or produce were either not readily available or expensive. Bread was often used to bulk things up and turn other pantry staples, like legumes, into a meal. Nowadays, however, people make the effort to prepare bread specially for fattoush by frying or toasting pieces of pita, and sometimes even rolling them into pretty snail-like shapes before frying.

Historically, the primary ingredients used to make fattoush were tomatoes, cucumbers, and bread. Over time, it has evolved into a more intricate salad with a base of lettuce and purslane and, in addition to the traditional tomatoes and cucumber, it may include scallions, parsley, mint, bell peppers, and radishes, along with the quintessential toasted bread. Lemony purslane complements the sharpness of the tomatoes and the pomegranate molasses, and the parsley and mint provide a bright herbaceousness. The only ingredient in this recipe that can be tricky to find is purslane, though you can often find it at farmers’ markets, as well as at well-stocked grocery stores. If you can’t find it, you can substitute with mixed spring greens, baby spring, or more lettuce. (Just avoid arugula or kale because they can be overpowering.)

How fattoush is presented varies according to preference. Many opt to top the salad with bread to keep it crispy, allowing each person to mix their portion upon serving, while others prefer to mix everything together before serving. I find the latter more flavorful, even if the presentation is not as striking. For an even more elaborate version, some people, including myself, grate white cheese—akkawi, nabulsi, or halloumi all work—over the salad, along with a generous sprinkling of ground sumac. These garnishes make the salad even more beautiful while also bringing a more complex flavor. Halloumi’s deep savoriness and sumac’s bright tartness complement one another, while also highlighting the punchy dressing of lemon juice and pomegranate molasses. Tossed together, the salad is crisp, refreshing, and keeps you coming back for more.

For the Pita Chips: Adjust oven rack to middle position and preheat oven to 350ºF (175ºC). Spread pita on a rimmed baking sheet and bake, using a wooden spoon or flexible spatula to stir halfway through cooking, until squares are completely dry, toasted, crisp, and beginning to darken in color, about 15 minutes. Let pita cool fully, about 15 minutes. Set aside.

Overhead view of pita chips before and after being cooked
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

For the Dressing: In a small screw-top jar, combine olive oil, lemon juice, pomegranate molasses, garlic, and salt. Tightly seal and shake vigorously until fully combined, about 30 seconds.

Two image collage of combining dressing together
Serious Eats / Mai Kakish

In a large, wide bowl, combine romaine lettuce, purslane, parsley, mint, scallions, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, pepper, radishes, and the toasted pita. Pour all of the dressing over the vegetables and, with clean hands and wearing gloves if desired, very lightly toss to evenly coat salad with dressing. Season to taste with salt. Transfer to a serving bowl, top with grated halloumi, and sprinkle with the sumac. Serve immediately.

Two image collage of mixing salad together
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

Special Equipment

Rimmed baking sheet, box grater

Notes

In a pinch, homemade pita chips can be substituted with store-bought pita chips.

You can find pomegranate molasses in Middle Eastern grocery stores, well-stocked supermarkets, and online. It’s important to use good quality pomegranate molasses in this dish because it has nowhere to hide. Look for pomegranate molasses where the only ingredient is pomegranates. There should be no sugar, thickeners, or stabilizers, and it should have the texture of runny honey. (Pomegranate molasses that’s extremely thick is likely adulterated with some kind of thickener and/or stabilizer.)

Make-Ahead and Storage

Once cool, the dried pita can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 days.

Dressing can be made a day in advance and refrigerated in an airtight container.

Hummus B’Tahini

Through trial and error, I’ve come up with a foolproof recipe for easy, delicious hummus that’s ready in 10 minutes and requires no food processor.

Overhead view of hummus b'tahini
Serious Eats / Mai Kakish

For such a humble and simple dish, hummus has inspired an impressive and complex battle of opinions. From texture and flavor to cooking techniques, everyone seems to think there is a best or right way to make hummus. Though there are some guiding principles to keep in mind—more on that below—how you prepare the spread ultimately comes down to personal preference. Silky hummus is a triumphant treat. But if we start splitting hairs over the degree of smoothness and trouble ourselves to the point of vowing to never to make hummus again unless we painstakingly peel each chickpea, then we miss the spirit of what this dish is all about: transforming a humble ingredient into a delicious and fulfilling dish.

The Origins of Hummus

“Hummus” is the Arabic word for chickpea. Although the word has become synonymous with the chickpea and tahini dip of the same name, this particular spread’s complete Arabic designation is hummus b’tahini. Simply translated, the term means tahini hummus, which is made up of two primary components: tahini and chickpeas.

Tahini

Tahini is made of one ingredient: ground sesame seeds. It can be crafted from hulled, unroasted seeds for a light and mild flavor, or hulled, roasted seeds for a nuttier taste. Some also prepare hummus with unhulled seeds (toasted or untoasted), which taste similar but have a pleasant hint of bitterness. Any of these work well in hummus, though most of what you find commercially across the world is the hulled, roasted variety. But if you ever visit a tahini mill or specialty store, the best way to discover your preference is through tasting and experimentation. 

Sesame seeds are one of the oldest known oil crops, with possible origins in Africa or Asia. One of the earliest references to tahini dates back to the 10th century, where it was described as “tahin al simsim,” or sesame paste, in the cookbook Kitab al Tabikh by Arabic author Ibn Sayyar al-Warraq, which contains recipes from what is now modern-day Baghdad. The term "tahini" stems from the Arabic word "tahhiniyya," derived from the root verb "tahan," meaning to grind or mill. (If my etymology lessons remind you of the father from My Big Fat Greek Wedding, you’re not alone—I’ve heard it many times before!) 

Most references in Kitab al Tabikh use tahini as a spread on different breads, which might then be topped with dried or cured meats. Some recipes state that having tahini with honey or date syrup might help it pass through the digestive system faster—and is probably where the dish dibs wa tahini (tahini with date or grape molasses) originates. In the book, tahini is also featured in baked goods. Today, tahini’s popularity is soaring across the world, propelled by its esteemed place in Arab cuisine, specifically the Levant region, where it stars in beloved foods like hummus and halaweh (halva).

Some consider Ethiopian sesame seeds the best because of the climate and nutrient-rich soil they are grown in—a similar concept to how terroir can impact the flavor of wine grapes. Having tasted tahini made from both Ethiopian seeds and others, however, I find the emphasis on the seed’s origin overstated. The milling process, degree of roasting, and the freshness upon purchase all significantly shape tahini’s flavor, sometimes more so than the seed's origin. 

To ensure you are getting the freshest and highest quality tahini, always look at the date of production and make sure there are no ingredients other than sesame on the list. I avoid anything that contains added oil, salt, emulsifiers, sugar, and flavorings, which can negatively impact the flavor and texture of the paste. I prefer to buy Lebanese or Palestinian tahini, which can be found in most Middle Eastern grocery stores. Both tend to have an excellent flavor and smooth texture that isn’t overly thick.

But even amongst good quality tahini, tasting is the only way to know which brand is truly the best. You should be able to enjoy it the way you would a spoonful of peanut butter. My personal test: It should taste pleasant on its own; there might be a hint of sweetness, and there should be no bitter aftertaste or acidic notes.

Chickpeas

The chickpea likely dates back to the 10,000 BCE, when archaeological records show evidence of its domestication in the Fertile Crescent. It’s a finicky plant, apparently, and how it successfully spread across the Middle East, South Asia, Ethiopia, and the Western Mediterranean remains unclear. 

At some point in history, someone thought to combine tahini and chickpeas together. One of the earliest records of this goes back to a 13th century Syrian cookbook called Al-Wusla ila al-Habib fi Wasf al-Tayyibat wal-Teeb, which culinary historian Charles Perry has since translated as Scents and Flavors: A Syrian Cookbook. The book has a basic recipe for fresh chickpeas that are cooked and mashed, topped with a tahini and vinegar mixture, then layered with crushed walnuts and lemon juice before finally being garnished with spices and herbs.

Tips for Making the Best Hummus

There are probably as many ways to make hummus as there are Arab families, and you should prepare it the way you like. While I think there is no right or wrong way to make hummus, the recipe I offer here reflects my efforts to create the best hummus for myself. I have experimented quite a bit: I’ve prepped hummus with dried and canned beans; peeled and unpeeled chickpeas; just tahini or a combination of tahini and olive oil; with and without garlic and spices—the list goes on. 

Though many hesitate to make it at home because it involves pots, strainers, and a food processor, along with the many parts that require cleaning, it’s possible to enjoy fresh hummus regularly. I make hummus three times a week, right before sending my kids to school, and it takes me ten minutes at most. The secret? I use jarred chickpeas and skip the food processor and all its finicky parts. With the following tips, you, too, will be able to make hummus whenever you want.

It's Okay to Use Canned or Jarred Chickpeas

While there are some benefits to boiling your own chickpeas, you can still make excellent hummus with good quality jarred or canned chickpeas, so if having to cook your own chickpeas is what’s deterring you from making hummus, it’s perfectly acceptable to skip that step. (I personally prefer the jarred variety over canned for quality and texture, and also because it lacks the tinny aftertaste that some canned products may have.)

If You're Preparing Chickpeas From Scratch, Cook Them Properly

As for smoothness, this has less to do with peeling the chickpeas—a step some recipes recommend—and more to do with how well cooked the chickpeas are and what equipment you use to blend them. If you are starting with dried chickpeas and cooking them from scratch, adding baking soda to the cooking water helps chickpeas cook and soften faster by altering the pH level and allowing the pectin in the skin to break down more effectively. For the silkiest chickpeas, make sure to cook them until they are falling apart. (See my instructions for cooking dried chickpeas below the main recipe for full instructions.)

Make Smaller Batches, and Skip the Food Processor

Some will tell you that a powerful blender will make smoother hummus than a regular food processor, but blenders don’t work well if the consistency of the spread is too thick, and you risk ending up with hummus soup if you go down that route. Some might choose to circumvent this by blending the chickpeas while hot, but that also isn’t ideal. Not only will your hummus sit for longer in the food safety danger zone—40º to 140ºF or 4º to 60ºC, the temperature at which harmful bacteria grows the fastest—but you also won’t be able to gauge its final texture, as hummus thickens considerably as it sits and cools. 

While some recipes call for grinding the chickpeas with water and lemon juice alone in a blender to get it smooth and then simply whisking in the tahini, this does not produce the same flavor or texture you get from processing tahini with chickpeas or, as is the traditional method, pounding the tahini and chickpeas together.

Instead of relying on a food processor or a high-speed blender, I make smaller batches, blitzing everything together in a two- or four-cup glass measuring cup with my trusty immersion blender. Processing all the ingredients together emulsifies the ingredients and gives the hummus a more cohesive texture and flavor. (It tastes best when it’s fresh, anyway.)

Experiment With Flavors—Or Keep It Simple

Once you master this way of making the spread, fresh hummus will be accessible to you on a regular basis with minimal effort—and you can then focus on experimenting with flavors and preferences. 

Some people like to use garlic in their hummus, but I don’t recommend incorporating garlic unless you are going to consume the entire portion of hummus immediately, because garlic oxidizes quite quickly and its sulfuric compounds give the hummus a stronger and unpleasant aroma as the spread sits. Some use spices like cumin, others are purists. I like mine with a little lemon juice, salt, and generous amounts of tahini. 

In Jerusalem hummus shops, and across some other Palestinian towns, vendors may top hummus b’tahini with a tart blended sauce made of tahini, lemon juice, water, and chopped parsley. It looks pretty, but I prefer my hummus with no additions—because when it’s really good, nothing should distract from its flavor.

Set aside 1 tablespoon of chickpeas to garnish with, if desired. In a tall container wide enough to fit the head of an immersion blender, combine remaining chickpeas, water, tahini, lemon juice, and salt. Place head of immersion blender into bottom of the cup and blend, moving it up and down and over the top until smooth, about 2 minutes. Alternatively, place chickpeas, water, tahini, lemon juice, and salt into a small food processor and process until smooth, scraping down as needed, about 2 minutes. Hummus should be thick and creamy; if it is too thick, add 1 tablespoon (15ml) of water at a time to thin to desired consistency. Season to taste with salt and lemon juice.

Four image collage of processing hummus
Serious Eats / Mai Kakish

To Serve: Serve hummus in a shallow bowl; using the back of the spoon to form a small well in the center. Garnish with cooked chickpeas (if using), toasted pine nuts, fresh parsley, paprika, and/or ground cumin, if using, and drizzle generously with olive oil. Serve with pita and sliced tomatoes, pickles, and onions, if desired.

Two image collage of finished hummus
Serious Eats / Mai Kakish

Special Equipment

Immersion blender

Notes

The recipe works well if doubled or tripled. 

Homemade chickpeas can be used in place of canned or jarred chickpeas. Just make sure they are cooked to a point where they are falling apart. This also ensures extra creamy and smooth hummus. But always blend when cold.

To prepare chickpeas from scratch: In a large bowl, cover 1 pound (454g) of dried chickpeas generously with cold water and let stand at room temperature overnight. Drain and rinse chickpeas thoroughly. 

In a 6- to 8- quart Dutch oven or stock pot, combine chickpeas and 1 tablespoon Diamond Crystal kosher salt (if using table salt, use half as much by volume). Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce to a simmer and cook until beans are almost falling apart, 1 1/2 to 2 hours, topping with water as needed. (Chickpeas should be submerged at all times.) Using a fine-mesh strainer, drain chickpeas.  Set aside 240g (about 8 1/2 ounces) cooked chickpeas and reserve 1/3 cup (90ml) cooking water for hummus. Set aside remaining chickpeas and freeze, or reserve for another use. 

This recipe yields a very smooth hummus. However, for an even smoother hummus, you can use half the quantity of water specified (45g of water) and the remaining half (45g) as ice cubes.

Make-Ahead and Storage

Hummus can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 3 days. Cooked chickpeas can be frozen for up to 6 months.

Palestinian Food 101: Recipes to Get You Started

An introductory resource for cooking Palestinian food at home.

Gif of Palestinian dishes
Serious Eats / Mai Kakish

I spent my childhood years among three tables: my family's kitchen table in Jerusalem, and each of my two grandmothers' tables, one in a village in the north of Palestine and the other in a village closer to the center. The food—even the religion, dialects, and conversations—I experienced at each was different. Everything was delicious, prepared with love, and referred to as “our food.” To this day, I’m still trying to recreate those flavors from memory. But not once while living at home did I really mull on the idea of these foods collectively making up a Palestinian cuisine. It was only when I left home at 17 to start college in the States that I began to grasp the undeniable connection of food to national identity, and the intricacies associated with defining it.

Many years, countries, degrees, children, and a career switch later, I am starting to understand why, as elusive as the notion of a national cuisine may be, it’s still an absolutely vital one. This importance becomes even more pronounced when one is away from their homeland, as many of us here in the US are, and especially when the national identity and connection to that homeland is threatened, as it is for most Palestinians.

Palestinians: A Primer on the People That Call This Cuisine Their Own

As of 2019 there were an estimated 13.3 million Palestinians in the world, 5.3 million of which are refugees. Two of the largest concentrations of these refugees outside the Arab world are in Chile and the US. It’s been almost 75 years—three quarters of a century—since our original displacement during the 1948 War, and many Palestinian descendants still have never set foot in our homeland. Some may no longer be familiar with the language, customs, music, and traditions, but if there is one thing that has survived decades of expatriation, it is our food. Many Palestinians I know who cannot speak a word of Arabic can name every dish on a Palestinian sofra (a table laden with food), and their dining tables regularly include many of the classic dishes, from maqlubeh and dawali to hashweh and the quintessential zeit (olive oil) and za’atar

After years of writing and working to preserve these dishes and their history for future generations, and after countless conversations with Palestinians across the globe, I have come to a quiet but powerful realization: There is no singular Palestinian cuisine. Palestinian food spans our entire geography, from the mountains of the Galilee to the valleys of the south, from the coast of Yaffa all the way to the West Bank. It is scattered across the globe and built from memories of a time when most of us lived on the same land. It is the grains of freekeh and ever-present bowl of za’atar as much as the connection these dishes provide to a nation out of reach. 

So when I was tasked with selecting a collection of essential recipes to introduce Palestinian cuisine, I balked. How do you pack such a rich and diverse history into so few dishes? What’s more, many of the dishes we consider definitive or important to our cuisine—like hummus, falafel, tabouleh, and kubbeh—are shared across the countries of the Levant. So how do I choose these dishes, let alone define a national cuisine? 

What Is National Cuisine?

In the context of history, all cuisine is a byproduct of evolution and diffusion and predates the modern nation-state. Think of the Italian tomato, which only made its way to Europe in the 16th century, or the ubiquitous chiles used in Thai and Indian cuisines that arrived in the New World just a few centuries ago. Culinary integration has been visible throughout—and essential to—our history. An honest account of any cuisine admits and celebrates the positive angles of this history, recognizing that no food culture is stagnant, but rather a dynamic force that changes through circumstance, integrates with others, and evolves with the times. This, however, doesn’t negate the fact that some dishes have come to be made a specific way by certain people or that some foods carry significance for national groups.

Finished Qidreh topped with almonds in a dutch oven
Serious Eats / Mai Kakish

Yet even those dishes can generate much debate depending on the region, town, or family you come from. I have witnessed arguments so heated you would think they were about bringing peace to the Middle East, only to realize it was two cooks discussing the right way to prepare a certain dish. Is mlukhiyeh made with whole jute mallow leaf or ground? Can mansaf be made with chicken or only lamb? Does adding chickpeas or garlic to qidreh make it inauthentic? Can you include tomato paste when cooking grape leaves, or should you just use lemon? Which of the 1001 ways to make maqlubeh is the right one? And let’s not get started with the spices for each of these dishes.

An Intro to Palestinian Cooking: Why These Particular Dishes?

Choosing a small number of dishes to capture a cuisine may be a useful primer into that culture, but it’s an incomplete one at best. Choosing one dish means you’ve omitted another, and missing entirely from this list are the desserts, drinks, spreads, and countless salads and stews that adorn Palestinian tables across the globe. But there are specific reasons why I chose these dishes to introduce this rich cuisine: They all tell a story.

Though the ascent of the nation-state in the late 18th and 19th century gave rise to the idea of national cuisines, food at its core remains deeply regional; at times, cuisine is more closely tied to more local landscapes, as well as broader categories of language and religion, than it is to a nationality. Looking at Palestine, for example, we see that northern towns in the Galilee might share more dishes—such as kubbeh niyeh, a tartare of raw lamb and fine bulgur—with neighboring villages in Lebanon and Syria than with southern Palestinian areas such as Gaza. 

Given our intertwined history and centuries-long acculturation under Islamic and Arab rule, it comes as no surprise that we share many dishes across all the countries of the Levant. Yakhneh is a primary example: The stew is always vegetable based, with meat having a supporting role, and most often features a tomato broth. It’s the staple dish that most Lebanese people, Syrians, Jordanians, and Palestinians eat with vermicelli rice on a weekly, if not daily, basis. This genre of dishes that span multiple national cuisines—also including hummus, falafel, and tabouleh—is glaringly missing from this introduction to Palestinian cuisine. This is not because these dishes aren’t popular in or significant to Palestinian cuisine, but because we wanted to share meals that set Palestinian cuisine apart. (That said, this doesn't mean that all of the recipes included here are completely exclusive to Palestinian cooking, only that they're more tightly encompassed by it.) 

20210119-ancient-bagel-daniel-gritzer-31
Daniel Gritzer

After much research, I chose recipes that represent the breadth of dishes across our geography and traditions. You’ll find qidreh from Hebron, hashweh from the Galilee, and msakhan from the center and the West Bank, as well as foods that speak to a history that many in the West may not be familiar with. Above all, I wanted to select dishes that gave a glimpse into what it really means to be Palestinian and what sets our cuisine apart from others in the Levant. 

You’ll notice the majority of these dishes are mains made for sharing, and oftentimes are labor-intensive. These foods are enjoyed across the country (even if prepared differently based on the exact locale) and are often reserved for special occasions and gatherings. Though if you think of the average Palestinian family with several generations living under the same roof—or within very close proximity to each other—each mealtime is a gathering of sorts anyway.

How We Eat and Assemble a Meal

Many people associate the cooking of the Arab world with mezze and grilled meats because it’s what they have become accustomed to eating in restaurants. But the day-to-day meals Palestinian families enjoy are quite far-removed from these restaurant dishes.

Yes, there are many dips, spreads, and salads in the Palestinian culinary repertoire, and no wedding or celebratory table is considered complete without the presence of these plates. But the average weeknight dinner table consists of one main (usually a stew, stuffed vegetable, or grain-based dish) and possibly a salad or yogurt on the side. Bread and a plate of olives are also generally non-negotiable. This way of eating allows one to eat across all food groups: vegetables and grains take center stage, while meat plays a supporting role.

Za'tar in a small bowl next to a piece of pita and a small shallow bowl of olive oil
Serious Eats / Mai Kakish

At larger gatherings, however, the dynamic changes and you will find more options on the table. There is always at least one show-stopping main dish to anchor the table and signal respect to guests, but you will often find several of these larger dishes alongside a selection of salads and spreads. Bread is ever-present and used just as much as a utensil to scoop up food as it is enjoyed on its own.

As a whole, a Palestinian meal usually strikes a fine balance of flavors, textures, and spices, regardless of the occasion and the exact dishes chosen. Maqlubeh and hashweh, for example, are both almost always dotted with fried nuts and served alongside fresh yogurt and Palestinian salad. Kafta is frequently served alongside rice and pickles. Even msakhan, a dish that, like mansaf, was traditionally served on its own with no accompaniments, still sees a table dotted with olives, radishes, pickles, possibly even yogurt. These dishes are all served family-style with the intent of sharing and eating together.

Msakhan
Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik

What ties all Palestinian tables together is more than just good food or specific dishes: It is the notion of “home,” the spirit of generosity, the importance of family, and the value of bringing people together. If there is one thing the following dishes introducing you to Palestinian cuisine can help you understand, it is precisely that.

The Recipes

Za'atar (Middle Eastern Herb Blend)

Small bowl of Za'tar next to a piece of pita, a small bowl of olive oil, and a rectangular bowl of vegetables
Serious Eats / Mai Kakish

No Palestinian table is complete without za'atar, which is often eaten with bread dipped in olive oil. It can be used in a number of ways: as a topping for manaqeesh (a type of flatbread), mixed into yogurt or labaneh, or even as a seasoning for meat and chicken marinades. The spice blend consists of toasted sesame seeds, dried za'atar leaves (though you can also use dried oregano, marjoram, or thyme), sumac, and a little bit of salt.

Taboon (Flatbread)

Stacked taboon breads.
Serious Eats / Mai Kakish

Though taboon is the name given to the clay ovens used by Palestinians, it also refers to this flatbread. It's soft, tender, and dimpled from being cooked on stones. And unlike pita bread, taboon doesn't open up to become a pocket, but is instead sturdier, allowing it to support a heavier load of toppings. It's used as the main component of msakhan, but can also be used to scoop up anything from labaneh and hummus to stews and braises. When topped with olive oil and za'atar and heated in the oven, taboon becomes a crispy manaqeesh.

Ka'ak al Quds (Jerusalem Sesame Bread)

Overhead view of ka'ak al quds
Serious Eats / Mai Kakish

I've written before about how ka'ak is likely the precursor to the modern day bagel. The oblong sesame breads are synonymous with Jerusalem (after all, "ka'ak al Quds" translates to "Jerusalem ka'ak"), and most Palestinians agree that the ka'ak made in Jerusalem taste better than those made anywhere else in the country. While there are many breads today that are similar, from from Turkish simit to Polish obwarzanki, ka'ak al Quds is distinguished by both its flavor—which comes from being baked in centuries-old ovens heated with olive wood—and its shape. This recipe may not taste exactly like the ones made in Jerusalem, but their crispy exteriors and fluffy interiors make an excellent placeholder to eat alongside za'atar, falafel, or eggs.

Salata Falahiyeh (Farmers Salad)

Overhead shot of Salata falahiyeh in a patterned blue bowl with crisp pita
Serious Eats / Mai Kakish

So many cultures, from Mediterranean and Balkan to Central and South Asian, have some version of a salad made from cucumber and tomato. The Palestinian iteration features finely diced tomato and cucumber cubes no larger than a dry chickpea; mint—fresh or dry—is commonly incorporated, and occasionally a sprinkling of parsley; and onions are a must. The dressing is nothing more than olive oil, fresh lemon juice, and salt. And while my recipe includes measurements and weights for those who want it, this is a salad that can—and should—be adjusted to your tastes.

Maqlubeh ("Upside Down" Meat, Vegetables, and Rice)

Maqlubeh plated on a white dish with a bowl of sauce and a small salad next to it
Serious Eats / Mai Kakish

Maqlubeh or maqlubah, which simply means "flipped over," is traditionally made by boiling either lamb or chicken, frying one or more vegetables (historically just eggplants), then layering the meat, rice, and vegetables in a stew pot and cooking it with some stock. Today, there are countless variations, but all of them result in a dish that's flipped over to reveal a complete and festive meal. It's a dish that can serve as a celebratory meal or a weekly family one, and is often accompanied by fried slivered almonds, yogurt, and chopped Palestinian salad.

Hashweh (Spiced Rice and Meat)

Finished hashweh served on a large ovular platter.
Serious Eats / Mai Kakish

Hashweh simply means "stuffing," and that’s what Palestinians call this dish even when it doesn't function as an actual stuffing. While stuffed dishes are often reserved for guests and special occasions, the stuffing itself is more commonly served as a meal in its own right. It consists of simple ingredients, which means the quality of those ingredients are especially important. While it's possible to make this meal using ready-ground beef and store-bought broth, hand-diced meat and homemade broth is preferred. These small details will ensure a superior flavor and texture that complement the spices in the dish.

Dawali (Stuffed Grape Leaves)

Overhead view of finished dawali
Serious Eats / Mai Kakish

While dawali is one of our most common meals, it's primarily a celebratory one. The one-pot dish consists of grape leaves stuffed with a mixture of rice, spices, and meat, which is then placed on top of lamb ribs (though other cuts of meat can also be used), cooked on a stovetop and flipped over for a beautiful presentation when serving. The process of preparing this dish is time consuming, but well worth it for the results, and something to get the whole family involved in.

Kafta bi Bandora (Ground Meat Patties in Tomato Sauce)

Overhead view of kafta in baking dish next to a bowl of rice.
Serious Eats / Mai Kakish

A mixture of minced meat and spices, kafta can be found in many iterations across the Middle East, South Asia, and parts of Europe. In the Palestinian kitchen, it's usually made with minced lamb, but it can also be made with beef, goat, or any combination thereof. Some common mix-ins include onions, garlic, parsley, spices, nuts, and other herbs—every family has their own version. It can be shaped into sausages or patties, baked or grilled, served with rice, potatoes, or bread, or all three...the possibilities are endless.

Qidreh (Bone-In Lamb With Spiced Rice)

Overhead view of Qidreh with a side plate of yogurt
Serious Eats / Mai Kakish

Qidreh is the hallmark dish of the Palestinian city of Hebron, and one that's commonly served during the month of Ramadan, as well as weddings, funerals, and special occasions. It's consists of tender bone-in lamb atop fragrant spiced rice, and is almost always served with a side of plain yogurt and chopped Palestinian salad. It primarily gets its flavor from the neighborhood wood-fired oven where, in Hebron, it's sent to finish cooking. Without that oven, it's hard to impart the same aroma, so here I've added ingredients other cities have been known to include like chickpeas and whole garlic cloves.

Maftool (Wheat Pearls in a Vegetable, Chickpea, and Chicken Stew)

Finished bowl of maftool
Serious Eats / Mai Kakish

A distinctively Palestinian dish, maftool are caviar-sized pearls made of whole wheat. The most traditional way to serve maftool is with a brothy stew that includes onions, chickpeas, and chicken, and frequently seasoned with caraway. It can be common to include butternut squash or pumpkin cubes; some people add tomato paste to the broth, while others cook the pearls directly in a tomato broth and serve it up similar to a risotto. Homemade maftool takes time, patience, and practice, but you can purchase dried maftool to make the process easier.

Mansaf (Spiced Lamb With Rice and Yogurt Sauce)

Manasf on green marbled top
Serious Eats / Mai Kakish

Mansaf is not only known as the quintessential dish of the Bedouins—the nomadic Arab people that live across the Middle East and North Africa—but is also considered one of the national dishes of both Jordan and Palestine. Today's preparation of the dish has evolved from its original, exclusively using jameed to make the sauce and baste the flatbread in, before including rice or bulgur on top of the bread. As for the meat, either lamb or goat is nestled on top and scattered with toasted nuts, and the remaining yogurt is usually served on the side.

Msakhan (Flatbreads With Onion, Sumac, and Spiced Roast Chicken)

Plated msakhan.
Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik

A celebrated and essential meal to the cuisine, many refer to msakhan as the national dish of Palestine, although there are probably three or four more dishes vying for the title. It's made by slowly cooking down onions with tart sumac, which gives them their notorious purple hue and balances out the sweetness of the onions, before adding taboon and topping with crispy chicken and pine nuts. The dish offers a satisfying contrast of textures and flavors made with very simple ingredients.