For some, texture is important because it bothers them. They say of their aversion to eating raw oysters that “it’s a texture thing.” For me, I love eating raw oysters, and yes it is a texture thing. A good texture thing. Texture in all of its variations is part of my great kitchen quest. For hummus, it’s the ultra-smooth. For hummus kwarma, it’s the contrast of the smoothest chickpeas and tahini with chewiest, tangy spiced meat on top that sends me into a tailspin of mouth-watering delight. I think it will you too, even if you’re in the “bad texture thing” camp.
The lamb (kwarma) is ideally a tougher cut, like shoulder for stew, that gets a quick marinade for flavor and a little softening, and then a sizzling sauté for deep caramelization. Beef stew meat would work equally well. Either one is chopped by you, coarsely.
The hummus I’ve been making with pre-peeled chickpeas is so smooth and has such amazing texture, body and flavor that I can’t help but feel as though we, as a world of hummus eaters (of which there are ever so many), have not properly known hummus until we’ve eaten it like this. When you have hummus that is so good you can’t stop reaching for another spoonful, can’t stop thinking of it as snack, condiment, and basic food group, then it’s only a matter of time before it busts out of the world of dips and becomes much, much more.
This dish of spiced lamb over hummus is not something new in the Lebanese repertoire; it’s a classic dish, but one that many, in my clan at least, haven’t had on the table at home. It’s interesting to me to consider which dishes have remained important, have held on as mainstays, among the long line of our immigrant forbears here in the U.S., and which dishes either never made it or just lost their place along the way.
Much of that depends, no doubt, on families and where they came from in the old country and whether a mama loved to cook or not (though it doesn’t seem there was much room at a certain time for a Lebanese woman to not love to cook, or at least just to not cook like crazy regardless of how she felt about it).
Hummus kwarma–hummus smoothed out on a small plate and topped with caramelized, tangy sumac-spiced lamb, along with herbs and toasted pine nuts–is so succulent and downright luscious that I’m hoping to bring it to new prominence around here, and over there where you are too.
It’s true that this dish can be made with hummus of any sort: the coarser textured, the store-bought (do what you have to do; and if you must, Sabra is the smoothest and best tasting of all, in my view). Hummus kwarma can also be made with lamb or beef that is ground rather than coarsely chopped. While that will be really so very delicious, it won’t be a perfect textural balance. And who doesn’t love perfect?
Hummus with Lamb and Sumac
This recipe is for pre-peeled chickpeas, a discovery that for me is Thomas Edison-esque, a game changer for the finest hummus you can make and eat. Notice that the chickpeas are par-cooked and don’t need to be soaked, but they do need to be cooked. This can be done in advance by a day or more; just refrigerate the chickpeas in their cooking liquid so they don’t dry out until you’re ready to use them. At that point, drain and reserve the cooking liquid. If you’re using regular dried chickpeas, try this method. You can also substitute one 15 oz. can of cooked chickpeas. Serves 4-6, on mezze plates.
For the hummus:
1 cup pre-peeled chickpeas (they are dry and par-cooked; when cooked yield will be about 2 cups)
1 clove garlic, green stem removed, minced or grated on a fine grater
1 teaspoon salt
¼ cup fresh-squeezed lemon juice
½ cup tahini (stirred to incorporate the oil before measuring)
1 cup chickpea cooking water (cooled) or cool water
For the lamb:
1 lb. lamb shoulder meat
¼ cup lemon juice
2 garlic cloves, center green sprout removed, minced or grated on a fine grater
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons sumac
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ cup toasted pine nuts
½ cup chopped parsley (cilantro and mint are also nice)
Olive oil for garnish
In a large pot, cover the chickpeas with water by a several inches. Cover and bring to a boil, staying close by so it doesn’t boil over. Reduce the heat, remove the cover, and simmer on medium low heat until the chickpeas are very tender to the bite, with a creamy quality, 90 minutes to two hours. Add more water if it gets low throughout the cooking time.
Drain the chickpeas and reserve the cooking liquid, putting it in the refrigerator or freezer to chill it down quickly (or add an ice cube). Rinse the chickpeas with cold water to cool them down.
In the bowl of a food processor, puree the chickpeas and garlic until a thick paste forms (the paste will ball up a bit). With the food processor running, slowly add the tahini, salt, and lemon juice. Then slowly add cooled chickpea cooking water or plain cool water until the hummus is very smooth and light, holding back on a little water and tasting the hummus as you go. Adjust seasoning, adding more salt and lemon if needed. Place the hummus in a bowl, cover, and refrigerate until ready to use. Bring back to room temperature for about 30 minutes before serving.
For the topping, chop the lamb shoulder into 1-inch pieces, cutting away excess fat and gristle. In a medium bowl, combine the lamb with the lemon juice, minced or grated garlic, salt, and 1 tablespoon of sumac. Stir well and let the mixture rest for 30 minutes and room temperature.
In a large sauté pan, heat the oil and butter over medium high heat until the butter foams up. Drain the meat and pat it lightly with a paper towel to remove the juices. Add the meat to the pan and sauté over high heat until the meat is completely browned and caramelized, 5-10 minutes. Season with 1 tablespoon of sumac and cinnamon. Taste and adjust seasoning (I often add more sumac and salt).
Spoon the hummus onto six or so mezze plates, spreading the hummus into a circle with the back of the spoon. Top the center of each with a big spoonful of the lamb. Sprinkle with pine nuts, herbs, and a drizzle of olive oil. Serve immediately with thin pita or flatbread.
Print this recipe here.