Msabaha – Lebanese Chickpeas
The best creation since hummus!? Or at least equal! Regardless, an awesome, quick and easy summer dish to be eaten alone with warm bread, maybe a salad and then take it the whole way and make it part of a summer feast. Tables filled with lovely dishes one of my favourite sights, especially in the garden with a shining topping of sunshine. Come on sunshine!!
I ate this mainly for breakfast on a recent trip to Beirut. Warm, with crisp tomatoes and pepper, plus fresh, thin pitta bread, it set me up for days traveling around the fascinating country of Lebanon. It’s a simple dish and can be ready in minutes.
Msabaha (some spell it Mussabaha, Msabbacha, Mschabeca, Messabbeha but in Lebanon I saw Msabaha, I hope that makes some sense) is a great twist on hummus, containing most of the same ingredients. This is a really creamy, more-ish way of serving chickpeas, perfect as a picnic mezza.
I was sharing a table with an American one morning and I recommended the Msabaha, he exclaimed “THIS IS THE NEW HUMMUS MAN!!” I’m not sure about that. I don’t think it really matters. It’s just Msabaha. And it’s just amazing.
The Lebanese love, I mean love, their chickpeas. I excitedly ordered a dish in a bar/ restaurants (there are loads of excellent bars and restaurants in Beirut, especially in and around Gemmayzeh.) What showed up was basically a bowl of chickpeas, dusted with cumin and a splash of olive oil. It was delicious, but still, just a bowl of chickpeas straight up.
The main challenge with travelling for me is re-creating the dishes that I loved once I arrive back home. It can be a thankless task, we cannot recreate the chickpeas here, for some reason, they taste so much better in the Med/ Middle East. Also the veg, the cucumbers and tomatoes in Lebanon were a constant sensation. We can’t replicate their fertile soil and sun. But we can try and we can get close.
THE BEST SOUVENIRS ARE RECIPES!
The funny-ish thing about travelling is we go away and sample all of these delicious delicacies and local people are unfazed by the adulation. It’s like a tourist wandering into a Gregg’s and getting worked up about a pasty. These kind of dishes are what everyone eats, they’re the working persons food, cheap, delicious, plentiful and ever present. In Britain, I think things like good chips and mushy peas, or a cheese and pickle sandwich (now back on the menu with vegan cheddar), or maybe even the perfect shepherd-less or apple pie are our equivalent of hummus, falafels, baklava and the like. Simple food that everyone loves! It’s just the culture and the local ingredients that change. But still, my best souvenirs are always recipes and delicious memories.
THE GREAT HUMMUS DEBATE – WHICH IS BEST?
Basically, don’t go there!! In Lebanon, hummus is something of an enigma it seems. I’ve encountered this in other countries, everyone has their own little variation, some say add ice and blend, others say only use a hand masher, some say painstakingly remove the jacket from each individual chickpea.
Most people I spoke to said keep it simple. No garlic, no spices. Just lemon, salt and a little olive oil. The hummus we eat in the UK, especially those pale imitations in the supermarkets, are nothing like those in Lebanon and Egypt. Their hummus is super creamy and perfectly balanced, also, the olive oil is normally very fruity. In my experience, never ask a person from the Middle East who makes the best hummus. It can lead to heated debates, people are proud of their hummus traditions and rightly so. It’s a legend!
In Lebanon, the folk I spoke to would never put cumin in hummus and many would not dream of garlic. No, no, no, nooooo! “Garlic!! Are you crazy Britishman!!” Direct quotes from a falafel stand in Beirut. Meant jovially.
Yotam Ottolenghi, our Middle Eastern guru in the UK, says to use creamy tahini and soak your chickpeas well over night, drizzle the olive oil in after blending for bread dipping etcetc. It’s perfectly simple and brilliantly complex this hummus stuff. The truth is, its about balance and knowing what your dream tahini tastes like and the texture you want. Some like it a little rough, some smooth. I like mine with a little more tahini. I’m a proper rebel. What am I talking about hummus for? Back to Msabaha……
Remember this though, tahini alone, mixed with water, a little garlic and salt, makes for an incredible sauce for many, many dishes. Can be called Tarator. You all probably know how I feel about tahini, I won’t go on about it. But tahini, well, we should all be eating it at least twice a day in my humble opinion. More at weekends. Have you ever mixed tahini with jam/ molasses/ something sweet and spread it on warm toast or drizzled it over things like porridge or muesli? You’ve got to try it!! It’s a early morning revelation.
I love the simplicity of legendary dishes like this, so easy to get very wrong and incredible when mastered. I’m no master, but this is a decent effort I reckon. If you’re from Lebanon, please try it and send me your kind and not-too-harsh feedback. Chokran!!
Beirut has a few ‘beaches’. Thin strips of sand. This man was enjoying himself with his sound system and hookah (water pipe)
If you like a thicker sauce, stir in a few spoonfuls of hummus. This is perfectly acceptable behaviour.
I ate this with hummus, so I didn’t make it really saucy. Feel free to add more sauce and get those chickers floaty in creamy, decadent goodness.
Cook the chickpeas until they’re nice and soft, melt in the mouth!
I prefer soaked and cooked chickpeas, better flavour, but tinned will do.
I think this dish is best served warm.
I like cumin, so I put it in.
Don’t be shy on the olive oil. The Lebanese certainly are not.
A nice twist on hummus! Mussabaha, Msabbacha, Mschabeca, Messabbeha, whatever you call it, it tastes amazing!!
The Bits – Enough for 4-6 as a mezza
550g chickpeas (cooked) – 2 tins
1 teas ground cumin
6 tbs light tahini
1/2 lemon (juice)
5 tbs water (more if needed)
1 small clove garlic (crushed)
Sprinkle of paprika
2 cloves crushed garlic (optional but nice)
1/2 handful chopped parsley (use the soft stems also)
Big glug of extra virgin olive oil
1 green pepper
2 tomatoes (all sliced)
Fresh mint leaves (I used basil)
Cook your chickpeas and drain. When still warm. Stir the tahini, water, garlic, lemon juice, cumin and salt together, adding the water gradually to make a thin sauce. If you didn’t cook your chickpeas with bicarb of soda, use the chickpea cooking broth instead of water. You can make the sauce in advance if you like.
Gently stir the sauce into the chickpeas. Top with parsley, paprika and crushed garlic if you like.
The incredible Baalbek, Roman and Persian monument, on the border with Syria. One of the most incredible historical sites I’ve visited. Well preserved and totally empty.
Tahini! Why we love it so, other than it tastes awesome.
Tahini is one the best sources of calcium out there, it keeps your skin and muscles healthy, high in vitamin E and many of the B’s, helps with detoxing, full of minerals like magnesium, potassium, iron and more, a great source of protein (even better than nuts), it is highly alkaline, it is high in unsaturated fats and therefore can help with weightloss. WOW!