Food and emotions share a powerful connection; something I think is true no matter what your relationship with what you eat. Good or bad, we all have memories connected to food. Whether it is the taste, smell or texture or even just the site of it, food is an unavoidable part of everyday life. Those memories and emotions can sometimes be so deeply implanted that it can be hard to convince the logical brain otherwise. This is true for me when it comes to the taste of hummus. Not much of a surprise given my Jewish American roots, but I have always loved hummus. I can remember eating it for the first time in Hebrew school; dolloped in a pita bread filled with falafel and cucumbers. The lesson was on Israeli food and culture so this seemed like a good way to engage an otherwise ambivalent audience of ten-year-olds. It worked like a charm. I was hooked.
All through college, I fed myself and paid my rent by working at a local Lebanese restaurant, slinging hummus, babaganoush and a variety of fava bean-filled dishes amongst others. I practically subsisted on chickpeas, tahini, olive oil, and pita bread; cheap enough to be within my studenty-price range and healthy enough it worked to cancel out some of the ten-cent ramen noodles packets I also lived on.
This is all to say that hummus became one of my staple foods. Something I didn’t think about or question. It wasn’t until our second daughter began the weaning process that this food relationship changed dramatically; discovering purely by accident one terrifying evening that Isla was allergic to sesame.
From then on, not only did I begin to notice how prevalent sesame is in some of my favourite cuisines (widely used throughout a variety of Middle Eastern and Asian foods) but I became unable to enjoy the actual taste of hummus. It stirred up the overwhelming feelings of anxiety and helplessness that I had whilst watching my six-month-old break out into hives and begin to wheeze. The taste memory now bonded to emotional memory.
It has taken years to be able to disassociate those feelings with my once-staple food. Even now I won’t eat hummus in her presence, and I feel the urgent need to wash my hands, rinse out my mouth or clean the table with clinical precision when I do have it (either eating out or when she’s at school).
I have also spent quite some time attempting to make a sesame-free version of hummus that could allow us to reintroduce the food back into the family diet. Most of the time I tried, it was clear something was missing, and though safe to eat, it was a letdown. Tahini is a hard flavour to replicate. That is until this last version, which tasted so similar to traditional hummus that I actually panicked, despite all of the logic telling me we kept no sesame in the house and I knew exactly what went into the dish. I guess that means it’s a keeper!