As it turns out, pita isn't the ultimate dipper.
Wandering the streets of Tel Aviv, Israel, it’s hard to walk a few blocks without encountering a new hummus restaurant or stand. And when it comes to the best in the city—and the country as a whole—every local will be happy to give you their own passionate opinion on who dishes out the best bowls of the beloved creamy dip. After all, it’s estimated that the average Israeli consumes about 22 pounds of hummus a year, so they clearly take their dipping seriously.
But if there’s one hummus practice just about every Israeli local will agree with, it’s that beyond pita, there is one clearly superior hummus dipping device the rest of the world hasn’t caught on to just yet: raw onion.
During my first trip to Tel Aviv, I—a self-proclaimed hummus addict—ate bowl after bowl, day after day, of the country’s favorite dish. In Israel, hummus isn’t relegated to a mere side or starter; it’s the main event—and a major cultural icon to boot. Unlike the chilled, store-bought hummus you can find in grocery stores stateside, the fresh stuff is always served warm and in heaping bowls to be eaten with your hands.
Over my weeks there, making my way through the velvety bowls being doled out at the town’s most renowned hummus spots, like Abu Hassan, Hummus HaCarmel, and Shlomo & Doron, I was in pure hummus heaven… despite packing on a few extra pounds from the all of the pita I was consuming.
However, the one thing that perplexed me at each of city’s hummus spots was the mysterious presence of whole, raw white onions atop the tables, sliced in halves or quarters with no clear purpose. It wasn’t until I met up with Inbal Baum, who founded the company Delicious Israel to help visitors explore the cuisine of Israel through guided food tours and dinners, that I was let in on the local secret of using raw onion as a hummus dipper.
Though at first I cringed at the idea of biting into a thick, pungent slice of raw onion, I gave it a go and was shocked at how perfectly the warm, creamy hummus paired with the subtle sharpness and satisfying snap of the onions, sans any of the bitter onion flavor I’d usually expect from eating it raw.
According to Inbal, she believes that the subtle lemon acidity in any traditional Israeli hummus manages to offset the more pungent acidity of the onion, masking the harsh taste while offering the perfect, carb-free bite when you just can’t fathom having yet another pita.
In order to try out this hummus hack at home, start by preparing your own traditional Israeli Style Hummus (though, admittedly, I’ve tried onion with cold store-bought hummus and it’s still satisfying), and pair it with halved white onions, the crispest of the onion varieties.
All traditonal Israeli hummus is made with the same fundamental ingredients: chickpeas, tahini (sesame seed paste), lemon juice, salt, garlic, and cumin. And, as any professional hummus maker will tell you, the absolute best way to make the dip is with dried chickpeas that have been rehydrated and boiled overnight before being mixed with the other ingredients by hand—never with a food processor.
In addition to the plain chickpea dip, other common varieties that are served around Israel are Masbacha, topped with whole chickpeas in olive oil and paprika, and Hummus Tehina, which comes decked with an extra helping of sesame seed paste. If you want to get fancy with your hummus, traditional toppings include beitzah, a hard boiled egg; ful, ground fava beans; basar, ground beef or lamb; zhug, a spicy paste made of coriander, hot peppers, and olive oil; and chopped raw onions, parsley, garlic, and oil.
And if you’re still feeling the urge to pair your hummus with some carb-y goodness, try your hand at making pitas at home. You’ll feel immersed in the vibrant streets of Israel in no time, and for a lot less than the price of a plane ticket.