Chickpea magnet

Paper plate is all right: Ray’s True Mediterranean Salad with falafel from Hummus Fresh.

Paper plate is all right: Ray’s True Mediterranean Salad with falafel from Hummus Fresh.

Photo/Allison Young

For more information, visit www.hummusfresh.com.

Among foods that connect us with our ancestors, the humble chickpea (a.k.a. garbanzo bean) has been cultivated and consumed since the beginning of agriculture. I once thought this fat orb of protein and fiber was just a salad topping. Then a friend from the Mediterranean brought homemade hummus and pita to a potluck; I’ve been a fan ever since. Purée the legumes, blend with tahini, herbs, spices, olive oil and a bit of lemon juice, and you’ve made a dish that’s been around since the ancient Sumerians were busy inventing writing, math, bookkeeping, astronomy, medicine, beer, indoor plumbing and the wheel.

Later on, someone—possibly in Egypt—thought to roll mashed, seasoned chickpea into balls, fried them, called the result “falafel” and topped it with fresh or pickled vegetables, tahini and/or spicy sauce. About that same time a tradition of marinated, spit-roasted meats shaved in thin slices to be served with flatbread began to catch on. Mix those delicacies with a healthy selection of fresh-squeezed fruit and vegetable juices, and you’ve got Hummus Fresh, Reno’s latest entrant to our growing selection of places to get a stuffed pita. As a fan of this cuisine, I say the more the merrier.

First, let’s talk juice. I’m no vegetarian, but I try to get as much fiber and vitamins from fruit and veg into my diet as possible. When eating a meal heavy in proteins and carbs, I often supplement with a vegetable juice drink (no added sugars, etc.). I start most days with fresh fruit and a dose of kefir (fermented dairy drink high in probiotics, minerals, vitamins and amino acids). Having tasted the fresh juice beverages at Hummus Fresh, I wish it was on my way to work. You can ask for a single juice or a combo of your own, but I decided to try the most extreme options on the menu: “Red Red” (beetroot, carrot, red apple, celery, fresh ginger) and “Green Green” (kale, carrot, green apple, spinach, celery, fresh ginger). At first I thought the serving size a bit small ($3.99 for roughly 10oz), but the quality lives up to the price. The varied flavors came through in a wild mix that I found strangely inviting, yet powerful enough that I was glad the servings weren’t larger.

Pita sandwiches are available, stuffed with chicken, beef or lamb shawarma, falafel, hummus, cauliflower, or eggplant. My wife and I ordered lamb and falafel combo plates (includes hummus and Ray’s True Mediterranean Salad, $7.99). The hummus was finished with olive oil and spice, full of flavor without being too heavy on any single ingredient. The only issue was I wanted more of it. There were more carrot and celery sticks provided for dipping than dip to go around.

I can’t attest to the truth of Ray’s salad, but it’s a great mix of chopped romaine lettuce, cucumber, tomato, red onion, radish, fresh mint, parsley, garlic, lemon, and olive oil dressing. It is light, simple, and refreshing. The pita bread was above average, served soft, fresh and warm. The lamb was moist and had decent flavor, though it was just a bit chewier than expected. I’ll definitely be back to try the chicken and beef. A surprise for me was the falafel. More oft than not I’ve been served awful falafel—dry and lacking seasoning. This had a good bit of crunch surrounding a creamy smooth interior, with so much flavor even the staunchest carnivore wouldn’t miss it not being meat. This might be the best falafel I’ve had in Reno.

Fresh? It doesn’t get any fresher. Hummus? Gimme more. If you’re like me and get excited at the sight of stacked meat turning slowly in the heat, you won’t be disappointed. Ditto if you’re looking for delicious vegetarian options. And if you’re new to this cuisine, you could do worse than Hummus Fresh being your introduction.