“The Hummus Theory was born from my desire to represent and celebrate my culture, combined with my passion for human nutrition,” says Diala Shaheen, a nutritionist foodie, about her beautifully illustrated blog, The Hummus Theory.
Through this medium, Diala showcases her pride in Palestinian culture by sharing healthy, modernized recipes for traditional Palestinian cuisine along with nutritional advice. The blog is aimed specifically at the younger generation, which she encourages to appreciate Palestinian low-fire cooking along with Palestinian foods, culture, art, customs, traditions and history.
Along with practical, evidence-based nutritional advice, the blog incorporates the mosaic, embroidery and storytelling traditions of Palestine. It also supports local Palestinian initiatives and businesses through features on local restaurants.
Some of Diala’s tips are substituting thyme or pesto for fatty sauces, enhancing dishes with fresh basil, and adding different kinds of vegetables to salads. For example, she eagerly endorses adding lentils to salads, even though Palestinians are accustomed to cooking this legume in soup.
Another healthy recipe she features is mdardara, which she learned from her Aunt Maha. She describes mdardara as the healthy version of mujadara, a classic Arabic dish featuring cooked lentils and rice. mdardara features bulgur rice, which warms the heart and gathers the family around the cooker. The bulgur contains vitamins, minerals and fiber, and it is less expensive.
The nutritionist makes adjustments to other traditional recipes by using freekeh, a cereal grain that is one of the most popular ingredients in Palestinian cuisine. She uses it on winter days in soups, to add a full, creamy flavor. She also remmends it for spinach pies, which are lovingly kneaded and served alongside a quinoa or bulgur salad with rainbow vegetables.
On Fridays she recommends to her readers that they prepare a Palestinian breakfast known for its savory, nourishing local ingredients and a palette of colors that is served on decorated blue porcelain plates.
For some recipes she combines Palestinian cuisine with international cuisine – for example, serving the Mexican fajita dish with saj bread and chickpeas.
Diala was initially criticized for changing some recipes to include lesser-known ingredients. However, what she has done is give renewed recognition to ingredients that are at the heart of traditional cuisine.
What is it about hummus that excites such passion? Is it the chickpeas? Is it the tahini? Or is it just how well they go together? It doesn’t matter.
Hummus is one of the important elements in Palestinian cuisine. Hummus is so good that many cultures claim its origins in their cuisine.
Diala also has produced a book with the same name as her blog, The Hummus Theory, which is available in Arabic and English so that it can be accessible to both local and international communities. Much like her blog, the book presents stories and images focusing on grains as healthy foods, and it updates traditional Palestinian dishes.
Diala is proud of her Palestinian kitchen, which she sees as producing one of the richest cuisines in the world because of its healthy ingredients, especially plant protein sources such as indispensable legumes including lentils, chickpeas and beans. She explains how Palestinian cooks use olive oil and other healthy fats, vegetables, fruits, herbs and meats, making this cuisine part of an ideal diet.
Why the blog and book?
Diala is a Palestinian alumna of the University of British Colombia (UBC) and a former senior human resources executive. She majored in nutrition at UBC and is passionate about food, nutrition and Palestinian cuisine.
While studying in Canada, Diala discovered her passion for cooking. She joined cooking classes whenever she could, and she noticed that many Canadians do not know about Palestinian people and culture. She also noticed a dearth of knowledge about the components of traditional Palestinian cuisine and their great health value. This realization generated an urgent desire for her to reveal the treasures of popular Palestinian dishes and highlight the nutrients they contain.
“I am saddened by the fact that new generations are separated from Palestinian cuisine and have replaced it with ready-made foods and unhealthy fats,” she says. “When will we realize that a healthy dish does not require ingredients that are impossible to find, or that we don’t have to give up on taste and smell, or to be deprived of your favorite food? A healthy dish means small changes and simple alterations in quantities.”
In her blog, Diala conveys to readers the atmosphere in the markets of Ramallah, where she wanders with her father to enjoy the smells of local produce. She gives dishes amusing names such as “mama ghannoujij,” which she liked when she ate it in a restaurant. “Here you will find baba ghannouj in an unusual way and with more crunch,” she says.
Diala believes that with a little effort, restaurants can develop healthy menus. She also thinks they ought to organize free classes for children, so that they train their tastebuds to like nutritious foods. She envisions clinics that work with children with psychological and nutritional difficulties, for example, epilepsy patients, and their mothers, to recommend a food plan based on vegetables, fruits, whole grains and low-fat meat.
She strives to make her blog, Hummous Theory, an easy reference for all communities. “I hope that it will satisfy some of the curiosity of those outside Palestine to see the culture, history and heritage of a people that is proud of this cuisine. It is my strong belief that nutrition is a universal language that we must use to show the essence of our civilization, food and arts, alongside our amazing language.”