It sounds like a tale from “Scheherazade”: Five beautiful sisters set out on a culinary quest to save the reputation of one of their ancestral cuisine’s most famous dishes.
They’re aided in their journey by their kitchen wizard of a mother and a family friend who acts as “fairy godmother” for their fledgling venture. The sisters travel far and wide, to farmers markets and grocery store demos, to spread the appetizing word: You’ve been settling for subpar hummus until now, and they’re going to do something about it.
Hummus, which used to be viewed as an exotic Middle East specialty, has now become such an appetizer standard that it could well be considered the 21st-century equivalent of French onion dip. According to the women behind the Sisters’ Mezze brand, we’ve been eating a pasty, oily imitation of the super-delicious real thing.
These five sisters have set out to up the hummus game and turn it from just a dip into the “secret ingredient” it was meant to be.
The story of Sisters’ Mezze begins in the kitchen of Palwasha “Paula” Gharwal, an Afghan-American with more than 30 years’ experience as a chef. One evening, she and her husband invited friends John and Becky Fredericksen to dinner. One taste of Gharwal’s hummus, and Fredericksen was inspired.
In the summer of 2015, Fredericksen began selling it at the Eagan farmers market. The friends chose a company name that references the Gharwal family’s five daughters: Myena, Zahra, Wagma, Heela and Madeena. The word “mezze” (meh-ZEH) is used throughout the Middle East and Mediterranean to describe a selection of small dishes served at the beginning of meals.
Gharwal and Fredericksen are the founders and co-owners of the St. Paul-based company, and the five sisters are also co-owners. Middle sister Wagma Gharwal has taken on the job of president.
While Wagma Gharwal notes that hummus has gone the way of once exotic foods such as salsa to become an everyday staple, she says it’s still perceived as “different” by less adventurous eaters.
“They hear it’s a bean-based, vegetable protein, and sometimes they’re hesitant,” she said. “The most exciting thing is when I have an opportunity to change someone’s mind. I love it when someone tastes it, loves it and tells me, ‘I can’t believe this is hummus.’ ”
The company, she said, “is a family business, and our concept of family extends to anyone who dines in our home. We’ve taken inspiration in my mom’s cooking. We won’t do anything to compromise the integrity of the product.”
Fredericksen, who continues to make weekly appearances at the Eagan farmers market, has taken on business development responsibilities, making appointments with grocery buyers to offer tastings. The hummus is available in roasted red pepper, jalapeño cilantro and garlic flavors.
She is convinced that tasting is believing: “When people taste our hummus, it puts smiles on their faces. It’s fresh, flavorful and unique, and best of all, it’s made with love.
“And then they’re even happier when they find out that it’s not only high in protein, but sugar-free, gluten-free and made with non-GMO ingredients.”
She has picked up tips from her friend Paula for using the product as much more than merely a dip. “You can use it hot or cold, as a sauce or topping for so many things, like fish tacos, scrambled eggs, zucchini noodles, as sandwich or wrap spreads or to top grilled meat. I sometimes just eat it with a spoon, for a high-protein snack on-the-go.”
“As our family grows and our lives get crazier, food never fails to bring us all together again,” Wagma Gharwal said. “Our hope is that we’re providing a product that allows others to do the same.”
Sisters’ Mezze hummus is available at these stores: Festival Foods, Kowalski’s, Lunds & Byerlys, and Hy-Vee stores in Eagan, Lakeville, Savage and Cottage Grove.
Julie Kendrick is a Minneapolis-based freelance writer who covers food, health and science. Follow her on Twitter: @KendrickWorks.