Trader Joe’s Balela is a mildly spiced, tangy chickpea bean dip with it’s origins in the Middle East and it’s absolutely killer. I know what you’re all thinking – “A middle eastern chickpea bean dip? He means hummus right? Why doesn’t he just say hummus? Is he stupid?”
Please, reserve your harsh judgement, hasty internet commentator, for unlike hummus the chickpeas in balela are whole, not ground. That little fact, of course, makes a world of difference.
Balela is in fact a loose mixture of garbanzo and black beans tossed with tomatoes, lemon juice, onion, garlic, parsley and a hint of mint, all served in a tiny, hummus size tub. This makes it a dip, bean salad or side dish, depending on your need.
I set into my little dish of balela with a collection of tortilla and pita chips, and simply could not stop eating it. It has that same tongue pleasing tingle and pleasant mealiness of hummus, while avoiding the overwhelming richness that hummus brings. While the tastes aren’t exactly analogous, they’re close enough that you can think of balela as “hummus light” – a much less dense take on the classic dish. The absence of tahini and presence of mint and parsley very much help further this difference between the two.
The only real mark against this dish is the small size. Little eight ounce tubs are plenty for hummus, but only holds a handful of whole beans. I ate this thing up in about six bites which, though good, was a bit fast for $3.00. It’s not terrible for an individual, but you’d have to buy about 10 of these tubs to cater to even a small get together.
Normally at this point I like to launch into the history and cultural relevance of the food I’m reviewing, but there is a shocking dearth of information about balela online. Numerous blogs all mention the dish, but only in reference to having seen it at Trader Joe’s, and the lone wikipedia article on balela is for 1950’s Portuguese soccer coach Manuel Balela. This suggests that TJ’s is delving further and deeper into esoteric foreign cuisines than I had previously dreamed, or that they’re just making up their own dishes now. I’m not sure which of these options impresses more.
Nevertheless my curiosity has been piqued. I’ve sent several communiques out to Trader Joe’s seeking answers and will update this post with the answers I uncover. In the meanwhile, if any loyal readers have any insight into the history or origin of balela, please post in the comments.
Would I Recommend It: Yes, to anyone who enjoys hummus, chickpeas or dip in general.
Would I Buy It Again: Yes, even if I wish there was packed in per package.
Final Synopsis: A deliciously tangy and savory bean dip/salad/side dish.