Baba Small Batch has a Tunisian touch
If today’s Farmers’ Market on Cota Street is like the ones on past Saturdays, there will probably be a crowd around the booth where Moez Bensalem sells Baba Organic Hummus, which is inspired by his growing up in Tunisia and watching his grandmother cook in the kitchen.
“The Mediterranean flavors were always fresh from her backyard garden, and the quality was something you could only get homemade,” he told the News-Press.
Paying tribute to his “baba” or grandmother, Mr. Bensalem has named his business Baba Organic Hummus Small Patch, which includes his family’s secret recipes combining the traditional flavors of the Mediterranean with a California flare.
“Hummus is made from garbanzo beans, also known as chickpeas, tahini (a sesame seed paste) and olive oil along with assorted spices,” said Mr. Bensalem. “I grow my own chickpeas for the hummus at a farm in the Central Valley that is owned by David Avila and Sons. There are no fillers
or additives, and I use 100% organic virgin olive oil and assorted spices for a wide variety of tastes.
“All my products are handmade in my Santa Barbara kitchen instead of a factory to ensure that customers enjoy only the highest quality, just like in grandma’s kitchen.”
Among the 20 different flavors are the Classic, Zesty Lemon, Roasted Garlic, Avocado and Cilantro, and Cilantro and Jalapeno.
The 8-ounce containers cost $6 each or three for $17.
“Our organic hummus is by nature non-GMO, cholesterol free and gluten free. It’s like love at first bite,” said Mr. Bensalem, who was born and raised in Tunisia and came to the United States in 1998 when he was 20 years old.
“I lived in Las Vegas for a year and then moved to Los Angeles, where I worked in restaurants and nightclubs. After seven years, I started my own business importing handcrafted items from Tunisia. I was really intrigued by being an entrepreneur even though I didn’t know anything about running a business, which is why the venture failed.
“It was a whole new experience, and even though I failed, I learned so much — about websites, trade shows, marketing. I kept trying to sell something that wasn’t the right fit,” said Mr. Bensalem.
Meanwhile, he was a frequent shopper at farmers markets in the Los Angeles area and noticed how popular they were.
“Something clicked. I really enjoyed being around the kitchen. I remembered the dishes that my grandma taught me. I remembered that in the Mediterranean everybody makes their own food. They don’t go to restaurants. They really enjoy making delicious food for meals with their family and friends,” he said.
In 2008, Mr. Bensalem started selling Baba Hummus at the farmers market in San Luis Obispo, where he had relocated because “I loved the area, and it was cheaper than Los Angeles or Santa Barbara.
“I began getting really, really good feedback from customers and friends.
Hummus was very new at the time in the area, but people recognized how healthy it was. It was a win-win for me, the farmers and the community,” he said.
In 2010, Mr. Bensalem was accepted as a vendor at the Saturday market in Santa Barbara, where he recently began offering a new product called farinata, which is a chickpea flatbread.
“It’s gluten free and made with garbanzo bean flour, purified water and apple cider vinegar. It can be eaten like tortillas, bread or mini pizzas and avocado toast. It comes in three flavors: the original Basil, Harissa and Rosemary and Sun-dried Tomato and Basil,” said Mr. Bensalem.
The farinata sells for $7 for a package of four and $25 for four packages.
Currently available at the Saturday farmers market and at Tri-County Produce, it is also being served at Rosewood Miramar Beach in Montecito.
“The flatbread is so good, and it is nutritious because it has lots of protein and fiber,” said Mr. Bensalem. “I enjoy being part of the community, where I can serve a healthy and clean organic product. My hummus may come in a small batch, but it is packed full of benefits.”