Small, Good Things: Dark Matter

Black Hummus

Black Hummus

Fun fact: Due to a nasal appendage anomaly, the surname of Marcus Tullius Cicero (Roman statesman, philosopher and skeptic) is apocryphally said to be derived from the Latin word cicer — chickpea (ceci in Italian), for the familial noses’ striking resemblance to the legume in question.

This suggestion is borne out by classical portraits and busts, but it is also argued that the association is due to a suggestion that the family’s fortune derived from the cultivation and sale of the pea.

Whatever. We can be reasonably certain that if chickpeas were in any way involved, they weren’t the variety known as ceci nero, or black garbanzos, a historical specialty primarily from Italy’s Puglia region.

Smaller and thicker-skinned than their pale cousins, black garbanzos are a bit hard to find but worth the effort. (Ranchogordo.com carries them, and there is a smaller Indian variety known as kala chana which will do nicely for some recipes.)

Nuttier in taste, with three times the fiber, black garbanzos are great for stews and the like, but a year or so ago, while playing with my food, I stumbled on a stupid-food-trick of a recipe that seems tailor-made for an adult Halloween treat. This none-more-black hummus incorporates not only black garbanzos but other culinary dark horses: black sesame tahini and black garlic.

Black sesame tahini is made from sesame seeds and available if you shop around, particularly in Middle Eastern markets. It’s the color and consistency of oily tar, which is disarming, and the flavor profile is a bit “smokier” or stronger than the traditional variety, but it can be used interchangeably.

Black garlic is easier to find — Adams Fairacre Farms in Wappingers stocks it. It’s an Asian preparation in which heads of garlic are heated at a low temperature in high humidity, anywhere from three weeks up to two months, into a caramelized paste with a dark, honeyed sweetness and none of garlic’s usual sharp pungency. 

This recipe uses black and white garlic as the more familiar garlic flavor marries well with the other ingredients. Fresh lemon juice, smoky cumin and ground sumac, which echoes the lemon juice with a slightly darker edge, complete this surprisingly tasty puree. But honestly, you could substitute regular chickpeas and tahini. It just won’t look as cool served with sweet potato and beet chips.

Therein lies the dark secret of this recipe: Black chickpeas and black tahini, although slightly different from their paler cousins, won’t confuse your tastebuds, but the sweetness of the black garlic is surprising and welcomed. There’s nothing here to be frightened of…

Black Hummus

Makes 2½ to 3 cups

  • 2 cups cooked Italian black garbanzo beans/chickpeas (ceci neri or ceci nero)
  • 1 cup reserved bean cooking liquid (aquafaba), chilled, or cold water
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for finishing
  • ½ teaspoon ground sumac
  • ½ teaspoon ground cumin
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 3 tablespoons black sesame tahini
  • 4 to 8 heads black garlic; skin removed
  • 2 to 3 cloves (regular) garlic, peeled and smashed or chopped roughly
  • 2 tablespoons fresh squeezed lemon juice
  • Optional garnishes: black and/or white sesame seeds; chopped chives; ground Aleppo pepper or smoked paprika

1. Combine the chickpeas, tahini, four heads peeled black garlic, two cloves peeled regular garlic, lemon juice, salt and ¼ cup of bean cooking liquid in a food processor. Puree until smooth, pausing to scrape down the sides occasionally, and continuing to blend for a few minutes until completely smooth.

2. Taste. Now is the time to decide if you want more black or regular garlic. Regular garlic will give you more of a classic flavor, black garlic less so, but it adds a noticeable sweetness and depth.

3. With the motor running, pour another ¼ cup of bean cooking liquid into the chickpea mixture, stopping to scrape down the sides occasionally. The puree should be about the texture of thick pancake batter. If it’s too thick, add cold water, 1 tablespoon at a time, blending until you reach the right consistency. Add salt as needed to your taste.

3. To serve, drizzle with a little more oil and top with the garnishes of your choice.

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