Saturday, 8 June 2013

For Cicero (106 - 43 BC),

"However, he who first of that house was surnamed Cicero seems to have been a person worthy to be remembered; since those who succeeded him not only did not reject, but were fond of that name, though vulgarly made a matter of reproach. For the Latins call a chickpea Cicer, and a nick or dent at the end of his nose like the cleft of a chickpea, gave him the surname of Cicero."
    -- Life of Cicero by Plutarch


Sitting in the English department, day after day, conversing with philosophers and linguists and various other keepers of culture, it's easy to feel haughty. The ideas and language we are entrusted with are part of a long history. I may not make as much money as my lawyer friends, but the texts I work on will last forever, and I am helping to make sense of them for future generations. Plus, I don't have to be as suity.

But: sigh.

The humanities owe a disturbing amount to a lawyer.

Cicero's day job was to defend accused murderers, but after hours -- ya know, in his spare time -- he brought Greek philosophy to Ancient Rome. That might seem trivial. A mere exercise in translation. But no. As he expressed Greek ideas in Latin, Cicero created the word humanitas (among many others), which is the root of our modern word humanities. 

Cicero argued, using his mad lawyer powers, for the value of an education in literature. Such an education was supposed to cultivate virtues useful for citizens and leaders alike. Thanks, Cicero. My department is hard at work on that.*

I also have to credit Cicero for some of my healthier food cravings. For upon reading that Cicero's name came from an ancestor with a Cicer (chickpea)-like nose, I instantly wanted hummus and crudites.

So, Cicero, you promote education and get me to eat vegetables. What are you, my freaking mother?

Today, though, I want my hummus to be as smooth as a defence attorney. I've read some techniques on getting really smooth hummus - blend it for longer, peel the skins off the chickpeas first, etc - but it seems to me that a good old fashioned sieve does the job perfectly.

Of course, then you do have to stand over a sieve for awhile. But as a bonus, the sieve method means that you don't have to keep tahini on hand. You can throw whole sesame seeds into the mix, since you'll be sieving out any stubborn fibrous bits. This is good news, because I once had a kilo of tahini, minus the two tablespoons I'd used in hummus, sitting in my fridge for so long that it may have achieved sentience.

And this method really does produce the silkiest, most luxurious dip imaginable. It is so luscious, in fact, that it needs some lavish decorations of pinenuts and parsley. Call this your party piece. After all, if we follow the ancient Romans, all food should be consumed gluttonously and with copious amounts of wine, right?

Perhaps Cicero isn't such a good influence after all.

*Though these days, English departments teach everything from Mills & Boon to magazine covers... so I'm not sure whether we impart the 'virtues' Cicero was interested in.

Super Smooth Hummus

Serves 2 as a substantial snack, or 4 as a nibble.

1 can (400g) chickpeas, drained
1/4 C water
4 tbsp lemon juice
2 tbsp sesame seeds
1 tsp crushed garlic
Sprinkle of smoked salt, to taste
Chilli flakes, to taste
2 tbsp pinenuts
1 tbsp olive oil
Raw vegetables for crudites - broccoli, cauliflower, capsicums, carrots, asparagus, etc.


Throw the chickpeas, water, juice, seeds, garlic, salt and chilli flakes into a blender. Blend until smooth. Add a little more water if needed to help it along. Using a sieve and spoon, press out the hummus over a bowl. It will take a little while for the hummus to start moving, but after a minute of stirring, it will start glooping through the sieve quite happily.

Toast the pinenuts in a dry pan. Drizzle the olive oil over the bowl of hummus, and sprinkle over the pinenuts and parsley. Serve with crudites and traditional Roman quantities of wine.

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