Boiled peanuts are one of those polarizing foods — not unlike okra — that people seem to either love or hate.
I am definitely in the “love” camp when it comes to these succulent little treats.
The best ones are scooped up out of warm crockpots at country gas stations where they are usually heralded with a hand-lettered cardboard sign reading simply “boiled p-nuts.”
If there’s a drawback to boiled peanuts, it’s that they can be pretty messy. For one thing, they are wet and, for another, there’s the problem of what to do with all of the shells.
A certain kind of joy comes from slurping plump, soft peanuts out of their shells while rivulets of brine run down your forearms, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t times when it would be nice to have the pleasure of boiled peanuts without the mess.
Enter boiled peanut hummus — a smooth, salty, peanut-y dip for spreading on crackers, eating with crudités or slathering inside a sandwich.
It’s nearly as addictive as boiled peanuts themselves and lots more versatile, as suitable for a party hors d’oeuvres as it is for solo snacking straight from the ‘fridge.
If you live in the South, you might be able to find freshly-dug “green” peanuts at your grocery store or farmer’s market this time of year. Dried raw peanuts can also be boiled but they will take a whole lot longer to soften.
Around here, boiled peanuts seem to come either plain or cajun spiced, but I read that in China peanuts are often boiled with star anise and other spices, so I gave that a try. Feel free to play around with different flavors. Some people also like to add a little beer to their brine. I’d rather save it for drinking, but if you boil your peanuts in a beer brine I’d love to hear how they turn out.
You can forgo the boiling process all together and buy your peanuts already boiled if you want. They’re available by mail order from specialty purveyors and even from Amazon, so don’t let geography stop you from trying this hummus. Even canned boiled peanuts are OK to use.
Because I added aromatics to my peanuts while they were boiling, I used very little in the way of seasoning when making the actual hummus. If you are using already boiled peanuts, you may want to spice things up a little when you blend the hummus. Try a little cayenne pepper or cajun seasoning, a dash of hot sauce, or a bit of Chinese five-spice blend.
Atlanta chef Hugh Acheson popularized boiled peanut hummus at his restaurant Empire State South. I've never tasted Acheson's hummus, but reading about it is how I decided to try my hand at this dish.
Acheson's recipe apparently contains tahini. I thought peanut butter made a fitting substitute here. Also, I'm not a big fan of raw garlic and used very little here. If you like garlicky hummus, you might want to ratchet up the amount accordingly.
- 1 pound green peanuts
- table salt, lots
- 2 star anise
- 2 cloves garlic, peeled and left whole
- 1 dried red chili pepper
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 1 1/2 cups shelled, boiled peanuts
- 4 tablespoons oil (I used half olive oil and half sesame oil)
- water, as needed to achieve the proper consistency
- 3 tablespoons peanut butter
- 1/2 clove garlic, or more, to taste
- 2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice, or more, to taste
- olive oil, to serve
- cayenne pepper, to serve
Place your peanuts, still in the shells, into a large pot or dutch oven. Add water to cover by a few inches and stir in enough salt that the water tastes like seawater. Add the star anise, garlic, chili pepper and cinnamon stick. Bring to a boil.
Lower the heat to medium-low, cover, and boil until the peanuts are very soft. This took me about four hours, but you should check your peanuts every hour or so for doneness and to make sure there's still enough water in the pot. Add water as needed, but don't forget to check the salinity of the water when you do — you might also need to add a bit of salt.
When the peanuts are sufficiently tender, remove from heat and leave in the pot to cool, where they will continue to soak up the flavors of the brine. When they are cool enough to handle, shell the peanuts and try your hardest to set aside 1 1/2 cups for the hummus before you start snacking on them.
In the bowl of a food processor combine the peanuts, peanut butter, garlic and lemon juice. Process. While the motor is running, drizzle in the oil a little at a time. Scrape down the bowl and, again with the motor running, slowly add water until a smooth consistency is reached. (I used about 4 tablespoons.)
To serve, top with a glug of olive oil and a sprinkle of cayenne pepper.