THIS DELICIOUS, fragrant bread is leavened using fermented chickpeas rather than the piece of starter dough that is part of most traditional Greek breads. The word eftazymo means “kneaded seven times,” but it does not actually describe the process of making the bread. Many scholars believe that the first part of the word is not efta (seven), but instead a phonetic variation of the prefix auto, referring to bread that rises by itself.
The only baker who makes this chickpea starter on a large scale is Yannis Argyrakis from Chios. He invited me into his workshop there but warned me that he wasn’t going to reveal his secrets. “It’s like a diamond bracelet that you can’t let everybody know you have,” he told me.
Traditionally, the starter is made from a handful of coarsely crushed chickpeas that are soaked in warm water and kept at a more or less constant warm temperature for 7 to 12 hours, until a thick froth forms on the surface of the water. This froth—and sometimes the crushed chickpeas, depending on the cook—is mixed with flour. Village women usually begin the process in the afternoon, placing the peas in a covered clay pot that they nestle under lots of blankets. One woman from Cyprus told me that she wraps a woolen shawl around the well-sealed jar of crushed chickpeas and water and holds it between her thighs all night long. Other women get up a couple of times in the middle of the night to add warm water to the pot of chickpeas, especially during cold winter nights.
Fortunately, today we have the means to keep the chickpeas at a constant temperature—either in a low oven or under an electric blanket—and that, as I found out, is the key to the success of the starter.
Place the chickpeas in a large bowl and add water to cover by 4 inches. Let stand for at least 6 hours, or overnight.
Drain the chickpeas and pulse a few times in a food processor to coarsely grind them. Return the chickpeas to the bowl and add
In a large bowl, combine the foam and 1½ cups of the liquid with the
Remove the starter from the oven or blanket and let stand for 4 to 5 hours more, or until tripled in size.
Process the dough for about 2 minutes more, or until smooth and a little sticky (add a little water if the dough is too stiff).
Oil an 8- or 9-inch round pan and a piece of plastic wrap. Transfer the dough to a lightly floured surface and knead for 3 to 4 minutes, adding a little more all-purpose flour as needed until the dough is soft and elastic. Shape the dough into a loaf and place in the pan. If you like, place the dough in a 6-cup loaf pan and slash it deeply with a wet knife at 1-inch intervals. Cover with the oiled plastic wrap and place in the oven set to its lowest temperature. Let rise for 2 to 3 hours, or until doubled in size. Remove the plastic wrap and sprinkle the dough with the nigella seeds.
With the bread still inside,
Let cool on a rack before slicing.
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