Boiled Boar Dinner and Lentil Salad

Simple and hearty today. We’re going back for a taste of the  ancient Near East.

Thanks to the famous Greek historian Herodotus, most anthropologists believed that Egyptians avoided pork either for religion or out of disgust, but evidence has shown that first wild boar, and then domesticated pig as well as their fat as a cooking medium  were consumed regularly up until the New Kingdom. In this late period, when a rising sort of middle class could afford to eat pork, the elites may have shunned it to distinguish themselves. After that, pigs were considered a lower class food.

We’re tracing Egypt from the very beginning, so for this dish I’m gonna say pigs are not yet domesticated. Luckily, I’ve got the shoulder of a wild boar. Boar is interesting. It cooks like pig but will remind you more of beef than of pork.

Why boil it all? Well first off, it’ll really be more of a heavy simmer. But the long cook time needed to make pork shoulder tender will work well with a lot of liquid, keeping the meat nice and juicy and forming a flavorful broth in the process.  Secondly, pottery changed cooking in the Neolithic. Pottage, or soups and stews, were very popular all over the Near East.  Even though we’re using this recipe to kick off History of Food’s Egypt episode, this is a dish you could probably find all over the fertile crescent and beyond.  Anywhere there was wild boar to be domesticated, and pots invented to cook it in.

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Corn and Quinoa Salad with Salsa Aguacate

We’re leaving the Peruvian coasts and traveling upwards. Inland to the east, the land immediately rises into the Andes Mountains, where a more diverse array of crops could be grown, among them avocados and chili peppers.  Travel even higher, and you encounter the pseudo-grains, most prolifically quinoa, which was grown together with maize in the same field.

So I put all those ingredients in a salad. This quinoa and corn was actually purchased in Cusco, Peru.

For Salad:
1/2 cup quinoa
1/4 cup dent corn (hard field corn)
1 bunch spring onions or scallions, whites included

For Salsa
1 Avocado
3-4 dried chilies (pictured serranos and habeneros)

To make the quinoa, combine with 1 cup  of water and bring to a heavy boil.  Stir, cover with lid, and turn down to lowest possible flame, or just a pilot.  Quinoa should be tender but with a little al dente bite left in it. About 20 minutes.

The corn takes much longer. Boil on high for 3-4 hours until cooked through. It won’t ever be soft and juicy like sweet corn, but it shouldn’t be crunchy either.  Feel free to substitute regular frozen corn if you’re not interested in cooking or can’t obtain hard corn.

Combine ingredients warm with the onions. Season with salt.

To make the salsa, remove the stems from your chilis cut them into smaller pieces. In a mortar and pestel, grind into a coarse powder, then add a few tablespoons of water to make it into a paste.  Add the avocado and mash in, then slowly add 1/2-1 cup of water and some salt to get to desired consistency.

You may want to wet your finger and test your chili powder before mixing in the rest.  If unbearably spicy, remove some to tone it down, but keep in mind that the avocado will cool everything down a bit.

If you want to leave Ancient Andean territory and turn this into modern Peruvian cuisine, add some sour cream to make this an even more complex and delicious salsa.

Add about 1 cup of the salsa to the quinoa salad, combine and adjust seasoning.  Top with extra salsa if desired and voila.

A nice side dish to go with some roast alpaca or cuy (that’s guinea pig).

Perhaps I’ll try making that one, ah… next time.

Grilled”Anchovies” and Roots (Simple Andean Supper )

A very simple recipe to kick off our month of ancient Andean recipes.  This invented meal is composed of some of the kinds of ingredients the Norte Chico, first civilization of South America on the coasts of Peru, might have had available for a hearty supper.

20180222_144414.jpgPotato, Sweet Potato, Edo, and corn (not yet cooked)

The people living at Norte Chico in modern Peru got most of their direct food from the ocean, but they also traded that surplus of marine life for a very diverse rest of the diet. Up in the mid and highlands of the Andes, all kinds of foods were being cultivated and domesticated.

There are so many unique roots to South America that I just can’t get my hands on, but I’ve got some domestic versions of some of the main ones.  Potato, sweet potato, and any other starchy root like Cassava, Malanga, or Edo.

Large dice the potato, sweet potato, and other roots.  You will have to par-cook the corn at least half way if using raw, or just substitute frozen corn and it will cook up nicely with the roots.  Put them on top of some herbs or green onions, with a dried chili and some pumpkin or squash seeds. Season with salt.

The ancient Andeans didn’t have pots to boil their food in. It was usually roasted, either in earth ovens or over open fires.  Since my Earth oven was under 2 feet of snow when this meal was made, I used my own home oven, at 300F for 2 hours

And now for the star of the show.

There is some debate just how much, but there is no question the Norte Chico got a lot of their daily calories from the sea, notably from anchovies.  I don’t have access to fresh anchovies or my favorite, sardines, where I live, but my supermarket at least carries smelts. They make for a decent approximation.

My Earth Oven may be frozen, but I can still light some coals in my grill.  You can grill them if you want, but a little more authentic might be to just toss them right on the coals. Only a minute or two on each side, until they’re lightly charred and cooked through.

The flesh will simply pull off the central bone when they are done. Grill and serve fresh, on top of the roots once they’re full cooked.


HOF Episode 5: Un Otro Mundo (Andean Civilization)

Sumer was the oldest urban civilization, but not by much.  Second place followed quickly, and incredibly was across the ocean in South America.

People on the coast of modern Peru kickstarted a multi-millennium wave of Andean civilization, passing down a legacy of culture, religion, and cuisine all the way down to the Incas, and do so with methods that will turn everything anthropologists thought they knew about civilization on its head.

We’ve neglected the Andeans thus far, but no longer. It’s time to take a closer look.

Please leave a review to help spread the word!

Continue reading “HOF Episode 5: Un Otro Mundo (Andean Civilization)”

Sumerian Sweets Table

In an effort to please their gods, the ancient Sumerians, first people to build urban civilization, invented professional cooking and high cuisine.  Cities’ patron deities were literally fed four lavish meals with multiple courses every day.

It’s not clear if they yet had a concept of “dessert” as its own special part of a meal, but fruit, nuts, pastries, confections, and other items sweetened with “honey” (what the Sumerians called date syrup) were definitely consumed at least as part of the overall meal.

As we’ve mentioned before, cane sugar was unheard of in the old world.  That means these desserts, while still rich and satisfying for a sweet tooth’s craiving, derive all that sweetness from fruit, particularly dates.  That means this entire  plate has ZERO ADDED SUGAR, and is as healthy a dessert as you can get, short of just eating plain fruit.

So that’s what we’re doing today.  This recipe post is actually several recipes in one, as we attempt to construct an authentic Sumerian sweets table, fit for a god or goddess. We’ll be making Mersu (date and pistachio bites), Sesame date buns, Palace Cake, Date and Barley porridge, and a Yogurt Lassi to wash it all down.

To get started, let’s make some homemade raisins.

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Sumerian Onion Bread (for gods or royalty)

No peasant fare today.  This bread is for deities or royalty only.

We know the Sumerians, original urban culture of the world, were obsessed with many types of onions, especially leeks.  We also know that temple priests took great care to prepare special food for their resident god or goddess. Most people used flour that was pretty coarse compared to modern ones, but it’s likely that the finest, and most finely ground, sieved, and combed through flour would go into bread made for Enlil or Inanna, presented by priests at four lavish meals per day, every day.


This recipe, which is a modern invention, simulates a bread that was fit for the gods by incorporating all-purpose, wheat, and barley flours together with cooked leeks and green onions.  The technique is similar to how Chinese style scallion pancakes are made, but this bread uses a leavened dough and is cooked in pork fat, as the Sumerians loved to do.

(Makes 6 flatbreads)
1.5 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup barley flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 tablespoon (or 1 packet) of yeast
2 teaspoons salt
1.5 cups warm water
1 bunch leeks, sliced
2 bunches spring onions or scallions, sliced
4 tbsp. butter
3-6 thinly sliced strips pork belly (or bacon)

Start by making the dough. Add the yeast to the warm water and let activate for 5-10 minutes. Meanwhile, mix your flours and salt, then combine into a loose dough. Turn onto a surface coated with flour and knead for 10 minutes, until smooth and stretchable.


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Sumerian Beer

Our first real recipe from history. . . why not for a beverage?

The discovery of beer goes far back into Neolithic times. It’s reasonable to assume that the first beers were made by accident, when porridge or mash from grain malted for other purposes was left too long for whatever reason, and fermented.

Thus by the 2000sBC and the rise of  Mesopotamian civilization, people were already proficient brewers.  Sumerian texts mention eight barley beers, eight emmer beers and three mixed beers (one of which we’ll be making today) This special beverage was made from the same grains which the Sumerians were well aware how important it was to their civilization. As such, brewing was sacred, serious business.

Sumerians drinking beer through giant straws, via

The Hymn to the goddess of brewing Ninkasi, from around 1800BC at the peak of Sumerian culture, not only shows the peoples’ reverence and awe at this fermented beverage, but also contains a recipe for how to make the stuff! Modern brewers have taken the instructions and recreated this ancient recipe for barley and wheat beer, which Cathy K. Kaufman handily publishes in her great book Cooking in Ancient Civilizations.

The basic method is to malt some wheat berries, then soak them with water, yeast, date-syrup, and a par cooked, fermented loaf of barley dough.  The whole process takes about a week and yields a mild, pale brew that’s only 2% alcohol and doesn’t quite taste like what you’re used to in modern beers.

But it’s not unpleasant!  And it does the job. I would compare the flavor more to cider than to beer. Barley cider if you will, but this is a close approximation of the kind of draught which helped build a civilization. Continue reading “Sumerian Beer”