HOF Episode 16: The Dark Bread Ages (Medieval Europe)

In Late Antiquity, without the Roman Empire around to control everything, forest and wilderness reclaimed Europe and its people went local. Start with that, then stir to combine with a rising Catholic Church, and you’ve got a recipe for a brand new culture, one that just might be the foundation of the modern western world.

Let’s get into the Early Middle Ages.

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BIBLIOGRAPHY

Food: A Cultural and Culinary History, lecture by Ken Albala

Life in a Medieval Castle: Medieval Food

The Food Timeline

Daily Life in the Age of Charlemagne, John J. Butt

CHUTNEY TRIO (Cilantro, Mango, Tamarind)

Indian food, both ancient and modern, has always been about those sauces and condiments. Contrary to the jarred preserved stuff westerners think of as “chutney”, the real stuff in India is almost always made with fresh ingredients.

There will be one more classic chutney in the next Indian recipe, but here are three to get us going: cilantro, mango, and tamarind.

All very simple, very basic, very DELICIOUS recipes.

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Ultimate 5 Lentil Dal

I’ve said this before when making soup back in the Neolithic, but lentils do NOT get enough love. When prepared right, these earthy, creamy, protein-packed legumes are truly delicious, which is why lentils, or Dal, are consumed and beloved by all cultures across India.

There are uncountable ways to cook them, and all sorts of things to add to make a unique dish. But to honor that tasty tradition, of one of the only ingredients to unite all of Indian cuisine, I wanted to make something I could call the “ultimate” Dal, while mostly keeping it pure and simple, with no superfluous ingredients. Just onions, garlic, spices, and lentils. Five kinds of them in fact.

I know, it’s final form is not the most appetizing looking thing ever to be cooked on Anthrochef, but the flavor? I promise you it will blow your mind.

Note: This recipe is more of a guide than a specific set of instructions. Feel free to substitute any amount or combination of lentils, and the same goes for whatever spices you want to use!

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Ghee and Chonk (tempered clarified butter)

Clarified butter, known in Hindi as “ghee”, will be our foundation, the base from which all the coming Indian delights will spring. Especially when we temper spices in the ghee when its hot and make “chonk”, it’s almost like magic is being performed. Flavor magic.

What does it mean to clarify butter? We’re going to separate and remove the milk solids from regular butter, leaving behind pure golden butter fat that preserves longer, and can handle sauteing at high temperatures.

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HOF Episode 15: Princes of Flavor (India)

Which ancient civilization made the most flavorful cuisine?

Perhaps you could make a case for any of the cuisines and civilizations we’ve covered thus far, and no doubt each one has been best at something. But when it comes to pure, impact of flavor? Nobody beats India.

Thanks to its geography, history, and available ingredients, as well as some impressively advanced cooking techniques we’ll cover in depth, the story of South Asian civilization is the story of spice, rice, and flavor. Oh, and of vegetarians too!

WARNING: side effects of this episode may include getting very, very hungry!

Music for this episode sampled from the late, great Ravi Shankar

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HOF Episode 14: People of the Book

In what capacity can food serve a spiritual need?

The answer is a whole lot! A little over two thousand years ago, the way people thought about themselves and the Universe was beginning to change. Ancient gods, pagan rituals, and beliefs were going out of style, no longer compatible with new, more modern ways of thinking. These beliefs would transform into new religions that would create, and last into the modern world.

And of course, nothing reflected this era of Spiritual transition more than what people ate, or in this case how much of it. Listen today for the origin stories of Christianity, Islam, and their parent religion Judaism, the three new monotheist faiths and their “one true god”, known colloquially at the time as “people of the book”.


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Ancient Persian “Brunch”

This one was a real treat to prepare and to eat: a classic spread of Persian inspired dishes for a late breakfast that will also satisfy you through lunch and beyond.

Maybe I’m wrong, but I don’t think there’s a literal translation in Farsi or any ancient Iranian language for “brunch”, but the classic early meal of an egg dish with lots of bread, and an assortment of spreads, jams, and garnishes to graze and pick over certainly fits any interpretation of the concept.

We’ve got a home cook’s version of classic SANGAK bread, cooked on hot pebbles to give it a grooved surface perfect for some sour plum and pomegranate jam, stewed figs and spices, and some freshly made KAYMAK, or what the English call clotted cream. To balance those sweet flavors, we’ve got some salty and briny garnishes on the side, as well as a a dish called NARGESI, a sort of frittata made from fried greens and onions.

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Kaymak (Clotted Cream)

How had I never tried this stuff before?

You could file this luxurious dairy recipe under the nomad section, but the Persians carried it with them into civilized life, and called it Kaymak. Pure, heavy cream is cooked low and slow overnight to separate the milk fat. The resulting product is like a cousin to butter, only creamier and a deeper, toastier flavor from the oven.

The technique  takes some time, but is ridiculously simple and easy. Clotted cream is most famously put on Biscuits, scones, and bread but why stop there? Use this spreadable, dairy delight in anything you  butter on or in! Continue reading “Kaymak (Clotted Cream)”

Persian Cucumber Salad

The cucumber used to be more than it is today.  Oh, there are still cucumber lovers out there (myself among them), but in the ancient world, this was more than just a favorite salad topping.  The cucumber was considered the pinnacle of refreshment, its crisp, crunchy, watery bite being the ultimate tasty oasis in the hot climates of the near east, the way we might think of a cold glass of lemonade today.  No wonder cucumbers were used to flavor water and combined with yogurt, two other pillars of refreshment

Here is an original recipe that celebrates the cucumber as its feature. I came up with it using ancient Persian ingredients and trying to imagine ancient Persian tastes. Quick and simple, the resulting dish is sweet and peppery, with its combination of pomegranates, dates, and black mustard seeds. And of course, it wouldn’t be right if this cucumber salad was not also packed with fresh herbs.  

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Ghormeh Sabzi (Herb and Meat Stew)

Here is a modern Persian recipe, for one of the national dishes of Iran, that could have been and surely was also cooked in ancient times.  Ghormeh Sabzi is a flavorful stew of LOTS of cooked herbs, with meat and a legume.  The final texture resembles an Indian Saag or cooked greens dish, but this Persian version made entirely of herbs is a bit more tangy and pungent.

My version of Ghormeh Sabzi combines lots of parsley, coriander (cilantro), mint, and green onions, Goat meat, and chickpeas, to substitute for red beans which are usually found in the modern version, but were unavailable in the Old World. A stew fit for a King of kings!

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