Best Lentil Soup

Lentil soup has become a punchline, a shorthand meat eaters use to make fun of how boring the vegetarian diet supposedly is.  But this is WRONG! Lentils are amazing, and lentil soup can be one of the most simple and transcendent things you ever cook if you do it right.

The ancients of the Near East sure knew how to use lentils, and other pulses similar to it.  For most of antiquity, lentils were considered a poor man’s food.  Common folk could not usually afford meat, but lentils and chickpeas would have been a great protein substitute.
This supposed peasant food is nutritious, satisfying, and quite packs a lot of flavor with a few simple ingredients. Using modern versions of the ingredients available since the Neolithic on is enough to make a creamy, hearty, and healthy soup.

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1 cup red lentils (But you can substitute other colors too)
4-5 cups water
1 large onion, diced
1 fat carrot, diced
3-5 cloves fresh garlic, mashed
1/2 cup Tahini water (see recipe)
Crushed coriander, cumin, and mustard seeds (or just use Garam Masala spice)
1 cup Yogurt (leave out for vegan version)
1/2 bunch Coriander (cilantro) or Parsley leaves chopped

(Makes 3-4 bowls)

  1. Coat the bottom of a stockpot with sesame oil (or butter) over medium heat. Add the onion, garlic, and carrot. Season with salt and the ground spices. Saute until the onion is starting to soften, but not fully cooked.
  2. To make tahini water, take an empty Jar of tahini and fill with quarter cup of water, closing and shaking vigorously to clean the jar and make a liquid. (Or simply whisk the water into 2 tablespoons of tahini in a bowl.)
  3. Add the lentils and lightly toast for about 2 minutes. Then add water plus tahini water. Turn up the head to high and bring to a boil.  When boiling, immediately turn down to a simmer.
  4. Simmer for 1-2 hours,  stirring the bottom occasionally. Use the back of your spoon to mash some of the fully cooked lentils against the side of the pot for a creamy consistency.  Add water if desired to adjust consistency.
  5. Mix the chopped herbs and Yogurt together. Add half to the soup and stir in, and reserve the other half for garnish at the end.  Ladle the soup into bowls and then add a dollop of the herb yogurt to serve.

Get everything going in a pot first. Don’t saute the veggies too long before adding lentils and water. You want a lot of their flavor to go into the liquid to make a sort of  veggie “stock” on the go as the soup cooks.

We want a lot of flavor depth, and the tahini water helps a great deal with that.  Often times, I will cheat and also use diced chilies for even more flavor, but the farmers of Mesopotamia would not have had such an option.

Simmer the soup as long as you want, depending on if you want a thinner soup or more of a thick stew.  I imagine ancient farmers would like a thicker porridge version, something to really stick on the way down and fill your stomach.

Herb yogurt for texture and garnish.  Use homemade for bonus points.

When the lentils are soft, it’s technically done, but we can do a couple things to really build our flavor. First, use your spoon to mash some lentils and stir in for a creamy texture. Then Stir in the herb yogurt to really send it over the Moon Goddess.

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Now just reduce to the desired thickness.

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And there you have it.  Serve with a nice green salad and some To make it vegan, just leave out the yogurt. It’s almost as good. Serve with a nice green salad and some Ash Bread to make it a meal.

Simple Lamb and Barley Stew

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Lamb is seared and then cooked with barley and vegetables, that are authentic in name, but are modern and more substantial domestic versions of very different ancient ingredients.

This is a very simple, but delicious dish that means to simulate the kinds of things the earliest farmers along the Euphrates River and the East Mediterranean Coast might have eaten. Continue reading “Simple Lamb and Barley Stew”

YOGURT CHEESE (Farmers or Cottage)

Yes it’s already time for another cheese recipe. You’re going to be seeing a lot of them on this blog.  Not only because cheese was a staple of many ancient diets, but also because cheese.

1 qt high quality, non homogenized milk (Goat or cow will work)
1 cup yogurt (or buttermilk or sour cream)
Salt

Day 1
Set up a double boiler. This is just a medium pot half filled with barely simmering water, and a large bowl resting on top.
Whisk  the yogurt or cultured cream in the bowl, then slowly pour in the milk, whisking as you go to fully incorporate.  Stirring every 15-20 minutes, heat the milk until just warm, or 100 Fahrenheit. Turn off the heat and let the bowl sit unstirred a few minutes until it rises about 5-7 degrees.
Wrap in towels and put in a warm place 24 hrs.

Day 2
Put the bowl on the boiler again and repeat as day one only this time do not stir it. Tilt the bowl every 20 minutes to recenter where the heat goes but otherwise leave undisturbed until the temps around the mixture range from 90-115 degrees, or to when curdling just begins but hasn’t set in.

Day 3
Repeat process but on medium heat, tilting the bowl but not stirring until temperatures around the mixture range from 110-135 Fahrenheit.  Take off the heat and stir.
Set four layers of cheese cloth in a colander over a bowl, and add entire mixture to drain.  Scoop out now for “cottage cheese” with lots of whey, or tie off to sink for cream cheese (1-2 hours) or queso fresco (6-8 hours).

Our first recipe was as basic and fast as cheese can be. Today, we’re doing something a little more complex.  Not much more difficult, but definitely much longer.  This recipe takes 3 days total to complete, but only a couple hours of “active” time.

I like to call it Yogurt Cheese, as you’ll soon see why, but it also goes by other names like Farmers cheese or Cottage cheese, maybe because it’s a great use of very fresh milk right off the farm.  As with all our dairy recipes, the quality of your finished product will depend on how good a milk you are using.  Don’t skimp.

Done just right, it is somewhere between spreadable and crumbly, and can be adapted towards either end of the spectrum to suit your preference, depending on how long you hang it to drain at the end.

Top to bottom: 1) Something like cottage cheese from a tub at the store.   2) a spreadable almost cream cheese-esque cheese, and   3) what is essentially like queso fresco. I usually like something between 2 and 3, best of both worlds.

The ingredients and method have stayed simple, and one can easily imagine an ancient herder, whose left his or her yogurt drink in a spot just a little to warm for it, and discovered this fresh cheese. Continue reading “YOGURT CHEESE (Farmers or Cottage)”

TERRACOTTA TANDOORI OVEN

When people settle down out of forager lifestyles and into Neolithic lives, they always invent pottery technology to help it.  This enables them to store surplus food, and it also enables them to take ovens out of the ground, and one step closer to those we are more familiar with today.

 

One of these ancient ovens, the Indian Tandoori or just Tandoor, is still popular today.  It’s simple design and somewhat more portable form make it pretty similar to many similar ovens of the era.  And today, we’re going to make our own for less than $100 (If you already own the tools)

Look, this is not at all how an ancient person would have made one of these.  If you have any masonry or pottery skills, as Neolithic peoples did, you can shape and fire your own vessel with an open top out of clay and pure artisanship.

But I’m a cook. Not a potter. I’m going to use power tools. Hey, Neolithic people exploited every resource available to them.  If they had power drills, they would have used them!

Here’s everything you need:

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Continue reading “TERRACOTTA TANDOORI OVEN”

Fastest Fresh Goat Cheese

1 qt milk (goat or cow works too)
4 tbsp. vinegar
2 tsp. salt

-Put the milk on a large pot and heat over medium high heat to 180 fahrenheit (simmering but not quite boiling), stirring constantly to prevent scalding. Switch to a spoon and stir in the vinegar. When you’ve stirred enough to fully mix the vinegar, add the salt and turn off the heat .
-Let stand for 15 minutes, or until curds have separated and whey is almost clear.  Place two layers of cheesecloth in a fine mesh strainer over a large bowl, and ladle in the curds. —Gently lift the ends of the cheese cloth and the lump of curds. Tie it to your faucet, or two a spoon hanging over a bowl. Let hang for 1 hour, unwrap and turn out into a bowl. 

You knew this was coming. After butter and yogurt, here is Anthrochef’s first of many future cheese recipes.

It’s also the simplest, easiest, and quickest way to practice this ancient phenomena of separating moisture from milk fat. Half an hour of work and an hour of waiting time and you can have homemade goat cheese. This is not Chevre. This is a mild and crumbly cheese, comparable to Indian Paneer, making it very versatile in application but not with a lot of personality of its own. Salt is very important to not end up with a bland product.

The only ingredients are milk, vinegar, and salt. And look! I found some fresh, unpasteurized goat’s milk!

20171018_170452.jpg Continue reading “Fastest Fresh Goat Cheese”

Easy Homemade Yogurt

Half gallon  fresh, or at least non homogenized milk
4 tbsp. Yogurt with culture or sour cream
2 tbsp. Buttermilk

1- In a pot, heat your milk to 100-110 Fahrenheit, stirring constantly. Set aside 10-20 minutes or until 95 degrees.
2- Meanwhile, whisk together Yogurt and buttermilk until combined and thinner.
3- Ladle cooled milk into culture mixture, a little at a time, whisking constantly.
4-Transfer to a new container, covered and wrapped in towels, set in a warmish, dark place for 24-48 hours, depending on desired sourness flavor.

Did you know that most references we have in ancient texts to “milk” were probably referring to fermented milk.  The hot climate of the Near East meant that fresh milk would be spoiled quickly unless converted into a more stable dairy product. So, when you hear about the lands of milk and honey, that’s really the lands of yogurt and honey.

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Yogurt was first developed by newly lactose tolerant herders in the mountains of Central and West Asia. They stored their fresh milk in bags made from animal stomachs, which just happen to contain the bacteria cultures necessary to ferment milk. A little time in the warm climate, and the herder would have opened their milk bag to find it had curdled into possibly cheese, but more likely at first: Yogurt!

That’s because Yogurt is so simple to make.  You truly just need milk, cultures, and time. Continue reading “Easy Homemade Yogurt”

The HISTORY OF FOOD, Episode 2: Gardeners of the Neolithic

The second episode of our History of Food concerns the greatest turning point in human history since the taming of fire. The New Stone Age, when farming was invented and our species forever changed.  What were our lives like, what were we eating, and how those two questions are interconnected.

Theme music by the incredible Michael Levy of Ancient Lyre. This rendition of the Hurian Hymn, the oldest known piece of sheet music, and the whole album “An Ancient Lyre” and much more is available from all major digital music stores and streaming sites.

AVAILABLE ON SOUNDCLOUD AND ITUNES.
Please leave a review to help spread the word! Continue reading “The HISTORY OF FOOD, Episode 2: Gardeners of the Neolithic”