Barbecue Ribs

The Song Dynasty of Medieval China was a turning point in food history. As farming productivity exploded, cities rose to dominance, and populations dramatically increased, so too did the quality of life and the quality of cuisine follow.

To put it another way, people had access to not only more food, but better food. Even poorer commoners tended to eat 3 meals a day and occasionally some snacks. Most remarkable though, was that for one of the first times in history, meat was being consumed across social classes. With prices low, and restaurants and street stalls serving conveniently sized and priced portions, everyone could afford some animal protein now and then.

And the most popular of all the meats? Then and perhaps now as well… Pork. So. . . we’re havin’ ribs.

I’ll admit, this recipe is inspired by the style of ribs you can get with Chinese take out in America. But taking all historical factors into account, that is the rise of meat and pork, the authentic black soy bean sauce, the dry rub spices made possible by recently opened trade routes, as well as the popularity of grills and barbecues for street food in Song cities, I see no reason to call this recipe inauthentic! I’ll stand by the assertion that these ribs could totally have been served from a stall on the Imperial Way, centuries ago.

The charcoal grill is of course the best way to go, but these ribs are delicious in an oven as well. To get started, we’ll need to whip up a couple things first: Some homemade Chinese Five Spice for a dry rub, and some Hoisin style, black bean sauce for a marinade. After that, all we need is ribs and fire.

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Smoked Fish

It’s not really correct to imply smoked fish is a specifically Medieval thing, and for that I apologize. People have been smoking fish since long before recorded history began, and we could have done this recipe at any point on this website’s culinary journey.

But as we touched on in episode 16 of the podcast, since both the diets and entire economies of northwestern Europe during the middle ages were so dependent on dried and smoked fish, now seemed an appropriate time to make some.

Though the fish of European Medieval times was herring, I was unable to locate any in my home town, so I opted for an all purpose recipe, for smoking just about any fish, as was done on Weber grills across the ages .

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Hearty Dark Rye Bread

How the times change. Today, this rye could be an expensive artisan loaf in a high end bakery. In dark ages Europe, it was food for peasants.

This is a true Middle Ages commoner’s bread, as there is no wheat flour involved. It’s almost all rye, but cut with a little barley and oats which were the only grains many serfs across Medieval northwest Europe would have had on hand. It makes a dense, chewy bread, whose texture still manages to be pleasant, that’s healthy for a carbohydrate, and packed with tangy rye flavor. It’s also very easy to make, with no kneading required, just many hours of waiting time.

Though be careful where you get your rye from. You don’t want to contract St. Anthony’s Fire like poor old Waigulf from the other side of the manor. Ate a bad loaf and was dead soon afterward, ‘e was.

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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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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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