Hand Pulled Noodle Soup

It wasn’t known for sure until recently, but archaeological evidence has confirmed that the noodle was invented in Ancient China. The oldest ever found were made out of millet, which is hard for me to imagine. This recipe is much easier than that prehistoric version, following the later Northern Chinese tradition of cooking with wheat.

With refined wheat flour, making hand made noodles and an amazing soup to go with them (in this case a pork bone broth with greens) is really very simple. It just takes time, time to build a flavorful broth, and time for the gluten to develop in the pasta dough to make it elastic and stretchable.

 

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Millet and Fermented Vegetable Dumplings, ancient style

The invention of the dumpling might be as early as the invention of dough and boiled water. Dumplings may have been around before breads or even porridge, perhaps the first, simplest way humans figured out how to cook wild grains.

Hand ground millet may not produce the most beautiful dumplings, but these boiled lumps of dough and “filling” are meant to be a more primitive style proto-dumpling, the kind of early processes that would eventually lead to the later artistry of dumpling making in Ancient all the way to modern China.

As for fermented vegetables, while we feature them for our early Chinese dumplings recipe, Ancient China was by no means the only group of peoples to ferment vegetables. The simple process of brining food in salt water for several days to induce natural preservation and robust pickly flavor (unknown at the time to be microbial life and fermentation) was practiced all over the Ancient world, on all kinds of foods.

You can ferment any vegetable and use any spices you want. Really. Anything.  Be like a true ancient and never be afraid to experiment.  Here is a mix of in season veggies from my garden: carrots, green and wax beans, and rhubarb, with fresh coriander seeds and a couple cloves of garlic.  All of which, though maybe in more primitive forms, would have been available in Europe and Asia long ago.

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Baklava from Scratch

Baklava is another one of those Mediterranean foods that every country touching the sea claims to have invented in some form or another. While the sweet nut and filo pastry in its exact form is a more modern creation, the basic ingredients go back much further, to the ancient days of those same lands.

I thought it would be fun to make a more “primitive”baklava, forgoing all the fussing around with store-bought filo, using nuts indigenous to the ancient near east, and just honey for sweetening.  Sugar doesn’t amount to more than a rare luxury good for many thousands of years.

 

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Hummus

You’ve never had hummus this good.

Well. . . Unless of course you buy Sabra, or already happen to know the two simple secrets to making the best hummus (revealed below).

Hummus is one of those pan-regional foods that every Mediterranean country today seems to have as a staple, and also claims to have invented. Its roots go back further into history than we can trace.

There is no direct historical evidence for ancient humans consuming literal hummus. HOWEVER, the record shows that chickpeas were a significant part of farmers’ crop and diets throughout the Near East,  beginning way back in the prehistoric Neolithic.   For people that ate mostly grain, legumes like the chickpea were a critical source of protein.  While simple consumption was probably most common, I have no doubt that ancient culinary minds were also occasionally mashing their chickpeas into dips, spreads, and pastes.

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With that established, we also know that onions and garlic were beloved by populations all over the region, and that by the time of the later Bronze Age after 2,000BC, the vast trade networks between the Near Eastern powers of the day ensured that olive oil and sesame seeds were widespread throughout the land.

Which means we have all the ingredients we need to make a classic hummus. All we’re missing is lemons, which had not yet spread to the region by the Bronze Age.  So this recipe substitutes vinegar, but is otherwise no different from a modern hummus today.
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Here are the two promised secrets to making hummus fit for the gods: Continue reading “Hummus”

Barley Pita Bread

When many think of Greek Food, they think of pita bread.  In truth, the Ancient Greeks enjoyed all sorts of breads, both flat and formed, but I thought it would be fun to ancient style pitas.

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Just like in Egypt and Mesopotamia, the most common grain grown in Greece was barley. This recipe is almost all barley flour, with a little all purpose thrown in to cheat and make them more appetizing to the modern palate.

You can go all barley to be authentic, but the results aren’t quite as delicious. Remember I’m a chef first and an amateur anthropologist second.  I want to make something that I actually want to eat.  Even with the cheater’s flour, these pitas are denser and less puffy than their modern counter parts, but when eaten fresh, are still a delicious addition to your deipnon. (that’s Greek for dinner) Continue reading “Barley Pita Bread”

Greek Cheese, Two Ways

Today, we’re going to use the Homemade Feta Cheese we made last week to prepare two different appetizers.  We know marinated feta, as well as fried cheese are staples in modern Greek food, but probably go back much further into the ancient world.  Greeks have loved their cheese for a long time, especially those who had migrated to Sicily, known for its excellent quality dairy products.

Submerging fresh cheese in olive oil no doubt began as a preservation method, but by adding herbs and aromatics, we can create a really flavorful cheese salad.

 

As for fried cheese, there are few things far more delicious. Modern Greek restaurants in the US call the dish saganaki, after the name of the frying pan its cooked in.  It’s usually doused in lemon juice and flambeed in distilled alcohol right at the table. “Opa!” shouts the waiter as flames whoosh high up into the air, and the next table says “Oo, I’d like to order that opa thing.”

 

Without lemon juice or distilled liquor in our Ancient Greek Pantry, we will have to get creative.  Also, we’re using fresh feta cheese. If you want a Saganaki just like you get in a restaurant, substitute Kasseri or Kefalograviera cheese. Continue reading “Greek Cheese, Two Ways”

Homemade Feta Cheese

The first mention in the historical record of cheese aged in brine, known today as “feta”, is in Homer’s Odyssey.  In one of their first adventures after sacking Troy, Odysseus and his men find themselves on the island home of Polyphemus, the cyclops son of Poseidon.  The Mycenaean travelers notice that they aren’t in some typical monster’s lair.  Rather, it’s clear the cyclops is a dairy farmer and cheesemonger, and lives in a full blown cheese cave.

“We entered the cave, but he wasn’t there, only his plump sheep grazed in the meadow. The woven baskets were full of cheese, the folds were full of sheep and goats and all his pots, tubs and churns where he drew the milk, were full of whey. When half of the snow-white milk curdled he collected it put it in the woven baskets and kept the other half in a tub to drink for his supper.”

So while the threat of being devoured remained a threat for Odysseus and his men, Polyphemus is at least civilized enough to pair human flesh with finely brined feta cheese.

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Making our own just like it is really an easy process, it just takes several days. Continue reading “Homemade Feta Cheese”