There’s nothing quite like a hot, spicy spoonful of posole. This tamalified corn and chili pepper soup, a classic Mexican comfort food, has deeply ancient origins, maybe even as far back as the invention of agriculture in Mesoamerica, when the barely edible grass teosinte was miraculously domesticated into maíz.
The original posole was more like a corn porridge than the modern soup. Grains of maíz were soaked in a lime solution, then cooked into hominy. The mash was then left to ferment into a kind of sourdough, to make a tangy gruel that was filling and had a long shelf life. Nutritionally sound, flavored with anything (but most often chilis), this was the standard breakfast in many ancient Mesoamerican cultures, for both rich and poor.
This recipe is a sort of combination of that ancient sourdough porridge, and a modern posole. Tamalified corn is left to ferment just a bit before being cooked through and turned into soup. While your average Mesoamerican commoner had to make do with corn and chilis alone for the base flavor, wealthy elites would have had access to some wild meats like deer or turkey, so we’re using the latter to make this rich man’s posole. Continue reading “Red Posole with Turkey”
The specific dish Falafel was officially invented barely a thousand years ago, probably either in the Levant or in Egypt. Some food historians, however, believe that the concept of ground chickpea balls, deep fried, goes back to more ancient times.
The same goes for babaganoush In its official conception? A more recent invention. But eggplants were grown since neolithic times. Are you telling me no one ever roasted and mashed one over all those thousands of years? Whose to say they didn’t add onions, garlic, and sesame paste for flavor.
The point is, I think you can make an argument for these dishes in some form go back much further than their official, modern incarnations. Especially in the Bronze Age near east, when trade networks enabled ingredients to spread, and improved metallurgy enabled deep frying to go widespread, even to poorer people, who could now get their daily chickpeas and lentils in delicious fritter form, possibly as a street food.
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.
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.
This is classic Ancient Greece. Though not necessarily limited to classical Ancient Greece.
From the earliest Neolithic settlers, up until the present day really, Octopus Salad represents an Aegean staple.
This is the ancient version, lacking citrus and using ingredients representative of the ingredients that were available. The simplest rendition of this is just cold octopus chopped up and tossed in olive oil. You don’t need more than that, but by adding barley, onions, garlic, greens, and fish sauce, tied with mustard for favorite ancient condiment of the world, we can really build up the flavor. Continue reading “Octopus Salad”
The Egyptians were known to bake their breads into all kinds of shapes, from triangles to the more elaborate. We’re gonna keep it simple today, and use a clean Terracotta flower pot to bake bread.
Did I mention today’s recipe is no knead? No, you don’t need to knead if you have a lot of time to spare. 24 hours in fact. This bread “rises” for a whole day, developing gluten content and a great, sour flavor in a heavily fermented dough.
With a recipe like this, you can understand why the rise of fermented bread goes hand in hand with large scale breweries. To make this loaf, you’re basically making a beer mash, and then baking it instead of brewing it. Beer and bread go hand and hand, and nobody knew that better than the Ancient Egyptians.
Here is yet another invented Egyptian recipe (because the Egyptians left no recipes that we have found). Cassoulet is a much later french dish, variations on a peasant stew with salted meats and legumes. It’s very possible the Ancient Egyptians, of course loving both of those ingredients, would have eaten something similar.
This dish may appear simple, but it’s packed with the deepest flavor you can imagine. It’s hearty and filling too, and goes great with a loaf of Multi-grain Bread.
In early Egyptian history, the presence of meat makes this an elite dish. But wild water fowl like ducks could have occasionally been caught by both rich or poor, and later on, especially during the New Kingdom, pork became more affordable to those not of the upper crust.
Finally, Egyptians grew old world broad beans, particularly a variety called a lupine, which required soaking for several days to make non-toxic. We’re going to substitute Fava Beans, which are indigenous to North Africa.
Here we have a dish that is inspired by Egypt, but is not an actual Egyptian recipe. There are no Egyptian recipes. They either didn’t write any, or we haven’t found them.
But through paintings, textual references, and actual meals left behind for archeologists to discover, we can still infer a lot about Ancient Egyptian cuisine.
River fish, particularly mullet, was probably important for rich and poor alike, and Egyptian morticians/chefs worked together to discover the secrets of pickling both food and corpses. Pickled fish not only allowed for preservation of a natural resource, it was considered quite a delicacy.
This fish is what I’m calling “Quick pickled.” It’s really more of a poached fish, but by doing it in vinegar you can achieve a mild, not too intense pickle flavor that make the fish a nice topper for salads or other cold sides. Continue reading “Quick-Pickled Fish and Chopped 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.
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.