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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NAN-E-BARBARI (Persian Flatbread)

This is flatbread heaven.

Before rice came to dominate Persian cuisine around the Middle Ages, all those classic Persian soups, stews, and kebabs were paired with bread, the ancient Iranian’s favorite mode of carb delivery by far.

 

It might even be mine! This technique is not too different from my MODERN ASH BREAD recipe, but this dough has a little less moisture, some vibrant toppings, and is of course shaped differently in that classic Persian flatbread grooved shape. It’s like pitas and breadsticks had a baby, and covered it in pungent spices.

So without much more fluff, here’s the recipe.

NAN-E-BARBARI

For Dough:

400g AP Flour
100g whole wheat flour
2 1/4 teaspoons dry yeast (or one packet)
1 3/4 cup warm water
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon salt
Middle Eastern spices of your choice (pictured: sumac, mustard seeds, sesame seeds)

For Glaze:

2 teaspoons AP flour
1/3 cup water
1/2 teaspoon honey
1/2 teaspoon olive oil

For the spices, tradition calls for a zatar spice blend, which above all must contain sesame seeds and citrusy sumac, but after that is basically a choose your own adventure. Thyme, oregeno, cumin, and coriander are good choices, but I just went with some mustard seeds, lightly (lightly!) pounded with the sesame and sumac.

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To start, activate the yeast by sprinkling it on top of the warm water. When foamy, stir in salt, olive oil, and then a third of the flour. Stir until combined, then stir in another third, and finally the last third, until what’s called a shaggy dough has formed.  That just refers to a dough whose water has collected and started to combine with all the flour in the bowl, but is still very loose, unformed  and… well, shaggy!

 

Turn onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 10 minutes until smooth and springy. You know the drill.  Lightly oil a bowl and let the dough proof, or rise.  Many recipes for Persian flatbread are relatively quick, and call for just one hour of leavening time. I like to push it a little further for flavor and texture, a minimum of 4 hours, covered in a warmish place.

 

Whether for just one hour or four, after you’ve proofed the dough, turn it back out onto the floured surface and divide in two. Shape each half into a rough log, a little less than a foot in diameter. Cover lightly with plastic right on the same surface, and let rise one more hour.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven AS HOT AS YOU CAN GET IT.  Traditionally, this bread should be baked in a blazing hot wood oven, almost like pizza. But you can still make it at home by cranking the oven.

Also meanwhile, make your glaze. A glaze?? For bread?? (you might say).  This is an ancient technique to generate a little steam and also accelerate the heat transfer in the oven, giving the bread a beautiful, crispy sheen.  It’s worth the little bit of trouble!

To make it, simply stir all the ingredients together in a small pot over medium heat, moving and scraping constantly until the mixture thickens into a loose paste. Should only take 2 minutes. When ready, take off the heat and set aside.

 

After the two not-yet-flatbreads have finished their final rise, dust two baking sheets with semolina flour or cornmeal. Then, lightly press and stretch the logs of dough into long rectangles, about an inch thick.  Use your fingers to make 3 grooves longways down the flatbread.

 

Now brush the dough with the glaze all over and have a great time sprinkling that delicious spice mixture all over the surface.  Gently transfer to semolina coated baking sheets by hand, and bake for 18-20 minutes, until golden brown.

 

Let cool, and slice into desired sizes. It’s also kind of fun to just leave it whole.

 

You can pair this with just about anything, but it really should be some kind of Persian stew or meat skewer. Here it is with some Ghormeh Sabzi , a fragrant herb and goat stew.

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Don’t miss it!

 

 

HOF Episode 13: Empire of Shepherds (Iran)

Many great moments in civilization happened when cultures of the Far East, interacted with those in the West.  Through all those moments, there was one region which sat between them, one which was always happy to be in the middle, mediating and facilitating exchange of culture, goods, and cusine. That region is Iran!

Persia, Parthia, Elam.  It has gone by many other names through its history, but the Iranian Plateau has always been the great nexus between East and West.

Come for the flatbreads, stay (a couple thousands years) for the rice!

Music for this episode performed by Dariush Talai

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Garum (Fish Sauce) Completed

PREVIOUSLY ON ANTHROCHEF!. . . .

We started a batch of what the Romans called Garum, a delicacy across Ancient cultures: fish sauce! The gross way to say it? Fermented fish guts.

It’s been almost 8 weeks. My layers of salted, chopped sardines have been fermenting in the fridge, their essence dissolving in salt.  This could go for much longer, but I think it’s ready to strain and try!

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Line a mesh strainer with two double layers (yes, a lot) of cheese cloth, pouring in the fish mixture. It will take a long time to strain this way, but you will be rewarded with a cleaner sauce. Feel free to stir to help the process along.

I HIGHLY suggest doing this outside!

And that’s it! The end result is a sauce that’s similar, but also distinct from fish sauce bought in the store.  It’s actually less fishy, with more of a delicious, meaty, umami blast of saltiness.  It’s great in stirfries, mixed with other things into dipping sauces, or added just a couple drops at a time to nearly anything to give great depth of flavor.  It’s no wonder civilizations across history and geography have all enjoyed their own versions of garum.

HOF Episode 12: Herders of the Old World

Welcome to the second Season of the History of Food!

To kick things off, we’ll be walking ground we’ve tread before. The history of pastoral nomadism, that is the animal herders in Europe, Asia, and Africa, has frequently come up in our studies of urban civilizations, but until now, we’ve always looked at them from inside the city walls.

Well, not today. Today, we do our best to head out on the open road, to study the herders and the wanderers, the cheesemakers and the yogurt drinkers, and the monumental effect they had on human history, from their own perspective. Come listen!

AVAILABLE ON ITUNES and GOOGLE PLAY.
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Roman Saturnalia Sweets Plate

It’s Christmas time!  The true meaning of the holiday is complicated, and always has been, thanks to its mix and match ancient origins (yes, before the birth of Jesus).

Even though that famous nativity scene is the official reason for the holiday, many of the activities and traditions we practice at Christmastime come from much older customs celebrating the winter solstice.  Decorated trees, gift giving, holly, mistletoe, caroling, and much more all have ancient, B.C. origins, and were later folded into the Christian celebration.

No ancient holiday influenced Christmas more than the Roman Saturnalia. The actual date of Jesus’s birth is unknown, but in the 4th Century A.D., Pope Julius I declared it to officially be December 25th.  Many speculate that this was to Christianize Saturnalia, a holiday that many in Medieval Europe still celebrated despite the fading out of Rome.

Saturnalia was known for gift giving, charity, and above all, feasting and merriment! So to celebrate, I dug into Apicius for some dulcia, or sweets recipes, to make a dessert plate worthy of both a festive Roman noble, and a  chef and amateur historian thousands of years later.

 

“Roman” Toast, Stuffed candied dates, and fresh cheese with honey! Continue reading “Roman Saturnalia Sweets Plate”

Homemade Garum (Fish Sauce) — PART 1

If I had to name just one ingredient that was key to the ancient world’s cuisine, it might be fish sauce.

All you need are fish and a lot of salt.   An ingenious method of food preservation, its invention too deep in the past to ever know, alongside other legendary foods of yore like bread, beer, and cheese.

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From Sumer onwards, almost all civilizations seem to have made the stuff.  But it was the Romans who called it “garum” and recorded it into history.   Fish sauce could be made at home by poor fishermen families, but there was also a highly expensive market for the very finest vintages of garum. Whatever quality, you can’t make Roman cuisine without it.

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Roman Gardener’s Bounty

We know by now that vegetables made up a huge part of the ancient diet. Across civilizations, the majority of people got most of their calories from grain and veggies alone, and even those few wealthier foils who could afford meat supplemented extensively with plant food.

Food historians know all about the ingredients the ancients ate, but as for exactly how they were prepared, we’re often left in the dark. With the Roman Apicius’s book “On Cookery”, we finally have some recipes that give a little insight. Out of them, I’ve prepared BEETS TWO WAYS, LEEKS AND BEANS, ROAST CABBAGE WITH PORK BELLY, and a GREENS AND FIELD HERBS SALAD.

 

To a modern cook, these recipes might seem basic. But I would argue they only appear that way. These preparations are simple, yet elegant ways to maximize and feature the flavors of individual plants and ingredients. Old world vegetables and spices, prepared at their finest.

So let’s dive right in. Continue reading “Roman Gardener’s Bounty”

Scallop Croquettes in Garum-Wine Reduction Sauce

There are many recipes in Apicius’s On Cookery which, while intriguing, I have little desire to taste.  The sardine and gelatin omelette for instance, or the fried pork livers and brain sausages that were usually paired with the dish I’m making today.

But that so named “Dish of Scallops” is a recipe that caught my eye long ago when I started reading this stuff. It’s something I’ve always wanted to make and taste ever since.  Given its mastery of the Mediterranean, Roman love of shellfish was… well, a given! Herem Apicius presents a delicious, exceedingly refined way to cook some.

Lightly cook scallops or the firm part of oysters.  Remove the hard and objectionable parts, and mince the meat very fine. Mix this with cooked spelt, eggs, and season with pepper. Shape into croquettes and wrap in caul. Fry, and underlay a rich fish sauce and serve as a delicious entree.

We’re going to modify the instructions just a bit.

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HOF Episode 11: Bread and Circuses, but Mostly Bread (Rome)

Rome. Probably what most people think of when they think “Ancient World”. In this episode, however, we discover that in terms of the culinary, the Roman Republic and then Empire was most distinguishable as a lens into the diets and cooking of the wider ancient World before it.

Come listen to find out more.

Music for this episode performed by Michael Levy of Ancient Lyre. His albums An Ancient Lyre, The Ancient Greek Tortoise Shell Lyre, and The Ancient Egyptian Harp are available from all major digital music stores and streaming sites.

AVAILABLE ON ITUNES and GOOGLE PLAY.
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