The 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.

20171115_141619.jpg

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.

Continue reading “The Best Lentil Soup”

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:

20171018_150416.jpg

Continue reading “TERRACOTTA TANDOORI OVEN”

HOMEMADE BUTTER (the primitive way)

-1 pint heavy cream
-1/2 teaspoon salt
-Quart sized sealable jar

Pour cream into jar, not more than halfway full, and seal.  Shake vigorously for 10-15 minutes (or whip in a stand mixer) until the fat separates and butter is former. Remove butter, pressing out excess buttermilk and rinsing with ice water. Fold in salt, form into shape, and serve immediately (or later if you can stand the wait)

 

Next week, Episode 2 of the Anthrochef podcast, Gardeners of the Neolithic, will be released.  To learn more about the first villagers and settlers who planted the seeds of modern civilization, you will have to tune in on October 9.

But what I can tell you for now is that this is the era where we see the birth of domestic farm animals, and the beginning of human’s love affair with dairy.  Lactose tolerance is one of very few ways we are NOT identical to ancient humans.  Like most animals, humans used to drink breast milk as babies, then lost the ability to digest dairy as they get older.

But as people began putting pens around wild goats and cattle, and the first herding societies took off around 10,000 years ago, that all began to change.  Genes mutated, human evolution continued, and soon enough, many Neolithic people could drink milk into adulthood, and things would never be the same.

Soon enough, we will be taking on fermented milk (yogurt) and cheese, but today we’re going to keep things more basic, with a simple recipe for milk-fat, aka butter!

20170928_182821.jpg

Butter is just the solid fat of milk separated out.  It was very useful to ancient people because it could be stored long term, a great way to extend the life of very perishable milk. All you need to make it is a jar with a lid, ten minutes, and some muscles.

20170928_180834.jpg

Continue reading “HOMEMADE BUTTER (the primitive way)”

STONE AGE STEAK TARTARE

6 oz. beef filet, diced very small
1 egg
2 tbsp mustard seeds
1/2 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
1 tbsp. sesame seeds
1 tbsp. walnuts
1/2 bunch scallion whites or wild onions
sprig of sage
2 tbsp. water

20170920_125306.jpg

Imagine you are someone else. Someone entirely different.  It’s the mid Pleistocene era, almost two million years ago, which means you are not even a homo sapien.  You are homo erectus, an upright, fairly intelligent human ancestor.  You are not the first in the hominid line to eat meat.  Homo Habilis, Homo Ergaster, and even earlier hominids before you were picking already dead carcasses something else had hunted clean and smashing bones to suck out the delicious marrow.

But you, homo erectus, are what we call the first persistent carnivore. You have stepped up your hunting game, and no longer need to scavenge off of bigger predators, meaning you can obtain enough meat to call it a regular part of your diet.

It’s possible you knew how to cook this meat. Anthropologists don’t agree if homo erectus were the first cooks or not.  Either way, you my friend, have been born too early to know the secrets of fire.  You are stuck with raw meat.

All your family and friends are good with just smashing and scarfing, but you feel unsatisfied.  There is something stirring inside you, a desire for flavor, and something novel to eat.  You don’t know this, but you have the inner being of the first chef!

We’re also missing a lot of ingredients to make a “classic”, modern version of steak tartare, namely pickles. But you are an ancient chef.  You are going to make something delicious out of this.  Let’s see what you can gather.

20170920_125410.jpg Continue reading “STONE AGE STEAK TARTARE”

HOF Episode 1: Human Ancestors and Prehistoric Foragers

What makes us human? Humans are just animals who know how to cook. This first episode attempts to explain what humans and our hominid ancestors have been eating for the 6 million years since we first came down from the trees, how taming fire and cooking gave us our big brains and human culture, up through the foraging days of homo sapiens hunting and gathering in the Paleolithic.

ep1albumartowrk

Pleased to finally post the first episode of the AnthroChef Podcast, the History of Food!

 

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 SOUDNCLOUD AND ITUNES.
Please leave a review to help spread the word!

Continue reading “HOF Episode 1: Human Ancestors and Prehistoric Foragers”

FORAGER’S PESTO

 

1/4 cup seeds (pictured sesame seeds)
2 tbsp. nuts (pictures pine and walnuts)
2 tbsp. water
1 bunch wild onions (spring onions or scallions work fine)
1 bunch herbs leafy herbs (pictured carrot tops)

5 oz. greens (pictured Arugula)
1/4 cup ripe berries (pictured raspberries)

Before fire, before homo sapiens even, there was a primitive form of cooking that required no heat or fuel but that of the human body.

The oldest known mortar and pestle goes back almost 40,000 years ago, but we know mashing food goes back to some of our earliest human ancestors, who likely smashed bones to access their delicious marrow.  They turned what whole meat they could scavenge into something like steak tartare. This high calorie, high in protein meat played a big role in growing our brains closer to their modern size.

Human foragers of the past had a vast knowledge of plants, animals, and ecology that would put most of us “civilized” people to shame.  Modern foraging people studied by anthropologists are like nature encyclopedias for their territory.

“Wild” greens, onions, and berries from my territory

Continue reading “FORAGER’S PESTO”