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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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 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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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”

No Knead Sourdough (in terracotta molds)

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.

Thanks to Kathy Caufman’s “Cooking in Ancient Civilizations” for the terracotta method and the idea of using wheat and semolina flour to make a coarse, kind of imitation ancient flour.

20180413_094344.jpg Continue reading “No Knead Sourdough (in terracotta molds)”

Sumerian Onion Bread (for gods or royalty)

No peasant fare today.  This bread is for deities or royalty only.

We know the Sumerians, original urban culture of the world, were obsessed with many types of onions, especially leeks.  We also know that temple priests took great care to prepare special food for their resident god or goddess. Most people used flour that was pretty coarse compared to modern ones, but it’s likely that the finest, and most finely ground, sieved, and combed through flour would go into bread made for Enlil or Inanna, presented by priests at four lavish meals per day, every day.

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This recipe, which is a modern invention, simulates a bread that was fit for the gods by incorporating all-purpose, wheat, and barley flours together with cooked leeks and green onions.  The technique is similar to how Chinese style scallion pancakes are made, but this bread uses a leavened dough and is cooked in pork fat, as the Sumerians loved to do.

(Makes 6 flatbreads)
1.5 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup barley flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 tablespoon (or 1 packet) of yeast
2 teaspoons salt
1.5 cups warm water
1 bunch leeks, sliced
2 bunches spring onions or scallions, sliced
4 tbsp. butter
3-6 thinly sliced strips pork belly (or bacon)

Start by making the dough. Add the yeast to the warm water and let activate for 5-10 minutes. Meanwhile, mix your flours and salt, then combine into a loose dough. Turn onto a surface coated with flour and knead for 10 minutes, until smooth and stretchable.

 

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Fertile Crescent Multi-grain Bread

When times were tough in the ancient world, those dependent on their primitive farms might have come up short on their preferred grains for bread and would have been forced to add other flours to the mix.  For the vast swath of commoners across ancient Mesopotamia, from modern Iran, Iraq, Syria, Turkey, and Mediterranean coast, this hearty multi-grain bread was actually healthier, though nobody knew it at the time.

This bread is made from grains that could be found all over the middle east in 5000 BC. The cultivated wheat and barley, with lentils and chickpeas from the garden, and spelt and rye foraged in the wilderness around the village.

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Like NATUFIAN BARLEY BREAD and MODERN ASH BREAD this is another experiment that allows us to really appreciate the miracle of leavened bread. We’re gonna make this two ways, a leavened sourdough loaf with the knowledge of modern cooking technique, and a cracker like version that’s probably more accurate for what an average peasant had to make do with from time to time. Continue reading “Fertile Crescent Multi-grain Bread”

NATUFIAN BARLEY BREAD

Sometimes eating authentically is not eating deliciously. At least not to our spoiled modern palates.

While still using modern milled flours, this recipe attempts to recreate something like ancient foragers in the Near East might have eaten.  The Natufians were the first society we know of to switch from foraging to intense cultivation, and it changed the world forever. They were still dependent on hunting and gathering, but also began guarding and storing plots of wheat and barley, and it changed them dramatically.

This was the beginning of civilization as we know it today… it’s also unleavened and not exactly palatable…

But to the Natufians  it was everything. Their new permanent villages had giant querns and grinding stones just for milling and shaping this hard to process cereal crop, and ritual houses for the necessary magic to make it work.  Here’s a recipe that might be something like what they threw in the ashes of their fires.

FAIR WARNING: This bread is dense and chewy!! Good for croutons or toast but… not much else.

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MODERN ASH BREAD

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300g all purpose flour (about 2.5 cups)
200g whole wheat flour (about 1.5 cups)
1 tbsp salt
1 tbsp dry active yeast
1 tbsp. honey
3 tbsp. olive oil
350ml warm beer or water (scant 1.5 cups)

This recipe takes the ancient cooking technique, and gives to it modern ingredients, making a stretchier dough with a lighter texture that’s more enjoyable to modern palates. All the smoky flavor of the ashes without the  unleavened chewiness of the more authentic recipe.  This is a great flatbread recipe even for a regular oven, but nothing tastes quite like the ash.

Activate the yeast in the water. After five minutes, whisk in the honey, olive oil, and salt.  Add to flour and stir until a rough dough forms.

 

 

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HOW TO MAKE ASH BREAD

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Just what it sounds like.  Today I made bread in the ashes of the fire.

 

This has become known as kind of an Australian food. But that’s because European colonists copied the Aboriginal peoples who had been doing it for thousands of years.

Many modern people with nomadic traditions, such as the Berbers of North Africa, still cook bread this way, but the roots go deep back into prehistory. Evidence for this practice can be found in ancient cultures all over the world from the Americas, to aboriginal Australia, and most famously in the middle east.

 

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