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”

HOF Episode 8: Hunger and Collapse (Mesopotamia and Bronze Age)

No civilization lasts forever.  In fact, it’s kind of a miracle any starts at all.  The conditions must be exactly right for people to come together into urban environments.  So like an overextended, teetering Jenga tower, it’s not if but when the whole system will fall, as it did again and again across history.

Come listen as we go back to explore the Neolithic, the history of Mesopotamia after Sumer, and finally the Bronze Age, to understand the riddle of why the rise of civilizations is so tied to their collapse.

Theme music by  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.

 

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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”

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”

HOF Episode 7: Age of the Aegean (Greece)

Here we are at last, on the shores of Greece.

It’s a brief retelling of Aegean history, a story you’ve heard before, though perhaps not from a chef’s point of view.  Come for the history, stay for the foods that made them special.  By mastering the sea, the olive, and the grape vine, the Greeks found their own winds toward civilization.

Music by Michael Levy of Ancient Lyre. His original composition “Plato’s Symposium” and the whole album The Ancient Greek Tortoise Shell Lyre and much more are available from all major digital music stores and streaming sites.

AVAILABLE ON ITUNES and GOOGLE PLAY.
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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.

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