Clarified butter, known in Hindi as “ghee”, will be our foundation, the base from which all the coming Indian delights will spring. Especially when we temper spices in the ghee when its hot and make “chonk”, it’s almost like magic is being performed. Flavor magic.
What does it mean to clarify butter? We’re going to separate and remove the milk solids from regular butter, leaving behind pure golden butter fat that preserves longer, and can handle sauteing at high temperatures.
Which ancient civilization made the most flavorful cuisine?
Perhaps you could make a case for any of the cuisines and civilizations we’ve covered thus far, and no doubt each one has been best at something. But when it comes to pure, impact of flavor? Nobody beats India.
Thanks to its geography, history, and available ingredients, as well as some impressively advanced cooking techniques we’ll cover in depth, the story of South Asian civilization is the story of spice, rice, and flavor. Oh, and of vegetarians too!
WARNING: side effects of this episode may include getting very, very hungry!
Music for this episode sampled from the late, great Ravi Shankar
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You could file this luxurious dairy recipe under the nomad section, but the Persians carried it with them into civilized life, and called it Kaymak. Pure, heavy cream is cooked low and slow overnight to separate the milk fat. The resulting product is like a cousin to butter, only creamier and a deeper, toastier flavor from the oven.
The technique takes some time, but is ridiculously simple and easy. Clotted cream is most famously put on Biscuits, scones, and bread but why stop there? Use this spreadable, dairy delight in anything you butter on or in! Continue reading “Kaymak (Clotted Cream)”
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!
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”
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.
1 qt milk (goat or cow works too) 4 tbsp. vinegar
2 tsp. salt
-Put the milk on a large pot and heat over medium high heat to 180 fahrenheit (simmering but not quite boiling), stirring constantly to prevent scalding. Switch to a spoon and stir in the vinegar. When you’ve stirred enough to fully mix the vinegar, add the salt and turn off the heat . -Let stand for 15 minutes, or until curds have separated and whey is almost clear. Place two layers of cheesecloth in a fine mesh strainer over a large bowl, and ladle in the curds. —Gently lift the ends of the cheese cloth and the lump of curds. Tie it to your faucet, or two a spoon hanging over a bowl. Let hang for 1 hour, unwrap and turn out into a bowl.
You knew this was coming. After butter and yogurt, here is Anthrochef’s first of many future cheese recipes.
It’s also the simplest, easiest, and quickest way to practice this ancient phenomena of separating moisture from milk fat. Half an hour of work and an hour of waiting time and you can have homemade goat cheese. This is not Chevre. This is a mild and crumbly cheese, comparable to Indian Paneer, making it very versatile in application but not with a lot of personality of its own. Salt is very important to not end up with a bland product.
The only ingredients are milk, vinegar, and salt. And look! I found some fresh, unpasteurized goat’s milk!
Half gallon fresh, or at least non homogenized milk
4 tbsp. Yogurt with culture or sour cream
2 tbsp. Buttermilk
1- In a pot, heat your milk to 100-110 Fahrenheit, stirring constantly. Set aside 10-20 minutes or until 95 degrees.
2- Meanwhile, whisk together Yogurt and buttermilk until combined and thinner.
3- Ladle cooled milk into culture mixture, a little at a time, whisking constantly.
4-Transfer to a new container, covered and wrapped in towels, set in a warmish, dark place for 24-48 hours, depending on desired sourness flavor.
Did you know that most references we have in ancient texts to “milk” were probably referring to fermented milk. The hot climate of the Near East meant that fresh milk would be spoiled quickly unless converted into a more stable dairy product. So, when you hear about the lands of milk and honey, that’s really the lands of yogurt and honey.
Yogurt was first developed by newly lactose tolerant herders in the mountains of Central and West Asia. They stored their fresh milk in bags made from animal stomachs, which just happen to contain the bacteria cultures necessary to ferment milk. A little time in the warm climate, and the herder would have opened their milk bag to find it had curdled into possibly cheese, but more likely at first: Yogurt!
The second episode of our History of Food concerns the greatest turning point in human history since the taming of fire. The New Stone Age, when farming was invented and our species forever changed. What were our lives like, what were we eating, and how those two questions are interconnected.
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.
-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!
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.