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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NO KNEAD SOURDOUGH

(makes 2 small loaves)

350g whole wheat flour
150g semolina flour
350ml warm water
1 tbsp salt
1/4 cup sourdough starter or 1/2 teaspoon dry yeast
4 tbsp lard
2 6″ diameter Terracotta pots

Combine the water and sourdough starter (or yeast) in a large bowl. Let activate for 5 minutes, then add the salt and flours, stirring together with a wooden spoon.  You should form a very wet dough.  If it has a lot of structure, add a little more water. If you can handle it with your hand, add a little more water.

Give the dough a sort of spoon kneading for half a minute, then cover with plastic and wait for 15 minutes.  Knead with the spoon again, recover, and repeat the process after 15 more minutes.

Now cover, and leave at room temperature for 18-24 hours! Yes, that long. We want a lot of proofing and a lot of flavor.

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Look at all those sexy bubbles.

The next day, prepare the pots. Rub the insides with a thin coating of lard.  Place in the oven, preheat it to 300F, then turn the oven off once its up to temp and let the pots cool to room temperature. This will give us a sort of ancient non stick coating.

When you’re almost ready to bake, turn out the proofed dough onto a surface coated lightly in semolina and divide in two.  Lightly shape each into a ball and cover loosely with plastic.  Let proof for one more hour.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 450F, with the terracotta pots on a baking sheet inside.  When the loaves have proofed for their hour and the oven and pots are blazing hot.  Using oven mits or dry kitchen towels, carefully drop the bread onto the baking sheet and invert the pots over them.  If the loaves are too large to fit, fold them underneath themselves a bit to compress the circumference.

Bake for 15 minutes, then turn off the oven but do not open the door. Let the bread cook in the cooling oven another 30 minutes, then take it out and let cool inside the mold.

When everything is cooled off, the mold should lift right up, and you should have a nicely rounded sourdough loaf full of proofing holes, the mark of flavor.  If any of your crust didn’t make it under the pot like in the picture below, simply break it off, nice and easy.

Egyptian Cassoulet (Broad Bean and Salted Meat Stew)

Here is yet another invented Egyptian recipe (because the Egyptians left no recipes that we have found).  Cassoulet is a much later french dish, variations on a peasant stew with salted meats and legumes.  It’s very possible the Ancient Egyptians, of course loving both of those ingredients, would have eaten something similar.

This dish may appear simple, but it’s packed with the deepest flavor you can imagine.  It’s hearty and filling too, and goes great with a loaf of Multi-grain Bread.

In early Egyptian history, the presence of meat makes this an elite dish.  But wild water fowl like ducks could have occasionally been caught by both rich or poor, and later on, especially during the New Kingdom, pork became more affordable to those not of the upper crust.

Finally, Egyptians grew old world broad beans, particularly a variety called a lupine, which required soaking for several days to make non-toxic.  We’re going to substitute Fava Beans, which are indigenous to North Africa.

That gives us the 3 main ingredients we need to make this all day stew.  Duck, Salt Potk, and Fava Beans.  Let’s make Egyptian Cassoulet. Continue reading “Egyptian Cassoulet (Broad Bean and Salted Meat Stew)”

Quick-Pickled Fish and Chopped Salad

Here we have a dish that is inspired by Egypt, but  is not an actual Egyptian recipe.  There are no Egyptian recipes. They either didn’t write any, or we haven’t found them.

But through paintings, textual references, and actual meals left behind for archeologists to discover, we can still infer a lot about Ancient Egyptian cuisine.

River fish, particularly mullet, was probably important for rich and poor alike, and Egyptian morticians/chefs worked together to discover the secrets of pickling both food and corpses.  Pickled fish not only allowed for preservation of a natural resource, it was considered quite a delicacy.

This fish is what I’m calling “Quick pickled.” It’s really more of a poached fish, but by doing it in vinegar you can achieve a mild, not too intense pickle flavor that make the fish a nice topper for salads or other cold sides. Continue reading “Quick-Pickled Fish and Chopped Salad”

HOF Episode 5: Un Otro Mundo (Andean Civilization)

Sumer was the oldest urban civilization, but not by much.  Second place followed quickly, and incredibly was across the ocean in South America.

People on the coast of modern Peru kickstarted a multi-millennium wave of Andean civilization, passing down a legacy of culture, religion, and cuisine all the way down to the Incas, and do so with methods that will turn everything anthropologists thought they knew about civilization on its head.

We’ve neglected the Andeans thus far, but no longer. It’s time to take a closer look.

AVAILABLE ON SOUNDCLOUD AND ITUNES.
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Continue reading “HOF Episode 5: Un Otro Mundo (Andean Civilization)”

Sumerian Sweets Table

In an effort to please their gods, the ancient Sumerians, first people to build urban civilization, invented professional cooking and high cuisine.  Cities’ patron deities were literally fed four lavish meals with multiple courses every day.

It’s not clear if they yet had a concept of “dessert” as its own special part of a meal, but fruit, nuts, pastries, confections, and other items sweetened with “honey” (what the Sumerians called date syrup) were definitely consumed at least as part of the overall meal.

As we’ve mentioned before, cane sugar was unheard of in the old world.  That means these desserts, while still rich and satisfying for a sweet tooth’s craiving, derive all that sweetness from fruit, particularly dates.  That means this entire  plate has ZERO ADDED SUGAR, and is as healthy a dessert as you can get, short of just eating plain fruit.

So that’s what we’re doing today.  This recipe post is actually several recipes in one, as we attempt to construct an authentic Sumerian sweets table, fit for a god or goddess. We’ll be making Mersu (date and pistachio bites), Sesame date buns, Palace Cake, Date and Barley porridge, and a Yogurt Lassi to wash it all down.

To get started, let’s make some homemade raisins.

Continue reading “Sumerian Sweets Table”

Sumerian Beer

Our first real recipe from history. . . why not for a beverage?

The discovery of beer goes far back into Neolithic times. It’s reasonable to assume that the first beers were made by accident, when porridge or mash from grain malted for other purposes was left too long for whatever reason, and fermented.

Thus by the 2000sBC and the rise of  Mesopotamian civilization, people were already proficient brewers.  Sumerian texts mention eight barley beers, eight emmer beers and three mixed beers (one of which we’ll be making today) This special beverage was made from the same grains which the Sumerians were well aware how important it was to their civilization. As such, brewing was sacred, serious business.


Sumerians drinking beer through giant straws, via biblicalarchaeology.org

The Hymn to the goddess of brewing Ninkasi, from around 1800BC at the peak of Sumerian culture, not only shows the peoples’ reverence and awe at this fermented beverage, but also contains a recipe for how to make the stuff! Modern brewers have taken the instructions and recreated this ancient recipe for barley and wheat beer, which Cathy K. Kaufman handily publishes in her great book Cooking in Ancient Civilizations.

The basic method is to malt some wheat berries, then soak them with water, yeast, date-syrup, and a par cooked, fermented loaf of barley dough.  The whole process takes about a week and yields a mild, pale brew that’s only 2% alcohol and doesn’t quite taste like what you’re used to in modern beers.

But it’s not unpleasant!  And it does the job. I would compare the flavor more to cider than to beer. Barley cider if you will, but this is a close approximation of the kind of draught which helped build a civilization. Continue reading “Sumerian Beer”

Ancient Honey (date) Mustard

“Mustard is a plant. Mustard is an herb. Mustard is a condiment. Mustard is a sauce. Mustard is a green leafy vegetable. Mustard is a natural medicine.”
—via foodtimeline.org, Oxford Companion to Food, Alan Davidson [Oxford University Press:Oxford] 1999

Mustard is not only my favorite condiment, in all its forms. It is the original condiment. Ground wild mustard seed paste goes back far into prehistory. We can’t even say who or when it was invented.

We do know it was popular with the Sumerians and their descendents, covered in HISTORY OF FOOD EPISODE 4: How to Turn Food into Wealth.  Mustard was used for both its seeds and its leaves, and is referenced in multiple cuneiform texts.

This is my version of a sweet and spicy ancient honey mustard, using dates and their syrup as the sweetener and nothing else but mustard seeds and vinegar.  But you can use any combination of seeds, greens, other spices, herbs, or milk can make your own favorite mustard.

For Pickled Mustard Seeds:
1/2 cup mixed mustard seeds
2 cups vinegar, boiled

Pour the boiling vinegar over the mustard seeds and let sit and room temperature for 24 hours.

 

For dry mix:
1/2 cup mixed mustard seeds
2 teaspoons salt Continue reading “Ancient Honey (date) Mustard”