Corn Tortillas and Charred Salsa

The Mesoamerican food we’ve all been waiting for.

Unlike many ancient foods we recreate here, tortillas survive as a popular staple to this day, beyond their birth place and all around the world. Sure, there are other foods of the ancient world that are still part of modern diets, unspecific generalities like”soup” or “bread”.  But corn tortillas, made of nothing but nixtamalified maíz, salt and water and cooked in seconds on a hot griddle, come down to us as is.

Tortillas were of course a staple of all the famous societies of Ancient Mexico, including the Olmec, the Maya, and the Aztecs.  Both wealthy and poor people ate them regularly across history.  Only tamales surpass them as the aboriginal food of Mesoamerica.

Then, as is still the case now, you don’t need more than a little salsa to top it off.  This was usually some kind of pure chili paste, but avocados could be involved as well.  For generations, Mesoamericans rightly associated tomatoes with nightshade but wrongly believed that tomatoes were poisonous. Eventually though, they caught on, and must have incorporated them into their “tacos”.

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Red Posole with Turkey

There’s nothing quite like a hot, spicy spoonful of posole. This tamalified corn and chili pepper soup, a classic Mexican comfort food, has deeply ancient origins, maybe even as far back as the invention of agriculture in Mesoamerica, when the barely edible grass teosinte was miraculously domesticated into maíz.

 

The original posole was more like a corn porridge than the modern soup. Grains of maíz were soaked in a lime solution, then cooked into hominy.  The mash was then left to ferment into a kind of sourdough, to make a tangy gruel that was filling and had a long shelf life.  Nutritionally sound, flavored with anything (but most often chilis), this was the standard breakfast in many ancient Mesoamerican cultures, for both rich and poor.

This recipe is a sort of combination of that ancient sourdough porridge, and a modern posole.  Tamalified corn is  left to ferment just a bit before being cooked through and turned into soup.  While your average Mesoamerican commoner had to make do with corn and chilis alone for the base flavor, wealthy elites would have had access to some wild meats like deer or turkey, so we’re using the latter to make this rich man’s posole. Continue reading “Red Posole with Turkey”

Mayan Hot Chocolate

Behold, chocolate!

It may have been the Olmec or one of the other mother cultures of Mesoamerica who first learned to ferment cacao beans into chocolate and turn it into a drink.  It was the Maya who took a particular love to it, and it was the Triple Alliance, or Aztec Empire, which carried on the tradition.

Ancient Mesoamericans didn’t add sugar to their chocolate. They loved the bitter taste, though they did like to flavor it with other things, like vanilla and most famously chili peppers. This frothing draught was a blast of intense flavors.

Modern Mexican hot chocolate, or champurrado, is made by combining sweetened chocolate with tamalified corn, or masa.  This recipe is a combination of the ancient drink and the modern treat, made from pure raw ingredients: corn, cacao beans, and chili pepper. Continue reading “Mayan Hot Chocolate”

HOF Episode 10: Hombres de Maíz (Mesoamerica)

Of all the food discoveries made across the ancient world, few are more impressive than the domestication and then nixtamlization of maize (corn) in the lands that would one day be called Mexico and Central America.

Mesoamerica is one of just three places where urban civilization evolved from scratch. Come listen, and be amazed how it happened.

Music for this episode performed by  Ricardo Lozano and Jorge Ramos. Continue reading “HOF Episode 10: Hombres de Maíz (Mesoamerica)”

Hand Pulled Noodle Soup

It wasn’t known for sure until recently, but archaeological evidence has confirmed that the noodle was invented in Ancient China. The oldest ever found were made out of millet, which is hard for me to imagine. This recipe is much easier than that prehistoric version, following the later Northern Chinese tradition of cooking with wheat.

With refined wheat flour, making hand made noodles and an amazing soup to go with them (in this case a pork bone broth with greens) is really very simple. It just takes time, time to build a flavorful broth, and time for the gluten to develop in the pasta dough to make it elastic and stretchable.

 

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HOF Episode 9: Raw and Cooked (China)

What does it mean to be a raw (barbarian) person vs. a cooked (civilized) person? To find out, our culinary and historical journey heads east. Far East, to the lands of the Yellow and Yangtze Rivers. Ancient China.

Guzheng music for this episode performed by   musician Bei Bei in Los Angeles, California and by Sound of China Guzheng Instruments Continue reading “HOF Episode 9: Raw and Cooked (China)”

Falafel and Babaganoush

The specific dish  Falafel was officially invented barely a thousand years ago,  probably either in the Levant or in Egypt.  Some food historians, however, believe that the concept of ground chickpea balls, deep fried, goes back to more ancient times.

The same goes for babaganoush  In its official conception? A more recent invention. But eggplants were grown since neolithic times. Are you telling me no one ever roasted and mashed one over all those thousands of years? Whose to say they didn’t add onions, garlic, and sesame paste for flavor.

The point is, I think you can make an argument for these dishes in some form go back much further than their official, modern incarnations.  Especially in the Bronze Age near east, when trade networks enabled ingredients to spread, and improved metallurgy enabled deep frying to go widespread, even to poorer people, who could now get their daily chickpeas and lentils in delicious fritter form, possibly as a street food.

We can’t know for sure if the ancients really ate this, but we can certainly imagine its possibility.  So here’s my take on falafel with babaganoush. Continue reading “Falafel and Babaganoush”