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.

 

HOMEMADE BAKLAVA

For the Dough:
500g All Purpose Flour
300ml water
1 tablsepoon coarse salt
1/2 cup melted butter, 1/2 cup vegetable oil mixed together

For the filling:
2 cups mixed nuts (pictured walnuts and pistachios) 
3 tbsp. honey
1 tablspoon freshly ground cinnamon.

For the syrup:
1 cup honey
1/2 cup water
2-4 cinnamon sticks

It starts with just flour and water (and salt of course). Combine and mix with a wooden spoon until all the flour is incorporated into a rough dough.20180628_150759.jpg

Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 8-10 minutes, until smooth and elastic. No shortcuts! If you underknead, the dough will not stretch correctly later.

Divide the dough into four pieces, shape them into balls then flatten them into discs, roughly the size and thickness of your hand or a little bigger.

 

Combine butter and vegetable oil  in a large bowl and layer the discs of dough so as much of their surfaces as possible are submerged in the mixture. It’s okay if they are sticking out a bit though.

Let rest for 30 minutes.

 

Meanwhile, make the filling. Shell the nuts as necessary and grind them in a mortar and pestle or a food processor.  You want a decent mixture of whole crushed pieces of nut with more powdery bits that got the most pulverized.  But err on the side of not over crushing it.

Drizzle in and thoroughly mix three tablespoons of honey. Don’t worry about it not being too sweet. That’s where the syrup comes in later. This is just a touch of that, plus a good binder.

 

Continue reading “Baklava from Scratch”

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.

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.

Continue reading “HOF Episode 8: Hunger and Collapse (Mesopotamia and Bronze Age)”

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”

Octopus Salad

This is classic Ancient Greece. Though not necessarily limited to  classical Ancient Greece.

From the earliest Neolithic settlers, up until the present day really, Octopus Salad represents an Aegean staple.

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This is the ancient version, lacking citrus and using ingredients representative of the ingredients that were available.  The simplest rendition of this is just cold octopus chopped up and tossed in olive oil.  You don’t need more than that, but by adding barley, onions, garlic, greens, and fish sauce, tied with mustard for favorite ancient condiment of the world, we can really build up the flavor. Continue reading “Octopus Salad”