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”

Millet and Fermented Vegetable Dumplings, ancient style

The invention of the dumpling might be as early as the invention of dough and boiled water. Dumplings may have been around before breads or even porridge, perhaps the first, simplest way humans figured out how to cook wild grains.

Hand ground millet may not produce the most beautiful dumplings, but these boiled lumps of dough and “filling” are meant to be a more primitive style proto-dumpling, the kind of early processes that would eventually lead to the later artistry of dumpling making in Ancient all the way to modern China.

As for fermented vegetables, while we feature them for our early Chinese dumplings recipe, Ancient China was by no means the only group of peoples to ferment vegetables. The simple process of brining food in salt water for several days to induce natural preservation and robust pickly flavor (unknown at the time to be microbial life and fermentation) was practiced all over the Ancient world, on all kinds of foods.

You can ferment any vegetable and use any spices you want. Really. Anything.  Be like a true ancient and never be afraid to experiment.  Here is a mix of in season veggies from my garden: carrots, green and wax beans, and rhubarb, with fresh coriander seeds and a couple cloves of garlic.  All of which, though maybe in more primitive forms, would have been available in Europe and Asia long ago.

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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”

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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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”