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”.

Continue reading “Corn Tortillas and Charred Salsa”

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.

 

Continue reading “Hand Pulled Noodle Soup”

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”

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.

20180606_175936.jpg

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”

Greek Cheese, Two Ways

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”

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.

20180413_094344.jpg Continue reading “No Knead Sourdough (in terracotta molds)”

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”