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.
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”
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”
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.
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”
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.
No peasant fare today. This bread is for deities or royalty only.
We know the Sumerians, original urban culture of the world, were obsessed with many types of onions, especially leeks. We also know that temple priests took great care to prepare special food for their resident god or goddess. Most people used flour that was pretty coarse compared to modern ones, but it’s likely that the finest, and most finely ground, sieved, and combed through flour would go into bread made for Enlil or Inanna, presented by priests at four lavish meals per day, every day.
This recipe, which is a modern invention, simulates a bread that was fit for the gods by incorporating all-purpose, wheat, and barley flours together with cooked leeks and green onions. The technique is similar to how Chinese style scallion pancakes are made, but this bread uses a leavened dough and is cooked in pork fat, as the Sumerians loved to do.
(Makes 6 flatbreads) 1.5 cups all-purpose flour 1 cup barley flour 1/2 cup whole wheat flour 1/2 tablespoon (or 1 packet) of yeast 2 teaspoons salt 1.5 cups warm water 1 bunch leeks, sliced 2 bunches spring onions or scallions, sliced 4 tbsp. butter 3-6 thinly sliced strips pork belly (or bacon)
Start by making the dough. Add the yeast to the warm water and let activate for 5-10 minutes. Meanwhile, mix your flours and salt, then combine into a loose dough. Turn onto a surface coated with flour and knead for 10 minutes, until smooth and stretchable.
“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.
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.
We’ve done it. We’ve finally crossed into the realm of written records and recorded history. Join me on an odyssey going back 6,000 years ago, when the Sumerians of what is today southern Iraq, took a mega-surplus of grain and transformed it directly into wealth and power. In the process, they managed to invent cities, urbanism, and all the trappings modern civilization. (Not to mention the first written recipes and cookbooks)
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.
When times were tough in the ancient world, those dependent on their primitive farms might have come up short on their preferred grains for bread and would have been forced to add other flours to the mix. For the vast swath of commoners across ancient Mesopotamia, from modern Iran, Iraq, Syria, Turkey, and Mediterranean coast, this hearty multi-grain bread was actually healthier, though nobody knew it at the time.
This bread is made from grains that could be found all over the middle east in 5000 BC. The cultivated wheat and barley, with lentils and chickpeas from the garden, and spelt and rye foraged in the wilderness around the village.
To accompany the Mesoamerican section of episode 3 of the History of Food, we’re making authentic ancient tamales in the earth oven, just like would have been done in pre-urban Mexico and Guatemala.
These tamales are a little plain, and lack the fat and leavening agents that help make modern tamales so delicious. We’re making ours with only the ingredients the ancient Mesoamericans had, that is with corn, lime, and water.
But that’s okay, we’ve got some other authentic ingredients to help the flavor along. Black beans for filling, and chili sauce for garnish, and roasted squash as a side are going to give us flavor and depth, even if the tamale itself is bare bones.
Sweetcorn or Popcorn won’t work. You need plain field corn for this, which in some areas can be hard to come by. You can find it in many Mexican markets, almost any tortilleria, or if you’re truly lucky, a farmer.
For the tamales:
400g Plain Field corn (NOT sweet or popcorn)
6g Cal (pickling lime)
5 cups water
Dried corn husks for wrapping the tamales
For the Black bean filling:
3/4 cup dry black beans 5 cups water 1 fresh chile 1 medium onion
For the Chili sauce: 6-7 fresh chiles Seeds from 1 squash or pumpkin water