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Wonders of the World

Wonders of the World: the podcast that visits the great places on Earth to tell the story of our people, our civilization, and our planet.
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Thank you for visiting the website for the Wonders of the World podcast.  I'm still trying to figure this all out, so I fully admit it is not very beautiful.  Check back here for more episodes and more recipes!

Jan 12, 2018

Soupe au pistou is a classic Provençal dish: ripe vegetables, fresh herbs, inexpensive ingredients.  Soul-warming, bone-sticking nutrition in a bowl.  It’s sort of like minestrone: a bean soup, flavored with fresh herbs, then with any vegetable you can think of thrown in, but especially tomatoes, then some pasta to provide a little thickening.  Traditionalists say it requires haricots vests, zucchini (or courgettes, if you go that way), potatoes and tomatoes, but others say it’s whatever you have handy.

The secret to soupe au pistou, though, is the pistou itself: a dollop of basil/garlic/olive oil sauce on top.  Don’t call it pesto - that would contain pine nuts, which pistou does not.  Again, traditionalists say no cheese either, but I find a little Gruyere helps to make it smooth and delicious.

There are countless recipes for soupe au pistou out there.  This is one I used, and it came out great.  Well, I didn’t exactly.  I didn’t have the cabbage and forgot the zucchini.  I think both would help boost the flavor. 

Two other notes:  I didn’t have a bay leaf and used rosemary, which was nice but obviously quite different.  The most important thing here is to ensure that you have the herbs ties up or contained; otherwise, they fall apart and you’re left with random rosemary needles.

Second, If you’re using green beans, make sure they are cut into small lengths so they’ll fit on a spoon.   

The thrill is stirring that bright green dollop of pistou into the soup.  It’s delicious.  My son loved this one, especially with a fresh, warm baguette to soak up the soup.  We also had some French butter on hand, which was very pleasant with the bread. 

Be forewarned: this makes a LOT, so don’t make a vat of it the day before you go away on a four-day business trip.  Bon appétit!

Serves 8 at least

INGREDIENTS

FOR THE SOUP

  • 1 ½ cups (360 ml) white beans, soaked for six hours in 6 cups water and drained
  • 2 quarts (1.9 liters) water
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 4 large garlic cloves, minced or pressed
  • A bouquet garni made with a few sprigs each thyme and parsley, a Parmesan rind and a bay leaf
  • Salt to taste
  • 1 tablespoon (15 ml) extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 leeks, white and light green part only, cleaned and sliced
  • 1 pound tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped, or 1 can, with liquid
  • 2 cups shredded savoy or green cabbage
  • 2 large carrots, diced
  • 2 celery stalks, diced
  • 1 medium-size zucchini, scrubbed and diced
  • 2 medium-size turnips, peeled and diced
  • ½ pound (250 g) green beans, trimmed and broken into 1-inch pieces (about 2 cups), blanched for five minutes and set aside
  • ½ cup (120 ml) soup pasta, such as macaroni or small shells (or ditalini if you have some left over from when you tried the koshari recipe!)
  • Freshly ground pepper

FOR THE PISTOU

  • 2 large garlic cloves, halved, green shoots removed
  • Salt to taste
  • 2 cups, tightly packed, fresh basil leaves
  •  cup (80 ml) extra virgin olive oil
  • ½ cup (120 ml) freshly grated Gruyere
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • ½ cup (120 ml) freshly grated Gruyere for sprinkling

STEPS

  1. Drain the white beans and combine with 2 quarts water in a large, heavy soup pot or Dutch oven. Bring to a boil. Skim off any foam, then add half the onion, half the garlic and the bouquet garni. Reduce the heat, cover and simmer 45 minutes. Add salt to taste.
  2. Heat the olive oil in a heavy skillet, and add the remaining chopped onion and a generous pinch of salt. Cook, stirring, until tender, about five minutes. Add the leeks and remaining garlic. Stir together for a few minutes, and add the tomatoes. Cook, stirring, until the tomatoes have cooked down slightly and the mixture is fragrant, five to 10 minutes. Stir this mixture into the soup pot, add all of the remaining vegetables except the green beans, and bring back to a simmer. Cover and simmer over low heat for 45 minutes to an hour. Taste and adjust the seasonings.  By sautéing the aromatics before adding them to the soup, you help their flavor develop  an additional richness.
  3. While the soup is simmering, blanch the green beans for five minutes in salted boiling water. Transfer to a bowl of ice-cold water. Drain and set aside.
  4. To make the pistou, mash the garlic with a generous pinch of salt in a mortar and pestle. Remove it and set aside. Grind the basil to a paste in the mortar, a handful at a time, then add the garlic back in and mix together well. Work in the olive oil a tablespoon at a time, then stir in the cheese.  You can use a food processor too.  It’s really OK.
  5. Add the pasta to the simmering soup about 10 minutes before serving, and cook until cooked al dente. Add pepper, taste and adjust salt. Stir the blanched green beans into the soup and heat through. Serve, adding a spoonful of pesto to each bowl for guests to stir in. Pass additional Parmesan for sprinkling.

Recipe adapted from https://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/1013986-soupe-au-pistou.  Image from wikipedia.fr

Jan 9, 2018

Julius Caesar takes on Vercingetorix and the Gauls as we travel to Provence in Southern France.  The Pont du Gard is a Roman aqueduct, the largest left standing, and it's just one of the many legacies the Romans left in the land of lavender and sunshine.

While here, we visit Avignon and spend a detour talking about the papacy and the Slap of Agnani - one of those surprising little histories we've all forgotten that had a tremendous impact on the world.

To eat, how about some ratatouille?  Except that it's January and so good tomatoes are hard to find.  So let's try soupe au pistou instead!

Bienvenue!

Dec 25, 2017

Bonus Episode! We have a running joke on this podcast about Demetrius Poliorcetes, Besieger of Cities. Despite having failed spectacularly at besieging Rhodes, he left a remarkable legacy across the Hellenistic world.  Well, as a Christmas treat, I give you his full story.

It's AMAZING.

There is no full-length modern history of Demetrius, and there ought to be.  He went from young upstart general to savior-god of Athens to death in a prison cell.  Very few people had the ups and downs of this man, and in the process, he experienced many of our wonders in a way that few people have.  And in a very real way, his story is our story, for good or for bad.

Many thanks to Plutarch for the primary material.  And Happy Holidays!

Dec 21, 2017

Moutabel* is a smoky eggplant (or aubergine) dip from the Levant which is particularly popular in Jordan.  You would enjoy this with warm pita bread as part of a mezze, a large spread of appetizers like hummus, tabouleh, and other delicious taste sensations.

What makes moutabel different from baba ghanoush is the addition of tahini, that almost peanut buttery sesame paste.  This makes moutabel significantly smoother in texture, which I like, without overwhelming the eggplant and garlic.

The key to successful eggplant spreads is the cooking.  Flame-grilled is the best way to go, but roasting in an oven is fine too.  It’s important not only to make sure the skin is blackened all over but that the eggplant has basically been cooked into a soft goo.  If you think it’s done, it’s probably not done.  The more you cook out the liquid and break down the fibers, the better your dip will be.

I’ll be honest - I’m giving this recipe now, but I won’t try it myself until the summer.  Getting a perfect ripe eggplant makes a huge difference, and this is really a summery dip, with the bright lemon and garlic.  So save this for later, OR if you’re one of my Australian or New Zealander listeners, enjoy RIGHT NOW!  And then, let me know how it is!

Serves 4

INGREDIENTS

Filling:

  • 2 large eggplant (about 850 grams)
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 cup tahini paste (120 ml)
  • 1/2 cup lemon juice (120 ml)
  • 2 teaspoon salt (or to taste) (10 ml)
  • 1/4 cup olive oil (60 ml)
  • Dried mint or parsley for garnish
  • za'atar (spice blend) for garnish

STEPS

  1. Place the unpeeled eggplants (aubergines) directly on the stove-top over a medium heat. Leave it roasting and keep turning from side to side until the skin is blackened and pulp is soft and tender. This process takes about 15 minutes in total.  Be aware that the eggplant can pop, so it might get messy.
  2. Trim the stem off from the eggplant and remove the seeds (if any). Put the eggplant in a sieve or colander and let it drain for 30 minutes.  You can squeeze out the excess liquid if you’re in a rush.
  3. In a serving bowl, mix the tahini and lemon juice until the tahini is well blended.  Add the garlic and salt and blend it in.
  4. In the strainer, mash the eggplant gently with a fork, then add it to the lemon/tahini mixture.  Mix all ingredients together until well combined. Taste to adjust salt and lemon.
  5. Spread the dip in serving plate, drizzle with olive oil and garnish with a pinch of crushed dried mint and a sprinkling of za'atar. Serve warm or cold with pita or taboun bread.

Recipe adapted from http://www.kitchenofpalestine.com/mutabbal and https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/wordofmouth/2013/sep/25/how-to-make-perfect-baba-ganoush.

Photograph from: http://bennydoro.com/chef/recipes/moutabal-roasted-eggplant-dip/ since I haven't made it myself yet.

Moutabel, or moutabal, or muttabal, or mutabbal - I’ve seen all of these, and if anyone can tell me a really good transliteration, I sure would appreciate it.

Dec 19, 2017

Lost city of the Nabataeans, the rock-cut city of Petra has been rightfully celebrated as a Wonder of the World, at least since that Indiana Jones movie. But the story is well worth telling. We'll talk about the Nabataeans, their caravans, and their run-ins with the Greeks, Romans and Judeans.  We'll meet Pompey the Pompous.  And we'll eat Bedouin classics from underground pit ovens.

Stephanie Craig from the History Fangirl podcast shares her experiences traveling in Jordan.  For such a small country, there's so much there.  You will have chosen wisely to download this episode.  Enjoy!

Dec 11, 2017

This is the easiest pasta to make, and the easiest pasta to mess up.  There are four ingredients:

  1. pasta, preferably spaghetti - long, thin (but not too thin) and able to be completely coated in sauce
  2. water, specifically the water used to cook the pasta
  3. fresh cracked black pepper
  4. Pecorino Romano, a hard, salty sheep’s milk cheese that Romans have been eating since the legionaries were marching on Carthage. 

You’d think this would be so easy.  I mean, it’s basically Roman mac n’ cheese.  But you’d be surprised how easy it is to get really greasy or clumpy or both.  You’re trying to make a creamy sauce from a hard cheese.  But it can be done!

Here’s secret one: grate the Pecorino as fine as you can.  The finer it is, the easier it will emulsify into your sauce. 

Secret two: save a little pasta water - that’s the water you cook your pasta in.  Makes a huge difference in making your sauce silky since the water contains starch, which will again help to emulsify. 

Secret three: don’t try to make this a one-pot dish.  You’ll end up overcooking the cheese, which leads to lumps.  Instead try this.  Cook your spaghetti in well-salted water.  And yes, spaghetti really is the winner here.  Not so thin that it falls apart, but not so thick that portions get uncovered in sauce.  Short pastas would be less appealing here too.  Before you drain your pasta, be sure to save a cup or so of your pasta water.

OK. Now add the warm pasta water to a separate pot with your finely grated cheese, about 2 cups or 110 grams.  Stir until it’s all completely melty and beautiful.  If it looks as though it’s breaking, add a little more pasta water.  Then tong in the pasta and mix it all up so it’s all coated.  Buon appetito! 

Serves 4

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 lb / 450 g spaghetti
  • Water
  • Salt
  • 5 tsp Fresh Ground Black Pepper
  • 180 g Pecorino Romano cheese, grated fine (approximately 1.75 cups)

STEPS

  1. Toast the pepper in a hot, dry dutch oven until it smells fragrant.  Then set aside.
  2. Cook the spaghetti in well-salted water in a pot according to directions.  DO NOT use too much water - there should only be enough water to cover the pasta.  Too much water means not enough starch in the pasta water.
  3. Save a cup (240 ml) of pasta water before draining the pasta.  Then drain and set aside.
  4. In the dutch oven, which should still be a little warm, mix the cheese and pepper and slowly add some of the water, while mixing to create a paste.  Then add a little more pasta water to transform the paste into a sauce.
  5. Lastly, add the pasta and toss like crazy.  Add more water if you need to.  Then savor the amazing wonder that is cacio e pepe.

Recipe adapted from https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/wordofmouth/2016/nov/03/how-to-make-the-perfect-cacio-e-pepe

Dec 7, 2017

Back for Part II! Nitin Sil from the Flash Point History podcast joins me to discuss the Second Punic War, Hannibal, and Scipio. Was Hannibal crossing the Alps really a big deal? How did Rome win in the end?

I also talk about mathematician and defense contractor extraordinaire Archimedes and his antique death ray!

Plus, finally, a play-by-play of the Roman Forum, how to stroll the streets of modern Rome, and enjoying pecorino romano cheese. If you don't crave spaghetti cacio e pepe now, you will!

Nov 28, 2017

An episode so big I had to break it in half! Here comes Rome, both the vibrant, chaotic, eye-catching capital of Italy, and the civilization that made that capital possible.  This episode looks at the rise of Rome and the first Punic War with Carthage, that other great Mediterranean Empire.

We'll take side trips to Sicily as well as Tunisia to talk about cannoli and harissa.  Worth it.  In fact, I get so caught up talking about Rome vs Carthage that I don't even get to the Roman Forum itself.  That's OK - there's always next week, when Part II will take us to the Eternal City for a sunset look at the ruins.

Nov 4, 2017

It's our FIRST ANNIVERSARY. To celebrate, let's explore EPCOT: a place you can visit many wonders of the world, all at once. Sort of. What you might not expect is its fascinating history and the weird vision Walt Disney had for his Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow. 

There's also a "state of the podcast" bit at the end and a giant thank you to you for listening to me ramble all these months.

Oct 24, 2017

Xi’an, being on the silk road, sits at a fascinating middle ground between east and west, only in this case, west means not Europe but the steppes of Central Asia.

This soup reflects that heritage: it blends Chinese spices and flavors (ginger, star anise, sichuan peppercorns) with lamb, a very Central Asian meat, and bread.  The bread is almost a homestyle flour tortilla or naan, meant to be ripped apart and doused in the soup, to thicken and dissolve in the broth.

Noodles make an appearance as well, and the entire experience is one of warmth, both temperature, spiciness, and soul-warming home-ish-ness.  That’s not a word.

I think I’m going to try this with chicken, since my wife will go for that.  Its won’t be the same!  But at least it’s close.  Try this out and let me know what you think!

Serves 4

INGREDIENTS

Soup:

  • 1 1/2 pounds (3 kg) boneless lamb (mutton, goat or stew-grade beef also work)
  • 10 cups ( litres) beef stock
  • 1 tsp (5 ml) fennel seeds
  • 1 tsp (5 ml) Sichuan peppercorns
  • 2 star anise pods
  • 1 small stick cinnamon
  • 2 or 3 dried Thai chiles
  • 2 inches (5 cm) fresh ginger, smashed
  • 5 green onions, trimmed, lightly smashed
  • 1 tsp (5 ml) sea salt, or to taste

Bread:

  • 2 cups (250 g) flour
  • 2/3 cup water
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder

Finishing touches:

  • 2 bundles cellophane noodles, soaked in cool water until soft
  • 1/4 cup ( ml) dried wood ear mushrooms, soaked in to water for at least an hour
  • handful of cilantro, chopped
  • chili paste or oil, to taste
  • black vinegar, to taste

STEPS

  1. Cut the meat up into inch (2 cm) size cubes or so.  Place them in a large dutch oven or soup pot, cover with water, and boil for about 10 minutes, just to remove the initial fat.  Pour out the water and the scum which forms on top, and rise the meat in a colander.  Rinse out the pot / dutch oven and replace the parboiled meat and add the stock.
  2. If you have a mesh ball to hold spices, great - if not, use a piece of cheesecloth tied with twine.  You’ll use this to hold the fennel seeds and Sichuan peppercorns.  Add this package to the soup, along with the rest of the spices and flavorings (star anise, cinnamon, chiles, ginger, and green onions. Bring to a simmer and cook for 2 hours, covered.  If all of that is too difficult, just throw the spices in.
  3. While the soup is simmering away, make the bread.  Mix the flour and baking powder together, add water and knead it together.  Cover and let rise for 30 minutes or so. 
  4. Heat up a wok or frying pan without oil to medium-high.  Take small pieces  from the dough and roll them out into circles around 1/3 inch (less than a cm) thick.
  5. Slap each one onto the wok, let them get brown on each side and then set aside.  Like making a tortilla, except without the press and not as thin.
  6. Throw the noodles and mushrooms into the soup.  Serve with cilantro, vinegar and chili sauce as condiments.  Break the bread up into the stew as a thickener, like fritos in chili.  Yum.

Recipe adapted from All Under Heaven: Recipes from the 35 Cuisines of China but Carolyn Phillips and from https://liviblogs.blogspot.co.uk/2016/08/yang-rou-pao-mo-recipe.html

 

Oct 24, 2017

They stand row on row in silent guard of a long-dead autocrat. The Terracotta Army, built to defend the tomb of China's First Emperor, Qin Shi Huangdi, are the greatest archaeological discovery of the 20th century.

Joined by Abel Kay, we look into the story of the Emperor who unified China, and the ruthless path he took to do it.  

We'll talk about scheming merchants, pretend eunuchs, beheaded generals, assassins, scholars buried alive, rivers of mercury, and the secret to immortality.  Sound like enough for you?

We'll also explore Xian, imperial city, and sample some biang biang noodles and lamb bread soup.

On the way, there might be a detour to Indianapolis, because why not?

Oct 10, 2017

One of the special pleasures in life is a cold spread coating a piece of warm, fresh-from-the-oven bread, and this one from Greece is my favorite.

It’s fiendishly easy and magnificently garlicky.  If you don’t like garlic, then give this a pass. Not for vampires.

Basically, you boil potatoes, and mash them until they’re smooth.  I find it a lot easier to boil potatoes you’ve already cut into chunks.

In the meantime, you make a puree of garlic, lemon juice, olive oil and an additional thickener.  Almonds are standard, but if you’re nut-free, bread crumbs will do in a pinch.  Puree the garlic in the lemon juice - the acid will remove some of the garlic bite while keeping the flavor.

Then spoon it all together.  If it’s too thick, a little water will do, but not too much.  You want this to be thick enough to spread onto something, but not thin like mayonnaise or anything like that.  Slather it onto bread or fish or basically whatever you want.  It will be worth it.

Serves 4

INGREDIENTS

Filling:

  • 1 pound (450 g) of russet potatoes (2 or so), peeled and cut into 3/4-inch cubes
  • Kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup whole almonds (or substitute bread crumbs)
  • 4 to 6 medium cloves garlic (the more garlic, the more intense - start small at first)
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons (90ml) white wine vinegar and/or fresh lemon juice (from about 2 lemons)
  • 3/4 cup (180ml) extra-virgin olive oil
  • Minced flat-leaf parsley, for garnish
  • Warmed pita and/or bread, for serving

STEPS

  1. Set cubed potatoes in a colander and rinse under cold water until water runs clear. Transfer to a large saucepan and cover with cold water by at least 2 inches. Season water with salt until it is salty like tears. Bring water to a boil over high heat, then reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until a knife easily pierces potatoes with no resistance, 10 to 15 minutes. Drain potatoes in colander, then rinse with hot running water for 30 seconds.
  2. Meanwhile, in a food processor, combine almonds or bread crumbs, garlic, 2 tablespoons (30ml) cold water, and wine vinegar and/or lemon juice. Process until garlic and almonds are reduced to a paste. Season with salt.
  3. Spread potatoes in an even layer on a baking sheet and let the steam evaporate.  You want to get as much of the water out as possible.
  4. Thoroughly mash potatoes with a potato masher in a large mixing bowl.  (If you have a fancy ricer, feel free to use that.)
  5. Stir in olive oil and almond-garlic mixture until thoroughly incorporated. If the oil does not fully blend with the potatoes, stir in more cold water, 1 tablespoon at a time, beating well, until mixture is emulsified. Season with salt, then garnish with parsley and serve immediately with warm pita or bread, or chill until ready to serve.  It really is best chilled.

Recipe adapted from http://www.seriouseats.com/recipes/2016/09/skordalia-greek-garlic-potato-spread-dip-recipe.html

 

Oct 10, 2017

All the world is a stage, and the first stage was in Athens, the birthplace of tragedy.  With Darby Vickers from the History of Greece podcast, we visit with the great playwrights, as Athens hits a great turning point: the Peloponnesian War.

That doesn't go well, and who's to blame?  Surely not a homely old teacher in the Agora?  Indeed.  But his student will have the last laugh.

All this plus skordalia!

Oct 6, 2017

Spanakotiropita  (σπανακοτυρόπιτα)

So I have searched every website out there to find an acceptable spanakopita, sorry, I mean spanakotripita, recipe, and I think this one will work.

Here’s the thing: phyllo dough is an absolute pain in the backside to work with.  It freaks me out every time.  So kudos to those who choose to make their own.  Even the frozen kind is challenging for me.

I found this recipe at https://www.themediterraneandish.com/spanakopita-recipe-greek-spinach-pie.  The best thing about this site is that they have many photographs and even videos really documenting each step.

Check their website out.  Honestly - it’s so well done.  They make it look actually easy to do.

Another note: I got into a significant argument with a Greek-American colleague about whether a spinach pie with feta was spanakotiropita or just spanakopita.  He was insistent that all spanakopita included cheese - it didn’t need to be mentioned specifically.  Note that this is counter to the point that Darby made in the episode.  We ended up at a Greek restaurant in Chicago (Greek Islands!) and they listed their spinach and cheese pie as… spanakotiropita!  Victory.  Nike.

Serves 4

INGREDIENTS

Filling:

  • 16 oz frozen chopped spinach, thawed and well-drained
  • 2 bunches flat-leaf parsley, stems trimmed, finely chopped
  • 1 large yellow onion, finely chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 4 eggs
  • 10.5 oz quality feta cheese, crumbled
  • 2 tsp dill weed
  • Freshly-ground black pepper

Crust:

  • 16 oz package of frozen phyllo dough (thawed)
  • 1 cup extra virgin olive oil or melted butter - you know you want to use the butter

STEPS

  1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.
  2. Before you begin mixing the filling, be sure the spinach is very well drained, and squeeze out any excess liquid by hand.
  3. To make the filling: In a mixing bowl, add the spinach and the remaining filling ingredients. Stir until all is well-combined.
  4. Unroll the phyllo sheets and place them between two very lightly damp kitchen cloths.
  5. Prepare a 9 1/2″ X 13″ baking dish. Brush the bottom and sides of the dish with olive oil or butter.
  6. To assemble the spanakotiropita: Line the baking dish with two sheets of phyllo letting them cover the sides of the dish. Brush with olive oil. Add two more sheets in the same manner, and brush them with olive oil. Repeat until two-thirds of the phyllo is used up.
  7. Now, evenly spread the spinach and feta filling over the phyllo crust. Top with two more sheets, and brush with olive oil.
  8. Continue to layer the phyllo sheets, two-at-a-time, brushing with olive oil, until you have used up all the sheets. Brush the very top layer with olive oil, and sprinkle with just a few drops of water.
  9. Fold the flaps or excess from the sides, you can crumble them a little. Brush the folded sides well with olive oil.
  10. Bake in the 325 degrees F heated-oven for 1 hour, or until the phyllo crust is crisp and golden brown. Remove from the oven. Cut into squares and serve! Enjoy!

Just go to https://www.themediterraneandish.com/spanakopita-recipe-greek-spinach-pie and follow the step-by-step there.  It’s brilliant.

Sep 26, 2017

Athens has won the war against Persia, but now what? The Golden Age of Pericles, that's what! He's building temples, making money, enlarging an empire, all in the name of democracy. Darby Vickers from the History of Greece podcast stops by to talk about the Great Democrat as well as what it's like to visit the Parthenon today. The one in Athens, not the one in Nashville.  She also talks about Greek bakeries and the joy that is spanakotiropita.  

The intro today (my first one ever!) is from Lynn Perkins of the History of the Ottoman Empire podcast.  He does fine work, and I can't wait to bug him when I get to Topkapi Palace.

Sep 12, 2017

There are few dishes as stereotypically Greek as roast lamb.  With the weather starting to get cold as we move towards Autumn, what better way to celebrate stick-to-your-ribs comfort food?

If we were REALLY doing this right, we would roast a whole lamb on a spit in your front yard.  But that might upset the neighbors, the police, and the homeowners’ association, so we’ll do something in the oven

Arni sto Fourno (αρνι στο φουρνο), which means “oven-roasted lamb,” is a recipe I’m using from the restaurant where I met my wife 15 years ago.  In fact, this is the very dish I had that night, which is a good way to know that it’s the real deal - I mean, it was fifteen years ago.

The restaurant, the Greek Islands, calls it Arni Fournou, but whatever you call it, it’s super simple.  Chunk up some potatoes, throw in chopped tomatoes, garlic, oregano, lemon juice, olive oil, and salt and pepper.  Then nestle in four lamb shanks, of about a pound each (500 g). 

This recipe (http://checkplease.wttw.com/recipe/arni-fournou) comes from the Greek Islands, via the files of Check Please!, a public television staple in Chicago, in which each of three average viewers invites the other two to their favorite local restaurant.  I wish every town had that show - it does a terrific job in introducing viewers to cuisines, neighborhoods, and establishments they would never have considered otherwise.  (http://checkplease.wttw.com).

Serves 4

INGREDIENTS

  • 4 lbs/2 kg lamb shanks (four, about 1 lb/500 g each)
  • 2 lbs/1 kg peeled russet potatoes, cut into wedges
  • 1 cup/240 ml chopped tomato
  • 9 cloves chopped garlic
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 cup/240 ml fresh lemon juice
  • 1 cup/240 ml olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon/5 ml oregano (Greek or Turkish - not Mexican)

STEPS

  1. Simply mix the above ingredients in a deep baking pan, fully coating the lamb in the marinade.
  2. Preheat oven to 275-325° F / 135-160° C (depending on the actual heat that your oven produces - if it runs hot, set the temp lower).
  3. Bake the lamb for 2 hours, turning the pieces over after the first hour.
  4. Serve the lamb with the potatoes and use a bit of the remaining juices to pour over the dish.
Sep 12, 2017

The priestess of Apollo will answer your questions, if not how you expect. Will Athens survive the war with the Persians? Should Sparta march to help? Will you enjoy this episode on the Oracle of Delphi in Greece, featuring the brilliance of Alison Innes and Darrin Sunstrum from the MythTake podcast and Lantern Jack from Ancient Greece Declassified? Yes. Yes you will.

We'll talk about the Oracle, how it came to be and how it worked. We'll follow the Greeks in their war with the Persians. We'll visit Delphi and eat roast lamb and greens. You won't need gas rising from the temple floor to enjoy this one!

Sep 1, 2017

Sesame halva is well known throughout the world, and can be purchased at most Middle Eastern stores or Jewish delis.  I don’t care for it though, so I’m trying out a different version: one based on flour rather than sesame.

It's smooth, sweet - but not too sweet, with a nuttiness that comes from toasting the flour after blending it with butter.  I omitted the almonds because my kids are allergic, but they would probably give an amazing added crunch.

This recipe comes from the New York Times:  https://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/1017926-turkish-flour-helva

Serves 4

INGREDIENTS

  • ½ cup/113 grams unsalted butter
  • 1 cup/125 grams all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup/200 grams sugar
  • 1 ½ cups/350 milliliters whole milk
  • Pinch of salt (optional)
  • 2 cups whole blanched almonds (optional)
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon

STEPS

1. In a medium pot over medium heat, melt the butter. Whisk in the flour, a little at a time to prevent clumping; reduce heat to very low and cook, stirring often with a heatproof rubber spatula or wooden spoon, until the flour is deep golden brown and butter separates and floats to the top, about 1 to 2 hours. The higher the flame, the quicker it will cook, but the more you will have to stir it.

2. Meanwhile, in a medium pot, combine sugar, 1 1/2 cups/355 milliliters water, and milk; bring to a low simmer over medium heat. Turn off heat, cover to keep warm, and reserve.

3. When flour mixture is toasted and browned but not burned, slowly whisk in the warm milk mixture and a pinch of salt if you like. (It's O.K. if the milk has cooled to room temperature; it should not be cold.) Raise heat to medium-high and cook, stirring with a heatproof rubber spatula or wooden spoon, until mixture comes together in a paste-like texture and no longer sticks to sides of the pot. (Make sure to stir in the corners and bottom of pot.) Whisk the mixture occasionally, if necessary, to create a smoother texture and get rid of any lumps. Cover pot with a cloth and a lid, then let cool.

4. In a medium skillet, toast the almonds in the dry pan over medium heat. Sprinkle almonds and cinnamon over cooled helva. Spoon onto plates or into small bowls to serve.

Involved?  Yes.  But worth it.  Really worth it.  Here's a couple of tips:

  • Use a bigger pan for the roux than you think you need.  You added the milk mixture to the roux, so you'll be thankful for the extra space.
  • When the recipe says, add the flour a little at a time, DO THAT.  I had to throw out my first batch because the flour/butter roux was way too clumpy.  The first 1/2 cup blends beautifully into the butter, it's the second half that will get you, and get you quick. 
  • I added a little vanilla extract to the milk mixture when hot.  I'm told that's a legit choice, as is rosewater.  I don't have rosewater, but vanilla was an excellent choice.
  • I ended up getting impatient.  After 45 minutes on very low, and no noticeable browning, I turned the stove to medium-low, with regular stirring (every couple of minutes).  That did the trick!  You definitely want brown, the browner the better.
  • As you add the milk, whisk like you've never whisked before, because helva comes at you fast.  It takes less than a minute for the final product to come together, and if you don't whisk hard in that time, you can end up with floury lumps instead of smooth, sugary sweetness.  It's only 45 seconds; you can do it.
Aug 29, 2017

Is this burning an eternal flame? Why yes. Yes, it is. Nestled in the hills of Lycia in southwestern Turkey, the Yanartaş of Mount Chimaera is a series of methane-fueled fires that have burnt for at least 2500 years.  Lycia has a fascinating history and is well worth a quick detour from our narrative, so let's take a look.

Joining us is Roxanne from Mythology Translated, to share the myths of the chimaera and other fine folks.  We'll also talk Ionia, to set us up for the great conflict between Persia and Greece.

And we'll have some sweet, sticky halva! Oh, and Santa Claus shows up. Sort of.

Aug 1, 2017

Chicken, skewered and grilled, is a classic Persian dish, one that has been cooked for centuries.  And it’s magnificent.  The key is two-fold: 1) the marinade: a tangy blend of yogurt, lime juice, olive oil and saffron, which does wonderful things to the chunks of chicken breast, and 2) the charcoal grilling, which lends that lovely char that so nicely offsets the tenderness of the meat.

Chicken alone is nice; I like to pair with vegetables like onions, peppers, and tomatoes.  Make sure you cook those on different skewers, as they and the chicken take different times to cook.

Above all, you need a starch to go with this, and the best without doubt is the chelo, the rice.  It’s officially just a standard steamed basmati rice, but if you do it right, you get this lovely crust (or tah-dig) at the bottom of the pan that is so mind-blowing. 

This recipe comes from Azita from the top-notch Persian food blog Turmeric and Saffron (http://turmericsaffron.blogspot.com/).

Serves 4

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 pounds skinless, boneless chicken breasts, preferably fresh, never frozen, cut into cubes
  • 1 medium onion, grated 
  • 1 cup plain whole-milk yogurt
  • 3-4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 3-4 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
  • 1.5 teaspoon powdered saffron dissolved in 5-6 tablespoons of hot water, divided in two
  • 2 teaspoons salt plus extra for the rice
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • A pinch of red pepper powder *optional
  • 2 1/2 cups basmati rice
  • Butter
  • Vegetable oil

STEPS

Start with marinating the chicken (6-8 hours before meal)

  1. In a bowl, combine the yogurt, onion, olive oil, lime juice, liquid saffron, salt and pepper. Blend well into a smooth mixture, adjust the seasoning with lime juice and salt and pepper.
  2. Pour the mixture over the chicken in a large bowl, making sure that all the pieces are fully covered with the sauce. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 6-8 hours.

Move to rice (3.5 hours before meal)

  1. In a large bowl, wash the rice with cool water a few times to get rid of the extra starch and pour the water out. Soak the rice in 8 cups of  cool water, add 3 tablespoons of salt and set aside for at least a couple of hours.
  2. In a large non-stick pot that has a tight fitting lid, bring 8 cups of water to a rapid boil on medium-high heat. 
  3. Drain the soaked rice and pour into the boiling water. Bring the water back to a boil on medium-high heat for about 10 minutes or until the grains are long soft on the outside and hard in the center. Drain the rice in a fine mesh strainer and rinse with cool water a few times.
  4. Wash the rice pot with water and and return to heat.  Add 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil, 2 tablespoons butter and 1 tablespoon of liquid saffron to the bottom of the pot, move the pan in a circular motion or use a wooden spoon to evenly cover the bottom with oil. 
  5. Remove from heat and with a large spatula return the parboiled rice back into the pot, building it into a pyramid shape away from the sides of the pot. 
  6. In order to release the steam make 4-5 holes in the rice with the handle of the wooden spatula. Place the pot back on the stove on medium-high heat, uncovered. 
  7. Wait about 7-10 minutes or until steam starts coming out of the pot. 
  8. Gently pour 2 tablespoons oil, 1/4 cup water and saffron over the rice, cover, lower the heat and steam the rice for an hour.   (Here’s a secret:  Wrap the lid with a kitchen towel or 2-3 layers of thick paper towels to prevent the moisture from going back in the pot. This is the secret to making a perfect tah-dig.)

As the rice steams, heat the grill and get the chicken ready to go.

  1. Thread the chicken pieces onto metal skewers, place the skewers on the hot grill and continue grilling until chicken pieces are well cooked.

Involved?  Yes.  But worth it.

Aug 1, 2017

East vs West? Maybe. We're off to Iran to greet the rise of the Persian Achaemenid Empire, the world's greatest by this point in history. Between Cyrus and Darius, we'll deal with two Great rulers, but we've also got medieval Iranian love poetry, unappetizing royal banquets, Croesus making bad decisions, and kebabs! Even better, Ryan Stitt from the History of Ancient Greece Podcast returns to bring his knowledge, as we climb the magnificent staircases of Persepolis.

Jul 11, 2017

This week’s recipe comes courtesy of Vivek Vasan, our special guest and host of the Historical India podcast.  The recipe is based on his mother’s recipe, so you know it’s gotta be good.  I haven’t been able to try it yet, mainly because finding many of the ingredients require a special trip to the local South Asian grocery, but I will be trying it soon.

It sounds complex, but each of the four major steps require some rest time, leaving plenty of time to proceed to the next.  Start with making the dough, then build the filling while the dough rests.  While the litti cooks, you can make the baigan chokha.  To bake the chokha, you can bake in a conventional oven, since you’re likely not to have either a Tandoori oven nor to fuel said oven with upla (animal dung).  While they bake, chop, sauté and season the eggplant.  Then all will be ready.

INGREDIENTS

To make dough:

  1. Wheat flour - 400 grams (2 cup)
  2. Ajwain (carom seeds) - ½  Tsp
  3. Ghee (clarified Butter) -2 Tbsp
  4. Curd - ¾  Cup
  5. Baking Soda - ½ Tsp
  6. Salt - ¾ Tsp

For Stuffing (Pitthi)

  1. Sattu (roasted black bengal gram flour with the skin retained) - 200 Grams (1 Cup)
  2. Ginger - 1 Inch Long Piece
  3. Green Chilli - 2 To 4
  4. Coriander - ½  Cup, Finely Chopped
  5. Jeera (Cumin seeds) - 1 Tsp
  6. Ajwain (Carom seeds) - 1 Tsp
  7. Mustard Oil - 1tsp
  8. Pickle Spices (you can add any Indian pickle e.g. You should be able to get Priya Mango or Lime pickle in your local Indian store) - 1 Tbsp
  9. Lemon Juice - 1 Lemon
  10. Salt - Add To Taste  or 1/2 Tsp

For Chokha –  this is one option for the accompaniment  - Eggplant or you can try the Potato one

  1. Brinjal (Big Eggplant) - 400 grams (1 Or 2)
  2. Tomatoes - 250 gms ( 4 Medium Sized)
  3. Green Chillies - 2 To 4, Finely Chopped
  4. Ginger - 1 ½  Inch Long Piece, Finely Chopped
  5. Coriander - 2 Tbsp, Finely Chopped
  6. Salt - Add To Taste  or 1 Tsp
  7. Mustard Oil - 1 To 2 Tsp

METHOD

Prepare dough for Litti

  • Filter the flour and keep it in a utensil, put Ghee, baking soda, Ajwain (carom seeds) and salt in flour then mix well.
  • Beat curd and put it in flour as well.
  • Knead soft dough using warm water.
  • Cover the dough and keep aside for 30 minutes.
  • Dough required to make Litti is ready.

How to make Stuffing for Litti

  • Wash, peel and finely chop ginger (you can also grate it).
  • Break the stems of the green chillies, wash then finely chop them.  
  • Clean green coriander, wash then finely chop the leaves.
  • Take out Sattu (Bengal gram flour) in a utensil put chopped ginger, green chillies, coriander, lemon juice, salt, Jeera (cumin) , Ajwain (carom), mustard oil and pickle spices in it.
  • Mix all the ingredients properly, if the Pitthi seems dry then add 1-2 spoons of water to it, Sattu Pitthi is ready.

How to make Litti

  • Break off medium sized pieces from the dough.
  • With the help of your fingers expand the pieces 2-3 inches in diameter.
  • Place 1 - 1 ½  tsp Pitthi on it, wrap up the dough piece and close from all sides.
  • Press this stuffed pieces to flatten it a bit, Litti is ready for frying.
  • Heat the Tandoor(furnace), place the stuffed pieces of dough in the Tandoor and cook it by turning sides regularly till they turn brown (traditionally Litti is cooked on a Upla).  - You can stick it in the convection microwave, keep an eye while it’s cooking till the sides are browned on its top and bottom and the dough is hardened. It should take about 20 minutes at 250 degrees Celsius (482 F)

How to make Chokha for Litti

  • Wash eggplant and tomatoes then fry them. Allow them to cool, peel the skins, keep them in a bowl and mash with a spoon.
  • Put the chopped spices, salt, oil and mix properly.
  • Eggplant Chokha is ready. 
  • If you prefer garlic and onion then peel 5-6 cloves of garlic then finely chop them. Peel 1 onion, chop it finely and mix these with brinjal.

 Aaloo (Potato)  ka Chokha

  • Peel 4-5 boiled potatoes break them into small pieces, add chopped ginger, green chillies, green coriander, red chilli powder and salt to it then mix well. Aaloo ka Chokha is ready.

Serve

  • Put Chokha in a bowl, dip hot Litti in melted Ghee, Litti can also be broken at the centre and then dipped. Serve with Chokha, green coriander chutney.

Courtesy of Vivek Vasan

Jul 11, 2017

The prince who became an enlightened holy man, the Buddha took India by storm. We'll cover him and his contemporary Mahavira and two kings who followed their teaching while building India's first great empire: Chandragupta Maurya and Ashoka.  It's storytelling time! Vivek Vasan helps out again and shares his mom's litti chokha recipe as we visit Bihar to see the great temple by the Bodhi Tree.

Jun 20, 2017

This recipe comes from the excellent Indian Home Cooking, co-written by Suvir Saran, who is a friend of a friend, and who has been personally kind and generous to me for years now.  Buy his book(s).

Indian cuisine is fantastic if you are a vegetarian, and one of the hallmarks of typical Indian cooking is dal, or lentils, stewed up and served over rice or with quick-fired bread.

This recipe is great for weeknight dinners.  It’s easy, flavorful, a little spicy, and totally good for you.  My 10-year-old son loves it.  I don’t have mango powder, but I find that the lemon works really well to bring that bit of acidity to balance the turmeric and cumin.

Ingredients:

  • 3 tablespoons canola oil
  • 2 teaspoons cumin seeds
  • 3 whole dried red chilies
  • 1⁄2 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1 small garlic cloves, minced or 1⁄8 teaspoon asafetida powder
  • 1 cup dried lentils, picked over, washed and drained - I used green lentils, but brown is traditional
  • 1⁄4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (or to taste)
  • 1 tablespoon amchur (dried mango powder) or juice of 1 lemon
  • 4 cups water
  • 1 teaspoon salt (or to taste)

Steps:

  1. Combine the oil, cumin, red chiles and turmeric in a large saucepan over medium-high heat.  Cook, stirring, 1 to 2 minutes.
  2. Add the garlic or asafetida, lentils, cayenne, and mango powder, if using (if using lemon juice instead, stir in at the end), and cook, stirring, 1 minute.
  3. Add the water and salt, bring to a boil and skim well.  Reduce the heat and simmer, covered, until the lentils are soft, 20 to 30 minutes.  Add more water during cooking if necessary. Taste for salt and add more if you need to.
  4. Ladle about ½ cup of the lentils into a small bowl and mash them with a spoon. Return the mashed lentils to the pot and give the dal a stir. Then continue cooking at a simmer, uncovered, for 5 minutes to thicken.
  5. If you like a thicker dal, use a whisk to break up the lentils into a puree. If you like a thinner dal, add more water. Stir in the lemon juice, if using. Serve hot.

Try this out with rice - I like to use basmati and to do a pilaf (toasting the rice in cumin-studded oil before rehydrating).  I think you’ll enjoy it!

Recipe from: Indian Home Cooking, Suvir Saran and Stephanie Lyness

(I forgot to take a picture - I will next time)

Jun 20, 2017

Holiest site in Hinduism, Varanasi's riverside ghats are a swirl of color, faith, life, and death. We discuss the vedas, the great epics, and the development of Indian civilization with Vivek Vasan from the Historical India podcast. 

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