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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!

Jun 14, 2018

The sadhya is a traditional Keralan feast: a banana leaf covered with small servings of 20 different items, from rice to curries to breads to a banana for dessert.  It’s pretty awesome.

It’s also not something you’ll make for a weekday meal.  So what I’ve done is to take three vegetable curries and combine them for you for a mini-sadhya of sorts.  Delicious, redolent of Keralan flavors, and just fun.

Each dish has a different texture, so even though the flavor profiles are complementary, the tastes are very unique.  I loved how they all worked together, so I’m going to present them as such.  If you want to make each individually, I got all three recipes (plus the rice) from the cookbook Savoring the Spice Coast of India: Fresh Flavors from Kerala by Maya Kaimal.

Each recipe has its own spice mix, or masala.  You’ll note that they are each slightly different, and that difference matters.

Curry leaves are the hardest part of this to get and also the most important.  I bought a bunch for $1 at a local Indian grocery, so I’d recommend that.  You can also order them via mail, but the premium for shipping has to be crazy.

Read through this first and build your mise en place before starting.  Several of the steps go VERY quickly, so it’s best to have everything chopped, mixed, and prepped before you turn on the stove.

This is going to be a bit messy and will use five pots: I’ll note which recipe you’re working on as you go - what can be made first and what can wait until the end.

Serves 6

INGREDIENTS

  • 11 tbsp vegetable oil (divided)
  • 2 cups basmati rice
  • 1 cup thoor dhal, washed and rinsed (Or masoor dhal, or whatever dal you prefer)
  • 28 ounces fresh spinach (or 2 10-ounce packages of frozen chopped spinach, thawed)
  • 3/4 cup grated unsweetened coconut
  • 3 1/2 cups finely chopped onions (divided)
  • 1 tsp garlic, minced
  • 1 fresh green chile (serrano or Thai), split lengthwise
  • 3 dried red chiles (divided)
  • 1 tsp whole cumin seeds
  • 2 tsp coriander
  • 2 tsp ground cumin (divided)
  • 4/8 tsp cayenne (divided)
  • 5/8 tsp turmeric (divided)
  • 1 1/2 tsp mustard seeds (divided)
  • 20 to 22 fresh curry leaves (divided)
  • 2 cans (15 ounce) chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 1 tsp coarsely ground black pepper
  • 2 3/4 tsp salt (divided)
  • 2 tsp fresh squeezed lemon juice (divided)
  • 1 tsp ghee
  • 1/4 cup cilantro (for garnish)
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

STEPS

Start with the:

KERALAN DAL

  • In a 2-quart saucepan, combine dal with 2 1/2 cups water.  Bring to a boil. 
  • Reduce heat to a simmer, and cook, partially covered, for 30 minutes or so, until the water is absorbed and the lentils break apart under pressure from your spoon.

Move on to the:

BASMATI RICE

  1. Heat 1 tbsp of vegetable oil in a saucepan over medium-high heat.  When hot, add 1 tsp whole cumin seeds.  Then quickly add 2 cups basmati rice.  Stir to coat each grain of rice.  Toast for a while to bring out a nutty aroma.
  2. Add 4 cups water, bring to a boil, stir, cover, reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes.  Remove from heat after that and set aside.

Back to the:

KERALAN DAL

  1. While the rice and dal are cooking, create a masala for the dal:
  • 1/2 tsp cumin
  • 1/8 tsp cayenne
  • 1/4 tsp turmeric
  1. In a frying pan, heat 2 tbsp vegetable oil.  Add 1 tsp mustard seeds and COVER the skillet or pot.  Mustard seeds will pop like crazy once they reach the right internal temperature, and that’s what you want to release flavor, but trust me, you’ll want to keep them in the skillet instead of all over your kitchen.
  2. Once the popping subsides - but before they burn - add 1 dried red chile and 10 curry leaves.  After a few seconds, add 1/2 cup onion and sauté until golden brown.
  3. Add garlic and sauté for 1 minute.  Add the masala and saute for 1 more minute.
  4. Take this whole onion mixture and add it to the dal in the saucepan, along with 1/2 cup water and 1 tsp salt.  Stir to combine, and simmer for an additional 10 minutes, partially covered.
  5. Add more water as needed - the consistency should be pea soup-thick, not pasty.
  6. Remove from heat and add 1 tsp lemon juice and ghee.
  7. Set aside - you can reheat when it’s time to serve.

Next comes the:

SPINACH with COCONUT (Spinach Tharen)

  1. Wash, dry, and chop the fresh spinach or drain the thawed frozen spinach. Set aside.
  2. Create a masala for the spinach:
  • 1/2 tsp cumin
  • 1/8 tsp cayenne
  • 1/8 tsp turmeric
  1. In a bowl, combine coconut, the green chile, 1 tsp salt and the masala.  Stir with about 1/4 cup water, just enough to make a paste.
  2. In a large skillet - or even a strong bottomed soup pot: I liked the high walls to keep the spinach in - heat 2 tbsp oil over medium-high heat.  Add 1 tsp mustard seeds and COVER the skillet or pot. 
  3. Once they start to pop, add 2 dried red chiles, 10 to 12 curry leaves and 1 cup onion.  Stir and sauté for 2 minutes or until the onion starts to soften (but not brown).
  4. Add the spinach and cook, stirring constantly for about 5 minutes or until the spinach is halfway to wilted through. 
  5. Stir in the coconut paste and keep cooking, stirring constantly until the spinach is tender.  Remove from heat and taste for salt.  Set this aside - you can reheat quickly when it’s time to serve.

Proceed to the:

PEPPERY CHICKPEAS

  1. Create a masala for the chickpeas:
  • 2 tsp coriander
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne
  • 1/4 tsp turmeric
  1. Heat 4 tbsp oil in frying pan over medium-high heat.  Sauté 2 cups onions until light brown. Add masala and stir for 1 minute or until the spices start to smell fragrant.
  2. Add the drained chickpeas, 1 tsp pepper, 3/4 tsp salt, and about a tablespoon of water.  Sauté over medium heat stirring constantly until a few of the chickpeas start to break down.  Add a teaspoon of water whenever the mixture becomes dry: it should never be wet or saucy but it should be moist.
  3. Stir in 1 tsp fresh lemon juice, remove from heat, taste for salt and serve with 1/4 cup chopped cilantro.

Wow.  23 steps.  I know that seems like a lot, but it’s all about careful planning your mise en place. 

Trust me - you’ll love this.  I did.  The chickpeas are my new go-to recipe, and the spinach with the coconut was particularly outstanding.

Recipe adapted from Savoring the Spice Coast of India: Fresh Flavors from Kerala by Maya Kaimal (2000).

Jun 12, 2018

So close to the tourist trail, yet so far, Libya sits on the Mediterranean yet has been isolated for decades by poverty, dictatorship and civil war.  But should peace return, Leptis Magna is the jewel in Libya's crown: potentially the largest and best preserved Roman city in the Mediterranean.  With a resplendent forum, theater, basilica, harbor, amphitheater, and especially, a colossal arch, Leptis is an unvisited gem.

Leptis' golden age came under the leadership of local-boy-made-good Septimius Severus.  To help tell the story of how a lad from Leptis became ruler of the "known world," Rob and Jamie from the Roman Emperors: Totalus Rankium podcast stop by.  

Not only do we talk about Severus and the disastrous emperor who preceded him (Didius Julianus), but we also discuss Severus' evil son Caracalla.  Evil.  Oh so evil.

No discussion of Libya would be complete without discussing the cuisine: a blend of North African and Middle Eastern, highlighted by couscous. This isn't your store-bought fluffy cardboard; we'll be properly steaming it this time.

 

May 22, 2018

Nestled along the coast of India's most southwesterly state, the Backwaters are a 600 km-long series of lakes, rivers, channels and canals linking the jungle to the sea. Their story, and Kerala's story, is the tale of maritime trade, and to help tell that story, Brandon Huebner from the Maritime History Podcast stops by. 

Kerala is the birthplace of pepper, and given how rancid meat would get in the age before refrigeration, the Mediterranean world craved it.  The Romans traded extensively with the kingdoms of Southern India, we discuss how they figured out the monsoons, and what they brought in exchange for that piquant spice.

Tianna Gratta from Passportchronicles.com was just in Kerala, and she gives her insights about traveling there today and riding on a houseboat along the backwaters: definitely the most chill of all the wonders on this show.

We try different Keralan curries, rich with coconut, curry leaves, and pepper, and as the coup de grace, Marcus Aurelius makes a cameo, as trade to Asia had brought something unexpected to Rome: a plague.  You take the good, you take the bad... 

May 9, 2018

Artichokes are a special part of a Roman spring.  Jewish-style artichokes are flattened and fried, and are delicious, but they can be devilishly difficult to cook at home.  Roman-style artichokes, on the other hand, are, as I’ve learned, only regularly difficult to cook at home.

The cooking isn’t the problem.  It’s the cleaning.

Artichokes are spiny, woodsy, challenging, and inside there’s the nasty, inedible, fluff-ridden choke.  Why on earth do we bother?

Because they’re delicious.

I’ve seen some recipes which only call for the hearts, while others allow more of the leaves.  Here’s what I’d recommend: trim the outer leaves, using a y-shaped vegetable peeler to remove all the woodsy bits. Then cut the tops off the artichokes, so that you can spoon out the nasty choke.  Put them into lemon juice infused water - this well keep them from browning.

Once they’re cleaned, slather them with herbs and plop them in a pot with olive oil and wine.  Braise them until they’re tender and enjoy!

Serves 4

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 whole lemons (for maintaining artichokes' color)
  • 4 large or 12 small artichokes (2 pounds; 1kg)
  • 1/4 cup (7g) minced flat-leaf parsley leaves
  • 2 tablespoons minced fresh mint leaves
  • 2 tablespoons minced fresh oregano leaves
  • 3 medium cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/4 cup (60ml) extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
  • 1/4 cup (60ml) dry white wine
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

STEPS

  1. Fill a large bowl with water; halve and squeeze 2 lemons into it.  Keep one lemon half to the side after squeezing - you can use this to rub onto the artichokes as your clean them.
    1. Using a serrated knife, cut off top of artichoke and bottommost part of stem.
    2. Using a paring knife or sharp vegetable peeler, trim away the tough outer leaves to expose the tender inner leaves and heart.
    3. Trim away fibrous outer layer around stem to expose tender inner core (if stem breaks off, that's okay; just save it and cook it alongside the hearts).
    4. Slice the top off each heart deep enough that you can dig into the heart but not so deep that you lose the artichoke.
    5. Using a spoon, scrape out the inedible, hairy choke in the center of each heart.
    6. Transfer cleaned artichokes to bowl of lemon water as you work, covering them with a clean kitchen towel to keep them completely submerged.
  2. Trim artichokes by cleaning them down to the hearts:
  3. In a small bowl, stir together parsley, mint, oregano, and garlic. Rub concave side of each artichoke heart with herb mixture, packing it into any leafy crevices. Set aside remaining herb mixture.
  4. Add olive oil and wine to a pot just large enough to hold all the artichokes closely side by side, so that they can sit flat with their stem sides up. Arrange artichokes in pot and season with salt and pepper.
  5. Bring pot to a simmer over medium-high heat, then lower heat to a bare simmer, cover, and cook until artichokes are fork-tender, 20 to 30 minutes. (Smaller artichokes may not take as long.)
  6. Remove from heat and transfer artichokes to a platter, stem sides up. Drizzle with cooking juices, along with some fresh olive oil and a light sprinkling of reserved herb mixture. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Recipe from https://www.seriouseats.com/recipes/2017/10/carciofi-alla-romana-roman-italian-braised-artichoke-recipe.html - They have a terrific page on cleaning artichokes, complete with video!

May 3, 2018

I know I promised you huaraches.  I even described them in the episode.  But can I be honest?  Yes?  I like to keep these recipes to things you can do on a weeknight: delicious and authentic, yet not overly complicated.  Well… huaraches were getting too complicated.

So instead, I give you a very simple and delicious dish with its roots in Puebla, a city between Mexico City and the Gulf Coast, where the Mexicans defeated a French Army in 1861 on May 5, forever remembered as Cinco de Mayo.

Cinco de Mayo is NOT a significant holiday in Mexico, which will surprise the many Americans who celebrate with tacos, margaritas, and more margaritas.  It’s big in Puebla, but how it became big in the US is simply a marketing thing.  The weather is usually nice on May 5, and early May lacked a good alcohol-driven holiday.  Mexican Independence Day (September 15) is too close to Labor Day and would be less festive, I guess.

Anyway, Puebla is famous for its mole above all else, which I’ll get to eventually, because mole poblano is one of the world’s best dishes, bar none.  For now, though, I introduce the tinga: shredded meat, combined with chipotle peppers, onion, garlic, tomatoes and spices.  Traditionally, it’s served on tostadas, crispy fried tortillas.

This recipe, from Rick Bayless’ Everyday Mexican is adapted for a slow-cooker, so it’s great for a weekday meal.  This is one of my absolute go-to recipes.  Set it up in the morning, and come home with the house smelling like absolute heaven. 

It’s not completely traditional.  It’s got potatoes, which are not typical but which make for a nice additional filler.  The slow cooker doesn’t allow for browning, hence the Worcestershire sauce to bring in umami.

I prefer tinga as a taco filling rather than as a tostada topper.  It’s just less greasy that way.

I will vouch all day for this recipe.  ¡Feliz cinco de mayo!

Serves 4

INGREDIENTS

  • 4 medium (about 500g/1 lb) red or gold-skinned potatoes, each cut into 6 wedges
  • 1.5 kg / 3 lbs  chicken thighs (skin removed) - you can substitute 1 kg / 2 lbs of boneless thighs or (if you HAVE to) breasts
  • 28 oz canned diced tomatoes, drained (fire-roasted, if possible) - it’s May, so good tomatoes aren’t in season yet
  • 4 oz fresh Mexican chorizo (NOT spanish), crumbled
  • 1 white onion, sliced
  • 2 or 3 canned chipotle chiles, chopped, with 1 tablespoon of their adobo canning liquid
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/8 tsp dried thyme
  • 2 tsp salt
  • Corn tortillas - 12, at least, but probably more

STEPS

  1. Spread the potato wedges on the bottom of the slow cooker.  Top with the chicken.
  2. Sprinkle the chorizo on top of the chicken.  Put the onion slices on top of that.
  3. In a large separate bowl, combine the chipotles, adobo, tomatoes, Worcestershire, thyme, and salt.
  4. Pour the tomato mixture over the chicken and chorizo in the slow cooker.
  5. Put the lid on the slow cooker and set to slow-cook on high for 6 hours - most slow cookers can keep the dish warm for an additional four.
  6. Once complete, remove the solids into a separate dish and discard the bones, if any.  Ladle the remaining juices into a saucepan and boil over high heat to reduce to  about 1 cup.
  7. Shred the chicken with a fork.  Pour the sauce over the meat mixture.
  8. Serve with corn tortillas.

Recipe adapted from Rick Bayless’ Everyday Mexican, a cookbook that I have used more than all my other cookbooks combined.  Every recipe is fantastic.

Rick Bayless is a Chicago-based chef, who has made a career of bringing out the best in regional Mexican cuisine. You may have seen his show "Mexico: One Plate at a Time" on your public television station.  I appreciate that he is white and that calls for cultural appropriation reign down upon him. But he has a passionate love for Mexico which shines through.  Generations of young Mexican chefs have passed through his kitchen, to start their own successful restaurants. Every year, he shuts down his restaurants to take the entire staff, from busboys to sous-chefs to a different state in Mexico, to sample the cuisine, explore the markets, appreciate the local flavors.  I believe there is a massive difference between appropriating culture (like bars doing Cinco de Mayo) and showing honor and respect.  If you want cultural appropriation, may I introduce you to hipster white dudes selling "Nashville Hot Chicken"?  OK, soapbox over.  Try this recipe and enjoy it.

May 1, 2018

Back to Rome for a meeting with Hadrian, the roving emperor.  Ryan Stitt from the History of Ancient Greece podcast comes by to discuss the "Greekling" and one of his most impressive monuments, the Pantheon: the best preserved Roman temple anywhere.

Hadrian is a fascinating soul: bearded, homosexual, flaunting conventional wisdom, travelling to the farthest reaches of the empire just because. Ryan shares his experience visiting Hadrian's villa in Tivoli as well.

To eat, consider artichokes this spring, either alla Romana or alla giudia (Jewish-style), both Roman classics.

Apr 25, 2018

You shouldn’t need a recipe for bruschetta. It’s so simple, after all.  And yet, you’ve had bad bruschetta.  We all have.  The bread isn’t crisp enough or maybe too crisp.  There’s too much topping or it’s too wet.  And so, as a public service, I give you SIX EASY TRICKS to PERFECT BRUSCHETTA.

#1. The bread:  Use good crusty Italian bread.  Day old is preferable.  Slice to about half an inch thick.  Grill it if you can, toasting is an acceptable alternative.

#2. The tomatoes:  fresh, ripe, local is best.  Peel and seed before chopping.  Most people miss this step and it makes for a less pleasant experience.  Peeled and seeded tomatoes will melt in your mouth.

#3. The garlic: Slice a clove in half width-wise, squeeze the half a little bit and rub it on the top of the toast.

#4. The olive oil:  Use good Italian olive oil, extra virgin, unfiltered if available. Aim towards a fruity variety, rather than a more bitter variety.

#5. The salt:  Kosher salt only please, or sea salt with largish crystals.

#6. The basil:  Fresh and bright. The best is the kind you grow yourself.  In fact, if you live in an apartment or house or anywhere, and have a southern exposure that gets sunlight, you can grow basil.  It’s worth it to do - you can use it on all sorts of things and it’s so wonderful when you pick it yourself.

Serves 4

INGREDIENTS

  • 8 half-inch (1 cm) thick slices of crusty bread
  • 2 cloves garlic, sliced width-wise
  • 4 whole tomatoes, peeled, seeded and diced
  • Extra-virgin olive oil
  • Kosher salt
  • Handful of basil leaves, sliced into small pieces
  • Fresh ground black pepper (finely ground)

STEPS

  1. Grill the bread slices over a moderately hot fire until they are nicely toasted on both sides, turning to ensure even browning. Be careful not to burn them; older bread is drier and will cook quickly.
  2. Take a half garlic clove and rub each slice of bread while it is still hot with the exposed inside of the clove, squeezing the garlic between your fingers to release its juices into the bread.  The more you rub, the garlickier it will be.
  3. Drizzle the bread lightly with the olive oil, since you’ll be including olive oil in the pomodoro mixture. Salt the slices very lightly as well.
  4. Toss the tomatoes, basil, a splash of olive oil, a little extra salt, and a twist of pepper.
  5. Top each slice with the tomato mixture.
  6. Serve and enjoy the happy faces.

Recipe adapted from http://memoriediangelina.com/2013/08/04/bruschetta

Apr 17, 2018

Let's take a break from Roman history and see what's happening in the Western Hemisphere. Ana from the History of Small Things takes us to her hometown of Mexico City to talk about ancient Mexican history.  The standout wonders this episode are the great pyramids of Teotihuacan, started in 100 CE in a city which rivaled Rome in size and artistry.

But that's just the start. We talk about the first Americans, the earliest Mexican civilizations, and stories of human sacrifice, wars, and mayhem. 

Mexico City is one of the world's great cities, and we talk about two of its most magnificent sights: the National Anthropology Museum and the Zocalo.  Plus street food, tacos, tamales, and huaraches.

Mar 27, 2018

We who are about to podcast salute you! Titus comes back for one more round as he unveils his father's masterpiece: the Flavian Amphitheater, a.k.a. the Colosseum. The stadium on which all future stadia have been based is a magnificent creation, site of gladiatorial combat, public executions, and emperors giving thumbs up and thumbs down.

Dr Peta Greenfield of the Partial Historians podcast drops by to talk about Vespasian, Titus, and the gladiators themselves.  We discuss visiting Rome, gorging on gelato, and the joys of exploring the living city.

The recipe is bruschetta, the perfect appetizer of which you've probably only had disappointing versions.  Not this time, my friends.  Not this time.  Salvete!

Mar 24, 2018

Can you make this classic Neapolitan pie at home?  No.  No you cannot.  You don’t have Neapolitan flour, Vesuvian tomatoes, Campanian water, fresh mozzarella from Italian buffaloes… or a dome-shaped wood-fired brick oven.

So whatcha gonna do?

Well…  You can improvise. 

I like to grill my pizza in the summer - which gives a nice char and crisp but still provides a good chew.  But it’s not Neapolitan.

To replicate the Neapolitan experience, you’ll need your oven.  It won’t BE Neapolitan.  Your oven can’t get up to a Vesuvius-like 700 degrees, so it will never be the same. But it can be delicious.  So step one is getting a pizza stone.  Now, I hate the concept of buying a giant piece of rock that you’ll rarely use and will take up space in your house. But you can actually use a pizza stone for all sorts of other thing that you’d like to bake or roast.  A pizza stone is just a slab of rock or ceramic that absorbs heat from the oven and provides that heat to whatever you’re roasting in a nice even, consistent way.  Better than an aluminum baking sheet, anyway.  So get one, but remember, have it in the oven as your preheat.  If you put it in after you’ve preheated, it will crack, as both pizza stones I have ever owned have done because I’m an idiot.

OK. So dough. Flour, salt, yeast, and water.  But not just any flour.  It has to be type 0 or type 00 Italian flour, which are very finely milled flours, so they are super powdery, almost like baby powder.  You can find this at specialty groceries, or you can substitute all-purpose flour, if needs be.

Mix up the flour with salt, water and yeast. Knead it up, divide into a couple of balls, cover and let them rest overnight in the fridge.  So no, this isn’t a spur-o-the-moment thing. 

Put the stone in the oven and preheat it to full hot for an hour.  Flour a surface and stretch out the dough with your hands.  Don’t twirl it over your head unless you’re an expert or comfortable with having floor dirt in your pizza.  Get nice and thin so you can almost see through it.

Sauce is next.  You can get canned San Marzano tomatoes at many stores, although note that a lot of canned tomatoes claim to be San Marzano without actually being San Marzano, so double-check.  Just puree the tomatoes to make the sauce, with a smidge of olive oil and a pinch of salt.  That’s it.  And DON’T USE MUCH.

Next: fresh mozzarella.  Again, quality matters.  If you can’t get the buffalo mozz, cow’s milk will do, but it has to be good. Get it in the fancy cheese section, not in the dairy case in the back.  And make sure you drain it, if it’s packed in water.  You do NOT want that extra moisture, unless you like soggy pizza.  Slice some thin slices and plop them on the sauce.  Again, NOT TOO MUCH.

And then scatter a few pieces of torn basil leaves on top.  Some people leave their leaves whole, other like a fine chiffonade.  Whatever.  I like torn pieces, but the key is 4 to 5 leaves per pie.  That’s it.

Use a pizza peel, which is a pizza-size super-thin spatula, to move the pie onto the stone.  Cook for 6 to 8 minutes and buon appetito!

Wait.  Drizzle some good olive oil on top at the end.  Then buon appetito.

Serves 4-ish

INGREDIENTS

  • 306 grams 00 flour (2 cup plus 2 tablespoon)
  • 8 grams fine sea salt (1 teaspoon)
  • 2 grams active dry yeast (3/4 teaspoon)
  • 1 can whole tomatoes (
  • Extra-virgin olive oil (approx 15 ml)
  • 2 2/3 ounces (75 g) fresh mozzarella
  • 4 to 5 basil leaves, roughly torn

STEPS

  1. Place a pizza stone or tiles on the middle rack of your oven and turn heat to its highest setting. Let it heat for at least an hour.
  2. In a food processor or blender, blend tomatoes, 5 ml olive oil and dash of salt
  3. In a large mixing bowl, combine flour and salt.
  4. In a small mixing bowl, stir together 200 grams (a little less than 1 cup) lukewarm tap water and the yeast, then pour it into flour mixture. Knead with your hands until well combined, approximately 3 minutes, then let the mixture rest for 15 minutes.
  5. Knead rested dough for 3 minutes. Cut into 2 equal pieces and shape each into a ball. Place on a heavily floured surface, cover with dampened cloth, and let rest and rise for 3 to 4 hours at room temperature or for 8 to 24 hours in the refrigerator. (If you refrigerate the dough, remove it 30 to 45 minutes before you begin to shape it for pizza.)
  6. To make pizza, place each dough ball on a heavily floured surface and use your fingers to stretch it, then your hands to shape it into rounds or squares.
  7. Put the sauce in the center of the stretched dough and use the back of a spoon to spread it evenly across the surface, stopping approximately 1/2 inch from the edges.
  8. Break the cheese into large pieces and place these gently on the sauce. Scatter basil leaves over the top.
  9. Using a pizza peel, pick up the pie and slide it onto the heated stone or tiles in the oven. Bake until the crust is golden brown and the cheese is bubbling, approximately 4 to 8 minutes.
  10. Drizzle a little olive oil over the pie, and serve.

 

Recipe adapted from https://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/1016231-pizza-margherita

Mar 13, 2018

The volcano Vesuvius still looms of the ruined Roman cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum, along the coast of Southern Italy. Dr. Fiona Radford from the Partial Historians stops by to discuss these accidental wonders: towns whose destruction have preserved a remarkable view of Roman daily life. We follow Pliny the Elder as he ventures to his death, pillow strapped to his head. There's chaos, destruction, drama, and weird fish sauce! 

Plus I cannot be so close to Naples without talking about pizza, that most glorious gift to the world.

Mar 5, 2018

Traditional Hanukkah foods are fried in oil, and among Israeli Jews, that means sufganiyot: jelly doughnuts.

The word sufganiyot comes from the sword sfog, meaning sponge, and North African Jews brought a long tradition of frying doughnuts with them to Israel.  There, they mixed with Eastern European jews who brought their own doughnuts, with jelly.  These ponchkes in Yiddish are the Jewish version of the Polish pączki (pronounced "paunch-key".  Pączki are Mardi Gras treats, best known in America as the reason there’s a line out of every Polish bakery in Chicago in February.

So, to make sufganiyot, you need to be able to manage yeast and dough.  I can’t.  I’ve tried several times.  Once the water was too cold, and the yeast didn’t bloom.  Another time, the water was too hot, and the yeast died a tragic scalding death.  A third time, the yeast seemed OK, but I kneaded the dough too much. 

But if you have skill with baking, try this recipe, and let me know how light and fluffy they are.  This recipe has an orange zest, which adds some zing to the dough, and raspberry or strawberry filling.  That’s great, but if you’d rather lemon zest and blueberry, I won’t be mad at you.

Serves 4 at least

INGREDIENTS

  • ¼ cup lukewarm milk or water
  • 1 teaspoon (5 ml) dry yeast
  • 3 tablespoons (45 ml) sugar
  • 1 whole egg plus 1 egg yolk
  • 3 tablespoons (45 ml) sour cream or vegetable oil
  • ¼ teaspoon (1.25 ml) salt
  • ¼ teaspoon (1.25 ml) vanilla extract
  • Freshly grated zest of 1/2 orange
  • 1  cups flour (400 ml), more as needed
  • ½ cup (120 ml) thick raspberry or strawberry jam
  • Vegetable oil for deep-frying
  • Confectioners' sugar for dusting

STEPS

  1. Place milk or water in small bowl. Sprinkle yeast and 1 teaspoon (5 ml) sugar over milk. Set aside until frothy, about 10 minutes.
  2. In a mixer fitted with paddle attachment, beat remaining sugar with egg and egg yolk. Add sour cream, salt, vanilla extract, orange zest and yeast mixture, and mix well.
  3. With mixer running, gradually add flour. Mix until dough is soft, smooth and elastic, adding flour if dough seems very sticky, 3 to 5 minutes. Do not add more than an additional 3 tablespoons (45 ml) flour; dough will be somewhat sticky, but will firm up in refrigerator. Place in an oiled bowl, cover, and refrigerate at least 4 hours or overnight.
  4. On a floured surface, roll out dough to 1/2-inch thickness (1.25 cm). Use a biscuit or a cookie cutter to cut out 2-inch rounds (5 cm), placing them on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Reroll scraps and cut again. Let rise in a warm place 30 minutes.
  5. In a heavy pot, heat 3 inches of oil (7.5 cm) to 365 degrees F (185 C); when hot enough, a small piece of dough will brown on bottom in 30 seconds. If too hot, doughnuts will brown outside before cooking through.
  6. Working in batches, fry doughnuts until golden brown, turning once. Drain on paper towels and dust with sugar while still warm. Let oil come back to 365 degrees F (185 C) between batches.
  7. If you have a pastry bag, fit with a small round tip and spoon jam into bag. When doughnuts are cool enough to handle, use tip of bag (or pointed tip of a serrated knife) to make a hole in bottom of doughnut. Squeeze or use a small spoon to nudge 1/2 teaspoon (2.5 ml) of jam into hole. Repeat with remaining doughnuts and serve immediately. Dust again with powdered sugar.

Recipe adapted from https://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/1016210-orange-scented-jelly-doughnuts-sufganiyot

Feb 27, 2018

A drama in three acts, all centered on the Fortress of Masada, a remarkable bastion perched above the Dead Sea in Israel. King Herod builds a pleasure palace, the Zealots make their last stand against Rome, and Israel returns at last. There are no heroes here, no villains, just complex people doing great and terrible deeds. Josephus, historian/traitor,  takes us through the story of the Great Jewish Revolt and the destruction of the Temple.

Masada visitor Lisa Goldberg tells us about the experience of climbing up (and down again) and exploring the ruins. And we eat traditional holiday goodies: sufganiyot and just in time for Purim, hamantaschen. Plus Israeli breakfasts.

Feb 26, 2018

Everyone loves grilled chicken, right?  Especially cooked on an open flat grill and served in a warm sandwich?  Yes, please.

Jerusalemites have their own version, the Jerusalem mixed grill, or me’orav Yerushalmi.   Chicken bits, sautéed with spices.  Supposedly concocted in the Mahane Yehuda market, just a bit west of the Old City, the mixed grill was based on English mixed grill, brought by the British.  It has a twist though.

While you can make it with breasts and thighs, traditionally the mixed grill is hearts and livers.  That’s often enough to deter the squeamish, but don’t let it!

This is the easiest recipe I’ll post.  Dice up the chicken into small pieces, and marinate with thin-sliced onion and spices.  Then sauté on a hot skillet.  Easy peasy.

When I tried it, I used breast, because of squeamish family members, and I loved it.  The spice mix I used had slightly different flavors than the usual shawarma blend: in addition to cumin and paprika, the mix has allspice, cinnamon, black pepper, and cardamom, which give a sweetish warmth and kick on the forefront of the tongue.  It’s just pleasant.  And in a warm pita with hummus and tahini sauce, marvelous.

Serves 4 at least

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 pound chicken livers, chopped  (If you’re not into livers, try thighs)
  • 1 pound chicken breast, chopped
  • 1 large onion, sliced
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg

STEPS

  1. Mix the chicken livers and breast with the onions, spices and olive oil. Marinate for several hours (up to one full day).
  2. Heat a skillet and add the seasoned meat mixture.
  3. Cook, stirring, until meat has cooked through.

Recipe adapted from http://www.girlcooksworld.com/2011/02/jerusalem-mixed-grill.html

Photo from wikipedia because I forgot to take a picture of what I cooked, which was great.  The onions, man, the onions made it all so magnificent.

Feb 13, 2018

A short bonus episode.  Drew's daughter makes her first podcasting appearance as she tells you the story of the Two Bethlehems.

Bethlehem, Indiana is a popular place to mail Christmas cards, but there's more to its story than that!

Feb 6, 2018

Jesus Christ arrives on the scene, to the consternation of the Roman authorities and the Jewish establishment. We visit the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, site of his death and resurrection, and the holiest site in Christianity. What made Jesus so revolutionary? Garry Stevens from the History in the Bible podcast comes back to the show to talk about the historical aspects of the gospels, as we tell the story of that fateful weekend in April, nearly 2000 years ago.

Even better, Gary Arndt from everything-everywhere.com returns to describe his visit to the church during Holy Week and to Bethlehem.

And of course, there's food too, including Jerusalem mixed grill.

Feb 6, 2018

You’ve heard of a cronut, right?  Some New York baker took a croissant and fried and glazed it like a donut and made bajillions?  Well, feteer is a cro-izza.  It’s flaky and buttery like a croissant; in fact, some think it was the ancestor to that noble pastry.  But it’s thrown, stuffed, topped, and eaten like a pizza.

It’s fiendishly simple, which is why I haven’t tried to make it yet.  I tend to do really badly with fiendishly simple things involving dough, because fiendishly simple dishes often require an expert technique or skill to make them terrific, since they don’t have the complex flavors that come from many ingredients or a more complicated process.

In this case, it sounds too easy to be true.  Flour, water and salt in a mixer to create a very sticky dough.  Roll into four balls and let sit in a bath of melted butter.  This sounds crazy and fattening, but it will make the flour much easier to roll out, and you’re going to use the butter anyway, so why not?

Take a ball, put it on a wide flat and floured surface, and roll it as thin as you possibly can.  If you can see through it, that’s ideal.  Put your stuffing, whether sweet or savory, in the middle, fold over the sides, and then do the same with the other layers. 

Try this, then let me know how it turns out!

Serves 4 at least

INGREDIENTS

  • 4 cups of white all purpose flour.
  • 2 cups of water ( +/- depending on the type of flour you are using)
  • A dash of salt.
  • 1 cup melted butter
  • Something savory to stuff inside (cheese, vegetables, meat) OR
    • Something sweet to stuff inside (chocolate, jam, custard)
  • Something savory to top (cheese, olives, peppers) OR
    • Something sweet to top (powdered sugar)

STEPS

  1. First, mix the flour and salt and add the first cup of water and knead very well then add the remaining bit by bit until you get a dough that is very elastic and sticky.
  2. Divide the dough into 4 balls, grease a deep dish and put the balls in it.
  3. Let it rest for 15 min. and turn your oven on to the highest degree possible, mine was 550 F.
  4. Roll the first ball to be very thin that you can see your counter top through, brush the surface generously with melted butter.
  5. Arrange your stuffing in the middle and carefully fold all 4 sides over the center.
  6. Roll the next ball until very thin and brush as you’ve done with the first ball.
  7. Place the already done one, folded side down, then fold the outer one and brush with more butter as you fold.
  8. Repeat the process for additional layers. Brush generously with butter and add the suggested toppings if you would like to.
  9. Place in a greased pizza pan - or any oven-safe pan - for 10-15 minutes until done.

Recipe adapted from https://amiraspantry.com/alexandrian-feteer-e-pizza-feteer

Jan 23, 2018

Back to Alexandria we go to visit the Catacombs of Kom El Shoqafa, a little-known but fascinating burial chamber encapsulating the marriage of Egyptian, Greek and Roman cultures and traditions.  

Talking about the marriage of Egyptian, Greek, and Roman, we meet Cleopatra, last pharaoh of Egypt and noted seductress of Julius Caesar and Mark Antony.  Or was she? She might be one of the most consequential people in antiquity, and we try to get to the bottom of her story with Margot Collins from the Undressed Historia podcast.

What's more, Gary Arndt from everything-everywhere.com drops by to talk about visiting Alexandria, including scuba diving to see the remnants of the Lighthouse!  Alexandria may not have much left from antiquity, but "age cannot wither her, nor custom stale her infinite variety."  Sorry, obligatory Shakespeare line.

In the process, we'll talk about feteer, a sort of buttery, flaky, Alexandrian pizza.  To Egypt!

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!

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