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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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Now displaying: June, 2018

Please visit the show's official page at wonderspodcast.com

Jun 26, 2018

In the remote Bekaa valley in Eastern Lebanon sit the ruins of the great temples of Heliopolis, some of the largest and most impressive ever built in Antiquity, three times larger than the Parthenon, which columns half again as tall as as those in Karnak.

The temples are mysterious, and Scott Chesworth from The Ancient World podcast helps explain what they might be, and how they might be connected to Elagabalus, one of the most fascinating and least appreciated Roman emperors. Not good, mind, but fascinating.

Elagabalus does not get the coverage of a Caligula or Nero, but maybe he should.  The teenage emperor did not kill indiscriminately, but his sexual and religious activities shocked conservative Roman society and make for excellent story-telling.

Some modern writers call Elagabalus the world's first known transgender leader.  Maybe?  We'll discuss.

There's also the story of how Caracalla meets his untimely demise, thanks to a prescient fortune-teller and a dislike of reading his own mail.

And of course, we'll talk about Lebanon, its Phoenician heritage, and the way Lebanese food has spread around the world. The recipe of the week is kibbeh, a deep-fried croquette of goodness that is as popular in the Dominican Republic as it is in Lebanon.

Jun 22, 2018

The trick to wonderful couscous is to steam the grain over the sauce so that the flavors of the stew seep into every little piece.  Much fluffier and more flavorful than the store-bought boiled method you’re probably familiar with.

This version also steams onions and chickpeas with the same method.  You soften the couscous with chicken stock first, then make a simple stew of chicken thighs, onion, tomato paste, salt and Libya’s favorite Five Spice blend: Hararat.  Hararat is cinnamon, coriander, cumin, cayenne, and allspice - I love that concept of earthy, spicy, slightly sweet. 

As that simmers, put a steamer over the pot and steam a ton of onions and chickpeas.  After they’ve softened, you’ll transfer them to a separate pot to caramelize.  Then put the couscous in the steamer and let it steam until pure fluffiness.  Then pile it up: couscous, stew, and onions on top. 

Serves 4

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 1/2 cups (600 ml) couscous
  • 1 1/2 cups (360 ml) chicken stock
  • 1 tbsp (15 ml) olive oil
  • 1 lb (500 g) Chicken thighs, boneless, cut into chunks
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 1/2 tbsp (37 ml) tomato paste
  • 1 1/2 tsp (7.5 ml) ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp (5 ml) ground cumin
  • 1 tsp (5 ml) ground coriander
  • 1/4 tsp (1 ml) chili flakes
  • 1⁄4 tsp (1 ml) ground allspice
  • 1 tsp (5 ml) salt 
  • approximately one liter of hot water
  • Approximately 7 medium onions, halved and sliced
  • 1/2 cup (120 ml) canned chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 1 tsp ghee

STEPS

  • In a saucepan, heat chicken stock to boiling.  Place couscous in a separate bowl.  Pour the hot stock over the couscous, mix, and cover.  Let rest for 5 minutes, then uncover and fluff the couscous, breaking any lumps.  Use a separate bowl rather than the saucepan because you don’t want the additional radiant heat from the pan.  The goal is soften the grains, but not to cook them yet.
  • Mix the spices together.
  • In a large pot, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat.  Sauté the chopped onion until golden, then add the tomato paste.  Stir it in and cook, stirring until the paste is fully integrated; you might need to turn the heat down to keep the mixture from scorching.
  • Add the chicken and 1 tsp of the spice blend, mixing thoroughly to coat.  Cook a couple of minutes until spices release their aroma.  Then add salt and water and bring to a boil.
  • Prepare steamer to place on top of pot and put sliced onions into steamer.  Reduce heat to medium, place the steamer onto the pot and cover.
  • After about 20 minutes, check to see if the onions are softening, then add a dish of salt and the chickpeas, then put the cover back on the steamer.
  • After another 20 minutes, the onions should be tender, but not mushy.
  • In a separate saucepan - you can use the one you heated the stock in - melt the ghee over medium-high heat.  Add the onions and chickpeas and 3 ladles of the chicken sauce.  Top with another 1 tsp of the hararat spice blend you made in step 1.  Let this simmer.
  • Put the couscous into the now-vacant steamer.  Check the stew to ensure there is enough liquid to steam the couscous - you might need to add some more water.
  • Replace the steamer and cover, steaming the couscous for about 20 minutes. 
  • When the couscous is fluffy and aromatic, prepare to serve.  Put the couscous in a large serving bowl, and sprinkle with some more of the hararat.  Then ladle the stew onto the couscous, with the onion mixture on top.
  • Enjoy!

Recipe adapted from Umm Obabdiah’s website (http://ummobaidahcooks.blogspot.com/2011/11/libyan-couscous-bil-busla-couscous-with.html)

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.

 

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