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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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 ( 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.  (

Serves 4


  • 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)


  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:

Serves 4


  • 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


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 (

Serves 4


  • 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


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.


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


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.


  • 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.


  • 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)


  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. 

Jun 6, 2017

Traditionally, this dish requires carp caught from the Yellow River.  You won’t have access to that in all likelihood, so use any good firm mild-flavored fish.  Whole fish looks really cool, but if you’re not trying to impress, filets work just as well.  Bass, trout, halibut, all would work fine.  I used grouper, which worked fantastically well.  The recipe is for the whole fish, but cooking a filet is easier.

Basically, score the skin of the fish if you’re using whole fish, coat it with cornstarch and then flash-fry it in a very hot wok.  Then drain the oil, and make a simple lightly sweet and vinegary sauce in the wok and serve with rice and veggies.  The sauce is not fluorescent orange.  The key is the black vinegar.  I had never heard of this.  It’s a rice-based vinegar, but aged so it becomes dark and umami-rich.  It’s kinda like balsamic but more magical, and the way it mingles with the sugar, garlic, scallions and ginger… wow.  You can use the sauce on chicken, tofu, pork… I bet it’s really good with strips of lean beef stir-fried.  Try it.  You will like it.


1 whole or filleted fish (1 1/2 lbs)
1 tsp salt
oil for frying (peanut or vegetable or similar)

2 green onions, chopped fine
2 tbsp fresh ginger, peeled and chopped fine
3 cloves garlic, chopped fine
1/4 cup black vinegar
3 tbsp sugar (preferably turbinado)
2 tbsp soy sauce
1/4 chicken stock (unsalted)
1 tbsp cornstarch dissolved in 3 tbsp cold water


  1. Pat the fish dry with paper towels, then using a sharp knife, score the fish with deep curved angled cuts along both sides.  Sprinkle the fish with salt, including within the cuts, and let it sit while you prepare the rest.
  2. Heat a wok over medium heat until it starts to smoke, then add about 3 inches of oil (which is a lot more than you’d think).  Get all your other ingredients next to the stove along with chopsticks and a slotted spoon and a serving platter, lined with paper towels.  Be ready because you’ll be moving fast.
  3. Hold the fish up by the tail so the slashes you made flap open.  Coat the fish with cornstarch, including the slashes, then drop a little starch into the oil to determine that it’s hot enough (you’ll want it around 300 degrees F).  If the starch bubbles and disappears, you’re ready.  Lower the fish headfirst slowly into the oil, letting the slashes open up wide.  Adjust the heat if necessary so that the oil is bubbling but  the fish is not browning too fast. Ladle hot oil over the fish to ensure even frying.  When one side is golden brown, use your spoon and chopsticks to gently turn the fish over.  Keep the tail raw for as long as possible, to keep it from breaking off - it cooks very quickly at the end. Once the second side is golden brown, carefully use your spoon and chopsticks to lift it out of the oil and onto your serving platter.
  4. Remove all but 2 tablespoons of oil from the wok - pour the excess into a large empty glass jar or two so you can safely dispose of it later.  Heat the remaining oil over medium-high high, then add the green onions, ginger, and garlic.  Stir them for about 10 seconds to release there aroma, then add the vinegar, sugar, soy sauce and stock.  Bring to a boil and adjust seasoning if necessary - probably not needed, but just in case - then stir in the corn starch slurry.  As soon as the sauce bubbles, pour it evenly over the fish and garnish with excess scallions (the green parts of the green onions).
  5. Enjoy with rice and a veg - I sauteed broccolini in sesame oil, but you do you.

Adapted from All Under Heaven: Recipes from the 35 Cuisines of China by Carolyn Phillips

Jun 6, 2017

Looming over Confucius' home province of Shandong, Mount Tai is the holiest place in Daoism, which means we can tackle both great philosophies while discussing feudal China and Shandong cuisine.

May 16, 2017

An incredibly delicious dish of North African origin, shakshuka is eggs poached in tomato sauce, but it’s so much more than that.  Brought to Israel by immigrants from Morocco, Tunisia, and Libya, shakshuka has been throughly embraced by Israelis, and it’s easy to see why.  I like it as part of the breakfast meal that’s traditionally served at sundown on the day after Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, which is the fast day in September or October. 

Basically, start by sautéing onions and pepper in a cast-iron skillet.  Get them brown and even a little charred, then add a bit of garlic.  Paprika, cumin, coriander come in. Canned whole tomatoes, mashed up as you cook them.  Then whatever else you want: olives, feta, greens, beans, artichokes, whatever. 

Once you’ve got a crazy good sauce, use a spoon to make indentations in the sauce and then crack the eggs into those holes.  Finish it in a preheated oven until the egg whites are just set.  Then Woot!  Dig in!

Serves 6


  • 3 tablespoons (45ml) extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 large red pepper (bell pepper for milder heat, or a hotter variety, such as red horned pepper, chopped
  • 1 fresh small hot chili (such as jalapeño, serrano, or Fresno), stems, seeds, and ribs removed, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons (15g) sweet Hungarian or smoked Spanish paprika
  • 1 tablespoons (10g) ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon (5g) ground coriander
  • 1 (28-ounce; 800g) can whole peeled tomatoes, crushed by squeezing between your fingers
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • Large handful minced cilantro, parsley, or a mix
  • 6 eggs
  • Crusty bread, for serving


  1. Heat oil in a large cast-iron skillet on medium heat.  Sauté the onion and peppers.  Don’t stir for the first 6 minutes, allowing the veggies to get brown and crispy in parts.  I like the texture that the browning gives.  Then stir give it another six minutes without stirring Finally, once you have good charred bits, sauté another 4 minutes or so.
  2. Add the garlic, but only until it softens (30 seconds)
  3. Throw in the spices, and cook while stirring until you can smell it.
  4. Immediately add the hand-crushed tomatoes, stir, and reduce to a simmer.  Simmer for 10 minutes, then add salt, pepper and half of the herbs.
  5. With a large spoon, make six indentations in the reduced sauce.  Crack the eggs and slide them into the indentations.  Spoon some sauce onto the whites of the eggs, leaving the yolks visible.  Add a little salt onto the eggs, then cover and let simmer for 5-8 minutes, until the whites are barely set and the yolks still runny.
  6. Definitely serve with crusty bread for dipping, although pita, sourdough, heck anything will do.

Again, play around with this.  Once you have the basic down, add other stuff: olives, artichokes, greens, mushrooms, cheese, chorizo, you name it.  If this doesn't become your go-to brunch standard, I'll eat my new hipster hat.

Recipe a blend of ideas from and 

May 16, 2017

The Jews had been exiled, came back, were exiled again, and have come back again. Through the process they changed a temple into a book, redefining religion. We'll see the Western Wall and talk Israeli breakfasts with Lara Rodin and Noah Lew, and Garry Stephens of the History in the Bible podcast helps us examine the biblical history.

May 3, 2017

Falafel are crunchy-on-the-outside, fluffy-on-the-inside deep-fried balls of ground chickpeas.  They are an essential part of most Middle-Eastern cuisines, and are particularly embraced in Israel - since they are vegetarian, they can be eaten at any meal even if you’re keeping kosher.

Normally, I scour the web and test different recipes to find the right one to share with you. And typically, I make some changes to match my experience. In this case, I am going to direct you straight to a recipe I used that needs no changes or doctoring.  This recipe made phenomenal falafels, and I even had success with their accompanying condiments.

So here:

Just make that.  Make the tahini and the zhug and get good pitas to go with.  But you don’t need the bread.

Tell me this isn’t as good as restaurant-quality falafel.  It’s so so so good.  And not too difficult.

May 3, 2017

Near the shores of the salt-saturated Dead Sea, the Israelites wrote the world's most read book. Garry Stephens of the History in the Bible podcast helps us examine historical accuracy, while Lara Rodin and Noah Lew help us visit Israel. Plus falafel!

Apr 18, 2017

When you need something sweet and simple, look no further than mahalabia, a “milk pudding” made with just milk, sugar, corn starch, and flavor.

Traditionally, rosewater is the way to go, but if you can find rosewater, you’re better connected than I am.  Moroccans go with orange blossom water, but again, that’s not at your local 7-11 either.  So if you must, which I did, vanilla works in a pinch, but it’s not a 1:1 trade!

Making mahalabia is super easy, but you have to pay attention.  It’s very easy to burn this or not make it thick enough or make it too thick.  When I tried making it, it was not thick enough.  Ack!  But don’t stress too much.  Just watch the clues: when it coats the back of your spoon, it’s done.

Serves 4


  • 2 cups Milk, plus 1/2 cup extra
  • 1/2 cups Sugar
  • 4 Tablespoons Cornstarch
  • 2 teaspoons rosewater (or 2 tsp orange blossom water or 1/2 tsp vanilla extract)


  1. Over medium heat, warm milk and sugar to close to boiling.  Be sure to stir pretty constantly to keep the milk from sticking to the bottom of the pan.  Turn down to low.
  2. In a side bowl, while the milk/sugar combo is heating up, combine cornstarch and extra milk.
  3. Add cornstarch mixture to milk, stir and warm until milk mixture thickens and coats the back of your spoon.  They say it takes 2 minutes, but I think it’s a bit longer than that.
  4. Take off the heat, and add rosewater or substitute. Stir and cool in refrigerator until thick and delicious.  3 hours minimum, but the longer the better.
  5. Consider adding raisins, pistachios, or almonds.

Play around with this - other versions have cardamon as well.  Just watch the heat when you’re boiling the milk - you don’t want it to stick or burn.  The final consistency ought to be something similar to Greek yogurt.

Apr 18, 2017

Ramesses the Great, public relations genius, takes us to Abu Simbel to visit his masterpiece of self-glorification. We talk about his reign and visiting Aswan with Dominic and Jack one last time. Plus ancient graffiti, singing kids on boats, and pudding!

Apr 4, 2017


Molokhia is a vegetable, technically the leaves of the jute plant, also called Jew’s Mallow. Jute, like other mallows such as marshmallow (not that marshmallow, but the original plant) and okra, is mucilaginous, which means that it creates a mucus-lke texture when cooked.  Molokhia is also the name of a soup which has been enjoyed by Egyptians since pharaonic times.  Does the idea of a slimy bright green soup seem appealing?  No? 

Well, you’ll never know until you try it.  So why not give it a try?  Molokhia is full of vitamins, and the onion, garlic, coriander and chicken stock will all help make the soup flavorful and delicious.  Serve with a side of rice, and you’re good to go.  It’s like a bright green chicken gumbo.  Really.  Molokhia is vague related to okra, and serves a similar purpose.

There are a variety of different recipes for molokhia, but they all have some consistencies.  Most start with chicken, but others use rabbit - which was the original, traditional choice - or duck, lamb, or any other meat.  Most include using the meat to make the stock for the soup, but honestly, if you’re using chicken, save a step by using one of the fine organic chicken stocks available in most groceries.

Molokhia the vegetable is not something you're going to find in most Western groceries, and outside the Middle East and Asia, you’re not going to find it fresh at all.  Word on the interwebs though is that frozen molokhia works very well for this soup, and that should be available at any Middle Eastern grocery, and apparently at some Asian groceries as well.

You really can’t substitute spinach or kale or mustard greens or anything similar.  The texture of the jute is important.

I’m basing this recipe on the recipe here: — Yvonne’s recipe is the best I’ve found so far, but I’m putting coriander back into the mix, because it’s in every other recipe I’ve found, and that feels important.

Serves 6


  • 4 tablespoons olive oil, divided into 2
  • 1 cup diced yellow onions (about 2 small onions)
  • 2 split chicken breasts, skin-on
  • 2 tablespoons ground cumin
  • 1 tablespoon ground coriander
  • 4 cups Chicken stock (preferably organic/roasted/reduced sodium)
  • 2 packages frozen molokhia leaves (jute leaves)
  • 8 cloves garlic (chopped - the finer you mince the garlic, the stronger the flavor.  This calls for larger chunks, which should be a little more mellow)
  • 1 lemon, cut into wedges
  • 4 cups prepared white rice (basmati works fine)


  1. In a large soup pot or Dutch oven, heat the first 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Sauté the onions until translucent or slightly browned.
  2. Season the chicken with salt, pepper and cumin, rubbing the spices into and under the skin.
  3. Add the chicken and sauté for about 2-3 minutes. Continue to sauté until the chicken is nicely browned on all sides.
  4. Add the stock and increase the heat to bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and cook, covered, for 35 minutes.
  5. Remove the chicken and let cool. Once cooled, remove the skin and bones and pull the meat apart so that it’s nicely shredded. Add back to the broth.
  6. Open up the packages of molokhia and drop directly into the pot.  As the molokhia heats up, it will break apart, but you can use your wooden spoon to help this along.
  7. Meanwhile, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a small sauté pan for the garlic and coriander.  Start with the garlic, then after a couple of minutes, add the coriander. Cook until nicely browned, about 5 minutes total, stirring constantly.  Watch this - you do not want to burn the garlic or overly toast the coriander.
  8. Add the garlic and coriander with the oil directly into the soup and stir it up.
  9. Scoop the rice into soup bowls and serve the soup on top, with fresh lemon on the side.

Play around with this - other versions have cinnamon, paprika, dill and cilantro making appearances.  I promise I will try when I get back to my kitchen, and I will update this appropriately.

Thanks to Yvonne Maffei (




Apr 4, 2017

We're sticking around Luxor, Egypt, and crossing the Nile to visit the tombs of the New Kingdom pharaohs in the Valley of the Kings. We discuss Tut and Akhenaten. Plus pigeons! Dominic Perry and Lantern Jack stop by again to share their thoughts and tips.

Mar 21, 2017

Om Ali (Egyptian Bread Pudding)

I don’t do a lot of desserts on this podcast, mainly because, well, I don’t know why.  I just don’t.  Maybe it’s the hassle of baking, maybe it’s that I prefer savory dishes, maybe it’s that desserts aren’t THAT different from place to place?  Maybe it’s something deep in my psyche.

Well, I’m bucking the trend today!  Om Ali (sometimes spelled Umm Ali) is an Egyptian bread pudding.  The name means “Ali’s Mom” and refers to the wife of an Egyptian sultan back in the middle ages.  The story is that after the sultan died, Om Ali got into a fight with another of his wives, had her killed, and then gave this succulent dessert to the people of Egypt to celebrate.  A weird story, if you ask me.  She doesn’t have a name?  Just “Ali’s Mom”? 

Anyway, the story is awkward, but the dessert is delicious.  In its most basic form, it’s layered phyllo dough, crisped in an oven, and then soaked in sweetened milk to make a bread pudding, and then studded with nuts, raisins and such.

That can be delicious, but it’s also possible to make it particularly awesome by adding a couple of small steps.

I’m basing this recipe on the recipe here:  — When Tasbih claimed that this was “best ever”, I took her at her word.

I’ve changed hers up a little bit, mainly because a) I like the warmth that a little cinnamon, cardamom and vanilla provide and b) I don’t have access to country-style clotted cream, so I thickened up the milk sauce with some extra cream.

There are plenty of other recipes that say those two changes are OK, so I’m comfortable with not being yelled at.

Anyway, try this.  It’s so freaking delicious.  So so so good.


  • 1 package (17.5 oz / 500 g) of frozen puff pastry sheets, thawed
  • 1 cup / 240 ml sugar, divided in two
  • 1 tsp cinnamon, divided in two
  • 1/2 tsp cardamom, divided in two
  • 4 cups / 1 liter whole milk
  • 1/2 cup / 120 ml whipping cream
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1/2 cup golden raisins (aka sultanas) (optional)
  • 1/2 cup shelled pistachios (optional)


  1. Preheat an oven to 200 C / 400 F.  Unfold the puff pastry sheets onto a floured surface.  Take 1/4 cup of the sugar, and sprinkle it onto the pastry sheets.  Do the same with 1/2 tsp of the cinnamon and 1/4 tsp of the cardamom.  Use a rolling pin to push the sugar and spices into the dough.
  2. Fold the bottom sixth of the pastry up.  Do the same with the top sixth.  Then fold the top and bottom again so that they meet in the middle.  Sprinkle with the remaining 1/4 cup of sugar.  Fold the top onto the bottom one last time.  You should have six layers.
  3. Refrigerate the dough for 20 minutes to firm up.
  4. Cut the dough into 3/8 inch / 1 cm pieces.  Put them onto a baking sheet with plenty of space between.  Cook for 6-8 minutes per side - Don’t forget to flip! - then set aside.  These lovely cookies are called Lunettes or Palmiers.  You can actually enjoy them as is, if you like, but only a couple of more steps will take you to Om Ali brilliance. 
  5. Crumble up 3/4 of the lunettes and put them in a 9’x11’ glass baking dish.  Layer on the raisins and the pistachios if you’re using them.
  6. In a medium saucepan, combine the remaining 1/2 cup sugar, 1/2 tsp cinnamon, and 1/4 cardomom.  Add the milk and bring to a rolling simmer.  Take it off the heat and add vanilla and cream.
  7. Pour the milk mixture over the cookies.  Let it sit for 10 minutes.  While that’s doing, preheat the broiler.
  8. Put the rest of the cookies, crumbled up, on top of the soaked mixture.  Put it under the broiler for about 10 minutes to ensure a crispy golden brown top.
  9. Enjoy!

Thanks to Tasbih at for the brilliant idea of pre-cooking the puff pastry!

Mar 21, 2017

We go to Luxor Egypt, ancient capital of the New Kingdom, to visit the great temples of Karnak and Luxor. We discuss Hatshepsut: a fascinating woman who became king. We also talk temple-side fries! Special thanks to Dominic Perry and Lantern Jack.

Mar 7, 2017

Most food on Santorini requires the local volcanic soil or crystal blue waters to make it special.  While we could make tomatokeftedes, the deep-fried fritters fueled by the phenomenal local tomatoes, so perfect in the volcanic soil, you can’t get Santorini tomatoes where you are, so it would be a pale imitation at best.

Therefore, we’re going with something simple, that you can make with ingredients from your local supermarket.  Dakos is translated as “bread salad” but I prefer to think of it as a cheesy Greek bruschetta. 

Officially, these are made with barley rusks, which are twice-cooked bread rounds that are approximately as hard as rock.  By letting them soak up the tomato juice and olive oil of the marinade, you make the rusks edible.  So that’s one way of going, but my version is a pansy American attempt, mainly because I can’t get barley rusks anywhere and I live in a major metropolitan area in the 21st century: I’m guessing if I can’t get ‘em, you can’t get ‘em either.

So yes, this is absolutely not actual dakos.  But you know what?  It’s amazing.  My new favorite thing.  It made me love feta for the first time in my life.  Eat. It.


  • 4 slices of good, rustic country crusty bread
  • 4 ripe tomatoes - use heirloom if you can
  • 4 tbsp feta cheese - if you can do 2 tbsp feta, 2 tsp mzithra, even better
  • 4 tsp olive oil
  • 2 tsp oregano (Greek or Turkish, not Mexican - there is a difference)
  • salt and pepper to taste


  1. Chop the tomatoes. Some recipes call for grating them, but I find that unless you have perfect summer tomatoes, grating loses too much texture and leads to an unsavory mushiness. Put the tomatoes in a large bowl.
  2. Mix with cheese, olive oil and oregano.  Let sit for five minutes for flavors to meld.
  3. Toast the bread to a golden brown.
  4. While still hot - which is not at all canon, but I love what the warmth of the bread does to the tomatoes and cheese - top the slices with the mixture.
  5. Let sit on the bread for a few minutes so the juices soak in.  Salt and pepper to taste.
  6. Enjoy!

NB: The picture does NOT match the recipe.  The picture is of ACTUAL dakos, courtesy of wikipedia user Frente.  I only remember to take a picture of what I'm cooking something like 20% of the time, which leaves me frantically scrambling and searching the internet like a college freshman.  Anyway, you'll note the barley rusk on this picture.  Frente also used olives, which you are welcome and encouraged to do - I am weird (as noted in Episode 3: The Statue of Zeus): I don't like olives though I love olive oil.  But do as you will.

Mar 7, 2017

We go to the Greek island of Santorini to learn about the eruption that devastated the Minoan civilization of nearby Crete. Plus minotaurs, donkeys, Atlantis and Cretan cuisine!  Thanks to Ryan Stitt, Margo Anton, and Seth Ruderman for their help.

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