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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: May, 2018

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

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.

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