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...
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!
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!
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!
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.
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.