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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Oct 11, 2018

It's the story of a farmboy, an actress, an unruly mob, and a bacterium. The Roman Empire evolved, and based in Constantinople, it reached a new golden age under the leadership of Justinian. His success is best seen in the masterpiece church: the Hagia Sophia, or Ayasofya in Turkish.

The Hagia Sophia was the greatest cathedral in Christendom for a thousand years, then a resplendent mosque, and now a fully restored museum. But shortly after its construction highlighted the peak of Eastern Roman prosperity, a bacterium came to Constantinople and brought the empire to its knees.

Joining me to talk about Justinian, the Hagia Sophia, and the plague is the great Robin Pierson, host of the History of Byzantium podcast. Robin recently visited Istanbul and talks about exploring its Byzantine sites as well as how Turkish food charmed even his palate.

There are fish sandwiches to eat and Ratatouille references to enjoy.


Heather, Peter. The Restoration of Rome: Barbarian Popes and Imperial Pretenders

Lonely Planet Istanbul

Lord Kinross. Hagia Sophia

Norwich, John Julius. Byzantium: The Early Centuries

Paul the Silentiary, Descriptio S. Sophiae

Procopius. The Secret History

Procopius. Wars of Justinian

Rick Steves' Istanbul

Rosen, William. Justinian's Flea: Plague, Empire, and the Birth of Europe

Music by Turku, Nomads of the Silk Road from their album Alleys of Istanbul

Sep 27, 2018

Rising from the Sri Lankan jungle stands the citadel of Sigiriya.  An immense rock of volcanic origin, Sigiriya was transformed into the magnificent palace of Kassapa, a king whose story will blow your mind.  Think Macbeth meets Othello with a dash of a Poe short story. You're going to enjoy this one.
By a tremendous bit of serendipity (which is useful, given that the word "serendipity" comes from the Arabic word for Sri Lanka), my daughter's two best friends are of Sri Lankan descent, and one of their mothers joined me for an in-person interview about visiting the magnificent citadel, other sites in Sri Lanka and of course, all the great things to eat, including kiribath, a coconut milk rice dish that serves as the official first meal of every new year.
Bullis, Douglas and Wendy Hutton. The Food of Sri Lanka: Authentic Recipe from the Isle of Gems.
Culavamsa, translated by Wilhelm Geiger
Lonely Planet Sri Lanka
Rough Guide to Sri Lanka
Wanasundera, Nanda Pethiyagoda and Jo-Ann Spelling. Sri Lanka.
Music by Niranjala Sarojini

Sep 15, 2018

The best lunch I’ve ever eaten was ceviche in Lima.  Hands down. 

Traditional Peruvian ceviche is amazingly simple.  Seafood, lime juice, red onion, and chile.  That’s it.  Plus sweet potato and corn on the side.

As I said in the episode, you probably won’t be able to make the real thing, because your seafood, as fresh as it might be, won’t be as fresh as the seafood in Lima. Fed by the Humboldt Current, caught that morning, and served for lunch because dinner would be too late: that’s Limeño ceviche.

But if you do have good seafood available, this will get you pretty darn close!

Some notes:

  • If you have one, use a mandoline for the red onion to get it as thin as possible. 
  • Feel free to substitute scallops or shrimp or octopus or really any seafood, diced in the same size, for the fish, or mix them.
  • If you can get Peruvian aji amarillo (yellow pepper), use that, but this jalapeño will do. 
  • If you can find giant-kerneled Peruvian corn, that would be ideal, but whatever you have will do.
  • The fish needs to be as fresh as possible. Buy from a reputable fishmonger. If you cannot prepare and eat immediately, keep the fish on ice in the refrigerator to maintain as much freshness as possible. 


Serves 4



  • 1 lb (0.5 kg) fresh ocean fish filets - like grouper or sea bass - sliced into 1/2 inch (1 cm) chunks
  • 1 small red onion, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 cup lime juice, freshly squeezed
  • 1 or 2 jalapeño peppers, seeds and ribs removed, minced very fine
  • 1/4 cup (60 ml) chopped cilantro leaves
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 large sweet potato
  • 2 ears of corn, husked  (maize, if you prefer)



  • In separate pots, boil the corn and sweet potato until tender.  When cool, peel sweet potato. Slice corn into 2 inch (5 cm) segments, slice potato into 1 inch (2.5 cm) segments.
  • Combine fish, onion, lime juice, cilantro, and chiles in a bowl, mixing gently with your hands. Use gloves, if you’re worried about the acid and chile.  Season with salt and pepper.
  • Let sit for 15-20 minutes.
  • Serve.


Recipe adapted from

Sep 13, 2018

Etched in the rocky plains of the southern Peruvian coast, the Nazca Lines fascinate visitors and archaeologists. While we still don't know why the Nazca people created lines, shapes and figures that could only be seen from the air, we have some hypotheses. We also know: not aliens.

Max Serjeant from the Latin American History podcast talks about how civilization came to ancient Peru, how the Nazca and their predecessors tamed the desert, and why archaeologists think the Nazca created their geoglyphs.

Tracy DeLuca, an avid traveller who recently flew over the lines, tells about her experience, both the amazing views and the stomach-churning turns.

We also talk about Lima, one of my favorite cities, with its colonial architecture and incredible food scene, featuring ceviche, some of the best food on earth. So grab a pisco sour and enjoy!

Dubé, Ryan. Moon Guide to Peru

Hadingham, Evan. Lines to the Mountain Gods: Nazca and the Mysteries of Peru

Lonely Planet Peru

Masterson, Daniel. The History of Peru

Moseley, Michael E. The Incas and Their Ancestors

Aug 31, 2018

BONUS EPISODE!  In March 2018, Drew Vahrenkamp appeared on Stephanie Craig's History Fangirl podcast to discuss what was once the largest city on earth, in area at least: Angkor, Cambodia. For the upcoming holiday weekend in the US, we are honored to share this episode with you.  Please check out more of Stephanie's interviews with travelers, historians, bloggers and podcasters at

Angkor, along with its most famous temple Angkor Wat, is one of the most unique places in the world. The French claim to have discovered it when Cambodia was part of French Indochina, but like so many “lost” places the locals always knew about it. However, much of what we know about the ancient city comes from inscriptions and other artwork on the temple. And because the jungle climate much of the other information we have about the city may be lost forever, but we do know that it was the largest pre-industrial city in the history of the world.

My guest today is Drew Vahrenkamp of the Wonders of the World podcast. We chat about the ancient history of Angkor, how tourism in the city has changed dramatically over the last two decades, and how history lovers grapple with the ancient past of Cambodia, and the more recent reign of the Khmer Rouge.

Aug 25, 2018

Lanzhou, the capital of Gansu province, is justifiably famous for this dish, a delectable, spicy beef broth served over hand-pulled noodles, with layers of beef and daikon radish on top.  Restaurants all over Gansu ladle out this dish as a pick-me-up breakfast.


You can’t make the real thing, because some of the actual ingredients are only available to restauranteurs in China and because hand-pulling noodles is incredibly challenging — they even have schools for it in Lanzhou.


So this is a legitimate home version from the terrific cookbook All Under Heaven.


Really exciting: it’s an excuse to use that InstantPot you got for the holidays and have been struggling to find uses for.  Woot!  You can do this without a pressure cooker, of course, but it will help to have one.


The challenge here is getting all the ingredients.  It will be hard to do if you don’t have access to an Asian grocery. 


One last note: this dish will taste much, much better if you let it rest for a day or so to let the flavors blend.  Prepare it the day before you plan to serve it, then reheat on the stove.


As usual with red meat, I won’t get to make this at home, so if you can get the ingredients and try it out, please let me know!


Serves 4



  • 1.25 - 1.5 lbs (2-3 kg) boneless beef shank (or 3 lbs (5.5 kg) with the bone)
  • 3 tbsp (45 ml) vegetable oil
  • 1/4 cup (60 ml) thinly sliced fresh ginger
  • 1 large leek, cleaned, split lengthwise, sliced into 1 in (2 cm) lengths or 1 medium yellow onion, cut into eighths
  • 3 1/2 tbsp (50 ml) bean sauce
  • 1/4 cup (60 ml) mild rice wine
  • 1 tbsp (15 ml) rock sugar
  • 1 tbsp (15 ml) soy sauce
  • 1 lb Chinese radish, sliced and quartered
  • 10 cups (2.3 liters) unsalted beef stock (feel free to make your own, of course)
  • Spices:
    • 1 small black cardamom pod
    • 2 tsp (10 ml) fennel seeds
    • 1 tbsp (15 ml) Sichuan peppercorns
    • 1 tsp (5 ml) white peppercorns
    • 3 pieces sand ginger
    • 3 pieces licorice root
    • 1 piece aged tangerine peel (1/2 inch/2 cm diameter)
    • 1 stick cinnamon
    • 5 pieces star anise
  • 1 bunch fresh cilantro as garnish
  • black vinegar as garnish
  • Chile oil as garnish
  • 2 lbs (1 kg) fresh noodles



  • Beef shank - Brisket would work well here, as would short ribs.
  • Bean sauce - This is not bean paste, which is mostly wheat.
  • Soy sauce - Chinese soy sauce is different from Japanese soy sauce (which is often more widely available in the US).  Japanese sauces tend to be lighter and saltier, so don’t use as much or it will be super-salty.
  • Rock sugar - Chunks of crystallized sugar; you can substitute equivalent amount of brown sugar or white sugar.
  • Chinese radish - Looks like a turnip, actually a radish. You can substitute daikon; western radishes are a bit spicier.
  • Sand ginger - A variety of ginger that is a little more aromatic than regular ginger.
  • Licorice root - Dried licorice root. It is what it sounds like.
  • Aged tangerine peel - You can dry your own and it would work fine, or in a pinch, peel an orange and remove the pith. It won’t be as concentrated so you might use a bigger piece.
  • Black vinegar - I love this stuff; you can use a blend of rice vinegar and balsamic to replicate.
  • Chile oil - available at most markets or make your own by soaking chile pepper flakes in hot (but not too hot) oil.



  • Pat the beef very dry.
  • In a pressure cooker or wok, heat the vegetable oil over medium high heat, then add the beef and the ginger.
  • Brown the beef on both sides, adding the leek.
  • Tricky: scootch the beef and veggies to one side of the pan, lift it so the oil collects in the other, and add the bean sauce, cooking for 30 seconds to release the aromas.  With a regular pressure cooker or wok, this is no problem, but with an InstantPot, you’ll want to lift the pan out of the machine (USING A POTHOLDER) to do this.
  • Pour in rice wine, then add soy sauce and sugar, stirring well to combine.
  • Spread the radish around the beef, and cover with beef stock.  If your cooker/wok isn’t big enough, you might not need the full 10 cups / 2.3 liters.
  • Now, onto spices.  Using the flat of your knife, crack the cardamon pod. Put it and the other spices into a cheesecloth bag or a mesh ball and add it to the soup.
  • Cover and seal.  In a pressure cooker, you’ll want to cook for an hour.  In a wok, you’re looking at three hours after you’ve brought it to a boil, adding more stock as you go if the levels drop.
  • Once it’s done and the pressure has dropped enough that it’s safe to open the pressure cooker, or after three hours braising in the wok, check the meat.  It should be really tender.  If not, give it another 15 minutes of pressure or 30 minutes of simmer.  Regardless, add the rest of the stock if you haven’t already.
  • Taste the seasoning and adjust if needed.  Remove the spices and the beef.  Refrigerate everything.
  • Go to sleep, go to work, do whatever it is you do.
  • When you’re ready to serve, skim the fat off the soup, and reheat.  About 10 minutes before dinner time, boil water and cook the noodles until they float.  While they cook, slice the cold meat against the grain - it will keep its shape better when cold.
  • Take the noodles out with a Chinese spider or tongs and place them in each bowl.  Put the meat on top, then ladle the soup onto that.  Garnish with chopped cilantro and have the oil and vinegar available.


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

Photo from user N509FZ on wikipedia

Aug 23, 2018

A great trade route connected China to the West: the Silk Road. No place in China better illustrates the value of that route than Dunhuang, site of the Mogao Caves, grottos carved into a cliffside which hold the largest collection of Buddhist art anywhere. In Gansu province, Dunhuang was the site of the Jade Gate, where the main road left China into the lands beyond.
Nathan Cherry of the Silk Road History Podcast helps tell the story of these caves, their city, and the route, starting with the expedition of Zhang Qian, China's Lewis (or maybe Clark?) who first traversed into the unknown.
More stories follow: the son of immigrants who translated the sutras, the daughter who went to war, the crown prince who saved countless artifacts.
The caves are remarkable; the town is too, nestled against giant sand dunes at the edge of the desert. To eat, try Lanzhou Beef Noodle Soup, the perfect breakfast, if you like soup for breakfast - Westerners might find this a perfect dinner instead.
Selected Sources:
Keay, John. China: a History
Kwa, Shiamin and Wilt L. Idema. Mulan: Five Versions of a Classic Chinese Legend, with Related Texts
Lagerwey, John and Lü Pengzhi, editors. Early Chinese religion. Part 2, The period of division (220-589 AD)
Lonely Planet China
Stephan, Annelisa. "14 Fascinating Facts about the Cave Temples of Dunhuang" from The Iris from the Getty Museum
The Dunhuang Academy's website (

Aug 14, 2018

A quick update about the podcast, with news of all sorts.  To learn more: click here

Jul 27, 2018



Pašticada is a long-simmered piece of beef, the kind of beef that would normally be tough and chewy, but when you cook it low and slow melts in your mouth.  Flavored with vinegar, fruit, veggies, and spices, it’s a traditional holiday or Sunday night meal,


Basically, you take a big ol’ slab of top round, or silverside in the UK, stick cloves of garlic and pieces of prosciutto inside it, douse it in vinegar, and leave it overnight to marinate.  The next day, you quickly sear it Then you roast it with veggies like onion, celery root, carrots, plus prunes, and wine and olive oil.  Low and slow in the oven. 


When it’s done, as the meat rests, you puree the fruit, veggies, spices, wine, and drippings into a succulent sauce.  And serve it all over njoki (gnocchi if you’d rather), which is far easier to make at home than you think.


Every Croatian grandmother has her own recipe; this is one that seems like a winner to me.  Since, as I may have mentioned, my wife doesn’t eat red meat, I’m reliant on you to try this out.


Serves 6



  • 1.5-2 kg (3.5-4.5 lb) of stewing beef (top round or silverside in the UK)
  • 100 g (3.5 oz) pršut (Croatian prosciutto) (Consider Italian prosciutto or regular bacon, cut in smallish squares or strips as an alternative.)
  • 5 cloves garlic, sliced lengthwise
  • 6 cloves
  • 3 juniper berries
  • salt
  • 750 ml (3 cups) balsamic vinegar (This can be expensive. Red wine vinegar will work as well.)
  • 400 ml (1 2/3 cup) dry red wine, divided (The Croatian Plavac Mali is closely related to Zinfandel, so try that.)
  • 100ml (half a cup) extra virgin olive oil
  • 30 ml (2 tablespoons) flour
  • 250 ml (1 cup) beef broth
  • 5 carrots, peeled and coarsely chopped
  • 1 large celery root, peeled and coarsely chopped
  • 1 parsley root, peeled and coarsely chopped (if you cannot find parsley root, use more celery and add a large potato, peeled and coarsely chopped.)
  • 150 ml (2/3 cup) prošek (a white Croatian desert wine, which is NOT prosecco - very different. Consider Sauternes as an alternative.)
  • 15 ml (1 tbsp) sugar
  • salt to taste
  • black pepper to taste
  • 8 prunes, finely chopped
  • 1 bunch fresh parsley
  • package of gnocchi (unless you're making your own - which is delicious and easier than you'd think, but outside the scope of this recipe)



  1. Begin on the day before you intend to serve the pašticada. Dry the beef and use a sharp knife to cut small openings all over. Carefully insert the pršut or bacon, garlic and cloves.
  2. In a ceramic or aluminium bowl, combine the vinegar with the juniper berries, a bay leaf, a pinch of salt and a pinch of pepper into the vinegar to make a marinade.
  3. Place the meat inside, top up with about 250 ml red wine until fully covered. Leave in the fridge or a cold place for a minimum of 12 hours, but preferably for 24.
  4. The next day, take the meat out of the marinade and dab it dry with paper towels.  Be sure to reserve the marinade! Remove the pršut/bacon, garlic and cloves from the meat and reserve them as well.
  5. Roll the beef in the flour until it’s lightly dusted on all sides.
  6. Heat the olive oil in a large dutch oven on medium-high. Place the meat in the hot oil, turning regularly until it is browned on all sides. This should take about 10 minutes. Once browned, remove the meat from the pan, retaining the oil.
  7. Using the same oil over medium high heat, sauté the onions and carrots, plus the garlic and bacon that were used with the marinade, until the bacon starts to brown (the meaty parts). Stir constantly.
  8. Deglaze the pan with the beef broth and bring to a boil. Replace the beef to the Dutch oven, cover partially, and boil for about 10 minutes.
  9. Meanwhile, mix the tomato paste, dessert wine, an additional 150 ml red wine and sugar in a bowl.
  10. When the broth and beef have boiled 10 minutes, add the wine blend to the Dutch oven, then add the celery root, parsley root and 2 bay leaves. Season with salt and pepper, reduce to low heat and cover.
  11. Simmer for 80 minutes, stirring lightly occasionally. If the braising liquid starts to dry up, add some of the leftover marinade.
  12. Halfway through the simmer, about 40 minutes in, add the chopped prunes. Stir well.
  13. Continue simmering for another 80 minutes, or until the meat is very tender. Again, add marinade if the braising liquid is dry.
  14. Once the meat is tender enough, remove it from the Dutch oven, let it cool a little and cut it into thick slices (about 2 cm, a little less than an inch, in thickness).
  15. For the sauce, turn up the heat of the remaining liquids and vegetables to high and boil for at least 5 minutes to reduce the sauce. Remove the bay leaves and juniper berries (if possible) and either use an immersion blender or, in batches, puree the sauce in a blender.
  16. Prepare your gnocchi (njoki) according to the package instructions (assuming you’re not making your own).
  17. Return the blended sauce to the saucepan, season to taste, add the meat and reheat.
  18. Your pašticada is now ready to serve. Sprinkle it with fresh parsley, then place a slice or two of meat per plate next to some gnocchi (or other accompaniment) and pour the sauce generously over both. Serve with a fresh green salad.


Recipe adapted from

Photo from


Jul 24, 2018

Rome was entrenched in chaos, until one man took charge, and through sheer force of will - and the army - remade the Empire into a completely new government, one that would last for over a thousand years.  Then he retired to farm cabbages, moving into an incredible palace on the shores of the Adriatic Sea, a palace which today forms the core of Split, Croatia's old town.

Rob and Jamie from the Totalus Rankium podcast drop by once again to discuss Diocletian, one of the most significant emperors, whose legacy paved the way to medieval Europe. We dig into the good, like his bureaucratic reforms, the bad, like his persecution of Christians, and the ugly, like his edict on prices.

Listener Hrvoje Tolić calls in to discuss Split, the sights, and the cuisine.  Pašticada, a long-marinated beef roast served over njoki, is the recipe of the day.

Jul 15, 2018

Ma’amoul (Date Cookies)


Ma’amoul are shortbread cookies, filled with a sweetened date puree, baked until just golden, and dusted with powdered sugar.  They are traditionally served for Eid, as a welcome sweet reward following the fasting of Ramadan, and for Easter, as a welcome sweet rewards following the fasting of Lent, for Rosh Hashanah for a sweet new year… Basically, no matter what your religion, in the Levant, if you want a sweet treat, these cookies are your go-to.


Making them traditionally requires two things you likely don’t have, but I’ve got ways to work around those.  First, you probably don’t have the traditional wooden mold that you use to shape the cookies - but that’s OK.  You can use your palm or anything else you have on hand to mold small cookies.  Or you can order one online.


Second, traditionally, these cookies include mahlab, a spice made from cherry pits, which gives an amaretto-like flavor.  Easy to find at a Middle East specialty market, but not accessible anywhere else. You can substitute almond extract or just leave it out.


Building the cookies are easy.  Mix up the dough, knead it and let it sit. 


Pit and chop the dates - I like medjool dates for this, but if you have deglet noor, those work too, they just aren’t as sweet.  Letting the dates cook a bit helps to break down the fibers, enrich the spices, and build up the sweetness.


Roll out the dough into little balls, then take one, press it out in your hand, add some dates, and fold the dough around it.  If you have a mold, put the cookie into it, press gently to get the shape, and then whap onto the counter to release it.  If you don’t have the mold, it’s fine - consider using a fork to make indentations to form a pattern.


Then bake until just golden - do NOT overbake - and dust with powdered sugar.


So good.  IF you like dates.


Makes 20




  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • ½ cup butter melted and hot
  • ½ teaspoon Mahlab or almond extract (optional)
  • 4 tablespoons oil
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 4 tablespoons sugar
  • ½ cup milk


  • 1 ½ cup pitted and chopped dates
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • ½ teaspoon ground cardamom
  • ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon



The dough:

  • Mix the vanilla with milk and oil, keep aside.
  • In a bowl add all the dry ingredients and mix well. Pour the hot butter into the flour and mix using a whisk until well combined.
  • Add the milk and knead for at least 5 minutes. Cover and leave in a warm place for one hour.


The filling:

  1. In a saucepan, add all the ingredients and stir on medium heat. The date will soften and will form into a dough like texture. This process and depending on the type of dates you are using might take 3 minutes to four minutes.
  2. Let the mixture cool completely then form 10 equal balls.


The cookies:

  1. Preheat oven to 180C/350F. Grease a baking pan with butter and keep aside.
  2. Form 20 equal balls from the dough previously prepared. Take one ball and flatten it slightly in the palm of your hand. Place a ball of date in the center and close the dough forming a sealed ball.
  3. Place the ball in a mold, press it gently until the surface is even.
  4. Slam the edge of the mold on folded towel, a clean kitchen counter, or cutting board few times to release the dough from the mold.
  5. Place the cookies on a nonstick or greased baking sheet.
  6. Bake for 20 minutes. When it cools dust with confectioners’ sugar if you wish.


Recipe adapted from  Image from the Guardian

Jul 10, 2018

In 2015, ISIS terrorists destroyed the Temples of Bel and Baalshemin in the Syrian desert city of Palmyra, temples which had remained in pristine condition since their city's glory days in the 3rd century.


Back then, under the capable leadership of its rulers Odenaethus and the "Warrior Queen" Zenobia, Palmyra rose from wealthy caravan town to leader of the Eastern Mediterranean, taking advantage of the chaos of the Roman Crisis of the Third Century.  So. Many. Emperors. So. Much. Chaos.



Scott Chesworth from the Ancient World podcast returns to finish his tale of Roman Syria, discussing how Palmyra challenged two empires, and how they very nearly pulled it off.


Also, listener David Adam recounts his trip to Palmyra before the temples were destroyed; you'll appreciate how he brings the humanity of modern Syrians into the story.  And you can see his photos here: 


The destruction of Palmyra and of Syria has been a great human catastrophe, and by acknowledging and remembering lost Palmyra, we might hope to prevent the next one.


Also, there are cookies! Date-filled cookies, in honor of the date palms that gave Palmyra its name.

Jul 7, 2018

Kibbeh are delicious Lebanese dishes made of ground meat (usually beef or lamb), bulgur wheat, onion and spices.  Very simple, very delicious.  Sometimes kibbeh comes as a baked casserole, like a meatloaf, and sometimes it’s a deep-fried croquette, shaped in balls.  Sometimes, it’s eaten raw, like steak tartare.

I genuinely like fried kibbeh best, but it’s pretty similar to falafel in looks, and you might be tired of fried food, so y’know what, we’ll try the baked variety.  I think you’ll like it, and maybe your arteries will too!

A couple of things: If you can’t get the meat for the kibbeh layer ground finely from the butcher, you’ll need to grind it super-fine yourself, but if you’re like me, you don’t have a meat grinder lying around.  So what to do? You may have to use a food processor to grind it down.  Not great, but it’ll do.

Second, the meat will stick to your hands.  Having ice cold water on hand to moisten your hands and keep them free from stickiness will help a lot.  Just make sure not to get too much water into the meat.

Serves 6


For bulgur mixture (kibbeh)

  • 1 cups fine bulgur (#1)
  • 1 pounds ground beef or lamb, VERY lean
  • 1 tbsp kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 1/2 medium sweet onion, pureed
  • 1 cup ice water
  • 1 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

For filling

  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil, plus more to coat the pan
  • 1 medium yellow onion, diced
  • 1 pound ground beef from chuck
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/4 tsp ground black pepper
  • Juice of 1/2 lemon
  • 1/2 cup pine nuts, toasted
  • 2 tablespoons cold butter


  • Rinse the bulgur in cold water, drain, and cover to 1⁄2 inch with cold water. Soak for 1⁄2 hour, or until the bulgur is softened.
  • Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
  • First step is the outer layer, the kibbeh.  In a large bowl, knead the ground meat with the pureed onion and about half of the bulgur. If there is any visible water left in the bulgur from soaking, squeeze it out of the wheat before adding it to the kibbeh.
  • Dip hands in ice cold water as you knead, adding about 1⁄4 cup of the water in total; be careful not to add too much water to the kibbeh or it will become mushy rather than just soft. Add the bulgur 1⁄4 cup at a time until it’s fully incorporated. Season with salt, pepper, cayenne and cinnamon, tasting and adjusting the seasoning.
  • Now for the middle layer, the filling: in a large frying pan, heat the olive oil until hot but not smoking. Add the onions and about a half teaspoon of salt and sauté until soft. Add the ground beef and season with cinnamon, another half teaspoon of salt, and a few grinds of pepper. Cook until browned, breaking up the meat with a metal spoon into small bits as it cooks. Squeeze the lemon juice over the meat, taste, and adjust seasoning if needed. Stir in the pine nuts and set aside to cool.
  • Coat a 9x13x2 inch baking dish with oil. Set up another small bowl of ice water where you are working and use the water to coat your hands as you flatten and shape the kibbeh. Use half of the kibbeh to form thin, a flat layer covering the bottom of the baking dish. Smooth the layer with cold water.
  • Spread the filling evenly over the flat kibbeh layer. Using the remaining kibbeh meat, form another thin, flat layer over the stuffing and smooth with cold water.
  • With a knife, score the top in squares (or the traditional diamond pattern) into the kibbeh, cutting through to the center layer but not all the way to the bottom of the dish.
  • Place a dab of butter on each square—this adds a wonderful savory flavor and moisture to the kibbeh.
  • Bake in the center of the oven for about 50 minutes, or until the kibbeh is deep golden brown on top; finish the kibbeh under the broiler, if needed, to get that deep color.
  • Serve with Labneh (Lebanese yogurt); plain Greek yogurt will do in a pinch.  Warmed pita bread works too.  And don’t forget the mezze in advance like hummus or tabouleh) 

Recipe adapted from Maureen Abood’s Rose Water and Orange Blossoms (

Photo from

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


  • 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


  • 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 (

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


  • 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


Start with the:


  • 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:


  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:


  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:


  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 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


  • 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


  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 - 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


  • 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


  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.

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


  • 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)


  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

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


  • 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


  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

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.

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