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
Adapted from All Under Heaven: Recipes from the 35 Cuisines of China by Carolyn Phillips
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
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: http://myhalalkitchen.com/molokhia/ — 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.
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 (http://myhalalkitchen.com/molokhia/)
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.
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: http://cleobuttera.com/middle-eastern/best-ever-om-ali-egyptian-bread-pudding/ — 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.
Thanks to Tasbih at cleobuttera.com for the brilliant idea of pre-cooking the puff pastry!
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.
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.
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.
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.
You would think that something as simple as melted cheese on toast would be fairly straightforward, but there are billions of recipes out there for welsh rarebit. Well, maybe not billions, but quite a lot. Fortunately, Felicity Cloake of the Guardian has gone through virtually all of them (https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/wordofmouth/2011/oct/27/how-to-cook-perfect-welsh-rarebit) and has found the perfect cheese and toast combo. Read her whole article - it’s fantastic. I’ve made it to serve four, and have switched the cheese to Cheddar, since getting Lancashire cheese can be dicey. I also found a little extra Worcestershire and cayenne pepper added oomph.
But seriously. Eat this. Cymru am byth!!!
NB: Eat this all at once - the sauce does not reheat well. Mine broke almost immediately when I tried to reheat it for Mrs. Wonders of the World.
The most important piece of afternoon tea is the tea itself, but that is outside the scope of this episode. So instead, let’s focus on the scone, the perfect little pastry at the center of the meal.
This recipe is adapted from Mark Bittman in the New York Times (https://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/1013297-classic-scones). These are English scones, so why am I using an American recipe? I don’t know - I guess because this was the one which seemed simplest, with ingredients which can be obtained anywhere.
Picture courtesy of Ibán Yarza via Wikimedia commons
We go to Southwest England to see Stonehenge. We talk about the Neolithic revolution, Wales, Arthur and the Holy Grail, Bath, the Cotswolds, and clotted cream and scones. It's a lot! Thanks to Alexa Echlov and Rooksie Noorai for their help.
Bonus episode - An audio transcript of an interview of Ian, friend of the show and resident of the Northern Territory, in which he describes the heat, the snakes, the beer, and life in the far reaches of Australia's north. Read by Drew.
Since I’m not allowed to cook kangaroo steaks, here’s a recipe for a completely different Australian masterpiece: the pie floater, South Australia’s gift to the culinary world. Imagine if you will: flaky pie crust, filled with seasoned ground meat and vegetables like leeks, carrots, and celery. So sort of like a beef or lamb pot pie. This is then floated in a bowl of bright green pea soup and served with a dollop of tomato sauce on top. Yep. I don’t understand it either.
But let’s try! This is, without question, the best recipe I’ve found. Mainly because it’s the only one that makes each part of the floater individually; many say "Pick up a meat pie at the butcher's" - a silly thing to say when you live in the 99% of countries who don't have meat pie-selling butchers. It also doesn’t require mediocre tomato sauce, because why? I’m translating this from the original Australian English.
Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a frying pan over medium heat. Add onion. Cook for 5 minutes. Increase heat to high. Add ground beef. Cook, stirring, for 5 minutes or until the ground beef starts to brown. Add tomato paste and flour. Cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add beer and stir. Add stock and Vegemite. Simmer for 30 minutes until thickened. Add parsley. Set aside to cool.
While the ground meat mixture is simmering, heat remaining oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Add extra onion. Cook, stirring, for 5 minutes. Add potato, peas, mint and stock. Simmer for 20 minutes or until potato is soft. Cool slightly. Blend with a hand blender.
Preheat oven to 425 degrees F (220 degrees C). Preheat oven tray on lowest shelf. Use a pizza cutter to cut a disc from the corner of 4 pastry sheets. Ease remaining pastry into four 4-inch (10cm) diameter round springform pans. Divide ground beef mixture among pans. Top each with a pastry disc. Press to seal edges. Trim excess. Cut 2 slits on each pie top. Place on tray. Bake for 15 minutes. Transfer tray to top shelf. Cook for 15 minutes until golden. Return soup to medium-high heat. Add creme fraiche. Simmer until warmed though. Divide soup among 4 bowls. Top with pies.
We go to the Northern Territory of Australia to see Uluru, aka Ayers Rock, the world's largest monolith. We'll talk about Aboriginal Australians, snack on bush tucker, and somehow do an entire episode without mentioning AC/DC.
The national dish of Tanzania, if there is one, is ugali, which is basically a very simple form of polenta. You add cornmeal to hot water, cook until it thickens into a solid dough, and then use it to eat with a vegetable stew. When sharing a meal, people will make one big bowl of ugali that everyone can grab pieces that they then dip into their own bowls. To make ugali for four people, first boil 6 cups of water in a large saucepan. Then, slowly pour in 4 cups of cornmeal (as finely ground as you can get), while stirring. Keep stirring - you want it as thick as possible, like thicker than mashed potatoes. Keep cooking and stirring for about 6 minutes. Done. I tried this at home, and I would recommend using the finest cornmeal you can find. I used American corn meal, and it was fine, but I bet if you used masa harina, you will be happy.
Since ugali literally tastes like nothing, the key is to be able to eat it with something delicious. For that the Tanzanians give you mchicha, also known as amaranth, a green that’s a lot like spinach and cooked with garlic, onion and tomatoes, or with peanuts in a coconut curry sauce.
This is simple stuff, and totally doable at home, if you’d like a taste before you go. You’ll want to start with the mchicha, because it takes longer. Since you likely can’t get actual mchicha at your fancy western grocery store, use spinach instead.
2 lbs spinach (or other green)
1 1⁄2 ounces peanut butter (I used sunflower seed butter for allergy reasons)
1 tomato (It’s winter, so I used half a can)
2 teaspoons curry powder
1 cup coconut milk
3 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon salt
Chop the onion and sauté it in the butter over medium heat. Add the tomato and curry powder, stir and let it cook for five minutes or until the onion is soft. Then add the peanut butter and coconut milk, stirring well to combine. Make sure it’s all integrated.
Bring back up to a boil and let it simmer, reducing until the sauce is on the thick side. Then add your greens - they will cook down quickly. Thicker greens will take longer. I used baby spinach, and it was done before you could say Ngorongoro. Next time, I'd try something more robust like chard or kale. Season to taste and spoon over the ugali (or rice if you prefer).
A simple, healthy Tanzanian meal. Just like our great great great great great …. you get the idea… grandfathers might have made. Except that not really, since cornmeal comes from the Americas, but you get the idea.
We're off to Tanzania, to see Earth's largest unfilled caldera: Ngorongoro Crater. We'll also discuss nearby Oldupai Gorge and the evolution of man. Special guest Michelle Jones talks about her trip to Tanzania. We eat ugali and mchicha.
This episode, we visit Alexandria, Egypt, at its peak, as we check out the Lighthouse (or Pharos) and the Great Library. We'll enjoy some ful medames, and talk Ptolemy. Plus science!
So what do you eat while you’re enjoying the sunshine, beaches, shopping, art and architecture of Rhodes? That’s tricky, since Rhodes has all the great Greek masterpieces available, but one thing that is truly Rhodian is pitaroudia. Pitaroudia are big, fluffy chickpea fritters. Think falafel, but irregularly shaped, and mixed with tomatoes, mint, and onions, so a different flavor profile. So while you have your fish and souvlaki and spanakopita and everything else, make sure to try Rhodes’ national dish.
2 cans chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 1/2 cups onions, very finely chopped
2 tomatoes, grated
1/4 cup mint, finely chopped
1 tsp cumin (optional)
salt and pepper
olive oil to fry (NOT extra virgin)
Most recipes will tell you to start with dried chickpeas, which you have to soak overnight and then boil for a couple of hours. Look. You’re busy. And they make some very high quality canned chickpeas. The foodies tell me there’s a difference, but honestly, with chickpeas, I can’t tell it. So make it easy on yourself. Start with two good cans of chickpeas, rinsed and drained, and grind them in a food processor until they’re coarsely ground and kind of mealy.
Then in a big bowl, mix them with 1 and 1/2 cups of very finely chopped onion, 2 medium grated tomatoes - yes grated. It’s a mess, but you want flavor and texture without chunks - 1/4 cup finely chopped mint, and salt and pepper to taste. If you like (and I do), throw in a teaspoon of cumin as well. Then add just enough flour to make a dough that will allow you to make patties that won’t fall apart, approximately 2-3 tablespoons.
Spread more flour onto a large plate and warm up about a quarter inch of oil in a large heavy skillet. This is frying, so don’t use extra-virgin olive oil. Use a frying olive oil with a higher smoke point. If you don’t have olive, use canola or vegetable, but the high smoke point is key. Form a patty in your hands with about 2 tablespoons of the dough, dredge it lightly in flour and fry until golden, flipping once to cook on both sides. You can do a few at a time, but not too many - crowding the pan will lower the temperature of the oil and make them greasy. Remove and drain on paper towels. If you need to add more oil, be sure to let it get fully hot before adding more patties. Serve with a tzatziki dip. Yum.
Adapted from: http://www.dianekochilas.com/chick-pea-fritters-from-rhodes-pitaroudia/
It's big! It's bronze! This week, we'll head to the Greek island of Rhodes, and hear them undergo two separate sieges, one of which led to the mighty and short-lived Colossus. We'll also sample some classic Rhodian food with all the garlic that implies.