The Delicious Legacy


A Short History of Ancient Mesopotamian Food

Season 1, Ep. 15

...Ninkasi, you are the one who pours out the filtered beer of the collector vat,

It is (like) the onrush of the Tigris and the Euphrates.

A brilliant Assyrian hymn to the Goddess of the brewing process Ninkasi. Also a good set of instructions on how to make beer!

Aside from beer, there are many other inventions that Sumerians are credited with. But...

There is not enough time in my lifetime to write everything about Mesopotamian food!

From Sumerians, to Akkadians to Assyrians and Babylonians, we're talking about civilizations and empires that lasted roughly four thousand years! 

More time has elapsed from the first cuneiform clay tablet in 3200BCE -when writing was invented- till the last around 1st century AD, than from the last until today! 

As you understand it would be impossible to analyse everything for such a rich, diverse and vast region in both historical and cultural artefacts! 

So in the 40 minutes that the podcast lasts I hope I covered enough points that will introduce you to the first complex and sophisticated cuisine of mankind! (or at least the first we have some written records about!)

 A few years ago, an unexpected discovery has been made and one that shook things up a bit for us ancient food enthusiasts! From the dusty drawers of the brilliant Babylonian collection at Yale university, 3 cuneiform tablets were exhumed... these tables dating from around 1600BCE contain about 40 recipes, enough to gain some knowledge at last of the secrets of Mesopotamian cuisine!

Here's recipe 25 from the collection: 

Ingredients from the tablet: water, fat, roasted barley, mix of chopped shallots, rocket, and coriander, semolina, blood, mashed leeks and garlic. 1 c. whole barley, cleaned 2 c. water; 1 c. prepared stock; 2 tsps. of butter; 1 tsp. salt; ¼ tsp. asafoetida; 1 tsp. ground coriander; 3 shallots, peeled; 1 handful of baby rocket or watercress; 2 tsps. semolina; 2 tsps. blood (optional, if available); 1 leek, white and green parts, well cleaned; 4-5 garlic cloves, peeled.

“Preheat broiler to the highest setting. Spread the cleaned barley on a baking sheet to form a single layer of grain. Place barley under broiler flame and leave for a few minutes until it starts to smoke and colour. Stir lightly and turn pan if necessary until most barley is tan in colour. Be careful not to burn the grain. Properly roasted barley will taste nutty. When done, remove from flame and let cool. 

“Add water and prepared stock to a medium saucepan. You may season the stock any way you wish, or use the cooking stock from another recipe. (I used the stock from the hen recipe above.) Add butter, salt, asafoetida and ground coriander, and continue to heat. 

“In a food processor, pulse shallots and rocket once or twice. Then add the semolina and blood, and pulse one or two more times. Add this mixture to the heating, water and stir. When just short of a boil, add the barley and stir well. Bring back to a boil. Then reduce heat, cover and cook over a medium-low flame until about three-quarters done—20 to 30 minutes. 

“As the barley is cooking, pulse leeks and garlic two to four times until minced but not mushy. Add this to the barley and stir once or twice—not too much or barley will be soggy. Partially re-cover saucepan and continue to cook, checking frequently. It should be done or nearly done within 10 minutes.


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and on the highest one you will have the pleasure of me cooking an ancient 3 course menu for you! So what are you waiting for? Subscribe! :-)

Music by the amazing Pavlos Kapralos!

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