Another vision of the Lamb with Licorice and Juniper Berries recipe comes from designer and brilliant historical cook, Deana Sidney from the site Lost Past Remembered. Deana used the ingredients from Yale Tablet 25 – Recipe XX (water, fat and licorice root, salt, juniper berries, shallots, semolina, cumin and coriander, garlic, leeks and yogurt or sour cream) to create the beautiful and delicious lamb roast pictured below.
Deana writes, “When Laura mentioned interpreting the oldest recipes in the world, I loved the idea. I had already made a Lamb with Mint and Barley inspired by the tablets and loved the flavors. The other recipe that caught my eye was for mutton with licorice and juniper. I thought the flavors would be really interesting. I can’t guarantee it is the same dish that the ancients ate, but it is delicious and their flavors inspired the final product.
I didn’t have mutton at hand but did have gorgeous lamb steak so used that. The licorice root was pretty easy to find… it comes in tea bags at Whole Foods!
Some of the licorice flavor comes off on the lamb and would of course be more pervasive if you used something like stew meat and cooked it for a long time, I decided not to. Should you want to do it that way, proceed by cubing the lamb or mutton and then cook it in the broth over very low heat till tender after browning.
The licorice and juniper soaked into the cous cous in a lovely way and I liked that it complimented the more mildly flavored lamb. The broth and the yogurt really give the cous cous an herby creaminess that I liked. Another one of the recipes used wild watercress with a licorice lamb… I really like the idea of a spicy herb with the dish so used wild arugula that I had found and loved the combination.”
Lamb with Licorice and Juniper Berries by Deana Sidney
1 pound lamb steak from leg
1 teaspoon coriander
1 teaspoon smoked salt
2 shallots, sliced
1 tablespoon oil
6 cups lamb stock, beef stock or water
4 licorice tea bags
1 tablespoon crushed juniper
1 pinch asafoetida
2 strips lemon zest or tablespoon citron zest
1 clove garlic
1 leek, white part only or 4 scallions
2 teaspoons oil
1/4 cup of your stock
1 cup yogurt
1 cup whole wheat couscous
watercress or arugula
Coat the lamb with the cumin, coriander and salt after trimming fat bits from the steak. Brown in the oil with the shallots and remove the steak, leaving the trimmings.
Simmer the stock/water and licorice root and juniper for 1/2 hour. Strain broth and add to the pan you browned the lamb in with the trimmings, asafoetida and lemon/citron. Reduce about 1/2 an hour till rich and flavorful… there should be about 1 3/4 cup.
Saute the garlic and leek in oil and add the stock. Simmer till tender and add the yogurt. Put the lamb back in the pan and warm. Add the yogurt mixture and add the couscous. Stir gently till the couscous is cooked. Slice the lamb and serve on top of the couscous with the greens.
Thanks Deana for another remarkable dish based on the Yale Culinary Tablets. Clearly these dishes are so much more than “broths” as suggested by Bottero. Not meaning to take another swipe a Bottero’s assumptions, but he has written on several occaisions that before the Yale Tablets, only two Mesopotamian recipes were known. I’ve been mulling this over for some time and find that it is simply incorrect. There is a wealth of literature on offering food – that is food prepared to honor, propitiate and yes, feed gods. Many modern cultures that feed gods (and their attendant priests or other servants) often partake of the meal with the god and priests, or dine after the god is deemed to have taken his or her share.
I discussed the matter briefly with a scholar specializing in the ancient Near East and he agreed. He said that certainly the Mesopotamian elite would have dined at the table with the gods and he encouraged me to start mining that liteature for recipes and recreate them for modern kitchens.
The two first up in that group come from Marcel Sigrist’s paper on preparation of offerings to Nusku at Nippur. The first “recipe” is just a list of added ingredients for Mersu that will lead to some savory dishes and the second is a Bread with Onion Seeds, Sumac and Saffron. Both recipes and several new ones from the Yale Tablets for fowl dishes, a vegetable and a barley pilaf can be found on the original page that announced the Mesopotamian Cookoff back in July.
After this post featuring Deana’s interpretation of Recipe XX, I have only one more entry (other than my own) to post. I hope that more people will cook, photograph and send in recipes before the end of September. This is going well, but there are “new” recipes out there that bring to life to the cultures of ancient Mesopotamia and teach us how their knowledge and habits continue to resonate today. (Words by Laura Kelley and Deana Sidney; Photo and Recipe for Lamb with Licorice and Juniper Berries by Deana Sidney).