Pomegranates have been used as symbols to conjure everything from lust and sexual abandon, to fertility and prosperity, to blood and national identity, and even, as in Persephone’s case, death and rebirth. Pomegranates have been with us since the beginnings of civilization and their image has meanings that span the entirety of human existence. Read more about pomegranates on Zester Daily – HERE.
With the autumn holidays rapidly approaching many of us are starting to give thought to what to prepare. A delicious main-course for omnivores is my Lamb in a Pomegranate-Cardamom Sauce pictured below. It is an original recipe based on Azeri/Iranian Fesenjan that is the best one-pot meal in town. Tender, juicy lamb is braised in a mouth-watering sweet and sour sauce that is served on a ground of butternut squash and walnuts.
The recipe is available in a Thanksgiving Recipe collection published by Swoop and available here. There are many other delicious recipes in the e-book as well, and all proceeds go to the Feeding America charity that is more necessary than ever in the wake of Huricane Sandy. Feed others and eat well yourself – who can beat that! (Words and photo of Lamb in a Pomegranate-Cardamom Sauce by Laura Kelley).
Click here for other Silk Road Thanksgiving Recipes
My husband was drawn into the spirit of the cook-off again and prepared an elegant and delicious Roman roast lamb chop for us. He based his recipe on Apicius 8.6.8: The Raw Kid or Lamb: Haedus Sive Agnus Crudus. The original directions are about as simple as simple can be and read: “Is rubbed with oil and pepper and sprinkled with plenty of clean salt and coriander seed, placed in the oven and served roast”. He made one addition to the recipe. He sprinkled some garum on the just roasted chop just after taking them out of the oven to rest before serving to add some of the garum magic to the roast lamb.
4 large bone-in lamb chops
1-2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons black peppercorns
11/2 teaspoons sea salt
2 tablespoons coriander seed
1-2 teaspoons garum (if available)
Grind the peppercorns by hand in a mortar. I usually prefer a coarse ground to a fine one. When ground to the desired degree, mix the ground pepper with the olive oil in a small bowl and let the pepper infuse the oil while you grind the coriander seed. When the coriander seed is done, mix it with the salt and set aside.
Pierce the chops several times with the tines of a fork and then thoroughly rub the oil and pepper mixture on both sides. Let sit for at least 20-30 minutes. Then rub on the mixture of salt and ground coriander seed on one side of the chops and place this side face down on the broiler rack. Rub the side facing up with the remaining mix and let sit for an additional 20-30 minutes. Preheat the broiler to high while the meat is being seasoned.
Place under broiler at least several inches from the flame and cook 4-5 minutes a side; adjust cooking times to size and thickness of the chop. When done, remove from broiler and sprinkle garum over the chops. Let rest at least 5 minutes before serving.
Steve writes: Back when Laura started her garum experiment, I got interested in some of the things that she was cooking. I’ve always liked historical cooking and so decided to try some things on my own. However finding a recipe that would not take me all day to cook AND that could feed our kids as well as ourselves was a challenge. I came across a version of this recipe for roast lamb and it seemed simple and would not require a lot of unusual ingredients, but would allow me to experiment with the garum as an addition. As we found with other recipes, the garum does not give the food a fish flavor, but instead enhances the flavors that are present in the dish. Even our kids, who are notoriously finicky, enjoyed it and didn’t notice the garum at all. (Words by Stephen and Laura Kelley. Photo of A Roman Roast Lamb Chop by Laura Kelley).
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).
Pharaohs, prophets, warriors and peasants alike; all have valued licorice as a flavoring for food and drinks and as a medicine. To many ancients, licorice also tasted like love, for many sweet love potions from Sumer to Luxor to Vedic India were flavored with the root. Licorice was amongst the grave goods in Tutankhamen’s tomb and Theophrastus, the Greek philosopher and scientist called it the “Scythian root” and noted that it was useful for quenching thirst, curing coughs and soothing throats. Today, what do we make of such an important plant? Tea and jelly beans. How the mighty have fallen.
Luckily, culinary creative genius and friend of The Silk Road Gourmet, Chef Miles Collins has helped us resurrect the flavor of licorice in a savory recipe, at least as envisioned by the Babylonians who liked the flavor so much, that they recorded it on a clay tablet that now resides in the Yale Babylonian Collection. Mesopotamian Cookoff Entry # 3, Lamb and Licorice with Juniper Berries by Miles Collins, uses the ingredients from recipe XX on Yale Babylonian Culinary Tablet 25: water, fat and licorice root, salt, juniper berries, shallots, semolina, cumin and coriander, garlic, leeks and yogurt or sour cream. Miles was even generous enough to create TWO dishes to show how wonderfully flexible these “recipes” really are.
Miles writes, “I must admit that in all the years I have been cooking professionally the food of ancient Mesopotamia has been poorly represented on my menus! Looking at Laura’s recipe guidelines was an interesting insight into food from that period and so I decided to cook two dishes from one recipe.
The first would be a straightforward combination of ingredients put together in the manner it might have been back then. I used couscous as the base ingredient and cooked it with the stock of the meat I was cooking. After cooking it I wondered if this would have been a main dish in its own right or would it have been served as a ‘shared table’?
The main ingredient was the meat; I used lamb in place of mutton and cooked it with the flavourings specified by Laura. What intrigued me the most was how the wild liquorice would work as it is an ingredient I have rarely used. The combination of juniper and cumin was a new one on me; I could see the coriander and juniper working together and was pleasantly surprised by the overall balance when the stock was cooked.”
Lamb and Licorice with Juniper Berries
I decided to cook two dishes using the same ingredients from one piece of meat, a poached lamb dish with a dish of couscous using the poaching ingredients as the flavour base. I used a carrot as an addition as I imagined vegetables being added to a cooking broth to help ‘bulk up’ the dish.
1.6 kilogram lamb or mutton shank
1 tablespoon coriander seeds, crushed
2 teaspoons cumin seeds
8 juniper berries, crushed
1 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons olive or vegetable oil
2 red onions
1 celery stick
2 cloves garlic, peeled
2 bay leaves
Marinade the lamb shanks with all of the dry seasonings overnight. Brown in a hot pan with the onion and halved celery stick. When nicely browned strain off excess oil.
Cover with water, add three liquorice sticks snapped in half and bring to the boil. Simmer for three to four hours until the meat falls from the bone. Remove the shank from the broth and keep warm. Chop the carrot into equal pieces. Strain the broth through a fine sieve, rinse the liquorice and add two sticks to the broth. Return to the boil and reduce the liquid by half. Reserve the vegetables.
Take half of the meat, season with salt and pepper and reserve. Lay out two sheets of cling film and lay the rest of the meat in a line. Roll the cling film to form a tight cylindrical shape. Leave to cool and refrigerate for three hours.
As the broth reduces add the carrots, leek, garlic and four or five peeled shallots, cook until just done. Keep the broth warm or chill and reheat later.
Take a cup of couscous, season with pepper and cover with a ladle of hot broth,stir with a fork until fluffy. Season and fold in the poached celery, onion and reserved lamb. Add chopped coriander and serve.
When the lamb has set cut into equal sized pieces and reheat in the reduced broth. Cut the leeks into equal lengths and season. Crush the garlic and stir in a tablespoon of yoghurt, fold the leeks through the yoghurt.
Arrange the leeks in a pile, place a piece of lamb alongside and spoon the carrots and shallots around. Taste the broth and pour over.
Note: I found that the liquorice only started to come through once the broth had reduced, it makes an excellent flavour base for the couscous.
Miles continues, “If anything the spices accentuated the flavour of the lamb rather than stand out, perhaps it was the quantities I used but I did find that only when I significantly reduced the stock with the addition of a little extra liquorice did the flavour become more interesting.
I purposely left the cookery methods and flavourings as basic and close to the original as I could; I wanted my chefs to taste food which by modern day standards is quite bland. Were I to serve this in one of the restaurants then I would have done more to the broth, herbs would have been added to compliment the juniper but saying that the couscous tasted fine.
If I were to do it again then I would have increased the amount of liquorice and perhaps infused the dried grains with a stock prior to cooking. I also think it would have made an excellent sop/broth with some root vegetables and a dumpling or two.
A very interesting experiment and thanks to Laura for inspiring me to do it.”
No, thank you, Miles for showing us some of the possibile dishes that could be cooked from recipe XX, and helping me with my 100th blog post. Clearly, the idea of a “broth” as envisioned by Bottero is not the only possible dish cookable from recipe XX. Hopefully, other cooks or chefs will add even more dishes as the Cookoff continues.
The interesting thing to me is, in addition to the use of licorice, is the use of juniper berries. Juniper is a common ingredient used today to flavor game dishes such as venison and wild boar. Like the carob we saw in entry #2, this is an ingredient that persists to the present day (today, cooks use chocolate to flavor game dishes and make them more savory) In these ways at least, the lineage of flavor persists from the ancient Near East to today. (Words by Laura Kelley and Chef, Miles Collins and all photos by Miles Collins.)
Chef Miles Collins has just cooked and reviewed one of the recipes – Lamb and Rhubarb Stew – from The Silk Road Gourmet Volume One over on his site. Miles is a talented professional chef, and a brilliant photographer who focuses on subjects from life and work in gourmet kitchens to the nature and wildlife of his native Lincolnshire, England. All in all – a polymath, and a very nice guy. Check out his site for a beautiful and informative look at Beyond the Kitchen: A Fresh Look at Food, Photography, Nature and Culture. (Click here for the recipe).
I’ve had a major change of scenery lately that involves getting up at five and out to a job that I love but that is far from home. No more getting paid to write big thoughts at the kitchen table and subsequently less time for the blog as well.
To celebrate the change, I’m calling all readers to contribute posts to the blog – travel stories, contemplations on food or things Asian, recipes, or anything of substance that fits with kind of pieces I’ve been writing. I’m also posting the first recipe of the blog. Its a delicious lamb kebab from Tajikistan – a land that have been ruled by the Indians, Persians, Bactrians, Sycthians, Arabs and Mongols and that had important early cultural and economic contacts with Han China from the second century on.
The kebabs blends the western and eastern Asian flavors of mint and star anise in a unique and wonderful way, and the yogurt and onion based broth has the distinctly Central Asian use of lots of garlic to spice things up a bit. I suggest serving it with plain rice or bulgur or a simple pilaf. If you cook it, please leave comments on it – especially if you enjoyed it.
1 pound ground lamb
1 large red onion
1 medium tomato
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon ground coriander
4 star anise corms, ground
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon fresh, chopped mint leaves
1 small bunch of cilantro leaves, chopped (15-20 sprigs)
3 hot, dried, red chili peppers
1/4 cup flour (optional)
2 large yellow onions, peeled, sliced and separated into crescents
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 teaspoon granulated sugar
1 generous tablespoon of garlic, peeled and chopped
3 hot, dried red chili peppers
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 small bunch of cilantro leaves, chopped (15-20 sprigs)
1 cup beef broth
1/2 cup plain yogurt.
1. In a food processor combine onion tomato and spices and blend lightly so that the vegetables are chopped but still have their form. Add meat, blend lightly again to mix. Let set in the refrigerator for several hours before rolling into kebabs.
2. Preheat broiler on highest setting. Remove from refrigerator and roll the kebabs into sausages or loaves about 3 inches long and 1½ inches wide. Flour very lightly, if desired, to help the meat hold together.
3. Place on a baking sheet that has been oiled or sprayed. Cook about 6 inches from the flame for 5 minutes on each side. If meat still feels soft to the touch, cook another few minutes, but do not let the kebabs burn. When done, remove from heat and set aside as you make the stew.
4. Melt butter in a large saucepan or sauté pan. When hot, add onions and sauté briefly to coat the onions. Cook a few minutes stirring often and then add the sugar and lower the heat to the lowest setting. Let onions cook and caramelize, stirring them only every 10 minutes or so. When they are light brown and very soft, add the garlic, chili peppers and coriander and stir well. Cook until garlic begins to brown.
5. Add the yogurt and the beef broth and add to the onions and garlic, stirring well. Add the lamb kebabs and, if necessary, add more beef broth. Cover and continue to cook over a medium-low flame until the kebabs are hot. Serve the kebabs on a bed of rice or bulgur and spoon the onions and sauce over the kebabs for a bit of extra flavor. (Recipe to be published in The Silk Road Gourmet Volume 2.)