Tag Archives: Yale Babylonian Tablets

New Flavors for the World’s Oldest Recipes

Saudi Aramco World Cover 11/12-12

I am pleased to share with you my new article on ancient Mesopotamian cuisine entitled, New Flavors for the World’s Oldest Recipes” in the November-December issue of Saudi Aramco World.

Click the link above to read the article on the publisher’s website and peruse the other articles in the issue.  I really like the magazine, because its stated objective is to build understanding between peoples by increasing reader’s knowledge of the Muslim world and its peoples and their connections to the west.

Thanks to the editors of the magazine for publishing the article, and thanks to the friends of Silk Road Gourmet who allowed me to submit their photos to illustrate these delicious, ancient dishes.  I hope you enjoy the article as well as the magazine!

Mesopotamian Wildfowl Pie

There is a chill in the air and early mornings before the sun are best spent wrapped in a blanket, so it is time to welcome Autumn in once again.  Sort of like a migratory bird taking its cues from the failing sun, I’ve realized that it is time for my annual exploration of Mesopotamian Cuisine.  I have long wanted to try some of the complex fowl recipes on the Yale Babylonian Collection tablet 8958 and decided to try recipe 1 for Wildfowl Pie.

My review of the finished dish is below, but I can say that preparing it was fascinating. Specifically, what I am in awe about is that such an ancient recipe (from around 1700 BCE) produced a dish that seems so . . . familiar.  Surely, cooking gives us insight into their world, but it also shows us how so many ancient traditions and elements of material culture continue to resonate today.

The original ingredients on the tablet are: Fowl, water, milk, salt, fat, cinnamon, mustard greens, shallots, semolina, leeks, garlic, flour, brine, roasted dill seeds, mint, wild tulip bulbs.  From these basics, the ingredients below were drawn with some substitution, either for convenience in cooking or because of disagreement with the original translation. I used Cornish game hen instead of wildfowl largely because I had several on hand. The original recipe does not specify what type of bird should be used; it says only “small” birds. If you choose to try the recipe with quail or other bird, you will need a lot more than 2 and you will need to adjust the cooking time.

Tablet YBC 8958

I used mustard greens instead of rue, largely because I wasn’t convinced that Bottero had identified the plant correctly. Sibburatu is a highly aromatic plant of which both the leaves AND the seeds are used. Rue leaves are used in cooking, but to my knowledge, the seeds are not. On the other hand, mustard does offer a sharp flavor and both the leaves and seeds are used. Additional evidence that Sibburatu may be mustard instead of rue is that it was extensively used for poultices – especially on the eyes – and to treat a variety of internal ailments, particularly urinary tract infections. You may have a different sense of pain than I, but I would not want a poultice of rue on my eyes or on any other part of my body given the pain and blisters in is known to cause.

The “aromatic wood” specified by Bottero is not kasu (licorice) so my first best guess is that it is cinnamon which would have been known at the time of the tablets either by direct contact with Sri Lanka or indirect via Egypt which was the single largest purchaser of cinnamon from the Southern Asian island paradise. As to sebetu, Bottero thought these were small rolls made out of grain, which doesn’t make a great deal of culinary sense. I however think that they are dill seeds because sibetum is dill in Assyrian, and the vowel shift is inconsequential (in this case). I think that sebetu-rolls as specified by Bottero are roasted dill seed that is used to flavor both the crust and the pie. I added ground cilantro and cumin seeds because both spices were known by the Mesopotamians, and such variation was not only well within the expected use of such a “recipe”, but it was indeed expected that cooks would personalize them.

I chose to make the crust from a mix of rye and white flour. Rye would have been known to the ancient Mesopotamians and I thought it would work well with a savory pie. However I used white flour instead of spelt or emmer for convenience. I have spelt on hand, but wanted a dough with a consistency and flavor that would work with rye. The amount of dough made with the recipe is more than ample to fill a large pie dish and cover. If desired, you can make rye crackers or something else with the remainder.

The layered assembly of the pie is written in the tablet, which specifies a layer of mint on the bottom of the pie followed by a layer of chicken. Based on this recipe, the Babylonians were layering dishes a few millenia before the Persians – who are usually given credit for the technique – started doing it. Thus, layering is another culinary technique with deep regional roots that is still found today and one that has spread widely from its point of origin.

Without much further ado, the ingredients and method:

Mesopotamian Wildfowl Pie

Hens for Pie
2 Cornish game hens
2 teaspoons of sea salt
8 cups of water
6 cups of whole milk
2 tablespoons of butter
2 large (4-5 inch) Sri Lankan cinnamon sticks
6-10 mustard leaves, well rinsed and chopped
1 tablespoon of dried mint
2 tablespoons garlic diced
6 medium shallots, peeled and chopped
2 leeks, thoroughly cleaned and chopped
2 tablespoons of semolina

Crust
1.5 cups of rye flour
1.5 cups of white flour (plus extra for flouring kneading and rolling surfaces)
½ cup butter, cut up into small pieces
½ -¾ cup of whole milk
¼ – 1/3 cup brine (3 cups water to ¼ cup sea salt), chilled
¼ cup dill seeds lightly roasted in a pan or oven

Salt the hens liberally inside and out and set aside.  In a saucepan large enough to hold the hens submerged in liquid, heat water and milk.  Add butter, cinnamon sticks, mustard greens and mint and stir.  When it just approaches a boil remove from flame and stir.  It will be necessary to watch the pot, as the milk will make it froth and boil over as it comes to a boil.  Let for about 10 minutes and pulse the shallots, leeks and garlic in a food processor until they are blended but still have form.

Mesopotamian Wildfowl Pie – Assembled

Place hens in the pot and return to flame.  Cook partially covered over medium heat until the liquid approaches a boil.  Stir, reduce flame and add chopped vegetables along with semolina and stir again.  Cook partially covered over medium-low heat (gas-mark 4) for about 20-25 minutes, stirring occasionally. About halfway through cooking flip the hens.  The hens will be done when you can easily push a spoon through the back.  When done remove and set aside to cool until the hens can be deboned by hand.  Continue to cook the broth the milk and water mixture over low flame until it is reduced by at least half. Stir occasionally. If the mixture starts to curdle up, stop cooking and remove from heat.

While waiting for the hens to cool, mix flour and butter with a pastry cutter until it begins to come together like cornmeal.  Then add milk one tablespoon at a time until moist enough to form a ball.  Then add brined water until the flour comes together into a dough and you are able to knead the dough.  (Please note that the moisture needed to form the dough depends upon the quality, grind and hydration of the flour and the climate.  Please use the measurements above as recommendations, and use less or more depending upon your local requirements.)  Knead for 5 full minutes until dough is uniform, soft and nicely pliable.  If it starts to stick to your hands as you knead, simply add a bit more flour to the surface until the dough integrity is restored.  When you are done kneading the dough, form it into a ball and then divide the ball into two pieces for the bottom and top crusts.  Add about half of the dill seeds to the dough for the top crust and work through thoroughly. Then let the dough rest for a while. Refrigerate for about half an hour to cool the butter a bit.

Pie
Leaves from 10-12 mint sprigs, rinsed and dried (a heap of mint leaves)
Shredded meat from game hens cooked in part one
2 teaspoons salt
Mustard greens, rinsed and torn
1 teaspoon cinnamon
2 tablespoons garlic, minced
8-10 shallots
2 leeks, rinsed well and chopped
1 tablespoon cilantro seeds, ground
2 teaspoons cumin seed, ground
Remaining roasted dill seed from part one
4 tablespoons butter

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Liberally flour your rolling surface, flatten the ball of dough that will form the bottom crust and lightly flour both sides.  From the center of the dough, roll out bottom crust to be a couple of inches larger than the pie dish you are using.  The dough may be very elastic and a bit sticky given the mixture of flours.  If the dough gets sticky, just dust it with a bit of flour and continue rolling.  Spray or butter the dish and fold the rolled out dough into quarters before lining the pie dish with it.  Fit the dough into the crust by easing it into the curves rather than stretching the dough.

Mesopotamian Wildfowl Pie Ready for the Oven

Layer the bottom of the crust with half of the mint leaves. Over them place about half of the shredded chicken mixed with have of the chopped shallots, leeks and garlic. Sprinkle 1 teaspoon of the salt over chicken and vegetables and then place a layer of mustard leaves over this.  Mound the chicken and greens towards the center as you would apples in an apple pie.  Sprinkle the cinnamon over the mustard greens and add 1 teaspoon of the ground cilantro and cumin seeds.

Now place the remaining chicken mixed with the remaining chopped shallots, leeks, and garlic over the mustard greens.  Add the remaining salt over the mixed meat and vegetables.  Add the remaining mint, roasted dill leaves and ground cilantro and cumin onto the final layer. Slice half the butter and place on top of the last layer.

Flatten the dough with the roasted dill seeds in it into a disk and lightly flour each side.  Starting from the center, roll the dough out into the top crust.  Make sure that it is at least a couple of inches larger than the dish.  Fold the dough into quarters and place it on top of the pie and unfold.  Pinch the top and bottom crusts together firm with your fingers and trim the excess crust with a sharp knife.  If desired, press the crusts with the tines of a fork to seal them.

Pierce the top crust in several places and slice the remaining butter and place evenly around the crust.  Place on the top shelf of your preheated oven towards the rear and bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for about 30 minutes – just enough for the crusts to cook.

When done, remove from the oven and let sit for at least 15-20 minutes before serving. Serve with the reduced broth that the chicken cooked in presented in small bowls.  The broth can be spooned onto the pie or sipped separately.

A Slice of Mesopotamian Wildfowl Pie

So how was it?  It was savory and delicious. The flavor of the rye and the roasted dill in the crust was fabulous and my husband really liked the taste of the layer of mustard leaves inside the pie and the flavor that it offered. The principal flavors of the filling are, in addition to hen and shallots are mint and dill. The cilantro and the cumin seeds (particularly the cumin seeds) add body and depth to these light and airy flavors. I found the interplay of the onions and mint very interesting. This is again another flavor combination that persists in Iranian food today, most strongly evident in their wonderful pickled onion and mint condiments. We both like the broth that was served to accompany the pie. My husband spooned it over the pie and enjoyed it like that and I sipped the broth in between bites.

There is one thing that puzzled me about the pie. Most of the time when the triad of shallots, garlic and leeks are pounded together, there is a binding element, like kissimu (drained yogurt) or occasionally blood. Frankly, the pie could have used a little kissimu in it to bind and moisten it. At some point, I will try this again with the kissimu and if it is a good addition, I will post the amendment to the recipe in this post.

One word of warning, the pie is a fair amount of work. When and if you attempt it, it is best to have most of the day available to prepare it and then give yourself a bit of a rest before tucking in. If you try this or any other of the recipes from the Yale tablets, please let me know – I’d love to hear about your experiences. More original recipes are available on the site as well as some of my revised translations of food words.  You may also look at the results of our 2011 Mesopotamian Cookoff for some recipes developed by accomplished international cooks and chefs like Tenderloin with Licorice, Lamb and Carob Stew, Roasted Barley and Herb Pilaf as well as Sweet Mersu and Savory Mersu. (Words by Laura Kelley, Photo of YBC 8958 from Wikimedia, Photos of Mesopotamian Pie Assembled, ready for the oven and sliced by Laura Kelley.)

Mesopotamian Cookoff Entry 10 – Mersu with Cheese, Please! – by Laura Kelley

Mersu are not just for dessert, anymore.

The addition of some combinations of Nippur – Nusku tablet ingredients – cheese, wine, raisins, figs, apples yields delicious savory treats – that could serve as appetizers, or main parts of a light meal.

It is unknown exactly what sort of cheese the Mesopotamians had, but most cultures have at least one variety (usually more) of  soft cheese, hard cheese and a blue or molded cheese.  I thought that a yogurt cheese like labneh would be a good approximation for a soft cheese; parmesan, asiago or romano could serve as a hard cheese; and gorgonzola could serve as a stand in for their blue cheese.

Mersu with Cheese

Mersu as Medjool Dates Stuffed with Cheese are the simplest of the savory mersu to make.  Just slice the dates, remove the pit and stuff with the cheese or cheese based mixture of your choice.  I think that the extra-large medjool dates are the best for this.  They also have a robust flavor that stands up to cheese well.

I made several varieties:  1.)Dates stuffed with labneh – with or without single spices such as ground coriander or ground cardamom; 2.) dates stuffed with gorgonzola or other blue cheese; and 3.) dates stuffed with garlic and grated parmesan cheese.  This last variety uses a simplified “moretum” – a spread loved by the Romans – to fill the dates.

Without added spice, the dates stuffed with labneh are creamy and sweet with the slight tang of yogurt, with spices they are delicious and full of flavor.  The gorgonzola are really robust, as you might suspect, but the sweetness of the dates tempers the strong flavor of the cheese and makes them delicious.

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Ingredients
for Mersu stuffed with soft or blue cheese

1 Medjool date, sliced and pitted
2 teaspoons of labneh
¼ teaspoon of ground coriander or cardamom (or to taste) (optional)
(You can use gorgonzola in the place of the labneh – I didn’t use spice with the gorgonzola because its flavor was quite strong already – feel free to try that as a variation if you so choose)

Method
Spoon the cheese filling into the dates. The amount of filling used will vary with the size of the date. If using a spice, mix it prior to filling.

Ingredients for Mersu stuffed with hard cheese mixture
2 Medjool dates, sliced and pitted
¼ cup grated parmesan, asiago or romano or a mix
2 teaspoons minced garlic
1 teaspoon olive oil or grapeseed oil
1/8 – ¼ teaspoon sea salt

Method
Mix the garlic and the cheese and moisten with olive oil to your desired consistency.  If you want a drier filling, use less olive oil. Salt as desired. Stuff dates.  Let sit for a while before serving to allow the garlic to flavor the cheese.  I found that the longer the dates sit (within reason) the better they taste.  Make them the night before, or the morning of a party or special dinner to really enjoy the blend of flavors they offer.

Mersu with Wine (Must Syrup)

Mersu with Wine (Concord Must Syrup) This is what I did for the wine ingredient mentioned in the Nippur tablets – roll the pounded date balls in a syrup of concord grape must.  If you don’t want to crush your own grapes, unsweetened 100% grape juice will reduce to a syrup just fine.  I liked this so much that I made a version with unsweetened pomegranate syrup – it was delicious!  The mild (grape) to severe (pomegranate)tanginess of the syrups played nicely with the naturally sweet dates

Ingredients
2 cups Deglet Noor dates
1 cup unsweetened pomegranate or grape juice (must be 100% juice)
Raisins (for stuffing) (optional)
Ground almonds, pinenuts, hazelnuts or semolina (for light coating) (optional)

Method
In a small saucepan, bring the fruit juice to a boil and immediately reduce the heat to a low simmer and stir well. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until the juice reduces to a syrup.  Pour onto a plate and let cool so that you can work with the syrup (or you will burn your fingers).

While the syrup is reducing, make the date balls.  Pulse the dates in a food processor until they are soft.  Bit by bit, roll the pounded dates into small balls. You will have to wet your hands, and wash them several times to keep the dates from sticking to them. My date balls were about 2/3rds of the size of a ping-pong ball, and the two cups made 15 balls.  Chill in the freezer for 5-10 minutes  before rolling in warm syrup, or the balls will begin to disintegrate.  The pomegranate syrup hardened up a lot quicker than the concord grape syrup – so you will have to work more quickly with that. The upside is it is a lot less messy than the concord grape syrup.

Roll the date balls in syrup, or spoon the syrup onto the balls and place on a rack to drain and harden up a bit. If desired, when the first layer is hardened, warm the syrup (in a microwave) and spoon a second layer over the date balls.

If you serve slightly chilled, the syrup coating will be firm enough not to be messy.  However, if you want to serve room temperature or warm, place a light coating of ground nuts – almonds or pinenuts would have the least flavor impact. If you like the flavor of the nuts, lightly pan roasting them prior to coating will emphasize their flavor – but I found that this greatly diminishes the flavor of the syrup.  Alternately, if you cannot eat nuts or don’t like the flavor of the types listed here that the Mesopotamians would have had,  a light dusting of semolina will also coat the date balls rolled in syrup, making them easier to eat.

One cup of juice made enough syrup to roll about 5 date balls in two layers of syrup.  I coated the leftover five balls in two things – grated parmesan cheese and roasted hazelnuts.  Both were amazing!

Variation:  Tuck a raisin inside the date ball before rolling in syrup.

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The tablets speak on occasion of a woman with special skill in making mersu.  With all of the variation possible with the tremendous lot of ingredients assigned to mersu (and we have only touched upon a few in this cookoff) I wonder if a genius for variation isn’t the special skill that the mersu cooks had.  Not a secret only passed on from one cook to her apprentice, but a natural creativity for combinations resulting in delicious food.

All I know is that whether prepared as a savory appetizer or as a sweet appetizer or dessert, mersu are really delicious – consider serving for the upcoming holidays, and give your family and friends a flavorful ancient treat. (Words by Laura Kelley; photographs of Mersu with Cheese an Mersu with Wine (Must Syrup) also by Laura Kelley.)

Mesopotamian Cookoff Entry 9 – Mashed Turnips with Herbs by Stephen Kelley

Today’s entry in the Mesopotamian Cookoff comes from my dear husband, Stephen, who has put up with me and my wild ideas and projects (like Silk Road Gourmet) for many years. For years I’ve asked him to join me in some of these escapades – help me write this story (screenplay, paper etc, you name it) – and much to my chagrin, he never has. He usually just rolls his eyes and smiles and offers an alibi like, “I can’t write fiction”, or “I’m a crummy dancer”, or some other excuse.  This time however, something different happened.  He said yes.  He has thrown his hat in the ring and cooked a dish for us, and done the write up and recipe etc.  I am happily amazed at his participation and hope that it turns out to be a trend.

Stephen writes, “Since Laura tests all of her recipes on me as she is working with them, I’ve put on some weight since she started writing the Silk Road Gourmet books and web posts. But there is something you ought to know. Although she is the cookbook author, I was the first in our family to dabble in historical cookery. I’ve always had an interest in history, including the cultures (and cuisines) of the past. Most of my interest has been in early American and European cooking, but I’ve also long been interested in ancient cuisines. In fact, I first made Laura a Mesopotamian feast over a year ago. So, perhaps in some small way, I’m responsible for the Mesopotamian Cookoff, since it was after that dinner that she started showing such interest in the ancient recipes.

It should then come as no surprise that she has been trying to dragoon me into participating in the Cookoff. Having read the posts from others who have tried their hands at the ancient recipes, I had no expectation that anything I could do could compare with the delicious and beautifully presented results posted so far, but being a strong believer in propitiating the goddess of domestic harmony, I agreed to try.

I decided to try the Turnip with Herbs, partly because there had been no attempts at vegetable dishes so far and, I must admit, because it did not seem to require the multiple, complicated steps some of the meat dishes did (game bird pie, for instance). From the very limited description translated from the ancient tablet, the original dish appeared to be a simple boiled turnip with an unusual herb sauce.

Mashed Turnips with Herbs

(Yale Tablet 25-recipe XXV). Turnips (or roasted barley) with Herbs. Ingredients and method: Prepare water, add fat, turnips (or roasted barley). Add a chopped mix of shallots, arugula, and coriander that have been mixed with semolina or other flour and moistened with blood. Cook until done. Add mashed leeks and garlic.

I however decided to go a different route than that, and mash the turnips and herbs. I assumed the Sumerians, Akkadians, and other Mesopotamians could mash vegetables if they wanted to, so what the heck. It also meant I wouldn’t have to use the blood or semolina.

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Mashed Turnips with Herbs by Stephen Kelley

Ingredients
6 medium turnips
1 leek
4 large shallots
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 bunch fresh cilantro
3 ounces arugula
2 teaspoons ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground cumin
3 teaspoons sea salt
3 tablespoons butter, warm
1 cup milk, warm

Method
Peal and cube the turnips. Boil the turnips with 1 ounce of the arugula and 1 teaspoon of salt until the turnips are fully cooked but not too soft. Remove the arugula (as much as you can) and strain the turnips. Add the butter and milk and mash the turnips. Set aside.

Roughly chop and rinse the cilantro, leek, shallots, and remaining arugula. Add the garlic, coriander, cumin and remaining salt with the chopped herbs. Pulse the herbs in a food processor until finely chopped.

Fold the chopped herbs into the mashed turnips and mash until it is evenly distributed. Reheat and serve.

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I had expected the mashed turnips and herbs to have a very strong flavor, given the cilantro and leek. Surprisingly, they had a very mild flavor, with occasional hints of cilantro or leeks. It made a simple, tasty side dish to either an ancient or a modern meat dish.

There was one problem, however. Six turnips make a lot of food for two. So we had lots of leftovers. Looking for something to do with mashed turnips that would be consistent with cooking styles of 3,000 years ago, Laura suggested making something akin to potato pancakes. I liked the idea, so here is how we did that:

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Turnip with Herb Pancakes by Stephen and Laura Kelley

Ingredients
2-2 1/4 cups leftover turnips with herbs
2 eggs (beaten)
1 cup rye flour
1 cup vegetable oil (for frying)
Kefir Labneh (yogurt cheese) (for condiment)
Chopped herbs (for condiment)

Method
Place mashed turnips in a mixing bowl and combine with the beaten eggs. Turn in a cup of rye flour (we used rye flower, which the Mesopotamians had, but you could use the semolina or spelt mentioned in the original tablet).

Heat the oil on high in a frying pan.

Form turnips mixed with eggs and flour into patties and slide the patties into the hot oil. Fry on med-high until the outer edges of the patties begin to brown. Lower flame and continue frying until the interior is hot. Flip and cook until desired color is achieved. Drain on a rack or paper towels. Serve with kefir labneh yogurt cheese (or sour cream) and herbs.
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Turnip with Herb Pancakes

I actually liked the turnip “latkes” better than the original mashed turnips (so Laura gets credit for that, but I’ve always known she’s a much better cook than me–she’s the one with cook book, after all). The mild cilantro and leek flavor, topped with the yogurt, made for a very satisfying breakfast.”  (Words by Stephen Kelley. Photo of Mashed Turnips with Herbs by Laura Kelley (with new macro lens); Photo of Turnip with Herb Pancakes by Stephen Kelley.)

Mesopotamian Cookoff Entry 7 – Roasted Barley and Herb Pilaf

It’s hard to overemphasize the importance of barley for the Mesopotamians.  It was quite simply, the mainstay of their existence, and was used to make bread, cakes and beer and feed animals (especially pigs to make them “clean” enough to eat), and it was integral to the barter system used to trade goods in many societies. They offered it to their Gods to feed and supplicate them. They also ate it in savory dishes as we saw in the Lamb with Barley and Mint and as we will see in a moment – possibly as a pilaf mixed with herbs and chopped vegetables.

All of the entries in the Mesopotamian Cookoff so far have been for meat dishes, so for this post, I wanted to feature a vegetable, cereal or bread. Here is the delicious Roasted Barley and Herb Pilaf from Yale Babylonian Culinary Tablet 25, recipe XXV.  The center of this dish is an ingredient called laptu, which seems to have two meanings depending on context. In his Textes Culinaire Mesopotamien (TCM), Bottero chose to make the dish only with turnips, which is one of the meanings of the word laptu.  I chose to use the other meaning of laptu – that of roasted barley to explore what might have been a grain dish for the Babylonians of this period.

The ingredients are very straightforward: water, fat, roasted barley, mix of chopped shallots, arugula, and coriander semolina, blood, mashed leeks and garlic. How these are put together, however, are up to the cook. There likely were cultural standards for dishes in ancient times as there are today.  But leaving the entire method up to the cook allows for a level of variation, creativity on the part of the chef and diner’s desire that is all but gone in the west these days.

I cooked this at as I was preparing the Fowl with Herbs for the previous post, so I used a cup of the stock I boiled the hens in to make the barley along with some water.  I wanted the nuttiness of the roasted barley to shine, so I kept the spicing minimal, using only ground coriander for some airiness and asafetida for some depth.  The pulsed vegetables added towards the end of cooking add a bit of texture, spice and crunch to the pilaf as well.  My husband in particular loved the flavor of garlic that the pilaf had – so don’t skimp on that, unless you know you don’t care for that flavor.

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Roasted Barley and Herb Pilaf by Laura Kelley

Ingredients
1 cup whole barley, cleaned
2 cups water
1 cup prepared stock
2 teaspoons of butter
1 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon asafetida
1 teaspoon ground coriander

3 shallots, peeled
1 handful of baby arugula
2 teaspoons semolina
2 teaspoons blood (if available)

1 leek, white and green parts well cleaned
4 garlic cloves, peeled

Method
Preheat broiler until its good and hot. 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 color. Stir lightly and turn pan if necessary until most barley is tan in color. Be careful not to burn the grain. Properly roasted barley will taste nutty. Burnt barley will just taste burnt. When done remove from flame and let cool.

Add water and prepared stock to a medium saucepan. You may season the stock anyway you wish, or use the cooking stock from another recipe (I used the stock from the pigeon recipe). Add butter, salt, asafetida and ground coriander and continue to heat.

In a food processor, pulse shallots and arugula 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 ¾ done – 20-30 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 recover saucepan and continue to cook, checking frequently. It should be done or nearly done within 10 minutes.

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Whether her name were Ninlil, Nisaba, Ezina, Ashnan or my favorite, Ninbarshegunu whose name means something like, “lady whose body is dappled with barley,” [wow!] the cultures of Mesopotamia had many grain goddesses who ensured the harvests, protected the farmers, and filled the pots with food. They were respected, worshipped, fed and treated as subjects of representational or functional art as in the cylinder seal below from 2350-2150 BCE which shows a grain goddess and her supplicant gods receiving stalks of barley or other grain from her.  Interesting point made by this depiction is that the grain goddess is the one that the other gods come to to ensure their fields and harvests.

Grain Goddess and Supplicants

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(Words and recipe by Laura Kelley; Drawing of Grain Goddess and Her Supplicants © Stephane Beaulieu, after Boehmer 1965: Plate XLV, #533; Photo of Roasted Barley and Herb Pilaf by Richard Semik@Dreamstime)*

*(I am not a good food photographer, and purchased a photo from a stock house that was a reasonable stand-in for the dish I cooked. To see my photograph of the dish, click here and understand why I purchased the photo. I think that my photos may improve with my purchase of a macro lens, but I’m not guaranteeing that – only hoping.)

Mesopotamian Cookoff Entry 5 – Lamb with Licorice and Juniper Berries by Deana Sidney

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!

Lamb and Licorice with Juniper Berries by Deana Sidney

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.”

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Lamb with Licorice and Juniper Berries by Deana Sidney

Ingredients
1 pound lamb steak from leg
1teaspoon cumin
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

Method
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.

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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.

Nippur-Nusku Tablet (CBS 8550 Obverse)

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).

 

Mesopotamian Cookoff Entry 3: Lamb and Licorice with Juniper Berries by Miles Collins

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.

Lamb, Licorice and Juniper Version 1

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.”

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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.

Ingredients
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
1 carrot
1 leek
2 cloves garlic, peeled
2 bay leaves

Method
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.
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Lamb, Licorice and Juniper – Version 2

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.)

Mesopotamian Cookoff Entry 2: Lamb and Carob Stew by Laura Kelley

Old Carob Tree

A carob tree and a wellspring of water have been called miracles that have sustained sages and prophets alike. The slow maturation and flowering of the carob tree also teaches one to invest in the future even when it is arduous and promises no immediate gains. The carob is staple that provides sutenance, the promise of the next generation, and is incredibly tasty when cooked in a stew with lamb.

Carob Seeds

The second entry in the Mesopotamian Cookoff is from yours truly, Webmistress, Laura Kelley. It is a Lamb and Carob Stew based on the “recipe” XIX on Yale Babylonian Culinary Tablet 25 (4464).  The original called for meat, fat, salt, shallots and semolina, carob and water.  The tablet also calls for the addition of leeks and garlic mashed with a milk product (probably yogurt or sour cream) as well.  I added cumin, coriander seeds and a bit of salt – all of which would have been available in the ancient Near East.  The dish that resulted is pictured below, and I can personally attest that it is absolutely delicious, savory, earthy without any carob or chocolate-flavor to mar the flavor of the meat and spices.

Lamb and Carob Stew

What the carob does do is make a savory stew even more savory, and in the case of my creation, it blanketed the sharp edges of the added cumin and coriander seed. I feel justified in adding the cumin and coriander because in most of the modern world, recipes still don’t list each and everything that goes into the pot – that is a sort of rigor and precision that is uniquely a western European and American expectation. All over the world, ingredients are left unspecified to allow for creativity of individual cooks or just to use what they have on hand. If your interested in this concept of culinary variation, check out my post Viva Variation. For justification of the use of carob and semolina, see my growing lexicon of Mesopotamian food terms. But I digress. . .

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Lamb and Carob Stew
Buttery-soft and delectable halal lamb fresh from the farm is spiced with ground coriander and cumin seeds and sauteed in light sesame oil.  The shallots are added and lightly caramelized.  The stew is then given an incredible depth of flavor by the addition of ground carob powder.  Then it is lifted by the addition of leeks and garlic mashed with whole milk yogurt and served on a bed of semolina couscous cooked and steamed over homespun lamb stock.  As superb today as it was almost 4,000 years ago.

Ingredients
1-1.3 pound lamb roast, cut into bitesize pieces
1 tablespoon coriander seeds, freshly ground
3 teaspoons cumin seed, freshly ground
2-3 tablespoons light sesame oil (gingelly)
6 medium shallots, peeled and sliced
2 -3 cups of water
2-3 generous tablespoons of carob powder
1 teaspoon salt (or to taste)
1 leek (both white and green parts), carefully cleaned and rinsed
6 cloves of garlic, peeled
1 cup of yogurt

Serve over couscous – cooked separately as desired.

Method
Flavor lamb with half of the ground coriander seeds and about 1 teaspoon of ground cumin seeds. Massage the spices around and into the meat as possible. Let stand for several hours or overnight to really flavor the meat.

Heat light sesame oil in a large saucepan and sear the seasoned lamb until opaque and just beginning to color around the edges. Reduce heat, remove meat from pan and set aside. Add sliced shallots and cook over low heat until the start to caramelize. Caramelization will happen more quickly if you don’t stir or otherwise disturb the shallots too much.

When shallots are done to your liking, add the remainder of the ground coriander and cumin seed and cook to warm the spices, 3-5 minutes. When spices are warm and aromatic, add water. (Start with 2 cups and add more if needed or desired after meat is added.) Cook to warm water. When water is hot, add meat and stir. Cover and cook over medium heat for 5-10 minutes to bring meat up to temperature. Add carob powder and salt and stir well. if the carob clumps, break it up. Recover and cook over medium or medium-low heat until lamb is soft, stirring occaisionally. The exact amount of time will depend on how large you cubed the lamb, but should be about 40 minutes or so. Watch the heat so that the lamb doesn’t burn, lower heat if necessary.

Prepare couscous as desired while the lamb is cooking.

When lamb has almost softened, uncover and cook for about 5- 10 minutes. In a food processor, pulse the leek and garlic until a diced vegetable is achieved. Add yogurt and pulse once or twice more to mix. Don’t blend until mush, the crunch of the vegetable is desired.

Add to the stew and stir well. Cook uncovered stirring occaisionally until stew is hot once again. Serve over couscous and garnish with fresh cilantro.

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Yale Babylonian Culinary Tablet 25 (4464)

A word or two about my choices. I chose lamb, simply becasue I like it, but almost any meat will work with this recipe. I chose a stew, but many other options are available – a braised dish, a cooked shank, or even a roast that is first boiled. I also flavored the meat with the dry spice rub to increase the impact of the coriander and cumin flavor on the stew. In the first test run of this recipe, I added the spices only to the stew and they were not as prominent as when added to the meat before cooking and in the stew.

For the form of semolina, I chose couscous – simply because it was a form of semolina and would be tasty with the lamb stew. Other options could include a ground and lightly roasted semolina to thicken and add flavor to the stew (much as roasted rice is used in SE Asian dishes today), or coating the meat prior to searing with a semolina and spice mixture – sort of like spiced breadcrumbs might be used today.

I chose to integrate the yogurt, leek and garlic mixture into the stew, much as one would add yogurt to an Indian curry. However, other choices could include as a condiment for diners to add at will to the stew, or even a dip for breads that accompany the meal. Adding the blend into the stew adds great texture with the crunch of the vegetables as well as little blasts of additional flavor when diners bite into them.

Other dishes and combinations are doable and I hope will be done by others. This is only one possibility for the nineteenth “recipe” listed on the Yale Babylonian Tablets – there are many other culinary creations to make, but clearly this is much more than just another meat broth as envisioned by Bottero. (Words and recipe for Lamb and Carob Stew by Laura Kelley.  Photo of Carob Tree by Ivlys; Photo of Lamb and Carob Stew by Laura Kelley; and other photos borrowed from google images.)

Some Mesopotamian Ingredients Revealed

Following is the lastest update of the Mesopotamian Food Lexicon. I have only included words that have a minimal level of resolution associated with the type of food. Thus I have included words that begin to specify the type of bird (i.e. ostrich, heron, duck etc) but excluded words that have been resolved only to the level of “Type of Bird”, or “Type of Fish”. It is a work in progress and thus very incomplete at this time. Entries for words beginning with “A” and “B” have been updated 11/2012. Words beginning with other letters have not been recently updated and may have errors. As incomplete as it is, the picture of a rich and extremely varied diet is emerging from liguistic sources alone.

A B D E F G Ĝ H I K L M N P Q R S Š Ş Ś T U W X Y Z

A

Ab = Cow (OAk,OB; Ak. arhu; littu) (ref 2).

Abga = Milk; female sucking calf (OB) (ref 2).

Absuhur = Type of carp (OB) (ref 2).

Abulillum = Boxthorn berries (Lycium europaeum) (S; Ak. bulīlu) (ref 2).

Abzaza = Zebu (OB; Ak. apsasû) (ref 2).

Adkin = Preserved meat (salted?) (S; Ak. kirrētu; muddulu) (Maaijer, R and B. Jagersma, 2003-2004 AfO 50 352).

Agargara = Type of fish (agargara-eshub = carp) (OB, many from Nippur) (ref 2).

Aĝeštinak = Vinegar (OA,OB; Ak. tābātu) (Ak ref. Powell, M, 1995, Origins and Ancient History of Wine 104).

Agud = Ox (OB) (Stol, M, 1995 BSA 8 197-201).

Alim = Bison (OB; Ak. ditānu; kabtu; kusarikku) (Steinkeller, P, 1995, BiOr 52 697; P. Steinkeller, P, 2004, ZA 94; Mittermayer, C, 2005, Tierkopfzeichen 45-49).

Allanum = Oak, acorn (S; Ak. allānu) (Powell, M, 1987, BSA 3 148; Civil, M, 1987, Organization of Power 52 wn7).

Allub = Crab (OB; Ak. alluttu) (ref 2).

Alum = Long-fleeced sheep (S,EOB,OB; Ak. aslu; pasillu) (Ak. refs: Waetzoldt H, 1972, UNT 3-4; 8; Steinkeller, P, 1995, BSA 8 52).

Alusa = Sauce (OB) (ref 2).

Alusa-kud = Fish sauce (OB) (ref 2).

Am = Wild bull (EOB,OB; Ak. rīmu) (ref 2).

Amsikurak = camel (S; Ak. Ibilu; OB. amsiharran) (Ak, OB refs: Maaijer, R, 2003-2004;Jagersma,B, AfO 50 355.).

Andahšum = Wild tulip bulb (OB,Ak; As. andahšu) Multiple references to spring root vegetable and some statements about commonness in the north (Anatolia and Assyria) but uncommonness in the south. Not sure of the species of tulip that this refers to, but many are edible and have a distinct mildly bitter flavor. (Undefined in Textes Culinaire Mesopotamien (TCM) and The Oldest Cuisine in the World (OCW))(Refs 1 2, analysis by LMK).

Anše = donkey (OAk,EOB,OB; Ak. imēru) (Ak. refs: Zarins, J, 1978 JCS 30 3-4; Maekawa, K, 1979, ASJ 1 35-62; Maekawa, K, 1980, ASJ 2 113-114 n1; Sigrist,M, 1992, Drehem 30-31; Cavigneaux, A and F. Alrawi, 1993 Iraq 55 1000; Steinkeller, P, 2004, ZA 94; Mittermayer, C, 2005, Tierkopfzeichen 28-35).

Anše’edenak = Onager, Asiatic wild ass (S;Ak. serrēmu) (Ak refs: Maekawa, K, 1979, ASJ 1 48; 45; 37; Sigrist, M, 1992, Drehem 30-31).

Arabu = Edible waterfowl (OB; Ak. arabû; usābu) (Ak refs: Owen, D 1981, ZA 71 34-35; Veldhuis, N, 2004, Nanše 215-216.)

Arak = Type of bird, stork (OB; Ak. laqlaqqu) (ref 2).

Arkab = Bat (poss. type of bird) (OB; Ak. argabu) Many modern cultures eat bats even though there are taboos against doing so. (ref 2).

Arzana = Groats (wheatberries, ryeberries etc.) (S,OA,EOB,OB; Ak. arsānu) (ref 2).

Arzig = Millet (S; Ak. arsikku) (ref 2).

Ay-alum = Deer or stag (OB) (ref 2).

Az = Bear (S; Ak. asu) (ref 2).

Azugna = Vegetable, poss. saffron (OB; Ak. azupīru) (ref 2).

B

Babbarhi = Herb, poss purslane or related portulaca species (OB; Ak. parparhû) (ref Hallo, W, 1985, JCS 37 124).

Balgi = Type of turtle or tortoise (EOB; Ak. raqqu)(Owen, D, 1981, ZA 71 43).

Bappir = Ingredient in beer (S; Ak. bappiru) (Civil, M, 1964 Studies Oppenheim 76-78; Stol, M, 1987-1990, RlA 7 325-326; Powell, M, 1994, Drinking in Ancient Societies 94; 96-99; 104, analysis by LMK). There is some agreement amongst scholrs that “bappir” is translated as beer-bread and is an ingredient in beermaking. I think that it is probably a “mother” culture of wild yeast from sourdough breadmaking that was used to introduce yeast into beer to kick off the fermentation process.

Bazbaz = Type of duck; bazbazniga = fattened duck (OB; Ak. paspasu) (Veldhuis, N, 2004, Nanše 223-224).

Bil = To be sour (S; Ak. emşu) (Powell, M, 1987, BSA 3 148).

Bil = To roast or burn (OB; Ak. qalû) (Attinger, P, 2001, ZA 91 136 n10).

Billum = mandrake (S; Ak. pilû) (ref 2).

Binum = tamarisk (S; Ak. bīnu) (ref 2). Tamarisk has many culinary uses. Its bark can be boiled to make tea, or burnt to gather the sulphate of soda in its ashes that is then used to make bread. Additionally, it has small, seasonal bitter fruits.

Bir = locust (OB; Ak. erbu) (ref 2). Although we don’t think of eating locusts in the west today, large grasshoppers and locusts are still enjoyed in many places in eastern Asia. Additionally locusts are depicted as food items in period representational art.

Birgun = cheese (S; (Ak. pinnāru) (Stol, M, 1993-1997, RlA 8 198).

Bizaza = frog (OAk,OB; Ak. muşa’irānu) (ref 2).

bubu’i = wild date palm (S; Ak. alamittu) (ref 2).

Buru = Type of small bird, sparrow (OB; Ak. işşūru) (Cavigneaux, A and F. Alrawi, 1995 ZA 85 32; Cavigneaux, A and F. Alrawi, 2002 ZA 92 44-50; Veldhuis, N, 2004, Nanše 229-231.)

Buruhabrudak = Type of bird, partridge (OB) (Veldhuis, N, 2004, Nanše 231-233).

Butumtu = Pistachio Nuts or Flour. (As; S. budnu) (refs 1, 2 analysis by LMK)  I think that pistachio makes a great deal more culinary sense  in the context that “butumtu” or “bututu” is used.  Also, pistachio is still used in modern Western Asian and Levantine regional cuisines in the same ways as defined in the Mari and Nippur tablets. That said, there is a recent trend amongst some scholars to go back to an archaic definition of this word as meaning ‘terebinth’. (In TCM, Bottero called these green or unripened wheat or barley, in OCW he calls these husked lentils).

G

Gugu-la = Chickpeas. There seems to be a fair amount of concurrence that this word means chickpeas. However it is often translated as bean, large bean or simply legumes. Molina and Such-Gutiérrez, Neo-Sumerian Administrative Texts 56, 2005; Powell, RlA 10 21-22, 2003; . Maekawa, BSA 2, 1985. Stol, BSA 2 127-130; 133, 1985.

Gugu-tar = Lentils. Sumerian. There seems to be a fair amount of concurrence that this word means lentils. However it is often translated as bean, small bean or simply legumes. Sometimes denoted as Gutur. In Akkadian, the word for lentil seems to be Kakku. Molina and Such-Gutiérrez, Neo-Sumerian Administrative Texts 56, 2005; Powell, RlA 10 21-22, 2003; . Maekawa, BSA 2, 1985. Stol, BSA 2 129-130; 133, 1985.

H

Halazzu = Carob Seeds.  Halla: Refers to a plant that resembles the dung of birds in Assyrian. Zu or ze refers to the dung, but is also used in a prefix to denote plants or seeds. So, one has: “seeds that look like the dung of birds”.  Looking at the bible, (The word used in most Hebrew Bibles is מּינויירח, chari-yonim) there are several references to eating “dove’s dung” which has long been identified as the seeds of the carob tree Ceratonia siliqua (Robinson, Joseph (1976). The Second Book of Kings. Cambridge University Press. pp. 65–66.).

It turns out that earlier Assyriologists also identify Halazzu as Carob:  This was first recognized by R. Campbell Thompson, Dictionary of Assyrian Botany (London, 1949), 186; and independently by A. L. Oppenheim, JQR 37 (1946-47), 175-76. See also the extensive treatment by M. Held, Studies…Landsberger, AS 16 (1965), 395-98.

Carob is widely enjoyed across Western Asia, Levant and Eastern Mediterranean today and imparts a sweet chocolate-like flavor to dishes. This seems to depart from the commonly used word for carob. (refs 1& as cited).

Hirsu = A cut slice sliver, piece, portion. Akkadian. In TCM Bottero gives no definition for this. He states that it appears before words designating “leg and mutton?” – so it is possible that it refers to the shank. Lamb or sheep shanks, at least in that context. Alternately, as we see with some fowl recipes from the Yale Tablets the cook is told to add some meat. This may be a small portion of meat from a hooved creature to bolster the flavor of the fowl recipe that would be like the equivalent of cooking something in a meat stock instead of water. (ref 2) (LK).

Hisiltu = A coarsely ground flour or a coarsely ground spice mixture. (ref 1)

K

Kanasu = Emmer Wheat. (Kunasu in Akkadian). Emmer wheat (Triticum dicoccum), also known as farro in Italian. Emmer a proto-wheat or awned-wheat that was one of the first domesticated crops. Emmer is one of the ancestors of spelt (Triticum spelta). The use of it in Mesopotamian recipes probably refers to wheat flour. In TCM Bottero gives no definition for this (ref 1).

Kasu = Wild Licorice (formerly thought to be cinnamon). From Sumerian gazi (kasu) wild licorice (Steinkeller, AOS 68, 92; Heimpel, CUSAS 5, 214). Roots used to flavor many food from soups and stews to cheese and beer with sweet anise-like flavor. Bottero called this “dodder” like the parasitic weed in TCM.

Kisimmu = Sour Cream or Yogurt. Undefined in OCM. Called a sort of cheese in TCM. Clearly defined as a sour milk product in multiple sources in reference 1. Unclear whether it would have been moist like yogurt, drained like Afghan chaka or fully dried like dry kishk. If I had to pick one of the three, I would choose to drain it like chaka becasue of its use in modern regional cuisines in that form.

Kamaamtu(m) = Rhus coriaria or sumac. It is a word borrowed from Sumerian. I think I found this in Meissner but I cannot find my notes – will check.

L

Laptu = turnip or roasted barley The accepted definition of this word depends on the context at this time.

M

Mersu = A dish based on dates, raisins or figs with other sweet or savory ingredients added. Mersu is the ultimate ‘Iron Chef’ test. It involves picking one from column A: dates, figs or raisins and combining it with at least one from column B: pistachios, apples, cheese, garlic, “wine” (probably must or pomace), and flour (but the flour could be nut flour). It could be simply a layer of pounded dates rolled into a sheet which is then covered with nuts, then rolled and sliced, or pounded dates rolled into balls and covered with chopped nuts. If one adds flour, it could possibly be something like the modern Iranian Ranginak in which dates stuffed with nuts are enclosed within a thin dough sandwich and sliced, or the Lebanese Ma’moul in which pounded date cores are rolled in a layer of semolina which is then covered with chopped nuts. Bottero called this a cake. Sigrist equated this with ninda-i-de-a (JCS 29, 1977). (LK).

N

Ninu=Mint.

Nuhurtu = Asafoetida. This is one undefined ingredient in Bottero’s work that really will impart a complex onion-like flavor to a dish. The principal reference is Thompson DAB, but his opinion is supported by many references to the medicinal use of the plant’s roots and resin (ref 1). It is also listed in the catalog of “trees” in Assurnasipal II royal garden at Kalhu. Since asafoetida plants grow quite large it is understandable that it was thought to be a tree. (LK)

Q

Qaiiatu = rolled oats or pounded oats or oat flour. Used roasted and added to the stews, soups and pilafs represented in the Yale Babylonian culinary tablets. (ref 1) (LK).

S

Salahu=Cress or Cress seed.

Samidu = Semolina. Assyrian samidu, Syrian semida “fine meal”, Greek semidalis “the finest flour”. A fine flour called semida in the Talmud (Pesachim 74b, Shabbat 110b, Moed Katan 28a). Semida is the Targum Yonatan translation for solet – also meaning “fine flour”. Probably used in broths, soups and stews to thicken the liquid (much as corn starch is commonly used today), or could be used to denote a form of couscous or other form of small dumpling. (LK)

Sebtu-rolls = Dill Seed. Dill (Anethum graveolens) was called sibetum in Assyrian (ref 1). Bottero states that these were probably grain rolls (small pieces of bread) eaten as a staple with meals. Several recipes state that these are roasted in an oven and scattered about the dish just before presentation. Both the etymology and the use make it unlikely that these were rolls of grain. I believe the confusion comes from the translation of the word “roll” which I take to mean seed (as opposed to dill weed). In Tablet B and C of the Yale collection Bottero mentions using dough to make sebtu rolls and bake them in the oven. My interpretation of this is that roasted dill seed is added to the dough for flavor. (ref 1) (LK)

Sibburattu=Mustard. Bottero calls this rue, which makes a little bit of culinary sense. However, my research shows that this plant is aromatic, both leaves and seeds are used, and it is a common ingredient in medicinal poulstices and for treatment of urinary infections. Mustard is a much better fit for this description than rue. (ref 1) (LK)

Siqqu = Salted Fish or other salted meat. Bottero defines this as garum like the Carthaginian fish sauce often associated with the Romans. There is nothing that I can find that defines Siqqu as a sauce. References only point to fish and salt as the principal ingredients. Additionally, one reference records a person complaining that the siqqu they bought is not moist. How can liquid not be moist? Siqqu may have been eaten with a selection of fruits like dates and date-plums and splashes of fruit vinegar. (ref 1) (LK).

Suhutinnu = A root vegetable. Probably a carrot, possibly a parsnip. Sahutinnu in Assyrian. In the Babylonian tablets translated by Bottero, it is always used “raw”. Ref 1 states that it is an alliaceous plant, but there is no evidence to support that it is anything other than a root vegetable. Tablets simply report that they are “dug up”. (LK)

Suluppu = date Akkadian for fruit of the date palm (Phoenix dactylifera). Old Akkadian is zulum.

Surmenu = Juniper Berries. Bottero calls these cypress cones. While Bottero is close, the Juniper is a type of cypress, and the “berries” are actually fleshy cones, the use of juniper berries – especially in game-based stews and curries – makes culinary sense, while cypress cones do not. (ref 1)

T

Tiktu = A dairy product. Possibly a type of kashk. In Assyrian – Diktu. Likely to be a product like kashk, because in TCM, it is mixed with beer to create a sauce. In OCW, Bottero does not define this, but uses it to denote a sort of flour. It is possible that the term “tiktu-flour” used by Bottero is a mixture of kashk and cracked wheat as is done in the Levant and Arabian Peninsula. The combination is called Kishk and the dried flour is the base for a traditional Levantine soup or gravy with meat, onions, and garlic. The sauce or gravy is eaten by scooping out with flat bread (ref 1). (LK)

Tuh’hu = Cracked grain, possibly sprouted grain (Ak,As; S,OAk,EOB, OB. duh) Tuh’hu is the accepted word for bran or draff in Assyrian and Akkadian. However, I think that instead of denoting “bran” it might be used for a cracked grain, or even for sprouted grain, as the references for beer and fodder abound. From a culinary point of view, the cracked or sprouted grain makes a heck of a lot more sense than bran (refs 1,2, Analysis by LMK).

U

Uihur-sag = Saffron.

Ukus-hab = Citron. In the amounts specified (usually small) this probably refers to minced zest of citron. In TCM, Bottero – referencing early German writings on medicine called this colocynthe or cucumber – both of which make little culinary sense. Colocynthe is a powerful laxative, purgative, abortifacient and in larger doses poison, and cucumber would simply be overwhelmed by the other flavors in the culinary recipes they were mentioned with. It is not out of the question that it is colocynth seed which is still a common food item today, but I think that citron is more logical culinary choice of an ingredient with a similar physical description as colocynthe. (LK)

Z

Zamburu = Thyme

Zamzaganu = Field birds. Sumerian, Old Babylonian. A possible compound noun of zamzam (bird) and ganu (field). No definition given by Bottero in TCM (ref 2) (LK).

Zanzar = Date-plum, (fruit of Diospyros lotus, the Caucasian persimmon). Zanzaliqqu is specified as a type of tree bearing fruit (sometimes said to be inedible). When these fruits are unripe they are very bitter and inedible as raw fruits. They change significantly as they ripen and dry and lose their tartness. Same word as Zarzar(u). (LK)

Zibu = Black Onion Seeds (nigella sativa) (Not black cumin (Carum bulbocastanum) which is from India/Himalayas). “Black onion seeds” or kalonji as they are called in many places on the Indian Subcontinent are not really onion seeds at all, but flower seeds that impart a strong flavor reminiscent to onions by some people. These seeds have been used in Mesopotamian and Egyptian food and are still used widely in Indian, Persian and Turkish foods today. (This is one of Bottero’s ”culinary confusions”). (LK)

Zizna = fish roe Sumerian. Akkadian is binitu.

Zurumu = Small intestine or lining thereof. Surumu as small intestine in Akkadian see Hussey [J. Cuneiform Studies Vol. 2, No. 1 (1948), pp. 21-32)]. Moran specifies that Surumu is Akkadian for “lining” of part of the digestive tract (see Moran JCS Vol. 21, Special Volume Honoring Professor Albrecht Goetze (1967). Used like intestines and lining of digestive organs are used today: ubiquitously in soups and stews, stir fries etc. for flavor and texture. Tripe or Chit’lins. Bottero stated that he didn’t have enough information to even venture a guess. (LK)

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Non-culinary Words

Anumun = Esparto Grass (OB). Strong grass possibly used as fiber for basketmaking and rope making (ref 2)

Makaltu = Shallow Bowl. Found in dowry lists and in instructions for offerings as well as recipes. Like a pie plate, but usually made of wood (ref 1).

Musukkannu = Sisham Tree (Dalbergia sisso). Stated that it is imported from the east for its wood and used extensively in building. Chosen because it is an “everlasting wood”. Said to reproduce by sending out shoots from the root. Shisham is a good match for this word because its heartwood is known for its durability and hardness. Its current natural range is from Afghanistan to Bhutan but in times past, its range extended west and south into Iran. (ref 1, analysis by LMK)

References

Reference 1: UC Assyrian Dictionary

Reference 2: UP Online Sumerian Dictionary

(All research and words by Laura Kelley).