Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Meat Assyrian Style

Hola! I have often been met with a raised eyebrow and an indulgent smile when I tell people that I love ancient history and study it industriously for traces of hints about the origins of ancient board games and, in particular, chess. Their expressions say (in various imagined intonations from English high-brow to Boston Brown-nose) "Oh darling, how - er - interesting," with a cheesy, insincere smile. But, the study is rewarding, sometimes in unexpected ways that have nothing whatsoever to do with ancient board games, and everything to do with fully living the kind of life that makes you happy, not what makes other people happy. This evening I came across such a wonderful little piece of - serendipity - that which makes your life spark all the more - I just have to write about it here. I promise, it's about ancient history :) Ancient cooking, to be exact! Having just recently watched the season's grande finale of "Hell's Kitchen," a show that absolutely fascinates me, and having recently concluding hosting the Eighth Anniversary of Goddesschess Get-Together in my home and cooking up a veritable storm, this article seemed like a natural continuation of a series of events... If you would like to read the entire article (and I highly recommend it), you can find it here. It's from (brace yourselves) the Society of Bible Literature. Okay okay, come down off the ceiling (or pick yourselves off the floor where you were rolling laughing) - it's a fine article by Dr. Alice L. Slotsky, who studied three ancient cunieform tablets from Mesopotamia that date to about 1600 BCE, containing 40 recipes, more or less - that's rather an abrupt summary, you'll get a better, richer and tastier picture by reading the actual article, darlings :) Here are some excerpted parts: Babylonian food has come a long way since Jean Bottéro, doyen of the cuneiform recipe tablets in the Yale Babylonian Collection, pronounced it fit for only his worst enemies. This year at Brown University, one hundred twenty-two ravenous diners grazed on fare cooked from these recipes with exclamations of amazement and satisfaction. ... Such epicurean results would not have been possible without my initial source of inspiration, Bottéro's Textes culinaires Mésopotamiens. This book, of course, was meant to be a scholarly tome, and, to be sure, it contains his painstaking and meticulous transcriptions and translations of the difficult and cryptic clay cooking tablets inscribed in Akkadian. Still, it turns out to be so much more. The reader is treated to a rich commentary on the enigmatic recipes, their cooking methods, and the requisite utensils and equipment. As if this were not enough, there is an elegant discussion of the preparation and presentation of the finished dishes, as well as a dictionary of Akkadian culinary terms and recipe ingredients. ... Armed with Bottéro's book as a lifeline, I decided that there was nothing else to do but dig in and put the recipes to the test with a trial-and-error approach to the translated lines of text. ... This would not have been possible without the benefit of Bottéro's initial and keen analysis of the underlying technicalities involved in the preparation of the recipes. He observed that all of the dishes had one thing in common. Every item, be it meat, fowl, vegetables, or grain, was cooked in water or some other liquid. As he saw it, this was an enormous culinary innovation, a vast departure from the more ancient methods of baking, roasting, grilling, and broiling. What's more, not only was boiling or simmering meat and vegetables in liquid a revolutionary change in methodology but it opened up brand new opportunities to create richer, more succulent flavors than afforded by the simpler cooking of the past. The sophisticated refinements it introduced added a whole new dimension to the practice of cooking and brought Mesopotamian cuisine across the fine food frontier. MEAT ASSYRIAN STYLE Akkadian: me-e shirim shi-rum iz-za-az me-e tu-ka-an li-pi-a-am ta-na-ad-di [break in tablet] karsum ha-za-nu-um te-te-er-ri me-eh-rum shuhut innu i-sha-ru-tum ash-shu-ri-a-tum shi-rum iz-za-az me-e tu-ka-an li-pi-a-am ta-na-di [break in tablet] ha-za-nu-um zu-ru-mu da-ma sha du-qa-tim tu-ma-la kar-shum ha-za-nu-um te-te-er-ri me-he-er na-ag-la-bi English Translation: Meat (cooked in) Water. Meat is used. Prepare water; add fat, [break in tablet], mashed leek and garlic, and a corresponding amount of raw shuhutinnû. Assyrian style. Meat is used. Prepare water; add fat [break in tablet], garlic and zurumu with [break in tablet], blood, and mashed leek and garlic. Carve and serve. Working Recipe: Chop/slice/dice: (many) onions, shallots, garlic, chives, leeks, scallions. Fry in oil until soft. Brown all sides of an eye round pot roast in this mixture, add salt to meat and onion mixture. Turn down heat, and simmer until done in a small amount of water to which a quarter to a half bottle of Guiness stout has been added, turning once or twice during cooking. Remove meat. Boil down onion-beer mixtures until it is reduced to a thick vegetable-rich gravy. Carve and serve.

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