From the cradle of civilization

A lot of thoughts have come together for this brief entry. My daughter is studying ancient civilizations in her social studies classes in middle school and was asking me to help find trade routes between Ur and the Indus Valley civilizations (Mahenjo-Daro). That is to say between Iran/Iraq along the Tigris and Euphrates and northern India. These are two of the areas known to have developed agriculture, literacy, bread-making and beer-making among many many other things.

Then I was reading a very interesting article from the Christian Science Monitor about Afghani bread being baked in a large tandoor buried under the bakery. And finally I had to cook dinner for a bunch of people Friday night and because of the bread I thought of some kind of Afghani type of food. I’ve made this kind of thing before, so I more or less winged it.

We had a Persian pilaf that I learned how to make (sort of – I can’t do it as well as her) from my sister-in-law who is Persian. It is made by lining the bottom and sides of the pot with potatoes coated in oil and adding onion and flavorings (I used decorticated cardamom and turmeric) and then gently cooking the rice as normal in this lined pot. I did it in the rice cooker and it all worked fine except that the potato didn’t come away in a neat shell like it is supposed to. But rice cooked this way is really exceptional. I also made one of my standard sauteed greens – this time spinach and collards with a little ginger, lemon juice and soy sauce. The main meal was an Afghani style kebab cooked as a sauce to go with rice rather than as whole kebabs served with a cilantro sauce.

Afghani style Ground Beef

Dice four medium potatoes up into one quarter inch cubes. Start them frying on high in about three tablespoons of olive oil. Add about a teaspoon each of cumin seeds and decorticated cardamom seeds (the black seeds inside cardamom pods). Dice an onion up the same size and add that. Turn the heat down a little and stir frequently. Now add two pounds of high quality lean ground beef and carefully stir and break it apart into fork-sized chunks as it browns. Add in a tablespoon each of ground cardamom and ground cumin and a teaspoon of ground turmeric. Keep stirring. Blend together six garlic cloves and a piece of ginger about two inches long (both peeled) and add a cup of red wine so you can pour it easily out of the blender. Once the meat is browned add the wine/garlic/ginger combo to the pan and stir it in thoroughly and turn the heat down even lower. Now add about two tablespoons of lemon juice and salt to taste.

It really was a meal fit for the cradle of civilization. I have heard people in the past sneer about the food and cooking of the middle east. They are just plain wrong. The problem really is that most middle eastern food in the US is just badly and cheaply made so that’s the way it tastes.

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