After six weeks in Ancient Greece, we have moved back East. Ancient Persia is known for being one of the many vast empires in history; incorporating with multiple regions and shaping those cultures for centuries, from their contributions to science, mathematics, currency and cuisine. While researching for this series, we had realized we needed to give each distinct region its deserved time and attention, so we will be focusing on the Ancient Persian empire from now through October.
While preparing our recipes, we were overwhelmed with options. With this, we decided this week would be a simple, but fragrant Lamb Stew, complete with lentils, barley, carrot and onion, with a basic Einkorn flatbread, cooked on coals. This Einkorn Flatbread will be similar to ones we’ve made before; but with an addition of Persian Yogurt.
Ancient Persia: A vibrant history, with luxurious flavors
The Persian Empire. When most of us think about it we tend to think of King Leonidas and his army of 300 Spartans fighting off the Persians at the Battle of Thermopylae. However, there was so much more to the Persian Empire; even though it was short lived only from 559 to 331 B.C.E. Unlike most empires, the Persians took a new approach to ruling over the lands it ruled. The first ruler was Cyrus the Great. He realized that by taking mercy on the kings he conquered; he could use their knowledge and help to rule over the newly obtained areas. He also allowed for the regions he ruled to continue to practice their own religions and cultural beliefs.
His successor, Darius I, took these ideas a step further and created a system of provinces and put governors in charge of these. He didn’t stop there; he also created a postal service that stretched the empire. This allowed for communication to be fast and efficient, but they couldn’t be transported across the empire with out roads and canals to transport them. He implemented the use of the money that was paid in the form of tribute to create these public works.
Unfortunately, this wouldn’t last forever. As in the case for most empires, someone along the way always gets a little to overzealous and decides that they can do more. For the Persian Empire that person came in the form of Xerxes, the son of Darius I. Xerxes drained the treasury in his attempt to conquer Greece. The end of the empire came when Alexander the Great conquered them in 334 B.C.E.
Food: Let’s get to menu!
But enough about the history of the empire! What about the food? For this series, we figured we would take a look at the empire. But where to start? Why not start where they began. This would bring us to Iran and Anatolia (modern day Türkieye). So what is the exact place we are starting? Let’s start in Iran.
Part of Iran is in the area we refer to today as the Fertile Crescent. The people of the Fertile Crescent are who we have to thank for many of the foods we eat today. Cereals such as emmer, einkorn, barley and rye where first cultivated in this region. They also cultivated legumes like pea, lentil, and chickpeas. Along with plant cultivation, came animal domestication. It is thought that goats were the first to be domesticated, followed by sheep. The domination of animals did a couple of things: First, it allowed them to have a steady food source year-round and it offered hides for clothing and for structures for living. This also allowed them to get wool from sheep for clothing.
For the meat of the meal, we are using lamb. We are going to make a lamb stew with lentils and barley, with carrots and onion. All of these items would have been available to people of the Persian Empire, with a focus in the Iranian region.
But what about the spices we are going to use? Saffron, the same as now, would have been expensive and hard to come by. To make just one pound of saffron it takes as many as 8,000 flowers. These flowers would have had to been harvested by hand. Its domestication is still under debate as to where it was first domesticated. But what we due know is that as far back as 50,000 years ago saffron was used in pigments from cave painting from Iraq. We know from Minoan Age frescoes found on the Greek island of Santorini, that they were using saffron around 1600 B.C.E.
The additional spice we are going to use is Tamarind Powder. The powder is made of the fruit from the tamarind tree, which is native to Africa where it grows in the wild around Sudan. It had been introduced to India and It is thought that it was introduced to the Persians from India. The fruit from the tamarind tree was known to the Ancient Egyptians and Greeks as far back as the 4th century B.C.E.
4 out of 5 stars
This was a great, hearty stew. I loved the flavors and felt as if it was really balanced. The einkorn flatbreads were delightful – The yogurt helped add a fluffy tang to the bread.
The only issue I ran into was everything felt a bit dry after awhile. I found myself feeling like it was missing something a bit more creamy to balance the flavors.
Also, I loved all of the saffron and I would have used more if I didn’t have Bradly reminding that they are $6.99 per ounce.
4 out of 5 stars
I really enjoyed dinner all except for one small thing: I felt that too much saffron was used.
It took away from the taste of the lamb – and I love me the taste of lamb. Other than for that, it was your standard affair. The bread came out much better this time, and I think that was in part by letting it sit for a several hours before going on the coals. I would like to do the meal again, but maybe this time without the saffron. Not only because I feel it robbed from the lamb – but saffron is expensive.
Bellwood, P. (2008). In First Farmers: The origins of agricultural societies (p. 46-47). essay, Blackwell.