Hammurabi's Lunch

My Not-Really-A-New-Years'-Resolution is to cook more non-stew, non-stir fry recipes at home. I do plenty of cooking at work when we cater big events, but I'm just an assistant so I have no real say in the menu. I am setting aside time each week to try some new recipes, learn some new techniques, or work with ingredients I haven't before.

First stop; the Yale Babylonian Cuisine Tablets.

Okay, so that's quite a step in a "different" direction, right? Eh, maybe not.

The translations I used came from the Silk Road Gourmet website, when a Ancient Mesopotamian Cuisine Cookoff Challenge was put out in 2011.

As I had most of the ingredients in the cupboard already, and others would be easy to acquire, I went with Recipe 2, Meat with Wild Licorice and Recipe 7, Turnips with Herbs.

They were translated as follows;

Recipe 2. Meat with Wild Licorice: ingredients – wild licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra), asafoetida, garden cress (but possibly watercress), cumin, zest of citron, and water.  The recipe states to boil six liters of water with wild licorice and cook for a long time. Then it reads that the citron zest should be added and cooked until it is reduced to 1 liter. Then the liquid is strained and meat is added and cooked. 

Recipe 7. (YBC 4464 – 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 [rocket], and coriander that have been mixed with semolina or other flour and moistened with blood. Cook until done. Add mashed leeks and garlic.

That's it. No amounts or specific times, temperatures. Fun!

I can't stand coriander (it tastes like soap and ozone), so I switched that out for a little lemon juice. I was going to use a citrus-y herb but forgot to buy any... And I figured plain old shop bought licorice would suffice, instead of wild >_<

For Recipe 2;

I grated about half a teaspoon's worth of licorice root and added it to a litre and a half of water and boiled it for about twenty minutes. I added a good sprinkle of cumin (you can't go wrong with cumin, generally, it's magical) and a shake of asafoetida powder and continued to boil. When it was reduced by about half I added the grated zest of a lime (for the citron) and a little extra lemon juice.

Most of the recipes call for lamb, mutton or game but I found an Organic sirloin steak in the reduced section, so I used that. Sure, yes, braising a sirloin steak is probably anathema to most cooks but it was cheaper by the pound than the braising steak! Work with what you have, right?

I gave it a quick brush with olive oil and browned both sides, lowered the heat on the licorice water, popped in the steak, put on a lid and left it alone. I sat down for a bit, to let it have a nice slow cook before starting the turnip.

For Recipe 7;

For this, I decided it was probably going to produce a nice mash so chopped a quarter of a swede and boiled it until soft, adding some butter to the water as the recipe asked for, instead of later, while mashing. I realise now that this should have been a white turnip, but I've been living in Scotland for so long that I think of swede when I read turnip. Oh well.

I chopped a whole shallot finely, and a small handful of rocket roughly, then mixed them with about two tablespoons of semolina. I did not have any blood to hand. I am not averse to cooking with the stuff, I just had no idea where to get any. I guessed it was being used as a thickening agent instead of flavouring and opted to use up some egg white I've had sitting around, waiting for a recipe.

Once the turnip was ready I mashed it up without draining and tossed in the semolina mix with a little lemon juice. As the semolina cooked I added more water a couple of times. Semolina is thirsty stuff!

While that was cooking I finely chopped an inch of a leek and crushed a clove of garlic. I mixed these into the turnip once the semolina was pretty much cooked and gave them a few minutes while I finished the meat.

I took out the steak and let it sit while I reduced the remaining licorice water down to a sauce, adding a little flour. I popped the steak (half of it, because it was kind big) on top of a little nest of watercress, poured over the sauce and dolloped a few spoons of turnip next to it.


It was DELICIOUS. The combination of licorice and citrus went superbly with the beef. The turnip was lovely and fluffy, not like normal mashed neeps (which I love but they're quite dense).
I felt a little tingle of a link with the past as I ate. Nearly three and a half thousand years ago, a little assistant cook may have sat down after a long day in Hammurabi's palace kitchen, to eat a lunch of left overs that would have been something like this dish.
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