Archive for May, 2008

Nigella Barley Bread

Posted in classical antiquity with tags , , , , , on May 14, 2008 by hoveringdog

On the whole, an ideological commitment to vegetarianism has never been well received in the west, but in classical antiquity, rogue thinkers like Pythagoras and his philosophical descendants lent the vegetarian diet at least a modicum of respectability, the extent of which would not be seen again in the west until the Enlightenment.

Nigella Barley Bread

The Ancient Greeks themselves had a variety of plant-based foods available to them, and meat consumption, among all but the wealthiest citizens, was probably quite limited by modern standards. Grains in particular—made into breads, gruels, and pastes—likely comprised the bulk of the common diet, but the Greeks were skilled at maximizing the culinary value of such basic fare , as Colin Spencer describes in The Heretic’s Feast:

…there was a wealth of different kinds of bread, seventy-two types using different flours—barley, wheat, rice, coarse or finely ground—made with milk or oil. Bread flavoured with cumin, poppy seeds, fennel, coriander, raisins, fenugreek, nigella, marjoram, rosemary, capers, sage, cabbage leaves, garlic and onion. Bread made into all kinds of shapes: braids, crescents, animals, mushrooms. The Greeks were master-bakers and even at the time of the Roman Empire the Greeks were the bakers of Rome.

I make no claim for the historical accuracy of the following recipe, but I don’t imagine it would have been turned down by any respectable Pythagorean. If you can’t find barley flour, you can make it by grinding pearl or husked barley in a spice grinder. I found nigella (also called kalonji, black caraway, black cumin, or black onion seed) in an Indian grocery. I also used agave, which is obviously not historically accurate, but the honey-ambivalent and accuracy-obsessed can use honey instead… Continue reading


Lentil Cakes

Posted in twentieth century with tags , , , , on May 2, 2008 by hoveringdog

Modern vegetarianism as an organized movement, oddly enough, derives historically not from the self-flagellating liberal middle class with whom many associate it today, but rather, from nineteenth-century working-class radicals in England’s industrialized north. The first official vegetarian society (apart from the short-lived and awkwardly named British and Foreign Society for the Promotion of Humanity and Abstinence from Animal Food) was founded in 1847 by activists in Salford, England. The movement took off, and by 1914, there was a vegetarian society in nearly every country of Europe. Hell, in 1908, there was even an International Union of Vegetarian Esperantists, who advocated vegetarianism and … Esperanto. I’m sure it seemed like a good idea at the time.

Lentil Cakes

Anyway, back to the lentil cakes: By the early 1900s, and well before the founding of the Vegan Society in 1944, several members of the UK Vegetarian Society had already begun questioning the ethics of egg and dairy consumption. From this discussion was born the first vegan cookbook, although the word vegan itself had not yet been coined: In the year 1910 appeared the cookbook No Animal Food by Rupert H. Wheldon, who, after filling almost half the volume with preachy advocacy for a diet completely free of animal products, finally got around to providing a few recipes. After the fold is my updated version of Wheldon’s original recipe for lentil cakes.

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