Saturday, 20 October 2012

Dear Herodotus (c. 484 - 425 BC),

I am of the opinion that modern society is only just beginning to catch up to the wisdom of the ancient Greeks:

You and your peers had free democratic elections without corporate sponsorship.
Your education system aimed to produce intelligent citizens, not productive workers.
Your society valued mathematicians and philosophers.
Your theatres were full of audiences.
Your stomachs were full of wine.
Your fashions were comfy. 

Now, it's possible that the rampant slavery and marrying of one's siblings were not ideals we should aspire to. But other than that, your society rocked.

I also envy the ability of ancient Greek scholars to make careers of creative embellishment. You, Herodotus, were a master at that. Your epic tome "The Histories" -- purportedly, as its title suggests, a work of non-fiction -- was widely believed to contain as much fiction as fact. I would love to try that in my thesis. E.g. Chapter One: Margaret Atwood is a purple monkey. Her books are about badgers who run for busses in the rain. I could screel out 80,000 words of that, no sweat.

Your own histories were more a conglomeration of fact, oral history, rumour, and just plain stuff-made-up. The bit I want to cook from, though, is based on a real historical figure. In the passage, Cambyses II, the Persian King, is chatting to his wife. This all sounds quite normal, until you realise that they are talking about his recently having murdered his brother. Hmm, drama. Oh, and also, his wife is his sister. And this is the second of his sisters he has married. Jeez, I hope you were lying about this, Herodotus:

The two were sitting at table, when the sister took a lettuce, and stripping the leaves off, asked her brother "when he thought the lettuce looked the prettiest - when it had all its leaves on, or now that it was stripped?" He answered, "When the leaves were on." "But thou," she rejoined, "hast done as I did to the lettuce, and made bare the house of Cyrus." Then Cambyses was wroth, and sprang fiercely upon her, though she was with child at the time. And so it came to pass that she miscarried and died. 

Admittedly, incest and salad did not have a happy ending in "The Histories." But I think there's something to be said for 'incest' in food. I'm not suggesting we mate chocolate buttons with chocolate flakes... except that HOLY CRAP, yes I am!

But I am suggesting that we draw our food from the same soil. Think about it: the whole philosophy of farmer's markets is inherently incestuous. We want to buy local. In other words, in order to minimise food miles and ensure freshness, we want foods that are grown near us and therefore, near each other. What could be more incestuous than wanting to become one with the fruits of our own land?

Have I grossed you out yet? Sorry. Stick with me here.

What could be better than a salad of local produce, freshly grown nearby and bought mere hours ago at a farmer's market?

Well, since I'm no rabbit, I can make that salad better with cheese! And beans! And tuna! And... and... ok, the incest-levels are falling. But perhaps I'm just improving the genetic diversity of my dinner. That's plausible, right?

See Herodotus? You're not the only scholar who can make stuff up.

Incestuous Farmer's Market Salad

Serves 2


2C salad leaves (I used rocket and pea sprouts)
5 red cherry tomatoes
5 orange cherry tomatoes
1 pear, sliced
1/2 avocado, sliced
1/3 pomegranate
1/2 can (200g) cannelini beans
5 broad beans, shelled & beans extracted*
90g tuna, flaked
Small handful mint, chopped
Small handful flat leaf parsley, chopped
2 tbsp lime juice
2 tbsp olive oil
3 cloves garlic
100g haloumi
Sesame seeds (I used black sesame)


Arrange the salad leaves, tomatoes, pear slices, and avocado slices on two plates. Extract the seeds from the pomegranate and sprinkle them over.

Mix the cannelini beans, broad beans,* tuna, mint, and parsley in a bowl. Dress with lime juice and 1 tablespoon of the olive oil. Spoon the mixture over the salads.

Heat the remaining tablespoon of olive oil. Smash the garlic cloves in their skins to crush them a little, and drop them in the oil. (The garlic is just to flavour the oil, but eating the fried bulbs afterwards is a worthy cook's treat.) Slice the haloumi and coat it in sesame seeds. Fry in the hot garlicky oil until browned on both sides. Arrange the haloumi over the salads.

*Some people are sensitive to raw broad beans because of their lectin content. Steam the beans first if you're worried about getting a stomach ache from them.

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