Sunday, May 23, 2010

A Soup from Ancient Rome

In an article I wrote for the Athens Banner Herald on soups, I started with one of the oldest surviving soup recipes. It was published in De Re Coquinaria, a compilation of cookbooks from Imperial Rome attributed to Apicius.

Barley Soup with Legumes and Greens is adapted from that cookbook. Culinary judgment was needed, since Apicius specified ingredients and methods but not quantities.

Only asafoetida has been omitted, since the variety used in ancient Rome, grown in North Africa, is apparently now extinct. The strongly flavored and scented Indian-Persian asafoetida is thought to be different and is so overpowering as to not be a good substitute.

For convenience, I also left beet greens off the list of greens in the soup, because of their general lack of availability, unless you grow them. If available, add them to the other greens in the recipe.

Asian fish sauce is the available equivalent of the ubiquitous Roman seasoning “garum,” also called “liquamen.” Several ancient recipes for making the seasoning indicate that Roman garum was prepared like the modern Asian sauce. Celery seed is very similar to the lovage used in ancient Rome.

Ancient Roman Barley Soup with Legumes and Greens

1/2 cup pearled barley
1 cup yellow split peas
1 cup tan lentils (supermarket type)
10 cups water
1 (14-ounce) can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
2 teaspoons salt, plus to taste
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon ground fennel seed
1/2 teaspoon ground celery seed
2 tablespoons Thai or Vietnamese fish sauce
1 large or 2 smaller leeks, white part and 3 inches of green part, split, rinsed carefully and chopped
3 cups coarsely chopped Savoy cabbage, packed
1/4 cup chopped cilantro, packed
1/4 cup chopped fresh dill, packed
1/4 cup chopped fennel leaves, packed
1/2 cup olive oil

Place barley, peas and lentils in a heavy pot. Rinse and drain. Add water and bring to a boil. Skim off foam. Simmer, covered, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are becoming tender. Add a little water if too thick.

Add chickpeas, salt, oregano, ground spices and fish sauce. Simmer 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, prepare leeks, cabbage and greens. In a frying pan, cook them gently in olive oil until bright colored and wilted. Stir mixture into soup. Simmer, stirring frequently, just until cabbage is tender, 5-10 minutes.

Taste, and add salt as needed to make slightly salty, since the vegetables will absorb more salt.

1 Comments:

Blogger Cathy said...

Thanks for sharing this wonderful recipe! My family ate a similar soup and loved it while visiting Xanten, a Roman archeological site in Germany, but couldn't find the recipe anywhere. After finding your original Athens-Banner article, I made it several times and now this soup has become a stable fall/winter addition to our menu! Much appreciated!

1:43 AM  

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