Welcome to The Hungry Mind
, where I will not only give a brief and interesting history lesson centering around the food and cooking customs of ancient peoples, I will actually prepare and consume the stuff! Could get very weird…
There will also be a cookbook put together after 15 or 20 meals, so join me for the whole series and get the cookbook for free!
The recipes for each week will appear at the bottom of the article.
This week: Mayan peasant gruel, traditional Mayan hot chocolate and spiced pineapple chunks.
More than just beans...
It’s tempting to go off on some tangent about the whole Mayan apocalypse thing and the 12/21/12 doomsday crap, but I’d like to focus on factual information in this particular blog. “Mayan” is a word that refers to a vast collection of different societies and civilizations that inhabited the central American region from Guatamala up into central and northern Mexico. “Mayan” is more of a language base than a specific group of people. These folks flourished from about 2000 BCE until about 1400 CE, with all sorts of ups and downs in between. The basic social model was something like this:
Royalty on top
Smart, educated merchants and priests under the royalty
Our first dish is what “everybody else” would eat fairly regularly. As is shown in the above pic, the food choices were wide and varied, but, remember, the upper classes consumed most of the good stuff. Two items, however, were plentiful enough to be consumed by everybody. Beans and squash.
There are lots of different kinds of beans and many versions of squash, but I’ve chosen regular black beans and yellow squash for my gruel. They’re just easier to find in the grocery store.
Step 1. Prepare your beans (see below or use your favorite recipe)
Step 2. Add 2 cups of diced yellow squash and 2 cups of chicken stock to the cooked beans. The Mayans would probably have used turkey stock, wild turkey being the main meat source for landlocked peasant communities without access to seafood. If you have turkey stock, use it.
Step 3. Bring to a medium boil, then simmer for ten minutes. Thicken with about a cup of finely mealed corn meal and bring to another medium boil, then simmer as long as you like. It gets better over time. Peasants would have had access to basic flavor enhancers like salt, honey, and chili peppers, but not much else. Go ahead, add some salt and honey. Do yourself a favor, too, and don’t use black pepper. The Mayans didn’t have that either and it won’t allow you to taste the true flavor in the chili peppers.
I cook basic things like this all the time, so I was already prepared for the gruel. I was not prepared, though, for the intense flavor that was produced by such simple ingredients. We tend to go overboard in our modern kitchens with spices, herbs, additives and such. I think the ancients had it down pretty well already.
This dish was delicious. For a first meal in the series, I chose wisely.
No such thing as marshmallows...
Not your father's Hershey bar.
Mmmm, hot chocolate, right? Look at it, so rich and creamy, loaded with milk and cinnamon and sugar and marshmallows…
The Mayans didn’t have sugar. No sugar, no marshmallows. And milk? No refrigeration back then and the natural climate for the Mayans wouldn’t keep it cool enough to be safe. The only Mayans drinking milk were breastfeeding children.
So, hot chocolate how?
The beans of the cacao plant (shown above) were dried, crushed and ground into a powdered form similar to our modern version of cocoa. Then it got fun.
Step 1. Simmer two split habanero peppers with seeds in 2 cups of water for 5 minutes. Strain the peppers and the seeds, but leave the water in the pan.
Step 2. Add 4 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder and bring to a boil.
Step 3. Now add another 2 cups of water (unspiced), 3 tbsp of honey and one split vanilla stalk. Vanilla extract can be substituted.
Step 4. Thicken with the fine corn meal! Yep. Just a half a cup, more if you prefer. Then bring it all to another boil and whip the whole thing furiously with a small whisk until it looks smooth, rich and awesome. Pour it in a cup and sprinkle with cayenne pepper. You could use a blender for the whipping, yes. We’re trying to be ancient here.
This drink was only for the top portion of society. The drink of kings. The processing of cacao beans was intensive and time consuming and could only be afforded by the wealthy.
My verdict? Frikkin’ nice! I loved the heat from the peppers and the honey/vanilla combo was much better than any sugared marshmallow mixture could ever be. The corn meal thickener seemed strange at first, but many of those pre-mixed hot chocolate packs we use now have corn starch in them. I’d rather do it the natural way.
Our dessert today is super simple and was probably eaten by all classes.
Step 1. Toss a bunch of pineapple cubes in chili powder.
Eat ‘em. There you go.
I am open to any and all ideas or suggestions. What ancient food would you like me to prepare? Just name the culture and I’ll do the culinary research!
Thanks for hanging. Keep your mind hungry!
1 c dried black beans, 2 c water, 1 tsp salt, 2 tsp cayenne pepper, 2 minced habanero peppers (no seeds), 1 minced green bell pepper (no seeds), 1 tbsp oil (your choice)
Prepare according to the directions on the bean package. Everybody has a different style. Follow yours.
4 c water, 4 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder, 3 tbsp honey, 2 habanero peppers, split, with seeds, 1 stalk vanilla or vanilla extract to taste.