A History of the World in Ten Dinners: 2,000 Years, 100 Recipes, written by Victoria Flexner and Jay Reifel, features a fascinating collection of historical recipes paired with incredibly researched essays of the cultures and traditions surrounding the food. A few highlights include Honey Nut Sweets (Aliter Dulcia), Walnut-Lamb Patties (Maqluba), Decorated Marzipan (Marchpane), Salt Cod Stew (Baccalà in Umido), and Canapés. I will also be sharing their recipe for Spiced Clarified Butter following the review.
Disclosure: I received a copy of this book from Rizzoli in exchange for my honest review. All comments and opinions are my own. A History of the World in Ten Dinners is currently available for pre-order and set to release on September 19, 2023.
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Victoria Flexner is a food historian and the found of the New York City-based historical supper club, Edible History.
Jay Reifel is the executive chef at Edible History with a background in fine dining and classical pastry.
Victoria has written the history within the book, while Jay put together the period recipes.
The foreword is provided by Jessica B. Harris, a culinary historian, college professor, cookbook author, and journalist. She received the James Beard Lifetime Achievement Award in 2020 and is the author of twelve books documenting the foods and foodways of the African Diaspora (including High on the Hog: A Culinary Journey from Africa to America).
A History of the World in Ten Dinners
Victoria and Jay begin A History of the World in Ten Dinners with an introduction and insight into the development of the book. The recipes have been adapted for the present-day home cook while still holding onto the original foundation and flavors as much as possible.
The 364 pages are filled with not only individual recipes, but also the stories and lives in each of the regions with the impact of the culture and even religion on mealtime traditions, etiquette, and ingredients.
Chapters are divided according to the following: Ancient Rome (First Century), Baghdad (Eighth to Thirteenth Centuries), The Silk Road (Thirteenth to Sixteenth Centuries), Renaissance Italy (Fourteenth to Sixteenth Centuries), Tudor England (Fifteenth to Seventeenth Centuries), Al-Andulas (Eighth to Fifteenth Centuries), The Great Circulation (Fifteenth to Seventeenth Centuries), Ethiopia (Thirteenth to Nineteenth Centuries), Versailles (Seventeenth to Eighteenth Centuries) and New York City (Nineteenth Century).
Sources behind the recipes come from cookbooks within that specific time period, from one of the world’s oldest surviving cookbook, Apicius (first century collection of recipes) by Marcus Gavius Apicius to The Annals of the Caliphs’ Kitchens by Ibn Sayyār al-Warrāq and more.
The beautiful photography is provided by Lucy Schaeffer. Many of the recipes are paired with a full page photo of the finished dish.
Titles are written in English and/or the original language. Measurements are listed in US Customary. Each recipe has a headnote with background information, history, tips and ingredient notes, and yield.
Spiced Clarified Butter
The Spiced Clarified Butter (ንጥር ቅቤ) is one of the base recipes in the Ethiopia chapter along with Berbere Spice Mix and Injera.
I usually buy it from local markets, but have been wanting to make it at home and was so excited to finally try!
Niter Kebbeh (Niter Kibbeh) is an Ethiopian clarified butter infused with herbs and spices. It comes together relatively easily (the most difficult part is skimming off all the foam that forms over the top) and adds such a fantastic flavor to a variety of dishes. It is also a key ingredient in a favorite breakfast of mine, Chechebsa.
Melt the many sticks of butter over low heat while skimming off the white foam as it rises across the surface. Continue to slowly cook until no more foam develops.
Once clear, add the shallots, garlic, ginger, nigella seeds, black cardamom, coriander seeds, cloves, oregano, and thyme.
Cook for another 20 minutes to allow the flavors to infuse before straining into a jar with a tight-fitting lid and storing in the refrigerator.
The recipe calls for black cardamom pods. I used the Ethiopian black cardamom, Korerima (ኮረሪማ). This East African black cardamom variety has a smoky and earthy flavor with a floral aroma.
I also used the Ethiopian nigella seeds, Tikur Azmud (ጥቁር አዝሙድ). They have a rich, nutty flavor.
For those in Northern Virginia, I have been able to find these spices at Tensu Ethiopian Restaurant & Market in Herndon and Worlds Food/Alem Gebeya in Alexandria.
For those in Los Angeles, there are a few markets and fantastic restaurants on S Fairfax Avenue in Little Ethiopia just south of Los Angeles County Museum of Art and La Brea Tar Pits.
I also tried Slippery Pasta with Meat and Dipping Sauce (Laksha with Ma’wa milh and Sibagh), Ravioli, Chicken Soup That Regulates the Humors (Zirbaja), and Frothed Chocolate (Cacahuatl).
The Slippery Pasta with Meat and Dipping Sauce (Laksha with Ma’wa milh and Sibagh) comes from the Baghdad chapter. While assembling, it reminded me a little of the Azerbaijani Yarpag Khengeli. Homemade triangle-shaped noodles are served in a flavorful meat broth with pieces of beef and a spiced garlic walnut dipping sauce.
This Ravioli recipe comes from the Renaissance Italy Chapter. A semolina-based dough is filled with a pork belly and chicken mixture with herbs, ginger, clove, black pepper, and saffron. It is finished with a sprinkling of grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, ginger, cinnamon, and black pepper.
The Chicken Soup That Regulates the Humors (Zirbaja) is in the Al-Andalus chapter. This fragrant and comforting soup is light with pieces of chicken, warming spices, almond flour, and rosewater.
The Frothed Chocolate (Cacahuatl) is in The Great Circulation chapter. This recipe is a representation of the early European adaptation of the Mayan and Aztec chocolate beverage. I loved the combination of the cacao nibs and cocoa powder with almonds, hazelnuts, cornmeal, and spices.
A History of the World in Ten Dinners is a great pick for those not only interested in the development of recipes across the centuries, but also the history and stories of the people behind them. Some dishes come together easily with only a handful of ingredients, while others were created to impress with much more prep required.
Many of the ingredients can be found in larger American grocery stores. Having specialty markets or online availability will be helpful in locating some of the items such as asafoetida, rue, fresh curry leaves, sumac, star anise, Szechuan peppercorns, semolina flour, sushi grade tuna, rose petals, edible flowers, bird’s eye chilies, tamarind paste, and more.
Spiced Clarified Butter Recipe
Excerpt from A History of the World in Ten Dinners
Spiced Clarified Butter
- 8 sticks (2 pounds) unsalted butter
- 2 large shallots roughly chopped
- 6 cloves garlic sliced
- 2 inch piece fresh ginger peeled and sliced
- 2 teaspoons toasted nigella seeds
- 8 black cardamom pods toasted
- 2 teaspoons coriander seeds toasted
- 3 whole cloves
- 2 teaspoons dried oregano
- 2 teaspoons dried thyme
- First, clarify the butter. Melt the butter over low heat in a medium saucepan.
- Continue to cook, skimming off the foam that rises to the top. Try to skim off as much as possible, but a little residue will be removed in the final step.
- Continue to cook until there is no more foam and then, add the remaining ingredients.
- Continue to cook for another 20 minutes and then strain through a cheese cloth into a jar with a tight-fitting lid.
- Store in the refrigerator.