Friday, November 19, 2010

Madza - the everyday food of the ancient Greek

For this dish we leave whimsy behind and look at what the average ancient Greek on the street ate every day - the barley cake! Attested in, amongst others, Aeschylus, Thucydides, Hesiod, Aristophanes, and Archilochus, the madza was a cheap, easy to make, bread product that involved no baking and essentially lasted forever.
olive oil
white wine
1) With normal bread, one grinds the grain, mixes it with water and other liquids and then bakes it. But, with madza one bakes the grain and then grinds it and mixes it with liquids! The madza does not need to be baked again, after kneading it into patties it is ready to be eaten. I like to roast my barley in a wok. Presumably, the Greeks used ovens.
So, roast the barley until it looks dark and roasted, but also tastes good. It tastes oddly like honey smacks cereal, just less sweet. A nice medium heat with lots of stirring is the key here. It can take longer than expected if you put alot of barley into the wok. It will look like this when done:

2) Transfer your freshly roasted barley into a mortar and pestle. Those giant stone ones you can get in Chinatown are the best. Brass and marble ones come next. 

3) Now, grind away!
4) Eventually it will be a very fine flour, or you will give up and it will be a chunky flour!
5) Now, the only other essential ingredient is water. And lots of kneading! All authors who talk of the madza talk about the kneading. If you want your madza to taste better, you can add a variety of flavor enhancers such as oil, honey, wine, milk, or even cheese (I recommend a feta or ricotta for two different yet both delicious alternatives). 

Above is the mixture before kneading.
Below is the kneading. I am clearly a very lazy barley grinder.
Once you have kneaded yourself some little patties of dough ... you are done! Yep, ready to eat. And, as long as you did not add milk or cheese, these little guys will last a very long time. 
This was what people really ate in ancient Greece, the everyday food of the everyman. Often mocked in literature, these madza supplied the calories needed to survive for many people and surprisingly taste pretty good! So, go buy some barley and get roasting!

Tomorrow: Circe and her fantasy madza!


Lew said...

Very interesting.

For the modern madza-maker, is there any reason you wouldn't use a spice grinder or a blender to grind up the barley?

And for the ancient madza-eater, what did they do for protein? I imagine not a lot of meat was on the menu.

Jake Morton said...

Good questions, Lew! Yes, for grinding barley, a blender is the way to go! Spice grinder is a bit small, but still faster than the mortar and pestle.
The protein question is also very good. Barley has some protein in it. Also they ate alot of lentils and beans in general (except the Pythagoreans who abstained from beans).

Anonymous said...

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