1,001 Bites: The Wonders of the Arab Table | Christopher Kimball’s Milk Street

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Episode 511
April 9, 2021

1,001 Bites: The Wonders of the Arab Table

1,001 Bites: The Wonders of the Arab Table

Palestinian cookbook author Reem Kassis discusses her latest cookbook, “The Arabesque Table,” which takes a fresh look at defining Arab cooking. Plus, we learn how food is used to create Hollywood sound effects, discover what people 80 years ago thought food would look like today and make pasta sauce out of tomato paste.


"I live at a high altitude and often add an extra egg to keep the baked goods more moist since baked goods often end up too dry in this climate. Am I handling the problem correctly? And what exactly is the role eggs play in baking?"

"I love caramels and would like to make them but I don’t want to use corn syrup. Is there a substitute?"

"I have a sourdough starter, but whenever I try to bake bread with it, my dough doesn’t rise enough, if at all, and I’m left with a dense, heavy loaf. I’m at a complete loss and would really appreciate some help!"

"We know olive oil has a low smoke point and is therefore not recommended for high heat cooking on the stove top. Why is it then that many recipes utilize olive oil in the oven on high heat?"

Reem Kassis Milk Street Radio

Christopher Kimball: This is Milk Street Radio from PRX. I'm your host, Christopher Kimball. From Africa to Asia and even parts of Europe, the legacy of Arab cuisine reaches far beyond the Middle East. In her new book, The Arabesque Table writer and cookbook author Reem Kassis pulls together the vast diaspora of Arab cuisine, using recipes to build a foundation for the cooking and culture of the Arab world.

Reem Kassis: You can advance, you can move forward, you can adapt dishes to suit your lifestyle. But as long as you recognize the past that it comes from, then at least you're doing it justice, and you're not letting it get lost in all the noise.

CK: Also, coming up, we make a recipe for pasta with a tomato, garlic and basil sauce that still tastes fresh without fresh tomatoes. And we explore what people in the past thought food would look like in the future. But first, it's my interview with Foley artists, Marco Costanzo about the surprising role food plays in movies. Marco, welcome to Milk Street

Marko Costanzo: Thank you for having me. It's a pleasure to be here.

CK: So, let's just define the term foley. How did the name come about and what is it?

MC: There was a sound man, and his name was Jack Foley, he was the guy at Warner Brothers that would look at a picture and throw some sound on it, but he did it much differently than the way it is now. He would look at a reel, and then get all the props ready and sort of do things almost live. People started saying, you know, let's get Foley in here. Let's get him over here to do this job. And once that became part of the Hollywood thing, Foley was basically a hidden art that was added in and for many years, not a lot of people knew about it.

CK: So just so I understand it. So, when you're making a movie, you're laying over ambient noise or ambient noise is cut out of the initial recording

MC: Any sound that a director wants to hear Foley probably did something to it. I'm not speaking of winds and car bys and, and people talking, I'm talking about just physical actions that are going on, on screen. So, all these little embellishments we're putting in there so that when someone's walking in, I have a pair of high heels on and they go over and they sit on a leather couch. And as they they fall into the seat, you hear the creak of their body sliding down the seat, and when it comes to the final mix, a director says how come I don't hear that butt down on the couch? I mean, I want to hear this couch, laboring under under the weight. Once we know what the personality of that sound has to be then we that we create it, you know specifically for what we see on screen.

CK: In other words, the way in which you get the sound can be totally unexpected, and (absolutely) someone who's not a Foley would have no idea to do it. Yeah. Food is used a lot. So what foods are commonly used to create sounds you wouldn't normally think of using.

MC: The things that I keep in my refrigerator in stock are lettuce, celery, apples, pasta's, coconut.

CPK: Now one of the things you said, and this is so disappointing to me, because I love Monty Python, the coconut shells are not used for horses galloping, which is so it's so disappointing. So how do you get that sound?

MC: Okay, you know what I may have been misquoted on that coconuts I used all the time. (Oh, good) but I generally don't like the sound of them. They sound a little comical. I mean, if you ever really listened to a horse it has nothing to do with a coconut. But the thing is, everyone has grown up with that sound so, it becomes our impression of a horse’s sound.

CK: Right. I read that Hitchcock couldn't show graphic images, you know, like Psycho, right? So, they cut away from the action and the sound would tell the story.

MC: Oh, gosh, yeah. You know what the, the one I usually bring out is with Hannibal Lecter when he is in a cage and they're holding him for a little while and there's one guard who's sort of, you know, paling up to him. And before you know animals on top of them, he's about to bite his face off and you don't see anything other than a face coming at you. Right. So, all these things happen off camera, and then we start doing some sounds just little plop plop plop sounds. Then when the mixers get ahold of it, they'll take that little apple bite along with the shirt tear on top of the celery crunch, that little bit of sound where you're breaking through, it gets very graphic and and it certainly contributes to some of my nightmares.

CK: So, let's play that clip here. This is from Silence of the Lambs, but just a warning, this audio might be a little too intense for young or sensitive listeners. So, you worked on Big Night, Julie & Julia, Goodfellas, The Big Lebowski, but in the The Big Lebowski Goodman cracks the back, right? (film clip)

MC: Yeah, yeah. And

CK: How do we how did you do that?

MC: I know I use celery on that, but I probably use some jumbo shells. You know, like a, like Ronzoni.
You know, they're almost the size of your fist. So you put two or three of those in your hand and you crunch all of a sudden you getting multiple cluck cluck, cluck. So, we then muffle those sounds. So, it sounds like it's coming through a body.

CK: So, let's play that scene from The Big Lebowski. So, Marco, okay, let's, let's try some Foley right hernd now I think you have some sounds you can do for us live. So where do we start?
(film clip)

MC: All right. I'm going to start by giving you a little story. I'm over at the gym. Okay, right. And I'm reaching my arms way in the air, right. And I'm twisting my body to the right and to the left. And now I'm about to touch my toes.

CK: Sounds like me touching my toes.

MC: Exactly.

CK: Is this the old celery or vegetable thing you're doing?

MC: This is the celery and I wrapped it in cloth so wouldn't be as bright. You know, the more pieces of celery you put in, the more individual hits you get. And especially with celery, you need to be really cold.

CK: Let's do. Let's do another one. That was fun.

MC: All right, here we go.

CK: It sounds like I don't know is some dystopian monster eating something weird.

MC: That was cornstarch in its box and I've used that as a demo for footsteps in snow. So now that you know what I'm doing, see if you hear that, okay.

CK: Yeah, that's it. Yeah. That's really cool. Yeah. Let's do a third one.

MC: All right. So, we're in a tent and it's starting to rain a little bit. It's windy. The rain isn't coming down steady. It's coming down in sort of sheets and waves. Did that sound all like drops on a tent?

CK: Yeah, it did. Yeah. So, what was it?

MC: Just Iceberg lettuce. So, what I'm doing is I'm just pressing down and rolling the lettuce on the table. But in rolling it I wanted to create those waves of water that just sort of right, so that's just a head of lettuce being rolled on a table.

CK: So, there's some cases like in Titanic, that I read that roses hair was supposedly frozen to that piece of wood she was floating on and that was actually lettuce, frozen lettuce being peeled away. Are there movies you've worked on where you had a really difficult problem to solve and you solved it in an interesting way.

MC: How about the lava in Ice Age, right, there's a two of the animals were in a tar pit they were taking, you know, it was like a Jacuzzi or something. And they wanted this thick, bubbling lava. And we went out and we bought gallons of syrup so that I could get my hands in there and really muck it up. And it made zero sound. We wound up putting flour and water in almost like a batter so with that thickness I was able to get a blop blop like a have a slower action. glug.

CK: That's that's a professional term.

MC: Well, you absolutely. Yeah, we got a lot of splits and splats. And we want to splash over there. Yeah oh yeah
(Film clip)
Manny, what's the matter with you? Excuse me, ladies. You just keep marinating and I'll be right back.

CK: So, when you go to the supermarket, it's a different kind of shopping trip than when I go to the supermarket.

MC: Absolutely. And I you know, I fill up my food all the time, you know, through the packaging, I'll bounce it around. I'm listening for little pieces, big pieces, something that I might be able to utilize. Generally, when it comes to vegetables and stuff for whatever reason I like organic stuff because it just some the lettuce is a little crisper. You know, it's just I don't know, maybe it's my, it's in my head.

CK: You should do an ad for the organic food industry.

MC: Well, you know,

CK: it's a little crisper. Marco, thank you so much. Now I know what to do with lettuce other than eating it. Thank you.

MC: Thank you very much. It was my pleasure.

CK: That was foley artist Marco Costanzo. So now it's time for my cohost Sara Moulton and I to answer some of your cooking questions. Sara is of course the author of Home Cooking 101. She's also the star of Sara's Weeknight Meals on public television. Sara, how are you?

Sara Moulton: I'm good Chris

CK: You know, you and I remember the age of the great French restaurant in New York, you actually worked at one. I'm getting very nostalgic for the classic French restaurant. They're few and far between but there's just something about the service and the menu and the whole experience that I I still love.

SM: Yeah, I miss it. Oh, gosh, I think about all the restaurants I want to eat in when we can eat in restaurants again. But if I had my choice between a classic, more haute cuisine, French versus a bistro with more sort of casual food. I’d take the Bistro every day.

CK: Yeah, me too. But I still like the silly, expensive white tablecloth experience

SM: fancy stuff where they wait on you with the little red lamps in the middle.

CK: with the little red lamps in the middle.

SM: And you'll feel very special. Yes, I agree.

CK: And you have to order the souffle ahead of time. I mean, it's it's so 60s, I guess, or 50s. But I still love that.

SM: You know, you feel pampered. Yeah. And we like that besides the good food.

CK: We do like that. All right, let's take some calls.

SM: Welcome to Milk Street who is calling?

Caller: This is Abby in Norwood, Colorado.

SM: Abby, how can we help you today?

Caller: I baked the chocolate chocolate chip cookies, which were awesome. But the first question I have is, so I didn't have semi sweet chips, I had dark chocolate chips. So, I used those cut the sugar blah di da da . And as I was doing it, I can't remember if it called for one or two eggs. But we're at 7000 feet here. And I thought, Should I add another egg and I should have added another egg? And my question is, what is the role of eggs anyway?

SM: It's different at a higher altitude. But I mean, in general, the yolk of the egg provides you know, moisture and fat and the white provide structure. You know at altitude, there's other things higher altitude, there's other things going on, you know, like the ratio of dry ingredients to wet ingredients in eggs would be considered a wet ingredient there, as well as what else they bring to the mix. What I always recommend because this is really a very specialty area is baking at high altitude is this book by an old colleague of mine, Susan Purdy. And I highly recommend you get it it's called Pie in the Sky. P- I-E in the sky. She just has terrific advice for all baking and how to adjust.

Caller: Yeah, I've lived here a long time. And so, I always cut the salt a little bit anyway, I always cut sugar a little bit anyway, I generally add an extra egg but for baking soda and baking powder. I generally I've been increasing the amount and it hasn't been affecting what I would guess would be the rise in like cookies and things.

SM: And you're sure that both your baking powder and baking soda are fresh.

Caller: What do you mean by fresh?

SM: Oooh they have an expiration. If you combine baking soda with acid, it should bubble immediately. If you combine baking powder with warm water, it should bubble immediately.

Caller: They're both within the year.

SM: Oh, well, they should be fine. Chris, do you have any thoughts about all of this?

CK: In general, probably use lower baking temperatures. more liquid because things dry out especially 7000 feet that's way up there. And eggs you know eggs are about emulsification so egg yolk in particular will combine or connect fat and liquid together and that's great for a cake or cookie. So, I would agree with you add an extra egg is probably a good idea.

Caller: Yeah, because they were a little crumbly, mostly because I looked at the chocolate chips fell over a little bit extra and so did the nuts. Oh, and then I use dried cherries, which I think yeah, it was dried cherries in it. Oh god were they good

CK: I would add an extra egg. Yes.

Caller: This is such an honor to talk with you and really thank you for taking my call. Thank you both.

SM: All right. Okay. Bye bye.

CK: Take care Alright. bye

SM: Bye bye

CK: This is Milk Street Radio. If you're having trouble in the kitchen, give us a ring anytime. Our number is 855-426-9843 one more time 855-426-9843 or email us at questions at Milk Street Radio.com welcome to Milk Street who's calling?

Caller: Connie from California.

SM: How can we help you today?

Caller: Well, I would like to make caramels. But you know I hear a lot of bad things about corn syrup, so is there a substitute for corn syrup?

CK: All the recipes I've seen have corn syrup. I think there must be one that uses like powdered sugar or something like that. But all the ones I've seen use corn syrup, Sara?

SM: Yeah, but I have to ask a question. Is it corn syrup you're concerned about? or high fructose corn syrup? Because they're not the same thing.

Caller: Oh, well, that I didn't know. So, I guess it's the high fructose.

SM: Yeah. So actually, you don't have to worry. You can be happy. Make caramel’s with the normal thing, which is corn syrup. It's there for a reason. It keeps the sugar from crystalizing.

Caller: Oh Okay, so I just have to look for regular corn syrup. Not right. Well, let's say high fructose corn syrup on it?

SM: Nope. It will say corn syrup. Because it's plain old corn syrup.

CK: You might want to Google powdered sugar, soft caramel and just see if there is because that's very different than regular sugar. That might work if you're still concerned about corn syrup and see if you can find a recipe for that. But that's the only other substitute I can think of that would work.

SM: I think you can use other sugar, you know, invert sugars like honey or molasses or maple syrup or golden syrup, but they will change the sort of the profile of caramel and what we like about caramel I think is that it tastes like caramel.

Caller: Right, right.

SM: That's why I would you know, although powdered sugar. I don't know, Chris, why would that work? I'm interested.

CK: So, it doesn't have the crystals I think that regular sugar has

SM: Oh, so you use all powdered sugars that’s what you’re saying

CK: Yeah, or golden syrup. You see a lot of British recipes too. Yeah, golden syrup. But I think the easiest. I think Sara's right, just not high fructose corn syrup.

Caller: Okay, I guess I assumed it was all high fructose so that’s good to know

SM: No, no, I know. It's fine. So, there you go.

Caller: Okay, can I ask one more question in relation?

CK: Sure

Caller: Do you absolutely need a candy thermometer to make it, or can I use my thermal pen?

CK: I prefer using my thermal pen.

SM: I think it's pretty accurate.

CK: This is the one with a six-inch probe, I find that it reacts much more quickly than a candy thermometer, which I think is not that accurate. Because it takes time for the temperature to settle.

SM: Exactly.

CK: The only other thing I suggest is to tilt the pan away from you. And stir the mixture with a probe with a thermal pen, just so you get an accurate reading because I do find when you're making sugar syrups it's where you put the probe because the thermal pen picks up the temperature right at the tip. Exactly where the probe is you can get five degrees of difference, you know, which makes a difference with this. So, tip the pan away from you stir it a little bit with a probe and then make sure you take a few readings to sort of average them out.

SM: Okay, well alright. Well, thanks for calling.

Caller: Thank you very much.

SM: Thanks.

Caller: Bye

SM: Bye bye.

CK: You're listening to Milk Street Radio up next I'm chatting with cookbook author Reem Kassis. That's right up after the break. This is Milk Street radio. I'm your host Christopher Kimball. Right now, it's my interview with Palestinian writer and cookbook author Reem Kassis about her latest book, The Arabesque Table. Reem welcome back to Milk Street.

Reem Kassis: Thank you, Chris. It's great to be back.

CK: Yeah, it's a pleasure having you here. Your first book was called The Palestinian Table. A book I love your new book is called Arabesque. What's the difference between the Palestinian table and the Arab table?

RK: So, the first one was a very personal book that narrated my family's history stories, the recipes and through it you got a glimpse of what a Palestinian kitchen looks like. This new book it takes a step back and it is not any specific national cuisine, but rather, it's what a modern Arab kitchen looks like today, but it is traced throughout history. So, the idea was to understand what it is that we eat today and how its evolved into what it is we need to understand the history and the journey that has gotten us to this point. So, in that sense, it's a much wider angle than the first one in a much broader book as well.

CK: Is the Palestinian table, not the book, but the actual food a subset of the Arab table?

RK: Absolutely, yes. I mean, if you go back, as far as I did, in researching this book, you see that the earliest cookbooks on record are actually Arab cookbooks. And the whole idea of national cuisine is actually a relatively recent construct. It's it didn't arise until the late 18th, early 19th century, following the French Revolution. So Palestinian cuisine is definitely a subset of Arab cuisine, but its identification as such as a more recent phenomenon.

CK: Could you just follow up on that? I did note that in your book that national cuisine is relatively modern, but but national cuisines don't really make sense on some level because of all the different cultures and the groups and the immigration over time right?

RK: Right. 100%. I mean, I'm not trying to discount the idea of national cuisine by any stretch of the imagination, it is a very real thing that exists now that is very important to our collective identity. But even today, if you look at Palestinian cuisine, if you look at Lebanese, Syrian, Chinese, any cuisine that you want, you will notice it's much more regional than it is national. I mean, even within Palestine, you remember, on our trip, we looked at the food in the Galilee. And if you were to go to Jerusalem, or to the south, you would notice yes, there are similarities because we share a geography and a landscape and a history. But you do notice differences. And these differences can arise from religion, they can arise from locale, whether you’re a city or countryside. So, food at its core is a regional artifact, it's much more closely tied to your religion, your language, your socio economic status than it is to the idea of a nation. But it is also a way around which to develop a national identity. And you see this with many countries.

CK: So, let's just talk about the Middle East for a second. So, when people talk about the Middle East, what do they mean, and you said in your book it was so interesting, you said, it came into use in the early 20th century, as a European perception of a region between Western Europe and the British colony of India in the east. So, it was the Middle East.

RK: So, it's funny you asked that question, because it was something you asked me that triggered that entire line of research, and that ended up making the book The Arabesque Table. But basically, so what a weight on your shoulders, Chris

CK: Thanks a lot.

RK: But basically, people and this is a problem with the social sciences in general, this isn't just an issue with cooking. Terminology is not completely agreed upon and different terms can mean different things depending on whose perspective you're taking. So, there are a lot of people in the cooking world who will use the term Middle Eastern cuisine, because it's essentially evocative, you understand what it means it implies something to you. But is it accurate? Not exactly because people are calling preserved lemon and chicken tajines, Middle Eastern food, but if you look at it, technically, it's North African. And then if you look geographically at Cyprus, and Greece and Turkey, well, they're also on some level part of the Middle East. So, if you start to trace the history of the food, you realize the common thread running through the cuisine that I'm talking about is the fact that it is all Arab food, whether it is inspired by North African ingredients, or by Levantine ingredients or by techniques from the Gulf. Arab is the unifying factor. And so that's what I wanted to get across in the book that this is not just a random compilation of quote, unquote, Middle Eastern recipes. To the contrary, it is, you know, recipes that are there for a specific reason there's a history behind them, and that history can be traced back to very early cookbooks on record. So, to me, the Middle East, if I have to use that term, I'm generally thinking in the back of my head of the Arab countries.

CK: Let's talk about ingredients. Za’atar, you recently reposted or posted on social a video of some grandmother's tasting I’ve forgotten what store it was from some big box store, za’atar. Could you just talk about that?

RK: It's hilarious. So, it's funny that za”atar for us, and you probably saw this when you were there. It's a plant. It's actually called za’atar. You forage for it in the wild. Some people try to plant it, it never tastes the same. And what people refer to in the West as za’atar is the condiments that we make with that plant, right? And that condiment is supposed to include the dried za’atar leaves, and sesame seeds and salt and sumac and nothing else whatsoever. In the West, it's people sometimes will tell you Oh, za’atar is thyme or is that that is a mixture of thyme and oregano and this and that it's actually a plant from the oregano family. If you look at its scientific name, and I don't want to butcher this, but it's something like oregano cerium it's native to this region, the Levant. So that video you're referring to they gave the za’atar to a bunch of grandmothers and said, taste it, what does it taste like? And I just found it so funny, because first of all, they're like, what, why are you serving in a spice size jar for starters, because we go through, you know, jars and jars of it on a regular basis, and then they'll take a bite and what is this? It doesn't taste like za’atar. And then one of them said, that's not bad. And then she actually swallows and she's like, Oh, my God, this is not za’atar it’s so bitter. I just find it endearing that, you know, it's it's entering Western cuisine at the same time. It's not exactly the za’atar that we recognize.

CK: So, nigella seeds. I think the quote is “it cures everything except death”, right. What are they how to use them? What do they taste like?

RK: So, we use it to just flavor certain dishes. You'll see it a lot in pastries. You'll see it a lot in sweets and desserts. There is a cake where you actually grind a lot of nigella seeds, it looks like sesame for anyone who doesn't know what nigella seed is. It looks exactly like black sesame seeds, but the taste is much more pungent. And people sometimes might confuse it with black cumin. It is not that it is its own specific seed. And the recipe I was referring to they grind it into a paste like the hainan but made out of the Nigella seed and then they mix it with flour and semolina and turn it into this bar like dessert. It's a very strong flavor, Chris so for a lot of people who have not been exposed to it, it could be a love it or hate it ingredient. So, if you're starting out with it, I would say use it in small portions, but it is definitely a healthy thing to be eating.

CK: Here's one that really got me, which sounds great, but I think most people probably have never made it. Garlic yogurt spaghetti with pine nuts.

RK: Oh Yeah, that's like a lazy meal. That's when you really don't want to cook and your kids come home from school and you're like, oh my god, what am I going to feed them. So cooked yogurt is very predominant in Arab cuisine, but it's very difficult to do. You have to sit up the stove and stir it to make sure it doesn't split. So here it's you just warm it through. You have the garlic, and you add the spaghetti to it and it's a very creamy pasta, but it might shock people who are expecting something that tastes like an Alfredo sauce. It is a very sour dish very pungent with the garlic, but super light and kids love it. I mean, my kids, you've met them, they're picky. They like it.

CK: Let's talk about eggplant. I mean, that's a key ingredient. Can anyone just throw a few eggplants in a very hot oven for an hour, slit them a couple times first and then scoop them out and make a million things out of it. I mean, would you just improvise with eggplants that way?

RK: Oh 100% whenever we grill outside and the embers are dying down, I will bring out some eggplants roast them there, scoop it out and just freeze the flesh and you have it at a minute’s notice and you can make a million things with it. But I don't know if you know this Chris, people used to hate eggplant in the Arab world, they used to say it has the color of a scorpion’s abdomen and it tastes like its sting.

CK: That's a great ad copy for eggplant. One of the most compelling photos in the book. It's just gorgeous. The hibiscus rose tart based on our custard base. Could you talk about that because it is pretty stunning?

RK: So, this cake, I don't know where I came up with the idea of mixing these different components together. But mahalabia was thickened milk pudding which dates back to the Middle Ages. For me it's always been a little bit it's too soft, right I'm not a pudding person. Like I want texture. I want crunch. I love cheesecakes, but sometimes they're too heavy. So, I decided to try it out once with just mahalabia with like a crunchy base. But then you end up with something that's too sweet and you want an acidic thing to break it apart and that's where the hibiscus came in. So, what we ended up with and what came into the book was a tart that is very similar to a cheesecake crust. And set in it is this mahalabiapudding which is super easy because unlike cheesecake you don't need to bake it. You just cook it very quickly on the stove. And once it sets you add this hibiscus its own it's basically hibiscus tea that's thickened with cornstarch. So again, super easy to put it on top. And I guess it's a case of where it's more than the sum of its parts. It's a lot of simple things put together but it's impressive to look at and the taste is is refreshing, it's sweet. It's a combination of textures and that mixture is what I like. It's what keeps you coming back for more. It's not like uniform, neither in taste, nor in texture nor and looks for that matter.

CK: So, you're a good example of someone with roots, obviously in one place and now here most of the time, For you what's the intersection between your past, that is the cooking you grew up with and now you have two young girls, you know, one of whom eat sushi and bacon. I mean, you obviously have to figure out some middle path where all these things get stirred up together. So, what's that melting pot for your family?

RK: Look, it's something I struggle with every day. On the one hand, I want to hold on to my roots, I don't want to lose them. I don't want my daughters to not know them, because I find them so, they're valuable. But they're also very interesting and if we don't preserve these things are going to be lost in generations going forward. And so, the way I tried to reconcile it is, you know, if my kids like something that's not Arabic food, of course, we're going to make it we're going to eat it. But then the only way to preserve the past is to document it. And in a way that's what I was trying to do with this book is to show you can advance, you can move forward, you can adapt dishes to suit your lifestyle. But as long as you recognize the past that it comes from then at least you're doing it justice, and you're not letting it get lost in all the noise. So, my daughters know about the different foods that we you know, the other day we were having dinner, and she goes I want ____Phillip which is my father, her grandfather his olives because my parents still send their olives to us. And we were out of them. So, I gave her a different olive and she tasted it and she goes that's not ___ Philip’s olives, they don't taste the same. And I thought oh wow. Okay, so I'm doing something right. Like they can tell the difference. And you know, we have a bowl of za’atar and a bowl of olive oil on our table at all times. So, if they don't like what we're eating or they're hungry for a snack, they'll have something that is so traditional to us. But on the weekends, if they want sushi, we get sushi.

CK: Reem it’s been just a great pleasure having you back here on Milk Street. Thanks so much.

RK: Thank you, Chris. It's been a pleasure for me too

CK: That was Reem Kassis, her new book is The Arabic Table Contemporary Recipes from the Arab World. Reem Kassis grew up in Jerusalem, I'm from New England. Her diet included maglubeh and maftool and frike I was raised on pot roast, baked potatoes and coarse anadama bread. But we agree that the notion of national cuisines is at best dated, and maybe at worst, its colonial. How many different cuisines exist in India or the Philippines, to say nothing of China or Japan or Russia or Mexico, the list goes on. You know, a yellow mole in Oaxaca bears no resemblance to one in the town of T____ just 20 miles away. So, the world is not really a collection of countries. Maybe it's an intricately woven pattern of cultures and languages and traditions that defy borders. And that's why the history of food tells us so much more than the history of nations. You're listening to Milk Street Radio, it's time to chat with Lynn Clark about this week's recipe pasta with tomato, garlic and basil. Lynn, how are you?

Lynn Clark: I'm good, Chris,

CK: You know a lot of us all of us have spent a lot of time at home of late. And so, we're doing a lot of cooking out of the pantry and trying to figure out how to make great things with the same things that have been staring in your face for 9 months. So, one of those things, of course, is tomato paste. And we thought about can you make a pasta sauce a tomato sauce using tomato paste and not canned tomatoes if you didn't have any canned tomatoes and the answer is I think a resounding yes. Right?

LC: It is. This is sort of the ultimate pantry recipe. Right? This is taking simple ingredients that you have already and using some flavor boosting techniques to really give you something that turns out quite amazing.

CK: So, you have tomato paste. Now we all know that it's full of umami, right? it's got a lot of flavor is this who you start, you know saute this in a pan Is that how you start.

LC: So, we start with a little bit of slice garlic that gets cooked in the pan just until it's browned. We had a little bit of dried basil here and you're going to see basil again a couple other times we're layering the basil, and then we add our tomato paste along with alfresco chili and a little bit of fresh basil. We cook the tomato paste down a lot. It's going to get stuck to the bottom of the pan it's going to turn really sort of brick red. That's going to really concentrate the flavor and make it really savory and really, really accentuate those umami elements of tomato paste.

CK: So, the rest of its business as usual. slightly under cook the pasta put in the skillet add some cooking water to bind the sauce.

LC: Exactly. So, this is a recipe where you actually kind of want to have your pasta already cooked before you start the sauce because the sauce comes together so quickly and we're actually using the pasta water not just to loosen the sauce but to kind of make the sauce here. So, you've got that tomato paste kind of stuck on the bottom. We add some of the pasta water that loosens up all of that flavor on the bottom. Then we add our pasta and finish cooking it right in the sauce, so it has a ton of flavor in the pasta and not just in the sauce.

CK: So, pasta with tomato garlic and basil accept it’s tomato paste which is the secret ingredient thank you so much Lynn

LC: You’re welcome. You can get this recipe for pasta with tomato garlic and basil at Milk Street Radio.com

CK: This is Milk Street Radio coming up journalist Bianca Bosker tells us what people 80 years ago thought food would look like today. We'll be right back. I'm Christopher Kimball and you're listening to Milk Street Radio. Right now, Sara and I will be answering a few more of your cooking questions.

SM: Welcome to Milk Street who is calling?

Caller: Hi, this is Hope calling from Philadelphia, PA.

CK: So how can we help you in the kitchen?

Caller: Well, I made my own starter. It's got all the right signs from what I'm reading on food blogs and everything, it's rising within a few hours of feeding it, it's looking really bubbly. It's passing the float test. But for some reason my loaves are just kind of dense, the scores aren't really opening up. And the dough isn't really rising all that much. And it's not looking kind of like that smooth, pretty dull that I'm seeing in the video that's kind of looking wet and craggily.

CK: So, the starters in the fridge. And then when you want to make a loaf of bread, what do you do?

Caller: I get the first feed right after out of the fridge and then another 24 hours I feed it again and then a few hours after that I try to bake with it.

CK: Is it really bubbly and looking active when you start to use it the starter?

Caller: Oh yeah, it goes up like almost triple the size.

CK: What's the texture of that dough, like as you're kneading the dough?

Caller: Well, the two recipes I've tried have been no knead and then I tried like a stretch and fold. So, when it's with the no kneads, you know, I'm mixing it a little bit wet you know a little shaggy,

CK: what kind of flours you have a mix of flours in this recipe?

Caller: I feed it with all-purpose just because it's less expensive. But then all the recipes I'm using I think are all bread flour.

CK: I'm going to ask you now like when's your birthday, what's your favorite car, what's your favorite color

SM: buy yourself some time there

CK: Here's what I would do. I would try a regular kneaded dough. not a no knead, which you know sits in the Dutch oven, you bake it off, I've done that. Or the other method, the stretch method, I would put it in a stand mixer if you have one or do it by hand and do a regular knead and then go bake that off and see if that works. The other thing I would look for is do you have enough liquid in the dough because it sounds like that may be a problem if it's too dense.

Caller: Not enough liquid you mean?

CK: Yeah. Especially if it's a no knead because the water is the critical part of a no knead recipe and you may not have enough of it in there. The other thing I would try is upping the water content in the no knead dough, but I would just try a regular knead and see if that solves your problem. Sara?

SM: Full disclosure I've never made sourdough bread. That's way too much work for me. But I do make bread and I've done it both the no knead method you know with regular yeast not sourdough. I've also done the regular old kneading version, you know, and it sounded to me like that might be where the problem is that it doesn't have enough structure, or it is over proofing even though you said it doubles in bulk maybe it's gone a little too far so that it's lost some of its air before it ever even goes into the oven. That would be my suggestion. Is that maybe like Chris said, go back to instead of doing the no knead do a more old-fashioned sourdough with kneading and make sure that you're not over proofing it.

Caller: Okay, great. And do you need to like kind of let it rise for a couple hours after kneading it? Because I know that yes, it tends to need to rise a lot longer than commercial use. I was I just was wondering how long and especially to some worry about over proofing it

CK: I get a container, and I just mark it with a marker on the outside. And so just see that it's doubled. And the other thing you might want to think about is the temperature of the place it's rising. I mean, another problem with making bread or pizza dough is the ambient temperature. So, you really want that dough to be in a fairly warm environment like 72 to 75. If your kitchen is really cool, it could take a lot longer for that dough to rise.

Caller: Gotcha. Thank you so much. I really appreciate it.

CK: All right. Take care.

SM: Thanks so much.

Caller: Bye. Bye.

SM: Bye.

CK: This is Milk Street Radio. If you have a cooking question, give us a call. Our number is 855-426-9843 one more time that number is 855-426-9843 or email us at questions at Milk Street Radio.com. Welcome to Milk Street who's calling?

Caller: Hi, this is Karen Betts from Phoenix, Arizona.

CK: How can we help you?

Caller: I have a question regarding olive oil and why we can use olive oil to cook in a high heat oven like say for 425 or 425 degrees. But we can't use it on the stovetop, we have to use like a higher smoke point oil?

CK: Very tricky question. And an excellent question I might add. First of all, regular, like refined olive oil actually has a pretty high smoke point of like 450. So, you know extra virgin Evo olive oil is probably around 400 or so like a light olive oil or non-extra virgin olive oil is 450 so that would be okay. The problem with that is when you heat olive oil, you lose a lot of the volatiles, right? So, a really premium olive oil I really should never be heated it will be used as a drizzle or in salad dressing. So, I would never use quality high quality olive oil in roasting vegetables or whatever, I would just use grapeseed oil or whatever sunflower oil, it's not going to really matter. But if you want to buy a less expensive, refined olive oil for cooking, that's fine. And the smoke point will be 450 you might want to keep an expensive bottle of olive oil for drizzling in salad dressings, etc. and less expensive, more refined oil for cooking even high heat roasting. Or you could use some other oil.

Caller: Gotcha. Okay yeah, that makes that kind of makes sense. I didn't realize that the temperature was was that high of a smoke point. But yeah, I appreciate your time. Thank you so much.

CK: Thank you so much. We really appreciate it.

SM: Okay, thank you.

CK: Okay, take care. Bye bye. This is Milk Street Radio. Now it's time for some culinary wisdom from one of our listeners.

Caller: Hi, my name is Robin from Philadelphia. And here's my tip. Sometimes I forget to take the butter out of the fridge and I need softened butter. And so, the most convenient way to get it warmed up is to put it right between my thighs at the top holds in there beautifully. I can walk around, get other things assembled for whatever it is that I'm baking. And by the time I'm ready to go, the butter is nice and soft. I've even done a couple of sticks. So pretty convenient. Can't believe other people must have discovered this by now it seems so obvious.

CK: If you have some great techniques to share with our listeners, please go to 177 Milk Street com slash radio tips. Next up its regular contributor Bianca Bosker. Bianca, what's on your mind this week?

Bianca Bosker: Well, Chris, this week, I was hoping to speak with you about the food of futures past. So, what did people 50 -80 100 years ago think that we'd be eating now? First, I'm going to put you on the spot. Do you have any ideas what past futurists predicted for our 21st century dinner tables?

CK: Well, I think a lot of them were talking about sort of the Horn & Hartart gone wild, right? Where food came out of machines and the kitchen, you press a button, it was all automated. And there wasn't much much cooking going on. Because I think what people did not want to do was to spend seven hours a day of cooking. So, in the old magazines that I've seen, I think it was very much like lost in space or something. That's what I've seen. It didn't seem very appealing.

BB: Well, I would say that yes. Some of them even by today's standards do still sound a little sci fi so plus sized produce for example, in 1900, the Ladies Home Journal printing by now we'd be eating peas the size of beets, raspberries as big as apples, I don't even know how big the apples would be. There are other things that may have sound far-fetched that I have to say actually seem pretty spot on. So, the author of a 1930 book called The World in 2013, he predicted that we'd all be eating lab grown meat, which isn't too far off. But there were two kinds of predictions that came up over and over again. One of them was that by now we'd be a lot more generous with what we defined as food. Because of food shortages due to population growth today's typical dinner might include, butter made from kerosene, plankton, powdered grass, algae, and a far more diverse source of protein that would include insects, reptiles, and rodents. There was a menu I came across from 1978 for the year 2000 that included sauteed mealworms, followed by winged bean soup, science soy bread, and Lake Chad algae. One book argued that we'd be basically by now sourcing all of our food from scientists and not farmers. It was high time the author's argued, to see natural food for what it is a poorly assorted mixture of chemicals containing a large amount of indigestible materials, and a certain proportion of materials injurious to our health. I was really taken aback by a 1950 Popular Mechanics article on life in the year 2000, which cheered that among the miracles, you'll see food made from sawdust, candy made from discarded table linens and rayon underwear. Yum.

CK: Well, in the 50s and 60s, you know, population growth was the big topic. So, there was a lot of discussion about eating insects and other things, because that's how people are going to feed the world. Little did they know the modern agriculture would be exported around the world and not solve the problem but ameliorate it to a large extent. But the one you mentioned was so interesting was that natural foods were inherently unhealthy, whereas scientific lab grown foods would be designed to be better for health, we all go through this process, society does have science is going to save us. And then science is going to kill us, you know, there's just it just flips back and forth in terms of what we eat. Right?

BB: Right. So, I want to get to the second big category of food prediction. And I thought it was interesting that this has basically been a constant that comes up almost every decade since the turn of the 20th century. And that is the dream of no more cooking. So, by now, the experts prophesied, cooking would be obsolete, someone in 1900 predicted it would be an extravagance in 1950 they thought it would be an art that is only a memory in the minds of old people. Our meals were supposed to be pretty much automatic. You'd put dinner on the table by pushing a button or turning a dial and waiting for this conveyor belt to deliver whatever machine and the kitchen, probably defrosted, assembled, cooked, even the dishes would be molded on the spot. I also came across a lot of these prophecies about by now all of our meals would be in pill form, right there was in1893, a suffragette who predicted that by 1993. So little ways ago, a little pellet could furnish a man with subsistence for days, and thus the problems of cooks and cooking will be solved. There was also at year 2000 themed dinner party held in 1944. involved a tooty fruity pill, followed by a brown pill in lieu of an entree, and a chocolate pill for dessert, which was all followed by good old-fashioned sandwiches apparently wasn't filling enough, I guess. And I think it's interesting looking back on it, you know, we do have our frozen food. We have TV dinners, we have food delivery that you can get with a few clicks, but I'm still cooking.

CK: Yeah, but it does have roots in history that makes sense. So, the 1880s you know, the the number was seven hours a day just cooking with a coal stove, which is what they were using mostly or wood stove. It really was a burden, right. And so, I think that's where this whole thing got started with the modern food companies, etc. Obviously went too far. (A) they forgot about the fact that a cooking is a good thing to do. It's fun. And it's also good for family and community because it also healthy. But there was a good reason for that because women were slaves to the stove and their life was rather unpleasant in the last half of the 19th century. So, I get how I got started. It just didn't end up where we wanted to go.

BB: Yeah, I know. Absolutely. I mean, I think it's interesting the extent to which cooking is a chore but also a social ritual. Right I mean, at least for me, you know, I think that as we've gotten to spend so much time with technology, right, all the time that we spend on screens, I find myself looking forward to hours necessarily of the analog experience of cooking, but to some of that analog experience of cooking.

CK: Well, I think the takeaway has to be under no circumstances predict the future. And if you do, make sure it's a future that occurs long after you're dead, because you're going to be wrong. It just never works out right?

BB: Well, the experts think like in the past that our definition of delicious could change right more fish, more algae, lab grown meat, more bugs. I think it's interesting how adventurous at least in theory, people seem willing to be with our appetites. But I do wonder whether cooking is a little bit harder to give up than we realize. I at least could imagine a world in which the ingredients might change but the ritual of preparing them, maybe that stays the same.

CK: Well, I have some advice. Just worry about what's for dinner. today. Don't worry about what's for dinner two years from now. Bianca, thank you so much. The future of food who knows, thanks.

BB: Thank you.

CK: That was journalist Bianca Bosker. If you tuned in too late or just want to listen again. You can download and subscribe to Milk Street radio, on Apple podcast, Spotify, or wherever you find your podcasts. To learn more about Milk Street, please go to 177 Milk Street comm there you can download each week's recipe. Watch the latest season of our television show, or order our latest cookbook Tuesday Night's Mediterranean. You can find us on Facebook at Christopher Kimball's Milk Street on Instagram and Twitter at 177 Milk Street. We'll be back next week and thanks as always for listening.

Christopher Kimball's Milk Street Radio is produced by Milk Street in association with GBH. Executive producer Melissa Baldino, senior audio editor Melissa Allison, producer Sarah Clapp and Jason Turetsky. production assistant, Amelia McGuire, intern Emily Kunkel and production help from Debby Paddock. Additional Editing by Sidney Lewis audio mixing by Jay Allison at Atlantic Public Media in Woods Hole, Massachusetts. Theme Music by Toubab Krewe. Additional music by George Brandl Egloff Christopher Kimball's Milk Street radio is distributed by PRX