Holy Foods: Food Myths and Marvels from Cults, Communes and Religious Sects | Christopher Kimball’s Milk Street

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Episode 722
September 28, 2023

Holy Foods: Food Myths and Marvels from Cults, Communes and Religious Sects

Holy Foods: Food Myths and Marvels from Cults, Communes and Religious Sects

Christina Ward, author of “Holy Food,” reveals why Pythagoras and his followers never ate beans, the religious movement that helped invent fake meat and Little Debbie, and why food and faith are so closely linked. Plus, Clarissa Wei transports us to Taiwanese kitchens and the Raohe Night Market; Grant Barrett and Martha Barnette of “A Way with Words” peel back the mysteries of the onion; and we make Beef Bulgogi.

Questions in this episode:

"Can I always substitute oil for butter in cake recipes?"

"Does freezing homemade pizza dough impact how it turns out once cooked?"

"What’s the best way to store my seeds and spices?"

"My Hawaiian roll bread pudding keeps collapsing after I take it out of the oven - how do I avoid that?"

"I’m following up about whether you should season meat ahead of vacuum-sealing it."

001 The Farm Sorghum Harvest

Christopher Kimball: This is Milk Street Radio from PRX. I'm your host Christopher Kimball. Today we're explaining how cults, communes and religious movements have shaped the way we eat. There's the good, such as how Seventh Day Adventists help promote vegetarianism. And then there's the strange Pythagoras, for example, never ate beans. He thought they contained human salts.

Christina Ward: And of course, he was mocked. Even contemporaries of his time and later philosophers made jokes about him, maybe just being a little flatulent.

CK: Religion, food and wild beliefs about beans, that's coming up later in the show. First up, I'm joined now by Clarissa Wei, author of Made in Taiwan. Clarissa Welcome to Milk Street.

Clarrisa Wei: Thanks for having me.

CK: So, Raohe Night market I was there years ago in Taipei, I got off the plane, I checked into my hotel and rushed right over. And the first stall, the one that's right at the beginning there under the sign, as I'm sure you know, is the black pepper buns, (right) which they cook and they have a whole bunch of tandoor ovens, and they stick them on the inside and cook them. And I think they were just like $2, but it was absolutely one of the best things I've ever had in my life. So, let's talk about those.

CW: Yeah, definitely. That's one of my favorite stalls in all of Taiwan as well. And, yeah, so that's a dish that has been in Taiwan for a while. And it's just so amazing, because it's pork, but they add a lot of black pepper in it. And it's just bursting with juices. And that place has, like it's been around since I was a kid. And to this day, it's still commands, you know, sometimes up to two-hour long lines, which is incredible, from a street vendor. So, I totally agree. And you definitely went to the right place for street food in Taiwan.

CK: So let's talk about one of the dishes. I had the night market, pig blood cake. (Yeah) Which looks like a popsicle, which because it got a stick. So, what's the origin of this? Tell me all about it?

CW: Sure. So, I think a lot of people think of pig blood and they get turned off immediately. But the blood is really just used as a coagulant to keep the rice kernels together at the base of it. It's glutinous rice along grain, glutinous rice, and the pig blood is sort of mixed in there, which gives it the color. And it's what holds it together. And it's dressed with the sweet and salty soy paste dressing and then usually dipped and a ground peanut powder. And then Cilantro is sprinkled on top. And yeah, I think I would encourage people to sort of get over the fact that it is made out of blood, or it contains blood because really, you're tasting the flavor of the rice kernels together with the peanut powder and the cilantro. And it's just this amazing mix of salty and a little bit of sweet from the peanut.

CK: Yeah, I mean, the Good Humor truck should start serving because it looked like a popsicle. But it was it was probably good. So, before we get into more recipes, explain to me culturally, the different groups, there was obviously a lot of emigration from China in 1949. So what are the distinct cultural groups in Taiwan and how does that affect the recipes in the food culture?

CW: Yeah, so even though on a surface level, Taiwan may seem really homogenous, mostly Han Chinese people, we are really not because many people's families came in from different waves of immigration. So, for example, my family has been in Taiwan for over 200 some years. We came over with one of the first major waves from Fujian which is southern China, and there is just a love for seafood, rice, and pork. And then, like you said, in 1949, then came a surge of new Chinese refugees, and they came from all over and they bought their techniques, like making wheat noodles, which Taiwan had never seen before or eating beef on because for years, beef was taboo in Taiwan. And to add on to that Taiwan was a Japanese colony for nearly half a century. And that has changed our cuisine.

CK: You talk about your gas stove and Taiwan has a lot of BTUs in that amazing amount of heat is incredibly important and developing flavor. Is that true? People using a sort of those rings that people use hooked up to a propane tank. Is this like piped in gas? Do they you have ovens you don't have ovens? What is the typical kitchen like?

CW: Yeah, so we don't have the rings that you kind of see in the like Chinese restaurants. But it is incredibly high heat and it is linked to a giant propane tank so when I run out of gas, I have to call a gas man who will drive over a tank on his scooter and lug it up six flights of stairs. And initially when I first moved into this apartment, because of recipe testing, I wanted to sort of change my stove to a more American style one. But I got laughed at by my local appliance guy, because he was like, what do you want food with no flavor. The high flame is something that is very typical in Taiwanese kitchens. So, it's one of those things where like, the lowest heat is still, like medium in an American kitchen and the high he can just burn your socks off immediately. It gets really hot in the kitchen.

CK: One of the recipes that really caught my attention Your book is meatball soup.

CW: Yeah, so the texture is it's quite I think the closest analogy I can think of it as sort of like a bratwurst sausage, you know, it's a little bit more bouncy, like comes together. And it's incredibly difficult to get that texture. It's not just the ground meat, you have to have that bounciness we had to experiment with throwing some starches in and the temperature matters a lot. But the chef's they did a demo for us. And they were just pounding it with a wooden mallet. And they were sort of bragging about their meatballs and showed me a YouTube video with two people playing ping pong with their meatballs, like that's how bouncy it was. And that's sort of a source of pride for Taiwanese meatball makers, which I don't think people in other cultures associated meatballs with bounciness.

CK: So, beans, sweet beans are big in Taiwan, right? Yeah. And

CW: Yeah, in Taiwan beans are very much desserts. And I have an essay in the cookbook, where I was talking to my friend and she told me, she went to Australia and was shocked that people ate savory beans. And even though I would say Taiwanese food is very sweet, our desserts don't tend to be overly sweet. It's quite balanced. And it's really just focused more on texture than it is on sugar.

CK: So what are some dishes that are, you know, part of your weekly repertoire that are classically Taiwanese?

CW: Yeah, so something that I make, probably every other week is braised pork over rice. And that's just so easy to do, you just take a fat piece of pork belly skin on dice it. And then you throw in soy sauce, some rice wine, and some shallots, sugar. And I usually just put that in my steamer or you can put it in a pressure cooker. And that's lunch for the week. And it keeps really, really well. So that's kind of my favorite thing to do. And then I also like a really simple like fish ball soup. Because I find that really comforting and maybe put in some Daikon inside or some pork ribs, really simple, I usually will just go to the market and see whatever vegetables are in season and fry that up as a side dish. And with pork belly and a soup. That's a complete meal to me.

CK; So, Taiwan has been, unfortunately in the news a lot in the last few years because of China, building a bigger military presence. So, what's the general mood of the population right now.

CW: So, most people in Taiwan over 90% want the status quo, which is, you know, no unification with China, but they also don't want war or conflict with China. And I wouldn't say it's causing so much angst as it is you see young people sort of trying to figure out what it means to be Taiwanese and what makes us different from China. And so, from a culture perspective, this has been really interesting to see you see people sort of wanting to speak more Taiwanese in schools versus just Mandarin. You see chefs, embracing local and native ingredients and sort of figuring out what Taiwanese food means to them. Musicians singing and ___ Taiwanese or making songs about the island. The majority of people aren't scared every time you know, the war planes fly over our air zones. I think my friends in the states are more scared than we are in Taiwan. It's just become a daily part of our life. But people in Taiwan are very aware of the tensions. And as a response to that people have become more proud to be Taiwanese, which has been really interesting to see.

CK: Clarissa it's been just an immense pleasure having you on Milk Street and all the best.

CW: Thank you so much. It was lovely talking to you.

CK: That was Clarissa Wei her book is Made in Taiwan: Recipes and Stories from the island Nation. Now it's time to answer through your cooking questions with my co-host, Sara Moulton, Sara's the star of Sara's Weeknight Meals on public television, also author of Home Cooking 101. Sara, how are you?

Sara Moulton: I'm good, Chris.

CK: So I was, when I'm in Vermont, I like to start dinner early on Saturday morning, especially if something's long cooking. But then sometimes I have to go outside for few hours. So, I was doing a stew, 325 for like three hours, and then you have to reduce the oven and keep cooking. So, what I did was three hours had gone by, I took it out of the oven, I opened the oven door, I reduce it down to 200. Let it cool down a little bit, put it back in, covered it was a tight cover. It was a big Dutch oven. I left it for four or five hours and came back. And it was the best stew I’ve ever made. It was phenomenal. It kept us to above 140 150. Right. So, it was safe. There was plenty of liquid in there. And it was sealed nicely with a heavy top so, it didn't run out of liquid. And it was just absolutely amazing. So, I think if you have that problem where you're cooking something, but you have to go out, instead of taking out leaving it on the counter and letting it cool down, I just turn the oven way down. And it was phenomenal. I guess it's like a slow cooker.

SM: Well, hands down. The most important thing you just said because I was getting nervous is that it stayed above 140. The danger zone is 40 to 140. And so, if hey, if you didn't kill the whole family, and it tasted better, I'd say that was a brilliant solution.

CK: The timing doesn't matter. You could go on for hours. Yeah. And the flavor development when I came back was incredible. Right? He was so much better than if I just done the recipe the regular way.

SM: Well, there you go. You just taught us all something.

CK: 200 degrees yeah

SM: Thank you, Chris.

CK: I was so excited. Yeah. Okay, time for calls.

SM: Welcome to Milk Street. Who's calling?

Caller: This is Eddi from Southern California.

SM: Hi, Eddi, how can we help you today?

Caller: Well, I love to bake. And I have noticed over the years, I prefer a cake made with oil rather than butter. And I'm wondering if I can substitute equally oil for butter in cake recipes.

SM: Well, it depends on the cake. Because butter is not just in there for flavor. It's sometimes in there because it's going to be creamed with sugar, which creates sort of air and leavening. (Okay) but if the butter in the cake recipe is melted, then I don't think there'll be any problems. Understand though, that butter does contain some water. Oil does not. So, you'd have to adjust the amount of liquid. (Okay) and if there's you know, leavener aside from the melted butter being added, and then just swap in the oil and watch the moisture and you should be fine. I don't know Chris, what do you think?

CK: Hurray. I totally agree with you. (Oh, my goodness). I mean, well it's like it's like as when people like carrot cake because it's got oil in it, you know will last a long time. It has that silky moist mouthfeel I don't like the term mouthfeel but butter, it gets a little drier. You know, I wouldn't worry about butters got maybe 15% water and I wouldn't worry about that too much. In a recipe that calls for melted butter. Not cream butter. Right? You could substitute oil one for one, I think you're fine. And by the way, I don't know if you know the history of should find cake. But I think it was invented in the 1920s in Hollywood. And it was a huge hit. But the secret was oil. That was the big secret in chiffon cake it turned out a fabulous cake. So, I totally agree with you. If it's a melted butter recipe to substitute oil, I would stay away from canola oil because I think it has fishy. (It's fishy, right) And I don't Yeah, I agree. I wouldn't even put it in my gas tank. But I get like a sunflower oil or grapeseed oil or something like Yeah, but yeah, good for you. I wish more recipes for cakes had oil on them. Yes.

Caller: Awesome. Thank you so much.

SM: Yeah.

CK: Thanks for calling and good for you. Yes. Take care.

Caller: All right. Bye.

SM: Bye bye.

CK: Welcome to Milk Street. Who's calling?

Caller: Hi, my name is Dave from Madison, Wisconsin.

CK: How can we help you?

Caller: I've been making my own pizza dough for a little while now I use the recipe from Roberta's that The New York Times has posted but I usually end up freezing the dough just out of convenience. And so, I make it shape it into the balls and freeze it and then I take it out, put it in the refrigerator a couple of days before I'm going to use it and then usually let it sit out on the counter for oh maybe an hour or so before I actually make the pizzas but my question is it comes out fine. But I noticed that it just isn't quite as like risen or light and airy as dough that I've made freshly or dough that I've bought like from a local Italian market. So, my question is, if you know you're going to freeze it, do you need to, you know either increase the amount yeast or decrease the amount of salt or do anything along those lines to help it sort of cook better.

CK: You take it out of the freezer or put it in the fridge for a day or two. What happens to the size of the dough? After two days in the fridge? How much bigger does it get?

Caller: I would say it probably almost doubles.

CK: Are you putting this in the fridge before the first proof that is you've just mixed the dough, you've kneaded, and it goes in the freezer.

Caller: The recipe has you let it rise for like about 15 minutes in between kneading it for two rounds of that. But yeah, essentially most of the rise then would be after I've taken it out of the freezer.

CK: Well, a couple thoughts it could be, we actually tested this, if the dough doesn't get up to about 75 degrees before you bake, it is not going to be a very active dough. If you have in the fridge and take it out, it'll take a lot longer than 30 minutes. Because that dough is like 38 or 40 degrees, right? You take it out and it's going to take a lot more than half an hour to get it from 40 degrees to 75. So, I think what could be happening is your dough is still cold. The yeast is not that active. You don't have a lively dough, and you're throwing it in a hot oven or on the grill, whatever. And it's just not going to puff up that much. So, I would definitely get an instant read thermometer and make sure that goes up over 70 degrees. And I find that makes a huge difference in the texture and the amount of rise you get in the oven and puffiness and chew as well. So, I think that's your problem. I you know, I make pizza dough all the time. And I'll let it sit in the fridge for three days. Or using just like a half teaspoon of yeast or a full.

SM: And what kind of yeast?

CK: Yeah, is this recipe have a small amount of yeast? And it's a long, slow process or is it more?

Caller: Yeah, I guess that's my question because it only the recipe only calls for two grams of yeast, which they're saying that works out to be three quarters of a teaspoon.

CK: And that recipe has it sit in the fridge for two or three days.

Caller: Yeah, it says either 24 hours or leave it out at room temperature for three to four hours.

CK: The way I do it is half a teaspoon of yeast, I like a fairly hydrated dough. So more like 75% to 80% water, you know needed etc. Put in the fridge for three days. That's ideal. Take it out, shape it into balls and let it sit until it comes up to over 70 degrees and then you're good to go. The freezing should not affect anything. One way or the other. I think pizza dough freezes pretty well. But I think the problem is the dough’s not warm enough. And I give it a full three days in the fridge just to develop. But Sara?

SM: No, I listen, you're the pizza maven. And that all makes complete sense to me.

CK: I think that's the problem. But try the three-day thing because I think that actually works really well.

Caller: Okay. Well thank you both very much. I love the show. And I love you guys, and I appreciate the tips. Thanks very much.

CK: Thanks for calling.

SM: Bye bye.

CK: You're listening to Milk Street Radio. If you have a kitchen mystery or a question, please give us a call. That number is 855-426-9843 855-426-9843. Or you can simply email us at questions at Milk Street Radio.com.

SM: Welcome to Milk Street who's calling?

Caller: Hi, this is Mark. I'm calling from Lost River West Virginia.

SM: Well, hello, how can we help you today?

Caller: I recently moved and in the process, realized that I'm not sure if I'm storing certain spices correctly, I know that I need to keep sesame seeds in either the refrigerator or the freezer I keep whole flour and things like that in the freezer as well. So, I know that those can go rancid. And then as I was looking through my spices going through everything, I realized well I have poppy seeds should those be in their fridge or freezer. And then I kept going through them and I was like well there's fennel seeds, there's caraway seeds, there's cumin seeds. And then you know you could keep spinning this out there's ground cumin is really just cumin seeds that are ground up. So, I'm sort of like where does this end? Or is it really just sesame seeds that I need to be worrying about?

SM: Oh dear, what a nightmare but what an excellent question. It's the seeds that have a high fat content that you need to refrigerate or freeze, and I usually just put them in the freezer unless you know you're going to go through them real fast. And that would be sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds. Yes, poppy seeds you know, I think awful lot of people end up making something with poppy seeds and it just tastes off because the poppy seeds do go rancid. Also, my husband puts flax seed on his cereal every morning that should be refrigerated. Whether it's ground or whole and then Chia is another one. All the others you mentioned cumin. What else did you say? (caraway) caraway, those aren’t high. No, no, those aren't high fat. So those aren't to be worried about. The question is, if you had another seed that you were concerned about, how would you find out whether you needed to or not? I imagine you could check that out online. Now, Chris/

CK: Just leave them on the counter for a couple months and take a taste. Yeah, all the nuts. I agree with Sarah, any kind of nut, peanuts, almonds, etc. All those have to go in the refrigerator as well. The worst ones are pine nuts, those things they can turn in a week. And they get nasty, (and they're so expensive) they're expensive, and they're nasty. And also, a lot of times when you buy them, make sure you're buying them refrigerated. They're not just sitting out. Sometimes they're just sitting out and you can pretty much guarantee their bad, so all nuts have to be refrigerated or frozen. I think Sarah's right, those are the key ones.

SM: The seeds yeah. And you know, in general, the rest of the spices keep in a cool dark place away from heat or light.

CK: Also, if you're talking about oils, like sunflower oil to the pumpkin seed oil, etc. Those also go bad (they can0 quickly so you just take a whiff when you open that container, because you can tell right away if it's off

Caller: On a related question like how long does vegetable oil typically last? And then I've got some that's been around for a couple of years. I know that’s a long time.

CK; I'd say once you open it. A couple months would be tops.

SM: Yeah, I agree.

CK: The more refined oil the longer the last. If you buy less refined, let's say grapeseed oil or something. Four to six weeks and then you probably should

SM: Heave ho. (Oh, yeah) Do give it a whiff.

Caller: Okay.

SM: Okay.

CK: Take care thanks for calling.

SM: Yes, good question.

Caller: Thanks.

CK: This is Milk Street Radio coming up how cults, communes and religious movements have shaped American food culture. That's right up after the break. This is Milk Street Radio, I'm your host, Christopher Kimball. Our next guest Christina Ward is the author of the new book Holy Food. Christina, welcome back to Milk Street.

Christina Ward: Thank you so much for having me. I'm delighted to speak with you.

CK: We're talking about food, and cults and communes and religious movements. And food has been used to control people, food has been used to inspire people. But I think my favorite thing in your book is a Pythagoras he thought, oddly enough, human souls could be transferred to other living things like beans. So, if you're one of his followers, you could not eat beans, because you might be consuming a human soul. That sounds you know, a tad beyond the pale, doesn't it?

CW: It does. And the fun thing about these stories is they're rooted in some nature of belief. And for Pythagoras, there was the influence of the Egyptian death cults which likened fava beans to like a human fetus. And so, it was always thought that as a representation of the fetus, you shouldn't eat beans and Pythagoras kind of ran with that. And of course, he was mocked. Even contemporaries of his time and later philosophers made jokes about him, maybe just being a little flatulent.

CK: Yeah, a good flatulence joke never goes bad even after 2000 years. So okay, so let's talk about this line between good health and maybe taking things way too far. So, you mentioned one spiritual guru, Yogi Bhajan. And you could only eat like one of eight different ingredients, something like that for like 30 days. So, you had like filberts and tomatoes and eggplant. So restrictive diets are really very much part of this story, right?

SM: Restrictive diets are very much part of the story, because then it falls into what it's called, like a bite model. It's a method of control. And so, leaders will impose a restriction on folks behaviorally and food is one of the easiest kind of restrictions to impose on followers are new believers. Yogi Bhajan actually had a phrase he was trying to separate the yogi's from the bogeys. And so, it was a purity test. If somebody could do it for 30 days, that meant they were susceptible. That meant that they were going to follow whatever he was going to tell them.

CK: But some of these folks though, Elizabeth Claire, Prophet of the church Universal and triumphant, had a very strict diet for her followers. But you write that her walk in refrigerator was full of ice cream, seafood and exotic fruit, right? Yeah,

CW: There’re always contradictions. And that's actually a prevailing theme for so many of these kind of spiritual religiously inspired leaders. They often say listen to the message, but don't live as I do, which kind of is a self-absolving, I'm going to do whatever the heck I want, and eat all the bad food, you know, bad meaning ice cream all the time, but you guys have to eat the gruel.

CK: What about the famous cult of Jim Jones you know, his commune is now part of history in Jonestown. But in terms of the food, everyone had to eat pork liver and onions once a week, because I guess that was healthy. Drink a glass of water with vinegar, eat apricot seeds every day. So, in addition to all the other strange things, that Jonestown, there was a series of strict guidelines about eating. So why do you think health and food is integral to most cults

CW: The food is we talked about as a way to control but also the health because they were looking at themselves inspired by a few lines in the Bible in the New Testament, about your body really doesn't belong to you, it belongs to Christ, it belongs to the Lord. And it behooves you to take care of that body. So optimum health was a sign of holiness and a way to honor the belief.

CK: So are there cases in your research where you found that religious movements, and how they dealt with food really made sense together, that the philosophy of the movement and the and the diet they proposed were actually in league with each other, they actually made sense together, and that this was actually a healthy and good way to live.

CW: So, a really good example of that is the Seventh Day Adventists, the SDA really adopted this idea of vegetarianism, and then lately, veganism as a pure way to live. And then they put a lot of resources into the science of it. People may remember, the Kellogg sanatoria, as I like one of the first health spas. And so, they've been proven out over the 100 plus years, as studies have shown that the Seventh Day Adventists are some of the healthiest population in the United States. So that's a good example of where the belief was actually backed up by the science.

CK: Another movement that had, I think, a really positive food impact was the Nation of Islam. They supported black owned farms; they grew a lot of their own food. It was a way of avoiding food oppression by controlling their own food supply. And that was actually just a wonderful thing, right?

CW: It was, and it was born out of that self-reliance movement, where George Washington Carver was a huge advocate, the idea of having zero reliance on a white system, and a lot of that meant processed food. So going back to the land, growing your own, and reducing consumption of processed foods was the idea to build health in the community. And of course, they've been proven right lately as well.

CK: So, some of these groups actually went into a serious production of food, right? Like Little Debbie brand of snack cakes, right? is owned by a Seventh Day Adventist affiliation. The Unification Church is big into seafood. What are some of the big businesses that started out part of religious groups?

CW: Well, we were talking about Yogi Bhajan, a little earlier, and his food businesses are incredible. Since his death, the companies have divested a little bit from the actual church holdings. But if anyone has been to a food Co Op, and had Peace Cereal, that it was a Yogi Tea. Everybody loves Yogi Tea, that was Yogi Bhajan organization. Those are just a few examples of where that food is, you know, kind of came to market through a cult.

CK: Are there other products we might not realize started out as being from a cult or a commune or religious movement. That's still part of the mainstream supermarket experience.

CW: Morningstar brand, if you look at any of the like, you know, fake meat business and Morningstar is huge in that the Morningstar started as a Seventh Day Adventist company, and it was spun off but you know, there it was. And even going further back to the 1800s. Anytime you're buying an Amana stove that was born out of the Amana colony, which was a German Anabaptist separatist colony in Amana, Iowa. Yeah. And so, the same thing we go back to even further to Oneida (right silver) Anida silverware, right, that was their revenue generator for they called it a socialist commune.

CK: So, after spending all this time researching the cults, the communes, the religious movements, where are we today?

CW: So, when we look at modern day today, there are definitely cultic influences in our food, and in our food behaviors. Gwen Shamblin started the Way Down Workshop. She died a few years ago in a plane crash as a multimillionaire. And these weight loss programs were disseminated through churches, mostly through nondenominational or Assembly of God style churches. And they were rooted in the Daniel fast, which is a story out of the Old Testament, and essentially a vegan type diet, very calorically restricted. And so, the church got involved not just with the eating, but with the dieting, and to control you know, what people were eating and making their own judgments on weight, and what people should look like and how they should live.

CK: So, what was your biggest takeaway, while writing Holy Food? In other words, what, what did we learn from all of this?

CW: What my takeaway is, is that all of us are always striving for an identity, a personal identity, a cultural identity. And that is always to me that interesting thing about how we become American, because the foods we choose to eat, how we make those foods, American, our belief systems, and the growth of the new religious movements and cults. And even some of the communal living situations could only really happen in the United States, the way we're governmentally set up. And the way our just peculiar culture is we tend towards this individualism, but we still need community. And so, you get separatists. And you get all of this kind of signaling so we can find other members of our quote unquote, tribe, we find our people and you know, in so much that we are always building a commune, we're always building a cult. And it just really becomes about how restrictive is membership and how restricted are the behaviors.

CK: Christina, it's been a real pleasure. Thank you so much.

CW: Thank you, Chris. It's always a pleasure to speak with you.

CK: That was Christina Ward. Her latest book is Holy Food, How Cults, Communes and Religious Movements Influenced What We Eat. Food more than anything else in the human experience is iconic. The Catholic Church turned bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ. Cults use food as a way of controlling members. And today food is a form of identity. Vegan, Vegetarian, gluten free, sustainable, or plant based. Throughout human history, however, food was, well food. As Winnie the Pooh like to say, what can be more important than a little something to eat? I'm Christopher Kimball, and you're listening to milk Street Radio. Now it's time to check in with JM Hirsch about this week's recipe. beef bulgogi. JM, how are you?

JM Hirsch: I'm doing great.

CK: So you were in South Korea recently desperately seeking fried chicken, which was not hard to find, because it was on every corner. But you also stopped at restaurants to have beef bulgogi. So, explain what this is? Explain why it's so great. And then how do you do this at home?

JM: Yeah, well, to be honest, I didn't think we were going to be able to do at home. Bulgogi at a restaurant is very much a communal affair. You sit around these tables that have giant propane burners in the center. And it's a very communal activity where you cook together, you eat together. And it's basically all about the beef and you cook it on this platter at the center of the table. And there's a trough of simmering broth around it. And so, as the beef seers, you put other ingredients in the broth, and you kind of let those simmer then you just kind of pile everything into a bowl full of rice and it's delicious and wonderful. And if you don't happen to have one of these tables, kind of hard to do at home, so I didn't think we were going to get this recipe. However, I then learned that that's really just Restaurant Style Bulgogi and there is actually a homestyle bulgogi that is done and is very easy. It's basically taking the flavors of the meat from the restaurant style Bulgogi and simplifying it down to a basic beef stir fry that's served with rice. Now, in rest Around bulgogi, you have a lot of vegetables and side dishes and stuff. And there's obviously nothing stopping you from doing that at home too. But you're not going to be simmering in the broth and assembling it as a pile like that. This is really all about capturing the wonderful flavors of the meat that is classic to bulgogi. bringing that home and turning it into this quick stir fry.

CK: Two questions. So is the marinade unique in some way, as opposed to just a regular beef stir fry? And do they use different cuts of beef right for the stir fry that we might hear?

JM: Yeah, historically, beef in Korea has been a little bit tougher. And so, it's always very, very thinly shaved. These aren't hunks of steak. These are shavings of steak. So that's the first thing. The second thing they do, which is to answer your first question and this question, there is something about the marinade that sets it apart and it addresses the tough beef. And that is Asian pear so they grate Asian pear into an otherwise kind of classic marinade, at least for this part of the world, which is garlic, ginger, soy sauce, mirin, sesame oil, things like that. But the Asian pear is key because it adds kind of floral, almost citrusy notes, but more importantly, it has enzymatic activity that tenderizes the beef. And so now your slicing your beef really thin, and you're adding this enzyme rich Asian pear, which also gives the sauce a nice sweetness, because this sauce really is a balance of sweet and savory. And you're tenderizing the meat a little bit more and then you sear it really quickly in a skillet and done. It is so delicious and so simple. It's really wonderful and it does capture the spirit of bulgogi, or at least the flavor of bulgogi from the restaurant.

CK: I don't happen to have Asian pears in my pocket right now. I mean can I use a Bartlett pear or something else.

JM: Yes, yeah, we tested on common pears in the US, and it works the same. The flavor is not quite as sophisticated, but it works just fine.

CK: JM, thank you beef bulgogi at home, it's a beef stir fry with an outstanding sauce. Thank you.

JM: Thank you. You can get the recipe for beef bulgogi and Milk Street Radio.com

CK: You listening to Milk Street Radio coming up when an onion can reveal about the mysteries of the universe. That's right up after the break. I'm Christopher Kimball and you're listening to Milk Street Radio. Right now. Sara Moulton and I will be answering a few more of your cooking questions.

SM: Welcome to milk straight. Who's calling?

Caller: This is Shari from Honolulu, Hawaii.

SM: How can we help you today?

Caller: Well, I have never liked bread pudding, but my mom does. And I saw some used Hawaiian sweet rolls. That's what we call it when they're marked down because they're short dated in the grocery store. And I thought well, I'll make bread pudding with those because I know she'll like it's an It is delicious. It's a cinnamon brown sugar, bread pudding. My problem is I cook it in a loaf pan a small loaf pan, and when I get it out of the oven, it's nicely risen. It's all the way to the top of the loaf pan. There's you know, the butter and stuff bubbling around the edges. And then it just collapses. It goes down to about a third of that size. And I didn't know if there was any way to prevent that. Or if it would have like a loose like texture if I tried.

CK: Well, tell me about the recipe. What do you do to make it you just soaking the bread and the eggs and the cream or milk?

Caller: Yeah, it's egg and milk and sugar and cinnamon, a little salt. And then I make a topping with butter, flour, brown sugar, and cinnamon.

CK: And tell me about these sweet rolls. You said they were a little stale. But these are pretty fluffy rolls, right?

Caller: Yeah, very fluffy, very soft. And they're not actually stale. They're just approaching their sell by date.

CK: Yeah, so am I, I’m approaching my sell by date but I'm not fluffy anymore. And I'm not sweet. Well, I think a couple things strike me. One is usually when you're making bread pudding, you tend to use stale bread, or bread that's been toasted in the oven a little bit.

Caller: I do actually cut up the sweet rolls and toast them so they're firm or hard.

CK: I've never made a bread putting in a loaf pan. I tend to make it in a baking a shallower dish. I think part of the problem maybe the depth of this is it's deep and therefore maybe it rises and then falls. If you had a shallower pan. And a bigger (that might work). I think that would be solve your problem if you had a eight by eight pan or maybe a 9 x 13.

Caller: like a baking dish. Yeah,

CK: Sara?

SM: I agree with Chris. But I've just got to say anytime you're working with eggs, particularly if you beat them up fairly significantly ahead of time, you know, what goes up must come down. There's some air in there. So, it's just natural that it would deflate a bit. I mean, if it tastes good, why do you care?

Caller: Yeah, I mean, I would like it to be prettier, so I could serve it to people proudly. And now it's kind of like, this looks horrible, but it tastes really good.

SM: You know, I've never had a bread pudding that was light and airy. That to me seems counterintuitive. It's sort of like stuffing. Stuffing is, you know, completely down. Yeah. I mean, I don't disagree with Chris. I don't usually cook it in a loaf pan. But even so maybe this is something you just have to come to terms with and put more ice cream on it.

CK: I think it's just the pan just change the pan.

Caller: Just change to a shallower pan

CK: Yeah

Caller: I looked at a lot of bread pudding recipes and most of them are made with a much firmer bread

CK: They are. If you switch to a heartier bread that would also help you. Under all conditions it tastes good so okay

Caller: All right. And I will go out with more ice cream.

SM: Yes, okay

CK: take care. Bye.

SM; Bye. Bye,

Caller: Bye. You too. Bye.

CK: This is Milk Street Radio. If you want to tackle your toughest culinary challenges. Call us anytime. 855-426-9843 That number is 855-426-9843 or email us at questions at Milk Street Radio.com. Welcome to Milk Street who's calling?

Caller: Richard from Penn Valley right outside Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

CK: How can we help you?

Caller: I'm following up something we talked about …vacuum packaging meats that I buy in bulk. I had not seasoned those meats before cooking. I just put them in the sous vide frozen and added about 15 minutes to the recommended time. But then I was reading somewhere about seasoning ahead of time was okay. And I thought that might work. You had thought it might make the meat mealy or not great texture. So, I got three identical pieces of sirloin steak. I seasoned one with salt pepper sugar profusely vacuum packed that and froze it. And I suppose the other two as is. I did the 15 Minute defaults on all three. I cook them for about an hour which was stated, but I pulled out the unseasoned one, seasoned it and waited 45 minutes, pulled out the other two and see it all three the same time. The result was the pre-seasoned frozen seasoned steak was much much better than the other two, It had great texture, it tasted better. It looked better. And the one I seasoned 45 minutes ahead was slightly better than the one I seasoned at the very last minute. So that's my practice from now on. I've been seasoning steaks and pork chops actually. And then than vacuum packaging them and freezing them.

CK: Well, here's what I know it makes sense. It takes a long time for salt to penetrate. So, you salt the meat vacuum pack and throw in the freezer. It's going to be getting into the meat for an hour or so when you pull it out, and then you do the 15 Minute defrost and then sous vide again, that's another hour, hour and a half. So, you got about a couple hours or so. of salt in contact with the meat. It's not frozen or fully cooked. But so yeah, that makes perfect sense. The salts penetrating the meats going to hold on to liquid better. That's what salt does. That's why brining works.

SM: Wow, Richard, thank you for all that homework.

Caller: Yeah, well, it was fun. It was fun. And my family enjoyed it too.

CK: So, I have a question. Who got to eat the good steak?

Caller: My daughter.

CK: Now that's a dad, good for you.

Caller: She’s ___most of the time.

CK: They always win. What do you mean most of the time?

Caller: Yeah.

CK: Anyway, good for you, Richard. We're going to test it too. Yeah.

Caller: Thank you I just enjoy everything I hear on your show. So, thanks a lot.

CK: Take care.

SM: Thank you.

CK: You're listening to Milk Street Radio. Now it's time for some culinary wisdom from one of our listeners.

Caller: Hi, my name is Steve, and my culinary tip is a non-invasive way to tell the doneness of red meat on the fire. Growing up with deaf people, in my family, I learned sign language at a young age. And so when I was asked to interpret for a local culinary College, here in New York, I jumped at the chance. Interpreting for deaf students meant that we had to invent some signs specific to what they were learning. One of those things was related to the doneness of red meat on the fire. And this technique works for hearing people as well. Take your non dominant hand palm up and touch the tip of your thumb with the tip of your index finger. And then with the other hand, feel that fleshy part at the base of your thumb, see how soft it is. progress onto your middle finger, your ring finger, your little finger, while you touch that fleshy part at the base of your non dominant thumb. That corresponds to the feel of the doneness of meat on the grill. Interestingly, as a side note, those handshakes of touching, thumb to index, middle ring and little finger correspond to sign language signs for the numbers, 987 and six. So, when an order came in, all we had to do was sign a number and that corresponded to a level of doneness on the meat. Try it for yourself. It works well.

CK: By the way, if you'd like to share your own cooking tip right here on Mill Street Radio, please go to 177 Mill street.com/radio tips. Right now, it's time for a language lesson with Grant Barrett and Martha Barnett. Hosts of A way With Words. Martha and Grant what's up?

Martha Barnette: Hi, Chris.

Grant Barrett: Chris, today we're peeling back the mysteries of the onion. You know, the 19th century novelists Charles Dudley Warner once observed. The onion in its satin wrappings is among the most beautiful of vegetables.

CK: So so are we going to get the mysteries of the universe in a red onion here?

MB: Something like that

GB: But yeah, the onion is a metaphor for layers upon layers is legendary. And the end of that Charles Dudley Warner quote is, you take off coat after coat and the onion is still there. It's really just begs to be turned into simile and metaphor.

CK: I just, you know, if I were a poet or writer, and you had to pick a vegetable to write about, once you pick the onion?

GB: People pick fruit, usually like the plum, the apple, the pear,

CK: There you go.

MB: But if you're writing, think about all the different layers. In fact, the notion of multiple layers may have inspired the vegetables name.

CK: And how does onion mean multiple layers?

MB: Well, onion originally comes from Latin unio, which meant oneness or unity. Isn't it beautiful?

CK: Right, which is the opposite of multiple layers.

MB: Well, it's all those layers right there in one vegetable.

CK: So, this is like being married. Like,

MB: it's just like being married.

CK: Your significant other is full of layers.

MB: Absolutely

CK: But they claim they're really simple.

MB: And sometimes it makes you cry.

CK: Yes, sometimes make you cry. So, going back into history, was it just the Romans who held the onion to such high esteem?

MB: Well, the ancient Roman writer Columella actually claimed that the onion was called unio, because it didn't produce any shoots. It was just one single entity. So, it's a very, very old idea. But the word unio in ancient Rome was just used informally. The more common term in ancient Rome was kapia, which gave us the modern word cebolla in Spanish, and cipolla in Italian and then a form of unio, unione pass through old French and came to us as onion in English.

GB: So, let's just throw out all this Latin though if you get tired of calling them onions and you don't want to deal with this Latin you can always call them skunk eggs.

CK: What? Where is that from?

GB: Apparently, it's old cowboy slang for pork and apples

CK: Skunk eggs. Okay, that's a new one on me.

MB: Yes, skunk eggs, you know, sort of like prairie strawberries, which are beans, right? They have all that cowboy slang for those kinds of things.

CK: Right. Well, I like prairie strawberries with a lot of skunk eggs in them they’re good.

GB: Yeah, the idea behind courtin apples was supposedly a parents might feed them to their children before they went on dates to stop them from kissing their sweeties.

CK: Oh, that wouldn't stop them.

GB: No, probably not. If we both ate onions, there's nothing to lose.

MB: Well, hey, speaking of dating, let me give you some helpful advice from a 1903 collection of folklore. This book says take four five or eight onions, name them after your lovers and place them near the chimney. The first that sprouts will be your true love.

CK: Well, hold on. Four, five or eight. That's just really weird.

GB: I've never had 8 sweeties at one time. What?

CK: No.

MB: Continuing to peel back the layers of onions we also see the term onions in a lot of English phrases for example, if you know your onions do you know your onions about onions, Chris?

CK: I know my P's and Q's, but I don't think I know my onions no

MB: Know your onions is something you're more likely to hear in the UK it just means that you're knowledgeable about something

GB: It apparently started in the marketplace. Older versions of it were know your beans and know your tomatoes and know your cucumbers. Know your produce. It means you're knowledgeable, likely not to be ripped off when you're buying stuff at the market.

MB: And if you want to have some fun, you can look up the corny song from 1926 by the California Ramblers called She Knows Her Onions. It's about a gal who leaves the farm and goes to the big city and becomes all sophisticated. And it's got a catchy refrain, but the lyrics are kind of silly. They they include lines like she hasn't any bunions she don't get out and walk but she knows her onions.

GB: Well, Chris, when I think about our time with you, I think about the Egyptian expression that goes an onion shared with a friend tastes like roast lamb.

CK: Well, that's food for thought. I now need to consider what that means. But the thing I'm going to be left with after this great segment is bunions and onions. I'm going to have to go write a song now. Grant and Martha, I think we should just go cook some onions. Thank you.

GB: Take care, Chris.

MB: Bye, Chris.

CK: That was Grant Barrett and Martha Burnett hosts of A Way With Words. That's it for today. You can find all of our episodes on Apple podcasts or wherever you do get your podcasts. You can learn more about us at 177 Milk Street.com. There you can become a member and get full access to every recipe, access to all of our live stream cooking classes, free standard shipping from the Milk Street store and more. You can also learn about our latest cookbook Milk Street Noodles. Find us on Facebook at Christopher Kimball's Milk Street on Instagram at 177 Milk Street. We'll be back next week with more food stories and kitchen questions and thanks as always for listening.

Christopher Kimball's Milk Street Radio is produced by Milk Street in association with GBH co-founder Melissa Baldino, executive producer Annie Sensabaugh, Senior Editor Melissa Allison, producer Sarah Clapp, Assistant Producer Caroline Davis with production help from Debby Paddock. Additional editing by Sidney Lewis, audio mixing by Jay Allison and 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.