Thursday, April 16, 2009

Erebinthoi syn Xeroi Tyroi, Oi!

Chickpeas are good and cheese is good, thus I decided to test Mark Grant's recipe for Erebinthoi syn Xeroi Tyroi (Chickpeas with cheese). The recipe is wonderfully simple: chickpeas (soaked overnight) are boiled in salted water and then covered with grated cheese, either Parmesan or Pecorino Romano (Grant 148). Grant also promises a "glistening effect" that the cheese has on the chickpeas. 

In the ancient world, grated hard cheese was recognized for its versatility and nutrition. "Hard cheese was a practical, easily portable, and nourishing foodstuff on campaign to carry with him. It could have been broken into hunks and eaten with bread, though this combination, so familiar to us, is rarely mentioned by ancient sources. With a grater to hand, it could be grated into dough, or over fish or meat as available" (West 191).

I, too, carry hard cheese around with me, although I have never been a soldier on campaign. I get bonus points for this particular dish because the Parmesan I used was grated from the 1kg hunk that I brought back this summer from Rome (via Israel. The airport security officers were not amused). 

On chickpeas, Joan Alcock informs us, "the Greeks served them as part of tragemata eaten fresh, roasted, or dried, and served them at symposia. When boiled they were used in soup; in Rome this was a cheap food, bought from street sellers" (Alcock 36). Alcock also provides two very helpful citations: Aristophanes in The Peace (1136) "mocked the name, giving it a double meaning as 'glans penis,' and noted its tendency to cause flatulence." Alcock also cites Anthimus (De Observatione Ciborum Theodoricum Regem Francorum Epistula 66) who "warned that, when eaten raw, they caused violent flatulence, bad indigestion, and diarrhea, but they were diuretic and hence food for the kidneys."

Wonderful. I regret that I did not save any chickpeas to eat raw as a test. Oh well, next time. I find flatulence fascinating. Scatological humor in comedy is often recognized as representative of fertility and fecundity. The bomoloxeuma of Strepsiades in The Clouds -- his delight in hearing and making references to farting and defecating -- degrades both himself and Socrates, thereby destroying sanctimonious atmospheres in a similar way to how Jeffery Henderson views the function of cathartic sexual obscenity on the stage. Henderson sees "presentation of uninhibited sexuality, frequent reference to excretion" etc. as both the comic hero and the audience's "self-assertion against authority."

In Old Comedy, farts rival thunder. When in The Clouds, the cloud chorus appears, Socrates says, "August Clouds, you have clearly heard me calling, (to Strepsiades) did you perceive the voice together with the divine roaring thunder?" (292) and Strepsiades replies, "I revere you, much-honorable ones, and I want to fart back to the thunder, so much do I shiver and fear you, and now, whether or not it is permitted, I will shit!" (293-5).

Perhaps Strepsiades ate too many chickpeas.

Yet in The Clouds, there is no actual defecation -- only the urge to do so and resulting farts. The lack of dung and remaining flatulence eliminates any representation of fertility and focuses on character debasement and a sort of cathartic grossness.

Now that I have made chickpeas with cheese thoroughly appetizing, I highly recommend them as a side dish. They do indeed glisten, the chickpeas themselves are firm and nutty and would pair well with perhaps a bit of steak and green salad. If nothing else, its gaseous results can at least induce comedic catharsis.

Alcock, J.P. Food in the Ancient World. Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 2006
Henderson, J. The Maculate Muse: Obscene Language in Attic Comedy. Oxford, 1991
Grant, M. Roman Cookery: Ancient Recipes for Modern Kitchens, London 1999
West, M.L. "Grated Cheese Fit for Heroes," The Journal of Hellenic Studies, Vol. 18.190-191, 1998

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