Trying out Roman veggie burgers
By Owain Williams
For those who are not aware, in every issue of Ancient History, we include a recipe from Manon Henzen based upon a reference in the many historical sources. You can find Manon’s website here, where she has posted many historical recipes dating from the ancient world through to the 20th century. Usually, these recipes include meat in some form. However, this time the recipe is vegetarian! As a vegetarian myself, I could not pass up this opportunity to cook like an ancient Roman.
The closest way to describe this recipe is an ancient Roman spiced veggie burger made with lettuce and flour.
To accompany these vegetable patties, I decided to make a loaf of bread. Cato the Elder provides a short and sweet recipe to make a loaf of bread.
Recipe for kneaded bread: Wash your hands and a bowl thoroughly. Pour meal into the bowl, add water gradually, and knead thoroughly. When it is well kneaded, roll out and bake under a crock.
So, this is exactly what I did. I threw all the ingredients into a bowl and knocked it about a bit before putting it into the oven. In all seriousness, this is the recipe I followed.
There are plenty of examples from Pompeii and Herculaneum of ancient Roman bread. There are even some examples of carbonised loaves that were found in bakeries that had been buried by Vesuvius’ eruption.
A wall painting depicting bread and figs from Herculaneum
From these examples, we can see that Roman bread, at least in Pompeii, had a very distinctive look, scored in a rough star shape, much like how a pizza is cut. To really make my Roman lunch Roman, I decided to score the bread like this.
I also decided to have a nice feta cheese with this lunch. Cato the Elder also attests to the use of brine to preserve cheese in his On Agriculture (88), and given the prominence of sheep in ancient Mediterranean farming, feta cheese, or its ancient equivalent, also likely adorned Roman tables.
My ancient Roman lunch
I also decided to have some honey on the side as a nice complement to the saltiness of the cheese (bread, cheese, and honey is a particular favourite combination of mine).
While it doesn't look like much, this was a very tasty and filling lunch. The patties alone were more than enough for three people. However, they were a bit faffy, not something you can whip up on a workday lunchtime.
Will you be making these ancient veggie burgers? Let us know how they go!
The recipe will feature in Ancient History 45.