How To Make Babylonian Beer Stew

Live from Martina Franca, Italy

It's 1,700 BCE. We’re in Babylon, looking up from our workshop to the ziggurat that towers over the city. The sun burns down from a clear blue sky, and it is hot. What could be better than the Babylonian’s favorite drink, a cool beer, while we prepare a stew with beetroots that is cooked with beer too? While it is slowly simmering, we will bake barley flatbreads to go with the hearty stew.

On Sunday June 20th at 11AM EST, join VAWAA artist Ursula to travel back in time through the art of cooking. Not only is Ursula an expert cook, she's also a culinary historian and archaeologist. We will learn about the main source for ancient Mesopotamian recipes, a collection of three cuneiform tablets from the Old Babylonian period, and prepare a recipe from one of these tablets dating back to approxi­mately 1,700 BCE. Through this multi-sensory session, we'll be further transported by lively discussions surrounding the history and discovery of these recipes.

The menu is Babylonian Beer Stew and barley flatbread. You can prepare the beer stew either with mutton or lamb meat, as is described in the Yale Babylonian Tablets, or with lentils, a common staple food in Ancient Mesopotamia.

This session will be a fantastic introduction to traditional and sustainable cooking techniques.

All levels are welcome and there is no prior experience required. There will be plenty of time to share, get feedback and meet other participants from around the world.

If you are not in EST time zone, be sure to convert the time.

What you'll need (serves 4 to 5)

  • 2 pounds mutton or lamb from leg or shoulder, in cubes OR 1 pound of brown lentils
  • frying oil 
  • 2 big beetroots with some of the greens
  • 1 onion
  • 1 bottle (12 oz) dark beer (brown beer, not Pilsen or Export!), plus more for drinking, if you like
  • salt
  • coriander seeds
  • cumin
  • semolina
  • 1⁄2 bunch of rocket (arugula)
  • 1 small leek or 2 spring onions 
  • 2-3 cloves of garlic
  • fresh cilantro
  • chives

For the barley flatbread:

  • 1 cup barley flour 
  • 1 cup wheat flour plus flour for dusting
  • a pinch of salt
  • a little oil for the pan 
  • sesame seeds (optional)

For cooking:

  • knife and cutting board
  • a big cooking pot for the stew
  • a rolling pin
  • a pan for the flatbread

How to join

We'll be hosting this VAWAA Online on Zoom. We'll send the link and details to join via email 1 day and again 1 hour before it begins.

About Ursula

Ursula is an archaeologist and cook, passionate about sustainability. For years, Ursula worked on excavation projects in Syria, Turkey and Egypt, where she often lived in small, traditional villages where locals would produce much of the food themselves. Inspired by this way of life, Ursula picked up a variety of recipes and traditional food preparation techniques throughout her travels.

Historic methods of producing and cooking food inspire Ursula academically, but also motivate her lifestyle. “Humanity has been able to sustain itself without extreme over-consumption for millennia, without exploiting the planet,” Ursula explains. She believes that looking back to traditional cooking techniques also encourages getting back to a more sustainable way of living. Ursula’s self-sufficient, solar-powered estate in Southern Italy, shared with her husband, harkens back to simpler times. Ursula grows most of her  food, eats fresh ingredients seasonally, raises chickens, makes wine and olive oil, and in her spare time, practices archery!

Visit her artist page to learn more about her in-person VAWAA.


"This class experience was fantastic! An intimate gathering to learn how to make homemade pasta, which was easier than I thought.  The timing was perfectly paced and Chef Ursula was great at giving information, checking to see how everyone was doing, and answering questions.  It was fun to see everyone working in their own kitchens, and amazing to experience a cooking class from Italy right in my own kitchen. I look forward to more classes like this :)" - Lisa

"What a fun way to cook a delicious meal and ready for lunch time! Ursula had tons of knowledge and somehow guided us to a great pasta. I had never cooked pasta with these ingredients and it was a real discovery. I will be cooking this often!" - Clara

"I particularly enjoyed Ursula’s way of being both rigorous in her explanations, while joking and being thought provocative about the evolution of our habits, tastes and beliefs through the ages." - Fredy

"Her wealth of knowledge on history, archaeology and the culinary traditions of Italy made for an informative and delicious experience." - Cherri

"She is a powerful and kind person with an impressive knowlege of history and great instincts for food and people." - Katie

Sessions are ticketed to support artists, makers and our small team. If you’re experiencing financial hardship, please do reach out. We may have a generous participant who has paid it forward and would ask that you pay the love forward by sharing online sessions with 3 new friends.

All photos by Manoocher