Ancient Mesopotamia, known as the "Land Between the Rivers" is located in what is now Iraq and Syria. Most of this area is now arid and desert-like but around 10,000 years ago it was lush and humid, with rich, deep, alluvial soils. This fertile ground was primarily devoted to agriculture and the raising of livestock, primarily cattle. Many of the Old World's core food plants and animals – barley, lentils, wheat, sheep, goats, cows, and pigs - were domesticated in the region of Upper Mesopotamia in what are today Turkey, Syria, Iran, and Iraq. Lying at the heart of the area known as the Fertile Triangle, Mesopotamia was the birthplace of writing, producing treatises on astronomy, mathematics, medicine and cuisine.
In the Yale Babylonian Collection, clay tablets written in Sumerian cuneiform script, which date back to 1750BC, reveal Mesopotamia's rich culinary culture. More than 800 different items of food and drink are listed in a 24-tablet dictionary, including 20 different kinds of cheese, more than 100 varieties of soup and 300 types of bread - each with different ingredients, filling, shape or size. The earliest surviving recipes are inscribed on some of these stones, along with reference to a delicacy of meat-filled intestine casings — perhaps the world's first-known sausage.
Quite possibly, the sausage of 4000 years ago wasn't that different from some of the sausages made today - ground meat, seasonings and spices encased in intestine casings are all that's required to produce a delicious sausage.
The Greeks also ate sausages, as did the Romans, who called them salsus, the source of the word sausage. Over the ensuing centuries sausages have found their way around the globe. Today there are almost as many varieties as there are countries, each with its own distinct flavour profile and texture.
Germany, perhaps the sausage-eating capital of the world, boasts more than 12 different kinds of sausage, including bratwurst, blood sausage, frankfurter, landjager and liverwurst. The Greeks have their own scrumptious sausage category with loukaniko, a pork or pork and lamb sausage flavoured with citrus peel and sometimes containing fennel, cinnamon, leeks, and red or white wine. The Poles and other Eastern Europeans are famous for their cured and smoked sausages like kielbasa.
No matter where you travel, be it Estonia, Nepal, Iceland, Java, Portugal, Vietnam, Mongolia, Guyana or Antigua, there will always be a local sausage or two to enjoy.
Here in New Zealand every butcher has their own special sausage formula.
The humble sausage has come a long way in the past few years. Whether you're looking for a luxury pork truffle and prosciutto sausage, a good Chinese san choy bow or a Swedish isterband sausage, you can find them all here.
Here are some delicious ways enjoy the flavours of a good sausage.
Spicy Bean and Kale Soup
The Polish sausage company in Wellington makes traditional smoked kielbasa but you can also find this sausage in the deli at the supermarket.
Ready in 3½ hours
1 bacon hock
10 cups water
4 x 400g cans beans eg 4 bean mix, or a mix of red kidney pinto and cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
3 x 400g cans chopped tomatoes
4 large cloves garlic, finely chopped
2-3 Polish kiełbasa sausage or other smoked cured sausages cut into bite-size chunks
2 onions, finely chopped
1 Tbsp pureed chipotles in adobo sauce or 1 tsp dried chipotle powder
1 tsp ground cumin
½ tsp chilli flakes
6 stalks kale or cavolo nero, destemmed and chopped
Salt and ground black pepper, to taste
¼ cup coarsely chopped flat-leaf parsley leaves
¼ cup lemon juice
Bring bacon hock and water to a boil in a big pot. Reduce heat, cover and simmer for 2½ hours, skimming off any scum as it rises. Take out hock and put to one side. Add drained beans, tomatoes, garlic, sausage, onions, chipotle, cumin and chilli flakes to the liquid in the pot and simmer for another 45 minutes. Discard skin from hock and shred the meat. Add to soup with kale or cavolo nero and season. Simmer 15 minutes. Just before serving, stir in parsley and lemon juice. Adjust seasoning to taste. Serve piping hot.
This soup will keep in the fridge in a covered container for up to 5 days, or it can be frozen. If freezing, leave out the parsley and lemon juice until serving time.
Moroccan Eggy Sausages
With a tasty, lightly spiced sausage coating, these are a wonderful Middle Eastern take on that classic favourite, scotch eggs.
Ready in 50-60 minutes
6 country-style pork sausages
1 tsp ground cumin
½ tsp smoked paprika
1 tsp fennel seeds, very finely chopped
¼ cup chopped coriander or parsley leaves
½ cup dried breadcrumbs
A little oil or spray oil, to cook
Tomato or other relish, to serve
Preheat oven to 240C. Place eggs in a pot, cover with water, bring to a boil and simmer for 8 minutes. Cool under cold water before carefully removing shells.
While eggs cook, remove sausages from their skins and stir in cumin, paprika, fennel seeds and coriander or parsley. Take a large golf ball-sized piece of mixture and flatten it in the palm of your hand. Place a peeled boiled egg in the centre and bring up the sausage meat to fully enclose, using a little extra to patch around the egg as needed.
Roll in breadcrumbs, brush or spray with oil, spread out on a baking tray and bake until lightly browned (about 15 minutes). Serve hot or at room temperature, accompanied by relish or chutney.
Chicken and Ginger Dumpling Bowl
Nuggets of chicken sausage make great little dumplings in this simple noodle bowl. You can also use a coarse pork sausage if preferred.
Ready in 20 minutes
300g dry egg noodles or soba noodles
6 cups good-quality chicken stock
2 spring onions, white parts kept whole and greens thinly sliced, to garnish
2 Tbsp finely grated fresh ginger
3 whole star anise
4 good-quality chicken sausages
4 heads bok choy or ¼ cabbage, thinly sliced
1 bunch coriander, coarsely chopped
1 long red chilli, thinly sliced
Finely grated zest and juice of 1 lime
2 Tbsp oyster sauce
2 tsp sesame oil
1 tsp fish sauce
Salt and ground black pepper, to taste
1 Tbsp black sesame seeds, to garnish
Cook noodles according to packet directions, drain and set aside.
Heat stock in a large pot with spring onion whites, ginger and star anise. Simmer for 5 minutes. Squeeze small balls of sausage meat out of the skins (pinch off every 2cm) into the simmering soup. Cook over gentle heat for 2-3 minutes until sausages are firm, then lift out the star anise and discard.
Add bok choy or cabbage to the pot and bring back to a simmer. Mix in coriander, chilli, lime zest, oyster sauce, sesame oil and fish sauce. Check seasonings and adjust to taste.
Pour boiling water over cooked noodles to reheat, drain and divide between 4 heated bowls. Top with soup. Drizzle with lime juice and garnish with sesame seeds and reserved spring onion greens.
Yvonne's picks ...
(Moroccan Eggy Sausages)
Askerne Hawke's Bay Cabernet Franc 2018 ($22)
Get the biggest, most swirlable glass you've got and launch into these meaty treats while glugging this ripe, saucy, berry-driven, flavour-crammed cabernet franc. Licked with smoke, pepper and drenched in dark plum and currant flavours, it's a smooth, plush, fleshy red that will warm the cockles and shiver the timbers in spicy fashion.
(Chicken and Ginger Dumpling Bowl)
Two Rivers Isle of Beauty Marlborough Rosé ($21)
Crafted from a smorgasbord of red and white grapes grown in four different vineyards across Marlborough's Southern Valley's sub-region, this ridiculously pretty, peachy pink, morganite-coloured rosé is snappy-dry and saturated in watermelon, wild raspberry, citrus peel punchiness on the palate. It washes across the ginger, anise and chilli flavours in these dumplings deliciously.
(Spicy Bean and Kale Soup)
Main Divide Waipara Pinot Noir 2019 ($22)
If I had 10 bucks for every time I'd bought a bottle of wine along to enjoy with a spicy sausage hotpot … wait, that actually sounds a touch grubby. What's completely clean however is Annabel's rib-sticking, meaty soup with a large goblet of this cherry-stacked, smoky, Southern spice-fest. Pour it, swirl it for a minute and you'll see it opens up in the glass beautifully. In fact, if you're disciplined enough to leave some in the bottle overnight, it's even more delicious the next day.