The Silk Road

Main Lesson Block on the Silk Road and its Vast and Varied History

Our Silk Road unit has been underway for a couple years now. Each time we dive into it, it grows. Now this history period, that began with the Middle Ages in Medieval Europe, has grown to include our Africa Main Lesson Block which focuses on the Empires of Ghana, Mali and Songhai (900s-1400s), North Africa main lesson block on Ibn Battuta, The Travels of Marco Polo and the Great Khans of Mongolia, Ancient and Middle Ages China, The Silk Road and the Islamic Empire (600s-1500s). No wonder what started out as a one year unit study grew into a multiple year endeavor. I like to start out our units with a haul video, a how we put this unit together video and a chalk drawing video. The chalk drawing sets the stage for the unit and is often the only drawing we’ll have up for the unit. For this chalk drawing, I’m using Sargent Art Square chalk pastels from Blick Art Material. Drawing inspiration comes from the book The Silk Road, and I’m drawing on my 4’x6′ chalkboard by Ghent. While I really dislike this chalk drawing, I didn’t have the desire to redraw it. I don’t like the colors, lack of detail and yellow accents. In the end, the books I put on display in front of the chalkboard covered most of the caravans. and the map was helpful, but not referred to as much as I hoped. The following year, however, I drew several smaller chalk drawings for our continued Silk Road unit as this large chalkboard held our math main lesson block drawing.

Lesson Plans

Welcome to the Lesson Plans for the Silk Road Unit Study. Our Silk Road unit study grew so big I divided it into smaller units. This unit focuses on the Silk Road with a bit of study of the surrounding areas and travelers. I have other units that coordinate with this unit: China, Ancient China, Genghis Khan and Marco Polo, Ibn Battuta, West Africa and the Islamic Empire. These unit studies cover various time periods and regions. Each unit has unique books, but there is some overlap of resources from unit to unit.

In keeping with my personal belief that you can homeschool multiple grades and abilities with the same book, I have divided up the lesson plans into three levels. I wanted you to have all of them rather than your specific grade level because I truly believe you can mix and match these resources to suit your individual needs.

In Grades 1-5, I’ve included picture books and games as part of the opening activities. Use what is available to you, especially since some resources are out of print. There are many suitable alternatives. Plus with opening activities, the activities don’t have to match the main lesson. All lessons are read alouds, but you may assign reading.

In the middle grades, I’ve included assigned reading, but the majority of the lessons are still read aloud. There is also some overlap of resources and the handwork and cooking suggestions are the same.

In the High School years, I included a heavier workload and assigned reading for the main lesson. There are some resources I really loved that are not high school level that I added as I know my high schooler enjoyed them.

Lesson plans are laid out weekly with links to books and tutorials. It’s scheduled for four weeks but well suited for eight.


The Setting

I love gathering our books to decorate the area next to our chalkboard for our unit studies and main lesson blocks. It feels festive, inviting and inspiring. When I first put these lessons together, I had all our “Silk Road” units together. I’ve since separated them because we ended up with so many resources.


Chalk Drawings

Silk Road Chalk Drawing

Our Silk Road unit has been underway for a couple years now. Each time we dive into it, it grows. Now this history period, that began with the Middle Ages in Medieval Europe, has grown to include our Africa Main Lesson Block which focuses on the Empires of Ghana, Mali and Songhai (900s-1400s), North Africa main lesson block on Ibn Battuta, The Travels of Marco Polo and the Great Khans of Mongolia, Ancient and Middle Ages China, The Silk Road and the Islamic Empire (600s-1500s). No wonder what started out as a one year unit study grew into a multiple year endeavor. I like to start out our units with a haul video, a how we put this unit together video and a chalk drawing video. The chalk drawing sets the stage for the unit and is often the only drawing we’ll have up for the unit. For this chalk drawing, I’m using Sargent Art Square chalk pastels from Blick Art Material. Drawing inspiration comes from the book The Silk Road, and I’m drawing on my 4’x6′ chalkboard by Ghent. While I really dislike this chalk drawing, I didn’t have the desire to redraw it. I don’t like the colors, lack of detail and yellow accents. In the end, the books I put on display in front of the chalkboard covered most of the caravans. and the map was helpful, but not referred to as much as I hoped. The following year, however, I drew several smaller chalk drawings for our continued Silk Road unit as this large chalkboard held our math main lesson block drawing.

Islamic Empire Chalk Drawings

How to Draw the Blue Mosque

I drew the Blue Mosque, but called Hagia Sophia. I confused the two thinking they were the same. I’ll decide what to do later when I get to our Middle Ages and Silk Road unit. Here’s what I originally wrote for this post:

I chose to draw the Hagia Sophia for a few reasons. I wanted a scene that would work for our Ramadan lessons and provide a beautiful backdrop to our homeschool during this time, but also something that could transition into our Middle Ages and Silk Road unit that’s coming up in the following school year. The Hagia Sophia has a long history. It was a cathedral for most of its history, but when the Muslims conquered Constantinople, the city was renamed Istanbul and the cathedral was converted into a mosque. The chalk drawing on the right will be erased to make room for a Medieval castle or something related to the Silk Road, while the Hagia Sophia will remain, at least that’s the plan.

I searched online for images to copy, and after a few attempts, I referred to a few books in our personal library. The Mosque of Cordoba Told to Children, 16th Century Mosque and Golden Dome, Silver Lantern came in handy, but I ended up finding inspiration for this drawing from a drawing I found online. You can see more artwork from this artist, Candace Ceroserardon, here.

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Hands on Projects

Diy Model of a Yurt

For our Silk Road and Marco Polo units, we did several hands on projects. One of them was to make a model yurt or ger. For the second time in seven years, we are doing this project. The first time we did it, we did a more simplified version that my then 8 and 12 year old sons did on their own with little help. This time around it’s my 14-year-old son (the one who was 8 the first time) and his 9-year-old sister who are doing this project with me. While they did the structure of the yurt, I did the roof and the door. We love making our projects group endeavors. This way, everyone can participate in whatever capacity they are able. This project comes from the book The Silk Road Explore the World’s Most Famous Trade Route by Kathy Ceceri. We love this book for the simple projects it provides and easy, yet informative text. For this project, we used 100% undyed wool for the exterior of the yurt. We needle felting it and placed it around the 76 3″ bamboo skewers. We also used 100% Holland felt in grey for details. You also need hot glue, tape and string for this project.


DIY Great Wall Project Kit

We’ve done a number of Great Wall of China project kits and while this one was the most affordable and quickest of them all, it was also our least favorite. This one is made of high quality printed material over a foam core. The kit says it suitable for children 6 years and up. I would imagine that young children will benefit from adult or older child help. As I’m currently homeschooling my 9-year-old daughter and 14-year-old son, they both can do most of these hands on projects easily and with little adult assistance. I do partake in the projects on occasion and sometimes we make our projects group projects, so that we are just working on one project which saves time and money and allows all ages and skill sets the opportunity to help with the group project. My 14-year-old son completed this Great Wall project in less than an hour. It measures about 18″ by 6″ (about 45 cm by 15cm). While we didn’t bend any of the foam tabs, that is usually a concern with a project made from this material. In my opinion, it is not suitable for young children or as a play item as it’s too delicate and will get damaged.


Food from the Silk Road

Persian Food


How to Make Persian Rice | Adas Polo

This has got to be the best tastiest rice in the world!! I’m not a fan of rice, but this is one rice dish, I’ll gladly eat. Packed with dates, currants, lentils and fried onions, what’s not to love?! I season mine with olive oil, grapeseed oil, salt and saffron. Occasionally if I make a whole roasted chicken to go along with this rice, I’ll add my secret ingredient: pan drippings! It’s amazing. And if you leave out the pan drippings, this rice dish is vegan.

  • Ingredients:
  • 1 cup brown lentils 3-4 cups basmati rice (you can adjust proportions)
  • 2 cups dates (cut in half or thirds)
  • 2 onions (sliced and fried)
  • 1/2-3/4 cup of currants
  • salt,
  • grapeseed oil,
  • olive oil and
  • saffron

Boil lentils for 20-30 minutes until soft and just splitting, but do not overcook. In a separate pot, boil water in excess of rice. We are going to drain the rice, so the rice needs room to move when the water has boiled. If you want to soak your rice, you can soak it and rinse it several times for an hour and up to overnight in the refrigerator. Being that I’m lazy, I usually skip this. Also, I usually don’t wait for my water to boil before putting it in the water, lol, but you can wait until the water is boiling before adding the rice. You can salt the water as well. When the rice is cooked ‘al dente’, where it’s just done, but not too soft, you can drain the rice. This takes about 15 minutes. Be sure to test the rice from 10 minutes on. You do NOT want overcooked rice.

In the meantime, fry two onions in oil (I like grapeseed oil). This takes about 15 minutes. You want them very brown, but not burnt. Use extra oil to ensure they won’t burn. At the end of the browning process you can add olive oil to taste. Pit and slice dates. I like to lightly fry the dates and currants in the leftover oil from the onions. Be sure to watch them closely as currants will burn fast. Add a bit of ground saffron. Time to assembled the rice: Add a small ‘mountain’ of rice at the bottom or a large pot. Top with dates, currants, onions and lentils. Add layer of rice. Add sprinkling of salt, ground saffron, grapeseed oil and olive oil. Repeat till all ingredients are used up. Let sit for a few minutes so the flavors can mingle and for the saffron to color the rice. Then toss in the pot by flipping the pot towards you. Avoid mixing using a spoon. You do not want to break the rice. If your rice need a little more time to soften, put the lid on and leave it for 10 minutes. Serve with chicken or on it’s own.


Turmeric Chicken for Adas Polo | Persian Recipe

Did you know turmeric is so good for you? Aside from being an antioxidant, it’s full of other other benefits for your body and brain. I tend to overdo my turmeric consumption, and this is one chicken recipe that’s full of it! This chicken dish perfectly accompanies Adas Polo, Zeresh Polo and Baghia Polo.

  • Ingredient:
  • Onion (sliced)
  • Chicken (pieces with skin on)
  • salt (to taste)
  • oil (grapeseed oil and olive oil)
  • turmeric (1-2 Tablespoons)
  • optional: saffron (pinch)

Directions: Saute 1-2 onions in oil until translucent or even a bit more. Place chicken in the pan with onions, skin side down. Add oil as needed. Season with salt and generous amounts of turmeric. Brown chicken on both sides. Sprinkle with ground saffron. Add about 1/2-1 cup of water after about 5-10 minutes. Transfer browned chicken to baking tray. Be sure to get all the pan drippings onto the chicken. Add 1/2 cup of water for a saucier sauce. Bake uncovered for 30-45 minutes uncovered if skin is on or covered if skin is off. Serve with Adas Polo.


How to make Cucumber Salad | Persian Recipe

This is one of the most refreshing salads you’ll ever taste! What I love about Persian food is that the ingredients are simple, flavorful and nourishing. Salad Shirzi or Cucumber Salad as I like to call it accompanies many Persian meals. It’s one of two salads you’ll typically find on Persian menus, and this one is so easy to make, you’ll wonder why you don’t have it all the time!!

You can make this as big or small as you like it and with whatever ratio you want, but if you want a basic guideline, here it goes:

  • 2 Persian cucumbers
  • 1 medium flavorful tomato
  • 1 lemon
  • salt to taste
  • olive oil optional

That’s it!! One thing to note about this salad is that the cucumbers are finely diced. It really does matter how you cut them if you want to be authentic 🙂 The tomatoes are also finely diced, but not as small or they’ll turn to mush. The flavor of the tomatoes matters. Try your best to find ripe, firm and good tasting tomatoes.

For this recipe, avoid the cherry tomatoes and grape tomatoes. As tempting as it will be to use them, the sweet tart taste of cherry tomatoes overpowers the other other flavors. Of course, you may do as you wish!! Lemon is really important in this recipe. If your lemons are not juicy, use more. You can’t overdo it on the lemons, so squeeze away! The more the better. And did I mention how good lemons are for you? They are cleansing and detoxifying, so use as many as you can. Persian cucumbers may be a novelty at most grocery stores, so if you can’t get them, English cucumbers are a good alternative. If you must use the standard cucumbers, then I recommend peeling them, but otherwise, for the Persian and English ones, keep the skin on. Add salt to taste, but if you are making this in advance, don’t salt until close to serving time. The salt extracts the liquid from the tomatoes and cucumbers, and you will be left with a bland salad if you salt it too early.


Pomegranate, Date & Pistachio Rice

This is one of our favorite recipes!! I’ve only added fried onions to the recipe as well as a sprinkle of saffron. If you don’t have fresh dill, I’ve swapped it out for dried dill on many occasions. We pair this with a rack of lamb. We got this recipe from the Martha Stewart Living magazine and it’s become on of our favorite recipes ever!!


Rack of Lamb

This recipe is hands down my family’s favorite recipe of all time. There’s never enough even when I double the recipe. It’s just one of those special treats that we can only do once in a while because a rack of lamb is quite pricey. For me too, it’s one of the most delicious recipes I’ve ever had. What takes it over the top is the pomegranate rice that we pair with it. The first rack of lamb recipe in the video is from the Martha Stewart Living magazine and that’s also where I learned how to make the pomegranate rice (which I’ve altered a bit). The rack of lamb is easy: it’s just 2 teaspoons of cumin and coriander seeds which have been heated to release their aromas and crushed to make a dry or wet rub (I used olive oil and heated them on the stove). Season with salt and pepper, and that’s it! Bake at 375 or 400 for about 20 minutes, until the internal temperature reaches 145 degrees Fahrenheit. Watch it! You don’t want to overcook this recipe.

For the second rack of lamb, I used the book The Silk Road Gourmet by Laura Kelley. It is an Afghan recipe which calls for 2 teaspoons of cloves and a teaspoon each of cumin seeds, black cardamom, cinnamon and black peppercorns. I crushed the seeds using my granite mortar and pestle. I seasoned the rack of lamb with cayenne pepper and salt, then coated it with the spice mixture before baking until the internal temperature reached 145 degrees Fahrenheit.


Azerbaijan Meat Kebabs

So far these are the best kebabs I’ve made my family. We got the recipe from The Silk Road Gourmet, a cookbook that brings recipes from the Silk Road to the modern cook. The book covers nine different regions: Republic of Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh, India and Sri Lanka. This cookbook is packed with recipes and information about the different countries these recipes are inspired from. For today’s kebabs, we are using an Azerbaijan recipe which calls for either ground beef or ground lamb. We are using two pounds of ground beef which is twice what the recipe calls for. My alterations to the recipe are as follows: 2 pounds of ground beef, 4 teaspoons of salt, 2 tablespoons of dried mint, 1 tablespoon of fresh mint, 4 tablespoons of crushed chilli peppers, 2 teaspoons of ground pepper, 1 teaspoon of cumin and 3 tablespoons of red wine vinegar. Use a food processor to mix spices and roughly chop two onions. Combine mixture with meat. Mix well. Form kebabs using about 3 tablespoons of meat. Place on a tray and refrigerate for 2-4 hours. A lot of liquid will come out. Transfer to a tray for baking after the kebabs have chilled. Set your oven to the highest broil temperature and broil the kebabs for five minutes on each side. They will produce a lot of liquid so you may choose to do fewer kebabs on each tray. Serve with rice or seasoned rice immediately and enjoy this mouthwatering super easy recipe.


Savory Ground Lamb

https://youtu.be/EOPJxE5nFaA

I’ve altered a recipe we love from the Martha Stewart Living magazine which is an herbed rack of lamb that is paired with a pomegranate rice. We love that recipe so much we cook it often. One day, I made the pomegranate rice but didn’t have anything except ground lamb. So, this is the recipe I came up with to pair with the rice. It’s a distance second to the rack of lamb recipe, but good in a pinch.


Indian Food

Indian Fruit Salad | Fruit Chaat

If you’ve never tried fruit salad with spices, I encourage you to try this. You fruit will get a kick out of it, and so will you! You’ll impress your taste buds with cayenne, salt and pepper mixed with sugar and the sweetness of seasonal fruit and fresh juice.

The first time I tried this salad, I was hooked! That was back in 2003. My sister-in-law made this salad, and I couldn’t get enough of it. I ate everyday for days. While I do like fruit, I don’t seem to eat a lot of it, so spicy, flavorful fruit salad like this certainly helps me get my five servings of fruits and veggies. What’s more, is that it’s hydrating. I’ve found that fruit chaat is especially good during Ramadan or anytime of year in which you are fasting. Either to start or break your fast, this Indian inspired fruit salad will keep you hydrated longer than just drinking water, at least, that’s what I’ve experienced. There are so many varieties of this beloved Ramadan iftar recipe. I hope you find a combination you love as much as I love this one.


How to Make Indian Garbanzo Bean Salad | Cholay | Chana Chaat

There are some dishes I tend to make just during Ramadan. This is one of them. It’s an Indian inspired recipe was shared with my by my sister-in-law who knows how to make good food, fast! I even have a secret shortcut to this recipe that you can find on the blog post that accompanies this video tutorial.

Cholay is a garbanzo bean side dish that can be served hot or cold and has several varieties. Today’s is a cold version that can be stored in the fridge for hours or even a day or two and the flavors just get better over time. This version may be better known at Chana Chaat. Either way, it’s a delicious protein rich side dish or a meal in itself.

Recipe:
2 cans of garbanzo beans
1 finely diced onion
4 cloves of mashed garlic
3-4 diced tomatoes
handful of chopped cilantro
1 finely diced jalapeno
2 lemons (squeezed)
season with salt, cayenne, cumin and paprika
Mix all ingredients together and drizzle with olive oil. Let sit for 15 minutes or refrigerate for up to one day before serving.


How To Make Chai Tea | Indian Tea

I’ve been both praised and cursed for my tea. Praised because it always tastes so good, cursed because it’s so strong that my tea drinkers are usually up until the wee hours of the morning, tossing and turning because they can’t sleep.

So with caution and fair warning, here’s my tea recipe (which is a combination of tea recipes from my sister in law and a couple of close friends):

  • 2-4 cups of water
  • 5-8 peppercorns
  • 2-3 crushed green cardamom
  • 3-6 cloves
  • 1 cinnamon stick or a generous sprinkle of cinnamon powder
  • 2 teaspoons of loose black tea
  • 2 tablespoons of brown sugar or more or less of your desired sweetener
  • 3 tablespoons of heavy cream or similar creamer

Add all spices (not tea, sugar or cream) to a pot of water. Bring to a boil. Cover and let simmer for as long as you’d like (sometimes I give it 5 minutes, other times, I put it on the lowest flame and leave it for 30 minutes or more while I do something else). Add tea and cover. Remove from heat and let it steep for 3-5 minutes. Next, add cream and sugar and bring back up to a boil. Reduce heat and let it simmer for a couple minutes. Using a strainer, pour into a cup and enjoy! You can get creative with your chai! Some people like a bit of fresh ginger as well. You can also make this tea with tea bags. In my experience, you need more tea bags than typical to get the desired strength and color.


Keema | INDIAN GROUND BEEF

If you’re in a pinch to make dinner, I recommend learning this recipe! It’s my fast version to making Indian ground beef (keema). It’s usually served with rice, which could take 15 minutes to make, so if you are really short on time, serve it with naan which you can find in the frozen section of many grocery stores. While my mother in law taught me how to make this using fresh ginger and garlic, I find that in a time pinch, using powdered ginger and garlic work just fine. In fact, they work even better if you have a child (or adult) who is picky about their food and doesn’t like the stringy nature of fresh ginger or the bite of garlic.

Here’s the super easy recipe: For every pound of ground beef (you can use any fat content), season with:

  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon ginger powder
  • 1 teaspoon paprika (optional and not shown in the video)
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon of cumin

Start by lightly frying a whole medium diced onion. Add beef with seasoning. Cook until nearly done (5 minutes or so), and add fresh chopped cilantro to finishing it off.


Yogurt Tortilla| Indian Appetizer | Dahin Pulke

Dahinki Pulke or Yogurt Tortilla is a family favorite, especially during Ramadan. We like to break fast with fruit chaat and this layered tortilla dish that’s thick with yogurt and fried onions. While this appetizer is a Ramadan family favorite of ours, you could really have it any time of year. It’s simple to make and other than frying the onions, it’s really fast too. Wow your friends and family at your next dinner party with this crowd pleaser. It’s lightly toasted tortillas layered with yogurt, cilantro, jalapeño or serrano peppers, and fried onions. Layer three times and then let it chill or rest for 20 minutes until the tortillas are moistened by the yogurt. You can also prepare this up to one day in advance by storing it in the refrigerator, but I prefer to eat mine fresh. Just know that you don’t have to eat it directly after making it. The only thing difficult about this dish is cutting it! Oh and eating it! It’s a bit messy, but oh so worth it!

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