Sumac stew (summaqiyya, سمّاقية)

This is a 13th-century Syrian recipe of a dish said to be a favourite of the caliph Harun al-Rashid, who was particularly partial to the taste of sumac. It is made by first soaking the berries in water and then kneading the sumac with parsley, rue, breadcrumbs, thyme, aṭrāf al-ṭīb spice blend, lemon juice, sesame paste, yoghurt, and pounded toasted walnuts to make a stuffing, to which pieces of pickled lemon are added. The next crucial ingredient is (lamb) meat (chopped) and meatballs, which are kneaded with rice and chickpeas. The dish is rounded off with a variety of vegetables, such as chard stalks, eggplant, gourd, carrots, turnips and leeks. The result truly is a delight fit for a caliph!

Mulberry pastries

Recipes for this delicious sweet are found in 13th-century Syrian and 14th-century Egyptian cookery books. They are called ‘mulberries’ (tūt, توت) in reference to their shape. The instructions could not be easier; after rolling the dough over a sieve to get the right texture, it is shaped into mulberry-type pieces which are then fried in sesame oil before being dipped in rose-water syrup. Serve with a dusting of sugar. They are an excellent accompaniment to mint tea! There is a direct modern descendant of this delicacy in the form of the Lebanese ma’kroon (معكرون).

Pomegranate stew (rummaniyya, رمّانية)

Pomegranates (rummān, رمّان) are a core ingredient in medieaval Arab cookery books; in addition to the seeds of the fruit, its juice (or syrup) are often called for in stews. This particular dish is a recreation of a 14th-century Egyptian recipe. It is made with meat (in this case lamb), half of which is cut into pieces and the other half is turned into meatballs. When the meat is done, (sour) pomegranate juice is added with rose water and sugar to sweeten it. Then mint leaves are added, followed by pistachios (or almonds) for thickening, saffron for colouring, as well as the aromatic spice mix known as arāf al-ṭīb. Sprinkle on a dash of rose water before serving. A delicious meal that can perfectly be paired with some crusty bread!

No 125! Medieval aubergine dip with meatballs

This recipe from a 13th-century Baghdadi treatise is named after the wife of the Abbasid caliph al-Ma’mun, Buran (بوران), who became famous for her signature fried aubergine dishes, which subsequently became known as būrāniyya. The aubergines are boiled in water and salt and then fried in sesame oil before being peeled and mashed. Salt, dried coriander, yoghurt and garlic are also mixed in. The result tastes and looks very similar to that present-day favourite baba ganoush (بابا غنوج). The meatballs are fried before they are placed on top of the mixture. The dish is rounded off with a sprinkling of cumin and cinnamon.

Mace (basbasa, بسباسة)

This aromatic is the fruit of the Myristica fragrans tree, a tropical evergreen; to be more precise, it is the covering of the seed, which is nutmeg (jawz bawwā/جوز بوّا, jawz al-tīb/جوز الطيب). Unknown to the ancient Greeks and Romans, both were introduced to the Mediterranean by Arab merchants. Together with cloves, they were some of the most expensive spices of the Middle Ages, due to the fact that they were only produced in a small Indonesian archipelago to the south of the Molucca Islands. In medieval Arab cuisine, mace was used quite sparingly, and appears primarily in drinks — often digestives or stomachics — and fruit conserves, as well as in perfumes. It is not mentioned in any of the recipes in Arabic cookery books from the Western Mediterranean (al-Andalus, North Africa). Today, it is sold in blades or ground.

Andalusian tabahija (طباهجة) trio

This is a 13th-century variation of a dish that was very popular in the Muslim East and starts with meat (lamb) cut into strips. The recipe is of particular interest because it results in the creation of no fewer than three dishes. The first involves the meat, oil, ginger, salt, pepper and water. One third of the dish is then taken and placed in another pot with vinegar. Half of this is transferred to another pan and sprinkled with chopped rue. Finally, add asafoetida to the remaining half and crack five eggs over it.

Sour eggs with celery (bayd masus, بيض مصوص)

This recipe is found in two 13th-century Baghdadi and Egyptian cookery books. It involves sesame oil, eggs, celery, with coriander cumin, cinnamon and mastic. Once they eggs are fried, pour on vinegar, and sprinkle with saffron for colour. The vegetable ingredient merits some attention inasmuch as the Arabic word karafs (كرفس) usually denotes celery, but at the time could also refer to parsley. Modern European celery is not really suited for the dish and the recreation was made with the leaves of Chinese (Nan ling) celery. It works very well with parsley, too.

Fish barida (باردة) with herbs

A delicious 10th-century Abbasid recipe for a ‘cold dish’ (bārida), made with watercress, parsley, leeks, fish, and eggs, spiced with pepper, coriander, cumin, and caraway. Of note is the fact that you need to extract the juices from the herbs after crushing them. You can also make three dishes by making it with one of the herbs in separate pots. The fish should be boned — or you can just use fillets, of course!

Pickled cucumber (خيار مخلّل, khiyar mukhallal)

In medieval Arab food culture, pickling of various vegetables (e.g. garlic, carrot, turnip, cabbage) took pride of place. This 13th-century Egyptian recipe is a wonderful example and requires cucumbers to be soaked in brine and then immersed in wine vinegar and cucumber juice with parsley, mint , rue, tarragon, and several heads of garlic.

Mint stew (نعناعية, na’na’iyya)

This is a recreation of one of only a few mint stew recipes in medieval Arab cookery books. It is made with fatty lamb, vinegar, chopped mint, onion, cassia, cumin, and crushed salt.