Today is the official release of The Sultan’s Feast, a study, edition and annotated English translation of a fifteenth-century Egyptian cookbook (London: Saqi Books). Based on the sole surviving manuscript, it contains 332 recipes, ranging from bread-making and savoury stews, to roasts, sweets, pickles and condiments, as well as perfumes.
This medieaval classic has survived to the present day, albeit in a slightly different form. It was named after a seventh-century governor of Khorasan (a region stretching from present-day Iran across Central Asia) and involved a type of rice (or milk) pudding. The typical ingredients were rice, milk, sugar, and chicken. Interestingly enough, the dish was also known by an Indian name, bahatta. The Arabs passed the recipe to Christian Europe, where it became known as blanc-manger and was a staple of the mediaeval diet. The modern reincarnations of blancmange and muhallabiyya are no longer made with meat, but a taste of the original dish can be found in the Turkish tavuk göğsü. The recipe recreated here is a variant from the fifteenth century and requires meat and saffron-dyed rice, with honey or date syrup (dibs), rather than sugar, providing the sweetness.
A thirteenth-century Egyptian recipe which requires semolina flour, carlified butter, honey, rose water, and rose-water syrup. For the decoration, use crushed pistachios, hazelnuts, almonds and sugar.
ِA thirteenth-century Syrian recipe, which is as easy to make as it is succulent; after boiling the eggs, they are peeled and fried in sesame oil until the skins turn golden brown. The author recommends serving them with cold vegetable appetizers (bawārid), such as a yoghurt dip or the chicken pâté. In fact, the eggs are equally delicious as a side, or as part of breakfast!
An Andalusian dish, consisting of aubergine stuffed with lamb mince, spices and egg-whites. It is unusual in a number of respects. Firstly, it is one of very few Jewish recipes, whereas, in terms of cooking, it is made in three separate pots, each of which containing slightly different ingredients (among them rose water, citron, mint, vinegar, thyme, rue, fennel, onion). Two of the varieties are decorated with eggs, either whole or just the yolks. (Anonymous, fol. 70v.)
Surprisingly light, these scrumptious doughnuts are made with egg-whites and starch, and slathered in rose-water syrup . The name is probably a corruption of kāhin or kahīn, meaning ‘soothsayer’ and ‘magician’, respectively. [Ibn Mubārak Shāh, fol. 20v.] They become even more irresistible when you sprinkle on some icing sugar.
In case you have any cauliflower left from pickling, you might want to try this Syrian recipe for battered and fried cauliflower pieces. The batter is made with eggs, flour, olive oil, spices, walnuts, rue and parsley. Use sesame or olive oil to fry the cauliflower. [Wusla, No. 8.114] As you can eat the dish both hot and cold, it’s a great addition to a picnic! And why not try it as a side with a curry, instead of aloo gobi?
This recipe is unusual in that it is one of the few attributed to a female cook, in this case al-Hafiziyya (الحافِظِيَّة), who was a servant to al-Malik al-‘Adil (d. 1218), the younger brother and successor of the great Salah al-Din (Saladin). The biscuits were extremely popular, and their preparation often involved them being cooked twice (e.g. baking and toasting). This particular variety is made with semolina, almond oil and milk. [Wusla, No. 7.99] Note that they are not sweet but savoury — a wonderful accompaniment for, for instance, pâté, or any kind of dip.
Mediaeval Arab culinary literature reveals a predilection for various types of vegetable pickles, such as this delicate 13th-century Syrian recipe, which requires cauliflower, wine vinegar, date molasses (dibs), the atraf al-tib spice blend, rue and mint. Not only is it easy to store but it also gets better over time! [Wusla, No. 8.51]