The Frightful Lady

The dish is found in 13th-century cookbooks from Egypt and Syria. Its Arabic name is سِتّ شناع (sitt shunā’) or ست الشنع (sitt al-shuna’ ) and translates, somewhat mysteriously, as ‘the lady of terrible things’. It is one of relatively few dishes made with taro root. The recipe also calls for meat, hazelnuts, tahini, coriander, and pepper. The taro is fried and serves as a bed for the other ingredients.

Pomegranate-glazed chicken

A dish allegedly created by the hedonistic prince Ibrahim Ibn alMahdi (779-839), the half-brother of the famous Abbasid caliph Harun al-Rashid, who makes numerous appearances in the Arabian Nights. Ibn al-Mahdi was known as a singer, poet, and gastronome, and this recipe is probably from his cookery book (كتاب الطبيخ, kitab al-tabikh), which has unfortunately been lost. The dish is essentially a grilled chicken rubbed with salt, thyme, and olive oil, and then basted with the juice of both sweet and sour pomegranates, mixed with murrī. It is served with a rich gravy made with the chicken juices and crushed walnuts. According to the author of the 10th-century treatise who has preserved the recipe, it is “delicious, flavoursome, wondrous, and often used (لذيذة، طيّبة، عجيبة، مستعملة).” Deservedly high praise, indeed.

Oven-roasted lamb kebabs

This recipe from 10th-century Baghdad is both flavoursome and easy to make. Cut tender lamb into slices ((شَرائح, sharā’iḥ) and marinate in fresh coriander (cilantro) juice, mixed with asafoetida. Coat the kebabs with olive oil before skewering, and then cook. Serve with rice and a wonderfully delicate dip made with red wine vinegar, murrī (use soy sauce), asafoetida and caraway seeds.

Andalusian lamb tharida with cheese and spinach

The tharīd (ثَرِيد) is one of the oldest and most popular dishes in Arab cuisine and usually denotes crumbled bread in a meat or vegetable broth. Deriving its name from the verb tharada (ثَرَدَ), ‘to crumble’, the dish was apparently one of the favourite foods of the Prophet, himself, who reportedly said that “the virtue of ʿĀ’isha [his favourite wife] among women is like that of the tharīd among all food” (فضل عائشة على النساء كفضل الثريد على سائر الطعام). This 13th-century recipe is attributed to a Cordoban physician by the name of Abu ‘l-Hasan al-Bannani, who would apparently make it in spring. It is prepared with diced lamb, salt, onion juice, pepper, coriander seeds, caraway and olive oil. Once this is cooked, spinach, grated cheese and butter are added, before pouring everything onto the bread crumbs. In this recreation, the dish is served with couscous.

Cherry chicken

A recipe from a 15th-century Egyptian cookery book. It is one of many fruit stews which were very popular. This dish is very simple to make. The chicken is boiled with galangal and cassia, whereas ripe cherries (قَراصِيا, qarāsiyā) are cooked in the broth with honey, thickened with ground almonds, and scented with rose water, camphor and musk. Serve with flatbread.

The Nubian Lady (سِتّ النُّوبة)

As the name indicates, this is originally an Egyptian dish, for which there are several recipes. The one recreated here dates from the 13th century and involves frying a chicken in sesame oil and then drenching it in a thick sauce, which is made with almond milk, sugar, and saffron. Afterwards, garnish with jujubes and black raisins that have been macerated in rose-water and mastic. When serving, sprinkle on split pistachios and toasted almond oil. A truly amazing dish, and yes, you can have fries with that, if you like!

Green zirbaja (زِيرباجة)

The zīrbāja (or zīrbāj) was one of the most popular stews in the Abbasid cuisine, and was usually made with chicken, almonds, and saffron. Its renown was such that it is the plot in one of the stories of the Arabian Nights. This particular dish (from a tenth-century cookery book) is rather unusual in that it is coloured green by means of a sauce made of crushed parsley, rue, and pistachios. Other ingredients include spices like coriander, pepper and cassia.

Muhallabiyya (مُهَلَّبِيَّة)

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.

Fried hard-boiled eggs

ِ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!