This is a recreation of a sweet-and-sour 13th-century Tuniso-Andalusian dish, which was associated with the countryside, as its name, al-fahsi (الفحصي), is derived from the Andalusian Arabic fahs denoting ‘field’ or ‘meadow’ but, by extension, also means ‘peasant’ and so it could also be translated as the ‘peasant’s dish’. You need a fat ram — I couldn’t find ours, so had to make do with lamb — and add suet, pepper, coriander, onions, and cinnamon. When the dish is nearly done cooking, you can add pickled limes to taste. As it happens, there were some left over from an earlier batch! Serve with a dusting of cinnamon. The author adds that it can also be made with chicken or veal, but if you ask me, I doubt it can taste any better than with lamb…
This is one of the most famous and emblematic dishes in medieval Arab cuisine. It is named after Būrān (807-884), the wife of the caliph al-Ma’mūn. Of Persian origin, she was the daughter of one of the ruler’s advisers, and was married to the caliph at the age of ten, but the wedding only took place when she reached 18. The event became legendary because of its opulence and excess; it is said to have lasted for forty days, with pearls being poured down on the couple who were sitting on a golden floor cover encrusted with precious pearls and sapphires. Balls of musk which contained the name of a gift (an estate, horse, etc.), were distributed to the multitude of guests, each of whom could subsequently lay claim to their gift. According to the historian Ibn Khaldun, one hundred and forty mule loads of wood had been brought three times a day for a whole year to the kitchen just for the wedding night, and all of it was consumed in that single night.
In Arab cookery, however, Būrān is even more famous; according to tradition, she was an accomplished cook, renowned for her fried aubergine dishes, which gained huge fame, and several recipes can be found in nearly all medieval Arab cookery books. Whether or not she actually made one for her husband during the celebrations is not known.
The recipe recreated here is a very simple — and delicious one — from The Sultan’s Feast, and requires meat, fried aubergine (in this case last week’s pickled aubergines were used), pepper, coriander seeds, mint, and onions. The meat and onion are boiled before being fried with the spices. The idea is that the meat and seasonings are the dressing for the aubergine.
Būrān’s name — and her recipe — lives on in the present day in the western Algerian burāniyya, which is known as mderbel in the East of the country (many thanks to @theconfusedarab for pointing this out). For the modern dish, take a look at @lapetitepanetiere‘s take on this. And, then, of course, there is the Spanish alboronía, a kind of ratatouille with aubergine still being the key ingredient, alongside other vegetables.
Named after one of its principal ingredients, pistachios (فستق, fustuq), this recipe from The Sultan’s Feast is made with meat (lamb) chunks and meatballs, as well as a fair amount of spices, including aṭrāf al-ṭīb, cassia, mastic, salt, and (dried) mint. The broth is thickened with pounded pistachios and everything is left to stew. To cap things off, add lemon juice to the mix. Rose water should be sprinkled on top and rubbed along the sides of the pot for that wonderful sweet-and-sour taste — a chicken delight!
Over three years ago, I posted a recreation of one of the most emblematic dishes of medieval Arab cooking, a vinegar stew known as sikbāj (سكباج), with both the dish and the name being a borrowing from Persia (sik, ‘vinegar’; bāj, ‘stew’). The recreation was based on a 10th-century Baghdadi recipe and though the result was flavoursome enough, the sourness of the vinegar was quite overpowering to the modern palate. However, everything deserves a second chance and so here’s another stab, this time using an Egyptian version of the dish from The Sultan’s Feast. It’s made with fatty lamb chunks and a range of herbs, spices and vegetables, including, agarwood, cassia, coriander, onions, leek, carrots, and aubergine, as well as, of course, the eponymous vinegar, tempered with some dibs (date molasses) or honey. The dish is served with almonds, jujubes, dates and raisins sprinkled on top. The result could not have been more different from the first iteration; rather than the tart vinegary kick, there was now a more mellow sweet-and-sour overtone. Probably the biggest difference in the two preparations was the use of the home-made medieval grape-and-fig vinegar, instead of the plain vinegar of the first sikbaj. The recipes, themselves, call for ‘vinegar’ but it is very likely that then — just as now — the cooks would have selected the vinegar of their choice for any given dish, and so, who knows, maybe in this case a fruity vinegar would have been used. At least, that’s what I’d like to think! In any case, when sikbaj is on the menu again, I know which of the two recipes I’d go for…
A delightful recipe from The Sultan’s Feast, an earlier version of which can already be found in a 13th-century Syrian cookery book.
It’s a decidedly modern dish and involves scooping out the cores of the aubergine and then stuffing them with meat mince that has been boiled and then seasoned with coriander, caraway, pepper, cassia, coriander and parsley. The aubergines are skewered to keep the stuffing snugly in place and fried, preferably in sheep’s tail fat, until golden. Serve after removing the skewers and sprinkle on dried coriander.
As rhubarb is currently in season, what better way to celebrate this much-underused vegetable than by recreating a recipe for a rhubarb stew from The Sultan’s Feast? The instructions are rather minimal, as are the ingredients: meat, spices (what else?), onions, rhubarb juice, sweet almond conserve (murabbā) and mint. A wonderful dish with flavours that are in perfect harmony. What to eat with it? Well, that’s got to be some flatbread to soak up every last drop of the sauce.
This recipe from a cookbook compiled in 13th-century Aleppo, takes its name from the fact that the carrots are cut into the shape of dinar (the currency at the time) coins. It is a two-in-one dish in that it involves both chunks of meat (for the recreation lamb is used) and meatballs. The former is boiled with crushed chickpeas, whereas the latter are made with rice, some more crushed chickpeas, and spices, such as corander, pepper, cassia, caraway. After everything is fried (in fat) with some fresh coriander and garlic, broth and carrots cut into coins are added and then everything is left to cook. As a further enhancement of the visual effect, some eggs are cracked on top of the dish at the end. The result attests to the medieval chef’s proficiency at balancing flavours.
This is the oldest known ancestor of one of Morocco’s best known dishes, tagine of laḥm wa barqūq (لحم وبرقوق, ‘meat and prunes’), which is a staple at weddings. This particular recipe (simply called لون بالإجّاص, ‘dish with prunes’) is from a 13th-century Andalusian manual and involves diced fatty young lamb, cooked with salt, pepper, coriander, cumin, saffron, vinegar, mint juice and oil. When it is almost done, it’s time to add the prunes, also known in Andalusian Arabic as ‘cow’s eyes’ (عين البقر, ‘ayn al-baqar), which have previously been candied and soaked in vinegar. Continue the cooking until everything is done, and then leave to cool down before serving with a garnish of egg yolks ad meatballs dusted with aromatics. As for the accompaniment, well that just has to be couscous, doesn’t it? And what about enhancing those taste buds even more with some of that sweet-and-sour pickled fennel?
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!
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 aṭrāf al-ṭīb (أطراف الطيب). Sprinkle on a dash of rose water before serving. A delicious meal that can perfectly be paired with some crusty bread!