When sour oranges (nāranj) are in season, there’s only one thing to do, and that is to find recipes to use them in! Fortunately, medieval Arabic cookery books contain several stews to do the trick, like this one from The Sultan’s Feast. It is made with lamb and chicken balls, with pistachios mixed in. The sauce contains galangal, ginger, rose-water syrup, sour oranges (a lot!), some more pistachios, mint, and rose water. One could do worse in life than to heed the advice by the author of the cookery book: “Those who have the acumen to increase flavours have infinite perspicacity and intelligence!”
Medieval Syrian carrot and lamb stew (dinariyya, دينارية)
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.
Andalusian ‘Jewish’ chicken
This is one of six so-called ‘Jewish’ dishes, which are found in only one 13th-century anonmyous cookery book from Muslim Spain. The chicken is spit-roasted and then dressed with a ‘stuffing’ made with the chicken entrails, walnuts, breadcrumbs, fennel, fresh coriander, eggs, and water. Before serving, garnish with rue, fennel, mint and (toasted) walnuts.
Andalusian lamb stew with prunes
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?
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!
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 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!
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.
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.
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.
Syro-Egyptian chicken sandwiches
Though the instructions simply say getting some soft-dough bread from the baker, this re-creation is made with a bread recipe from the same 13th-century Syrian cookery book. That will be the object of the next post, but here we’ll be talking about the filling of the sandwiches, which the author claims were Egyptian in origin.
Start by hollowing out small loaves — you can choose the size you like, but it works best if you shape them into large rolls. The main ingredient is the chicken which should be boiled, fried and shredded before mixing it with the crumbs taken out of the bread, pistachios, parsley, mint and lemon juice. Then stuff the mixture into the loaves, thus making them whole again. Cut into pieces or slices of your liking and, perhaps in reference to their Egyptian origins, pile them up into a pyramid, which is then liberally sprinkled with herbs, as well as violets and narcissus, and garnished with orange. Tuck in immediately, though they are still delicious after a night in the fridge.
According to the author this is one of the most elegant foods (فإنّها من أظرف المآكل) and anyone trying these sandwiches will surely agree!