Syro-Egyptian filled 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!

Ibrahimiyya (rose syrup chicken)

This is one of many mediaeval dishes named after (or created by) the gastronome caliph Ibrahim al-Mahdi (779-839). What is unusual is that this one comes from Andalusia. It is chicken (though you can also use lamb, if you wish) in a sauce of rose syrup with olive oil, vinegar, sugar, pepper, saffron, coriander, salt, and a little bit of onion. Peeled and broken up almonds, pistachios, spikenard and cloves are sprinkled on before ‘crusting’ the dish with a mixture of flour, rose water, camphor, and eggs. The result is a wonderfully tangy symphony of sweet-and-sour flavours.

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.

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!