Strictly speaking, the word refers to Jew’s mallow (Corhorus olitorius), a plant commonly associated with Egypt. It derives its name from the Greek molokhê (μολόχη), meaning ‘mallow’. Greek and Roman authors referred to its extreme bitterness, with the first-century Roman naturalist Pliny the Elder already mentioning that it was eaten in Alexandria. The word also denotes a stew made with the leaves of this vegetable, which was quite a popular dish in mediaeval Arab cuisine as several recipes are found in a number of the cookery books. In Islamic medicine and pharmacology, Jew’s mallow was recommended for inflammations, liver and urethral blockages, as an emmenagogic and against headaches. Today, mulukhiyya is still very popular in a number of countries, but the preparations vary somewhat. In its original homeland of Egypt, the leaves are chopped up to make a stew with meat (most often rabbit or poultry). In Lebanon, the method is similar, except that it calls for whole leaves, garlic and coriander. In Tunisia, on the other hand, mulukhiyya is usually eaten on Eid al-Fitr (عيد الفطر), which marks the end of the Ramadan fast, and is prepared rather differently; the leaves are dried and ground, and the subsequent powder is added to tomato paste and olive oil to make a sauce in which meat (typically beef) is then cooked. The recipe recreated here is from the 15th-century, and besides Jew’s mallow and chicken, it includes spices like coriander and caraway, as well as garlic. It can be made with a variety of meats, including rabbit and pigeon, and is delicious with some crunchy bread. [The Sultan’s Feast, No. 88] Although Jew’s mallow may not readily available in supermarkets where you live, you can easily find it in specialty stores these days. If you can’t find it fresh, the frozen variety (often already pre-chopped!) is perfectly fine as well.
This rabbit feast comes from a 13th-century Andalusian treatise and involves stuffing the meat of one rabbit inside another! The meat for the stuffing is made with onion, fresh coriander juice, various spices, and eggs. This is then sewn inside the second rabbit, which is roasted on a spit, or in a pot. Any meat that cannot fit into the rabbit is turned into meatballs, which are roasted or fried with the rabbit. The final stage of the preparation requires making a lid with almonds, sour leaven, walnuts, eggs and rue to continue the cooking of the rabbit. When the dish is ready, the rabbit is opened up and decorated with eggs, meatballs and spices. [Andalusian, fol. 15v.]
This highly popular delicacy (also known as judhab), is a drip pudding; a chicken is roasted above a kind of bread pudding made by layering flatbread and, in this case, bananas (though other fruit, such as dates or apricots, was used as well). The juices of the chicken suffuse the pudding and keep it wonderfully moist. It was usually served with pieces of chicken on top of the pudding, but you can also simply have parts on the side. This particular variety is said to have been the creation of the third Abbasid caliph Ibrahim al-Mahdi (779-839), a renowned gourmet (and author of a cookery book), as well as a gifted poet and singer. In the course of its history, the dish underwent a number of transformations (in Muslim Spain, for instance, it referred to layered waffles and nuts stuffed with chicken) before disappearing from the Arab culinary repertoire altogether.
This recipe from a fifteenth-century Egyptian cookery book is for samosas made with mince, vegetables, sesame oil, vinegar, pepper, and hazelnuts (or almonds). It is a wonderful snack or light lunch. [Ibn Mubārak Shāh, fols. 12v.-13r.]
This is a recreation of a recipe dating from 1226CE for a popular stew, known as the ‘king of dishes’. While it has not survived in contemporary Middle Eastern cuisine, a descendant can be found in the Spanish escabeche, fish (or meat) marinated and cooked in vinegar. The ingredients include chicken, wine vinegar, coriander, ginger, saffron, black pepper, parsley, and rue. Sometimes, it was made with various cuts of meat and garnished with bazmāward (sliced sandwich wraps), sausages, and topped with cheese. Mustard is the condiment of choice. [al-Baghdādī, 1964, pp. 13-4]
The dish derives its name from the fact that a mixture of garlic, salt, cinnamon, cassia, spikenard, and eggs is stuffed underneath the skin along the spine of the chicken. It is served on top of citron leaves and decorated with crumbled egg yolks. Before serving, prinkle on some spices and shredded rue. [Andalusian, fol. 12v.]
This is a dish not from one of the cookery books, but from a medical treatise on aphrodisiacs, written by the great astronomer al-Ṭūsī in the 13th century.
“Take some pullets; slaughter them; dry, wash and cut them up into slices. Sprinkle rock salt on the sides and grill on live coal, turning them over on each side until they are cooked. Then take five dirhams* of black cumin, three dirhams of goat’s beard, four dirhams of common ash and half a dirham of coconut. Pound all of these and sprinkle on the meat. This dish is eaten for supper. It strengthens the principal organs, increases innate heat, removes coldness from the back and loins, expels moistness and superfluities from the body, reddens the face, and purifies the blood. It also strengthens coitus to the extent that even when one has intercourse for three days running, one need not worry about growing weak. One is able to pleasure ten slave girls and freewomen every night, without any trouble or discomfort, as stated by the ancient philosophers and physicians.” (The Sultan’s Sex Potions, p. 103)
1 dirham = 3.125 g.
- 1 plump chicken
- 1-2 teaspoons of rock salt
- 2.5 teaspoons of black cumin
- 1.5 teaspoons of desiccated goat’s beard (salsify)
- 1/2 teaspoon of common ash
- 3 teaspoons of desiccated coconut
- Cut the chicken into thin slices
- Mix the salt, cumin, salsify, common ash and coconut, and grind thoroughly with mortar and pestle
- Sprinkle the chicken with rock salt and grill on charcoal for 45 mins on each side
- Sprinkle the spice mixture on the cooked meat, and serve.
Eat with some rice and/or (Middle Eastern) flatbread (failing that, a foccacia would also be a great complement!).
This delicious dish is called mishmishiyya (مشمشية) and takes its name from the Arabic word for ‘apricot’, mishmish (مِشْمِش), and is already found in the oldest known Arabic cookery book, probably compiled in 10th-century Baghdad. However, the use of apricots in cooking goes back even further, to Assyrian times (18th c. BCE), where they were an ingredient in a bean stew — yummy! Fruit stews were very popular in medieval Arab cuisine and many other types (with apples, sour oranges, etc.) can be found in the cookery books. Interestingly enough, none of them has survived in present-day Arab cuisines.
“Take a plump chicken, scald, clean and wash it very well. Joint and leave. Take ripe yellow apricots and put them in a pot. Pour water on them, and bring to a boil. Then mash the apricots and strain them into a container. Return to the chicken and put the pieces into a clean pot. Add the white of onions, fresh coriander, rue, a stick of galangal, a piece of cassia, and whole pieces of ginger. Then light a fire underneath it and when it is boiling, sprinkle onion juice over it as well. Add the apricots to the liquid [making sure] they are immersed. Season with ground coriander, pepper and cassia. Leave until [everything] is cooked, and serve.”
- 1 plump chicken
- 40 – 50 fresh ripe apricots
- 40g fresh coriander
- 4 small yellow onions
- 2 tablespoons of fresh ginger
- 2 tablespoons of fresh galangal
- 3 sticks of cassia/Chinese cinnamon
- 50g almond flour
- 2 teaspoons of ground coriander
- 1 teaspoon of ground black pepper
- 3 teaspoons of ground cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon of ground cumin
- 5 tablespoons of rose water
- Cut the apricots in half, remove the kernels and add to a large pot with 500 ml of hot water. Cook 10-15 minutes on a medium-high fire until soft. It helps to use a potato masher to mash the apricots while they are cooking as this will speed up the process – be careful to stir very often since they can burn somewhat easily.
- While the apricots are cooking, disjoint the chicken, and add to a separate, clean pot with 3 thinly sliced onions, the thinly sliced leaves of a 30g-bunch of cilantro, a whole two-inch piece of galangal and 70g fresh ginger cut into coins, a splash of water and a pinch of salt. Cook 10-12 minutes on medium-high fire and allow the chicken to cook and brown in its own juice.
- While everything is cooking, take one onion, chop it into small pieces and liquidate in a blender. Strain the mixture through a cheese cloth to get as much onion juice out of it as possible (this part is a little smelly!).
- Once the apricot mixture is ready, remove from the heat and allow to cool for a few minutes before blending with a hand blender.
- Pass the apricot liquid through a sieve and set aside. There will be a lot of fibre which you need to throw out, but don’t worry since you only need enough juice to cover the chicken in the pot.
- Add the onion juice to the pot with the chicken then add all but 1/3 cup of the apricot juice.
- Add ground coriander, black pepper, cinnamon and cumin to the pot and stir. Let the mixture simmer for 20-30 minutes until the chicken is cooked through.
- Add 50g almond flour to the apricot juice set aside previously, stir vigorously and add slowly to pot.
- When the dish is done, sprinkle rose water on top.
This dish works wonderfully well with fresh rice, or with crusty bread. For improved results, the modern recipe was supplemented with elements from al-Baghdādī’s mishmishiyya (13th-c.), which also includes cumin, almond flour, and rosewater.