Pickled cauliflower

Mediaeval Arab culinary literature reveals a predilection for various types of vegetable pickles, such as this delicate 13th-century Syrian recipe, which requires cauliflower, wine vinegar, date molasses (dibs), the atraf al-tib spice blend, rue and mint. Not only is it easy to store but it also gets better over time! [Wusla, No. 8.51]

Trio of mustards

In case last week’s recipe whetted an appetite for some home-made medieval mustard, here is a recreation of a 15th-century Egyptian three-for-the-price-of-one recipe. It contains twists on a basic theme, which involves mustard seeds, water, rock salt and vinegar. The other two are made by adding honey (you can also use sugar or raisins) or almond paste. All three are extremely tasty and go with all kinds of dishes, especially meats — both hot and cold. What’s more, they can be stored in the fridge for quite a while. [Ibn Mubārak Shāh, fol. 23v.]

Representation of the mustard plant in a 13th-century manuscript of an Arabic translation of the pharmacopoeia by the Greek botanist Dioscorides (d. 90 CE). [Bibiliothèque nationale de France, mss Arabe 4947, fol. 39r.]

Aromatic spice mix: atraf al-tib (أَطْراف الطِّيب)

A highly fragrant blend of key spices, which was also known as afwah al-tib (أفواه الطيب) and already appears in the earliest Arabic recipe collection. It continued to be in use until the 15th century. Fortunately, the author of a 13th-century Levantine cookery book provides a list of the ingredients: spikenard, betel leaf, bay leaf, nutmeg, mace, cardamom, cloves, rosebuds, ash tree fruit, long pepper, ginger, and black pepper. The mixture was used most often alongside mint, rue, or saffron. In about one-third of the recipes where it is called for, there is also pepper, olive oil, sesame oil or wine vinegar present. It is not used very often in meat or fish dishes; instead, it is found in beverages, sweets, pickles and perfumes. In this recreation, betel leaf and ash tree fruit were omitted. [Wuṣla, 2017, p. 41, No. 4.4]

Pickled eggs (بَيْض مُخَلَّل, bayd mukhallal)

The pickling liquid contains vinegar, cassia (Chinese cinnamon), ginger, cumin, coriander, cloves, rue, citron leaves, celery leaves, mint, and a sweetener like honey or sugar. The eggs were often dyed with saffron, as was done in the recreation. According to the author of the 13th-century treatise, these eggs are particularly good as a side with a cold vinegar stew (sikbaj). [Kanz al-fawā’id, 1993, p. 72, No 174]

Royal preserved lemons (سَنْكَل مَنْكَل, sankal mankal)

The author of a 13th-century cook book claimed to have learned this recipe from concubines at the court of the Ayyubid sultan of Egypt, al-Malik al-‘Adil (1200-1218). It requires a rather unusual citrus fruit called kabbad. However, it works splendidly with whatever large lemons you have to hand. The peel is fried in sesame oil, while the flesh of the lemons is immersed in wine vinegar sweetened with honey or sugar. Other ingredients include (toasted and pounded) hazelnuts, the atraf al-tib spice mix, as well as mint. [Wusla, 2017, No. 8.52]

Wine-soaked ginger conserve (زَنْجَبِيل مُرَبَّى, zanjabil murabba)

This recipe was recommended for people with cold temperaments. It is not difficult to make and can be enjoyed by itself as a sweet. It is very unusual in that it is one of the rare mediaeval recipes requiring wine, in which to soak the ginger. Afterwards, the ginger is cooked with saffron and honey before adding various spices (e.g. saffron, spikenard, black cardamom and pepper). Although the author suggested storing it for a few months, it tastes quite nice already a few days later! [al-Warraq, 1987, p. 319]