Spotlight on: Sour orange (nāranj, نارَنْج)

Also known as bitter or Seville oranges (Citrus aurantium), the fruit is believed to be native to China and was unknown in the classical world. The Arabic name is derived from the Persian nārang (نارنگ), which is, itself, a Sanskrit borrowing (nārañga). The fruit was introduced to Europe (in al-Andalus) by the Arabs, whereas sweet oranges (Citrus sinensis) do not appear until the end of the Middle Ages. In mediaeval Arab cooking, the sour orange tended to be used in stews. The 13th-century Andalusian botanist Ibn al-Bayṭār reports that the orange had very green leaves and white blossoms, while the flesh of the fruit is as sour as citron. It was also used to produce an oil which dispels winds and strengthens the joints. The peel strengthens the heart. When the orange juice is drunk with hot water, it is good for gripes, and useful against stings of scorpions and many reptiles. However, the pulp on an empty stomach weakens the liver. His fellow Andalusian Ibn Khalṣūn (14th c.) added that the best variety was large and sweet, and that it should be eaten with sugar. Confusingly, the 12th-century Baghdadi pharmacologist Ibn Jazla equated nāranj with coconut (jawz hindī).

Sour oranges according to al-Qazwini
al-‘Umarī (14th c.), Masālik al-abṣār fī mamālik al-amṣār, BNF 2771, fol. 212r.

Syrian fried cauliflower

In case you have any cauliflower left from pickling, you might want to try this 13th-century recipe for battered and fried cauliflower pieces. The batter is made with eggs, flour, olive oil, spices, walnuts, rue and parsley. Use sesame or olive oil to fry the cauliflower. As you can eat the dish both hot and cold, it’s a great addition to a picnic! And why not try it as a side with a curry, instead of aloo gobi?

Fried fish-shaped gourd

A 13th-century vegetarian dish which is made by cutting gourd into the shape of a fish before frying it in a batter made of eggs and flour seasoned with cinnamon and coriander. It is served sprinkled with vinegar, murri (a fermented barley condiment which can be replaced with soya sauce) and coriander juice. Vegetarian dishes were commonly made to look like meat or fish dishes in order to entice diners. Indeed, the author introduces the recipe by stating that the dish is able to “mislead sick people who crave fish and the like.” [Andalusian, fol. 54r.]

Cold vegetable and yoghurt dish

This recipe is one of a number of cold snacks (known as بوارد, bawārid) found in what is thought to be the earliest cookery manual (10th century). These cold dishes were served prior to the main course and eaten with bread. This particular dish is highly nutritional as well as very simple to make. It requires gourd, chard, mallow and purslane added with sweet yoghurt, mixed with ground mustard and olive oil. Though not in the original recipe, it seemed a good idea to decorate with some freshly sliced cucumber! It is wonderful with some crusty bread and makes for a perfect picnic dish!

Andalusian cheese balls (مُجَبَّنة, mujabbana)

This was a speciality of the mediaeval Islamic west (al-Andalus, North Africa) and the cookbooks include quite a few recipes for mujabbanas, which were conspicuous by their absence from tables in the Near East. This 13th-century recipe requires flour, yeast and water to make a dough which is then shaped into balls and filled with cheese before deep frying in oil (though shallow frying also produces nice results). Don’t forget to drain them after removing them from the pan. They can also be turned into a sweet snack very easily through a generous dusting of sugar and cinnamon and with honey and rosewater for delicious dunking! There are a number of present-day descendants of the mujabbana, the most far-flung of which is probably the Brazilian pao de queijo.