Apricot surprise

Remaining with the apricot theme — and making good use of newly made apricot leather –, this 13th-century Syrian recipe is one of the few that requires it. Chicken meat (fillets is the easiest) is chopped up and fried with onions, coriander leaves and spices, before adding apricot leather (though, the dish can also be made with dried apricots). The anonymous author of the cookery book recommends using Byzantine or Medinese apricot leather, but the one made with apricots from the supermarket tastes amazing, too! Additional ingredients include honey, lemon juice, and mint. A further twist to the recipe is that some of the chicken meat is pounded and shaped into small meatballs (made with spices, mint, coriander leaves, and onions), which are added at the end. Serve garnished with coriander seeds and chopped coriander leaves. [Wuṣla, 2018, No. 6.135]

Apricot leather (قَمَر الدِّين, Qamar al-Din)

The present-day Qamar al-din refers to a drink made from apricot leather (usually added with rose water), rather than the paste itself. It is a very popular drink (often associated with Ramadan) all over the Middle East, especially in Syria (its original homeland) and Egypt. In the Middle Ages, it was also used in cooking, and is specifically mentioned in a 13th-century Levantine recipe. None of the medieval Arabic culinary treatises provided instructions on how to make it, but thankfully the famous blind Christian physician Dawud al-Antaki (d. 1599) did, in his medical handbook entitled ‘Memento for the wise and a collection of marvellous wonders’ (تذكرة أولي الألباب والجامع للعجب العجاب). It is very straightforward and not different from today’s methods, except in the absence of sugar. After macerating the apricots, they are beaten into a mash, placed on boards coated with sesame oil and left out in the sun. (in case you live in a country in short supply of sunlight, a dehydrator does the trick very nicely, too!) The result, so al-Antaki tells us, should be thin sheets. [al-Antaki, 1884, I, p. 307] In Iran, it is known as the children’s favourite lavashak (لواشک) and denotes fruit rolls, made with a variety of fruits.

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.]

The Caliph’s mustard chicken

This delightful recipe is attributed to the Abbasid caliph al-Wathiq bi-‘llah (‘He who trusts in God’, 842-847CE), who apparently also wrote a recipe book. It is roast chicken smothered in a sauce made with mustard, sugar, (ground) walnuts and asafoetida. Serve decorated with rue and pomegranate seeds. [al-Warrāq, 1987, p. 69]

Refreshing oxymel drink

Whilst the English word combines the Greek for ‘vinegar’ and ‘honey’, the Arabic sakanjabin (سَكَنْجَبِين, also sikanjabin or sikanjubin) has its roots in Persian words for those two substances (sik, ‘vinegar; anjabin, ‘honey’). The drink, which was also made with sugar, was used in medicine as a sweetener to improve the taste of medicines. However, it was also enjoyed by itself. The re-created recipe is taken from a 13th-century treatise. It is very easy to make and requires only date vinegar and rose-water syrup. [Kanz al-fawā’id, 1993, p. 136, No. 363] Serve with crushed ice to complement the delicate sweet-and-sour taste and, why not, add some borage petals for colourful effect — an ideal beverage (and mixer) for a balmy summer afternoon!

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.]

Garlic chicken (ثُومِيَّة, thumiyya)

This delicate stew from the 13th century was apparently a favourite of the governor of Marrakech, and derives its name from its principal ingredient, garlic (Arabic thūm), of which 150 grams are used. The recipe also includes spices like pepper, cinnamon, spikenard, ginger, cloves, and saffron, as well as almonds. [Andalusian, fols. 9v.-10r.]