Mishmishiyya

This delicious dish takes its name from the Arabic word for ‘apricot’, mishmish, and is already found in the oldest known Arabic cookery book, by al-Warrāq (10th century CE).

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.

The Text

تؤخذ دجاجة سمينة فتسمط وتنظّف وتغسل غسلاً جيّدًا وتفصل أعضاء أو تعزل ناحية. ثمّ تعمد إلى المشمش الأصفر البالغ  فتجعله في قدر وتصبّ عليه ماء وتغليه غلية ثمّ تمرسه في مائه وتصفيه في إناء ثمّ ترجع إلى الدجاجة فتجعل أعضاها في قدر نظيفة وتجعل معها بياض بصل وكسبرة رطبة وسذاب وعود خولنجان وقطعة دار صيني وزنجبيل صحاح ثمّ توقد تحته فإذا غلى رششت عليه ماء بصل أيضًا ثمّ تعمد إلى ذلك الماء من المشمش فتغمره به وتبزره بكسبرة وفلفل ودار صيني مدقوقة وتتركه حتّى يستوي وتغرفه

Translation

“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.”

The Recipe

Ingredients
  • 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
method
  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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!).
  4. Once the apricot mixture is ready, remove from the heat and allow to cool for a few minutes before blending with a hand blender.
  5. 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.
  6. Add the onion juice to the pot with the chicken then add all but 1/3 cup of the apricot juice.
  7. 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.
  8. Add 50g almond flour to the apricot juice set aside previously, stir vigorously and add slowly to pot.
  9. When the dish is done, sprinkle rose water on top.
serving suggestion

This dish works wonderfully well with fresh rice, or with crusty bread.

NOTEs
  • 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.
  • Galangal (also known as galingale) can be found in Asian grocery stores; if not available, substitute with more ginger in the recipe
  • Chinese cinnamon can be substituted with plain cinnamon stick.