Medieval North African Aubergine bake

I guess one could say that this recipe from The Exile’s Cookbook is similar to the famous Buraniyya (بورانية), but without meat. The aubergines should be sliced thinly and then boiled in salt and water before being drenched in a marinade of vinegar, murrī, pepper, coriander, cumin, hand-rubbed oregano, and garlic. They should be squeezed to get rid of any liquid and baked in a casserole with some olive oil. A wonderful snack or main for everyone — yes, it’s even vegan!

Borage stew

This is a unique recipe for a beef stew from The Exile’s Cookbook made with borage (Borage officinalis), known as lisān al-thawr (لسان الثور, ‘ox tongue’) — a loan translation from the Greek boúglōsson (the etymon of the English ‘bugloss’) — but as Abū khuraysh (أبو خريش) in Andalusian Arabic. The dish is made with lamb, borage leaves, salt, olive oil, pepper, coriander and onion. The beautiful star-shaped flowers also serve as an attractive garnish.

This is the only time borage appears as an ingredient in a food dish, as it was used primarily in medicinal compounds (often its water in beverages), most notably in stomachics and anti-nausea drugs.

The best-quality borage allegedly came from Syria or Khorasan. Medicinally, burnt borage was thought to be useful against mouth ulcers, palpitations and melancholic conditions. When cooked with sugar, it was beneficial for coughs and roughness of the chest. It is still used today in Unani medicine (where it is known by its Persian name, ‘kavzaban’, گاو زبان) for a variety of conditions, including palpitations and nerve health.

North African Beef with pomelo vinegar

A fragrant recipe from The Exile’s Cookbook for beef cooked with pomelo vinegar, murrī , garlic, salt, olive oil, pepper, coriander and garlic until it is browned, and the juices dried out. Before serving, it is perfumed with pomelo vinegar, though lemon or sour grape vinegar are suggested variants. The result is a veritable carnivore’s feast, best eaten with some flatbread.

Mamluk salsa

A recreation of a 14th-century Egyptian dipping sauce, known as sals (صَلْص, pl. صُلُوص, sulus), which were very popular at the time. This one was called kāmilī (كاملي) and is made with citron leaves, parsley, lemon balm, salt and lime juice. Before serving, it should get a sprinkling of galangal, ginger, cloves and pepper. The recipe does not specify what is should be served with, but I think fish is the way to go.

The word clearly reflects a European origin, mediated by the Crusades — ultimately deriving from the Latin salsus, ‘salty’ — while the earliest recipes are found in a Syrian collection. However, the ingredients of the Arab sauce gainsay a Europea component in the composition. In Andalusi Arabic, the word salas (صَلَص) refers to watercress (usually known as حرف, hurf), with the Romance jalja (جلجة) or shalsha (شلشة) denoting the sauce.

Medieval Rice Pudding

This recreation of a medieval classic across the Muslim world is based on a recipe from The Exile’s Cookbook. The rice pudding (al-aruzz bi ’l-laban al-ḥalīb; الأرزّ بالبن الحليب) is made with strained sheep’s milk, though the author mentions that cow’s milk is also acceptable, with goat’s milk coming a distant third. The rice is cooked until done, after which it is time to mix in a bit of salt crushed in milk or water by gentle stirring. It is served in a dish with a bowl of honey in the middle. It should be eaten with ‘clean boxwood spoons.’ As the author of the cookbook hailed from Murcia, rice and honey from this region were used in the recreation.

There was a variant with mutton or, especially, chicken, which was, in fact, more common, and was usually known as muhallabiyya, which became the medieval European staple blancmanger. The present-day muhallabiyyas (a milk pudding made with rice or flour) are all made without meat, and thus similar to the recreation. The closest descendant of the medieval meat rice pudding is the Turkish tavuk göğsü.

Medieval North African Chickpeas

This recreation of a 13th-century dish of dried chickpeas from The Exile’s Cookbook is simple to make, but makes for a wonderful vegetarian snack, or side. After cleaning and soaking the chickpeas, they are cooked with onion, pepper, coriander and a little saffron. When they are done, it is time to add some murrī and vinegar and bring to a boil. Then it’s time to serve.

If you think this looks familiar, you’d be right since it may well be a distant ancestor of the modern Tunisian chickpea soup lablabi (لبلابي).

Andalusian roast partridge

The medieval Andalusian cookery books reveal that its people were very partial to game, and there are several recipes for partridge, like this one from The Exile’s Cookbook. After skinning and cleaning the partridge, it is cooked in water, salt, olive oil, pepper, coriander, some onion, almonds, murrī and vinegar. When it is done, it is finished off in the oven together with the strained broth in which it was cooked. This dish is a must for game lovers!

Andalusian Narjisiyya

This recipe from The Exile’s Cookbook has deep roots, which can be traced back to Abbasid times and possibly further, to Persia. The earliest narjisiyya (نرجسية) recipes involved adding egg yolks at the end of the cooking process thus creating the impression of narcissus flowers (نرجس, narjis) floating on top, hence the name of the dish.

In al-Andalus, the dish appeared in a different guise, namely as a lamb omelette of sorts being cut up in the shape of a narcissus flower, with the carrots serving as the stamens. The recipe calls for ram (but lamb will do just as well, of course), which is cut up and then cooked halfway through with salt, olive oil, pepper and coriander. Then carrots are cut up lengthwise and ‘planted’ on the meat, while adding some water, vinegar and saffron. Afterwards, it is time to sprinkle on washed rice and then — it is an Andalusian dish, after all! — eggs whipped with saffron. You can cook it either in the pot or in the oven (as in the recreatino). When it is done, the resultant omelette — or quiche — is cut up in the shape of narcissi. The narjisiyya was thought to have aphrodisiac properties as well as being beneficial for those engaged in strenuous exercise.

The Iranian Nargesi Esfanaj is the closest modern descendant, though it may well have predated the Arab dish.

Fish murri

A unique recipe from The Exile’s Cookbook and an Andalusian-North African variant of a medieval staple condiment murrī , made with fish rather than the usual barley. One starts with some ṣīr (صير), which denotes small fish — in this case sprats –, which are placed in a jar with salt and oregano, stirred continually, and left to ferment. Then five times the amount of sweet must is poured on and, following further fermentation, the mixture is strained. Then it is decanted and quince and onions added and left. When it is ready, it is stored in a jar and covered with olive oil. The author recommends serving it in a ceramic bowl together with olive oil and cut-up onions; alternatively, one can add fried eggs, fried fish, and olives. And “if you want the murrī to be red in colour, use black grape juice, whereas the white kind is made with white grape juice.” It can also be made with wine but, so we are reassured, “the fermentation of the must will completely cancel out the effect of the wine.” It takes about three months in total to make the final product, but then again all good things in life take time!

This is a close relative of the Greeks’ garos and the Romans’ garum, whilst there are similarities (except for the spicing) with present-day sauces such as the Iranian mahyawa (مهياوه) — a particular favourite in the Gulf –, the Thai prik nam pla, Vietnamese nuoc cham, or Cambodian teuk trei koh kong.

Mamluk Date Stew

This is a recreation of a recipe from The Sultan’s Feast for a date stew with lamb, known as tamriyya (تمرية), in reference to the word for ‘dried date’, tamr (تمر). There is also a variant made with fresh dates (رطب, ruṭab), called ruṭabiyya (رطبية).

The meat is cut into pieces and then boiled before frying it with salt and spices — the recipe requires sheep’s tail fat, but it works with with any oil or fat of your preference. When the meat is almost done, a layer of almond-stuffed dates is added on top. Use some of the same kind of meat, fashion into date-shaped oblong meatballs, and stuff an almond stuffed inside each. A sprinkling of rose water and saffron finished it all off and the pot should be left to simmer down.