Ideally, this bread should be made in a traditional dome-shaped clay oven, known as the tannūr (تنور), but in case you don’t have access to a palace kitchen, feel free to use a good home oven. The dough is made with flour, dried cheese (for best results use drained cottage cheese), twenty eggs (yes, you read that right) for every 2.2 kilograms of flour, and milk. The seasonings for the dough include fenugreek, mastic, anise, nigella, coriander, sesame and caraway seeds. Shape the dough into loaves and then bake. This bread is absolutely scrumptious and ideal to make last week’s sandwiches.
Though the instructions simply say getting some soft-dough bread from the baker, this re-creation is made with a bread recipe from the same 13th-century Syrian cookery book. That will be the object of the next post, but here we’ll be talking about the filling of the sandwiches, which the author claims were Egyptian in origin.
Start by hollowing out small loaves — you can choose the size you like, but it works best if you shape them into large rolls. The main ingredient is the chicken which should be boiled, fried and shredded before mixing it with the crumbs taken out of the bread, pistachios, parsley, mint and lemon juice. Then stuff the mixture into the loaves, thus making them whole again. Cut up into pieces or slices of your liking and, perhaps in reference to their Egyptian origins, pile them up into a pyramid, which is then liberally sprinkled with herbs, as well as violets and narcissus, and garnished with orange. Tuck in immediately, though they are still delicious after a night in the fridge.
According to the author this is one of the most elegant foods (فإنّها من أظرف المآكل) and anyone trying these sandwiches will surely agree!
This recipe for qanbarīs (قنبريس) is from a 15th-century cookery book and requires vinegar and milk. After boiling the vinegar, the milk is poured in and then the mixture is left overnight to coagulate. It was a particular favourite of the author, who added that some people could not enjoy their food unless there was cheese on the table. Qanbarīs was often sold dried and then dissolved when needed. According to the author of a 13th-century Syrian treatise, the best kind came from Baalbek, the city in Lebanon’s Beqaa valley best known for its magnificent Roman temple complex.
Tuna recipes are few and far between in the medieval culinary tradition and are found in only one cookery book, written by a 13th-century Andalusian author. This particular dish is as simple as it is delicious and involves cutting up tuna into kebab-sized pieces and then threading them on a skewer (the text specifies it should be iron, but any material will probably do!) before roasting. The tuna should be coated with salt, olive oil, murrī (use soya sauce instead), crushed garlic, pepper, and cinnamon, and cooked until golden brown. You can eat it like that, or add olive oil and some crushed cooked garlic as an accompaniment.
A 13th-century Andalusian recipe requiring fresh tamarind soaked in water and sugar, which are cooked down to a syrup. It is drunk watered down and can be further enhanced with lashings of ice for a great beverage. It is another recipe that is primarily — but by no means exclusively — medicinal in that it was said to be useful against jaundice and thirst, as well as arousing appetite and removing the bitterness of food in the mouth.
This recipe from 10th-century Baghdad is called lu’lu’ī (لؤلؤي), ‘the pearly one’, as the sesame seeds appear to be like pearls. It is made by boiling honey and then adding hulled sesame seeds. Once it has formed into one mass, spread it out on a greased board or surface and when it has cooled down, you can break it into pieces of your liking.
The Sultan’s Feast has been awarded the 2021 Gourmand Award in the culinary history category!
This refreshing beverage from 13th-century Muslim Spain is made with fresh violet flowers that are boiled to extract their essence. After straining, sugar is added and this is cooked down to a syrup. Water it down with half the amount of hot water and it is ready to drink. Althrough primarily a medicine against fever and coughs, it has a wonderfully delicate taste which makes it a perfect summer drink as welll.
The recipe this week is truly an exceptional treat, since it is the only one in the Arabic culinary tradition for an eel (سلباح, silbāḥ) dish. Preparation is key and not for the faint-hearted as someone needs to scrape off the skin and gut the critter — though you can always ask your friendly local fishmonger to do the squeamish bit for you. Once that is done, it’s time to cook it in water (not too much), salt, lashings of olive oil and many of the usual goodies, like pepper, cumin, saffron, vinegar, and garlic. When the liquid has been absorbed, put it in the oven for browning. And voilà, ‘eel à l’andalouse‘ 13th-century style! As the author of the cookery book tends to say at the end of each recipe: Eat and enjoy! For accompaniment, keep it simple with some fine olives and bread.
Check out the CoReMa 2021 Conference where I joined Profs. Alan Grieco and Wendy Pfeffer for a very interesting session entitled ‘Cookery or Medicine?’, and discussed the links between medicine and food in the medieval Arabic culinary tradition.