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.

Dried tuna with aubergine

A unique recipe from The Exile’s Cookbook, which is also the only medieval Arabic cookery book to include recipes with tuna, in this case dried tuna. The fish is cut up and lightly fried before being cooked with pre-boiled aubergines, onion, olive oil, pepper, coriander and cumin. If one does not wish to use onion, then, so the author informs us, you can add peeled garlic, murrī and vinegar. Either way, the dish is cooked over fire and then finished off in the oven to allow it to brown. After it’s cooled down, it’s ready to eat!
However, a word of warning from the author: as fish are harmful to certain temperaments, one should drink some spice honey syrup afterwards — the recipe for that one will follow soon.

Medieval Fried Shrimp

This is a unique dish from 13th-century al-Andalus and North Africa from The Exile’s Cookbook for shrimp — known as qamarun (قمرون), a borowing from the Latin cammarus. Though there are a few recipes requiring shrimp in Abbasid cuisine, this is the only one in the medieval Arab culinary tradition that calls for whole shrimp. And not just any shrimp — the author specifies that it was made with shrimp from the rivers of the Seville region which are also found in the river of Bijāya, in present-day Algeria.

After frying the shrimp, they are drizzled with murrī, and sprinkled with oregano, salt, pepper and cinnamon before serving. The spice mixture is very unusual but it works a treat! And, what’s more, apparently the dish also has a medicinal use in that it is prescribed for breaking up calculi.

Medieval Andalusian Tuna and Pomelo Vinegar Dish

This extraordinary recipe from The Exile’s Cookbook is one of the few in the Arab culinary tradition that requires tuna — dried tuna, no less. But is doesn’t stop there; what makes it even more special is that it offers an opportuntiy to use the freshly made batch of that gorgeous pomelo vinegar.

The dish is called mushamma’ (مشمّع), which literally means ‘waxed’ (from sham’/شمع, ‘wax’), but in Andalusian Arabic was also used to refer to dried meat or fish. It couldn’t be simpler to make; the tuna is cut into strips and then fried in olive oil. When it is done, garlic is fried in the same oil before the tuna is returned to the pan to soak up the flavours of the garlic. Once that is done, it is time to serve with a sprinkling of the pomelo vinegar (though according to the recipe you can also use lime or sour grape vinegar). According to the recipe, one can also make a sauce with the vinegar and garlic and then drench the tuna with it, which is exactly what I did! A very unusual recipe and a must-try, if you ask me! The combination yields a very umami taste that is unlike anything I’ve ever had.

Medieval Egyptian tahini fish

This delicious recipe from The Sultan’s Feast is made with fish coated in flour and fried in sesame oil — in case this reminds you of something, well, yes, it does bear an uncanny resemblance to the national English fish dish! What makes the recipe exceptional, however, is that the fish is put on a bed of tahini, spiced with pepper and the aṭrāf al-ṭīb spice blend, added with onions, and cooked in vinegar and saffron. It goes extremely well with some crusty bread!

Tuniso-Andalusian dried tuna omelette

This 13th-century recipe from a cookery book compiled by an Andalusian emigré who settled in Tunisia is one of the few to be made with dried tuna.

After the dried tuna is chopped and fried, it is folded into a mixture containing breadcrumbs, a variety of spices including pepper, coriander, ginger, spikenard, mastic, and saffron), as well as eggs. This is baked in the oven with egg yolks on top, and a dusting of cinnamon and ginger. Once it’s browned on top, it’s ready — leave to cool down and enjoy!

Tuniso-Andalusian Pickled Fish

This 13th-century pickled fish is unusual in that it is one of the very few in the medieval Arabic culinary literature. It is quite simple to make with a fish of your choosing. After gutting and cleaning the fish, it is slightly boiled and then the fermentation fun begins with salt — of course! –, as well as home-made medieval lime vinegar, oregano (or thyme), and our old friend nigella. The fish is kept brined in a jar until required for delectation — as the author usually says: ‘Eat and enjoy, God willing!’

Andalusian bedded sardines

This is a rather unusual recipe from a cookery book written by a 13th-century Andalusian emigré to Tunis which is the only source to include sardine dishes. Besides sardines, you need fresh coriander, fresh mint, fresh fennel, and onions, all of which are chopped very finely. The greens and fish are layered alternately into a casserole and then baked in the oven, after adding some more spices like cinnamon, ginger and mastic. Wait until it is golden brown and then enjoy!

Tuniso-Andalusian fish casserole

A recipe from a 13th-century treatise by an Andalusian emigré in Tunisia, it is made with fresh fish, which should be salted and left overnight with a weight on top. After boiling the fish, it is cooked with olive oil, murrī (a fermented barley condiment which can be replaced with soya sauce), oregano, fennel stalks, citron leaves, pepper, saffron, spikenard, ginger, and a little mastic. Onions are also added after having been boiled in salty water. The dish is finished off in the oven until the broth has been reduced, and the fish is browned on top.

Fish barida (باردة) with herbs

A delicious 10th-century Abbasid recipe for a ‘cold dish’ (bārida), made with watercress, parsley, leeks, fish, and eggs, spiced with pepper, coriander, cumin, and caraway. Of note is the fact that you need to extract the juices from the herbs after crushing them. You can also make three dishes by making it with one of the herbs in separate pots. The fish should be boned — or you can just use fillets, of course!