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.

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.

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.

Andalusian Chicken Judhaba

A unique recipe from The Exile’s Cookbook and an Andalusian-North African variant of a medieval classic, the judhaba (جوذابة), a dish of Persian origin which in its Near Eastern iteration was a drip pudding, with a chicken being roasted over a fruit-layered pudding. In the Muslim West, the dish was subject to some dramatic changes and came in two guises, one without chicken and another with chicken buried in layers of flatbreads, which is recreated here.

A plump chicken with its breast split open is cooked with olive oil, salt, pepper, cinnamon, spikenard and cardamom until it is done, after which it is is again cooked in rose water until the liquid has completely evaporated. At this point, it is time to make the flabreads (رقاق, ruqāq), which will be used. The sides and bottom of a a new pot — stone or earthenware — are coated with pounded kidney suet, and then flatrbreads are spread on the bottom, making sure the edges hang over the sides of the pot as they will be used to cover others later.

After sprinkling on sugar, almonds, cloves, spikenard, rose water, camphor and olive oil, another flatbread (or two) are added, on which sugar, almonds, spices, rose water and olive oil are sprinkled. This layering continues until you reach half the height of the pot, which is when you add the chicken to the centre after having rubbed it with saffron dissolved in rose water. Then continue the layering as before until you reach the top of the pot. At this point, the flatbreads dangling over the sides of the pot are used as a cover and then the pot is covered with a lid and sealed with dough before baking until done.

Although the recipe does not specify this, the judhaba was tipped out of the pot maqluba style, simply because it was the easiest way to serve it without destroying this ‘wonderfully crafted dish, fit for kings’, as the author puts it. And on top of that it is very nutritious — as well as being very sweet!

In light of the similarities, this dish may be considered a precursor to the modern Moroccan basṭīla (بسطيلة), usually known in English as pastilla or bstila.

Tuniso-Andalusian Chestnut Stew

An unsual recipe from The Exile’s Cookbook for a stew with chicken meatballs and chestnuts, which are used as a sauce thickener. This is one of very few recipes requiring chestnuts, nearly all of them from the Andalusian collections, which contain two recipes each. Besides the chicken and fresh chestnuts (the author explains that one can use dried ones, too, but they have to be boiled first to soften them up), the recipe calls for coriander juice, salt, coriander seeds, pepper, onion juice and olive oil. The chestnuts are mashed and then added to the pot once the meatballs are done. Finally, a sprinkle of vinegar and — it’s an Andalusian recipe after all! — a layer of eggs to top the dish.

Medieval aphrodisiac pigeon

This is a wonderful recipe from ‘The Sultan’s Sex Potions‘, a book on aphrodisiacs, originally titled Kitāb albāb al-Bāhiyya wa ‘l-tarākīb al-sultāniyya (كتاب ألباب الباهية والتراكيب السلطانية, ‘The Book of Choice Sexual Stimulants and the Sultan’s Mixtures’) and authored by the famous astronomer Nasir al-Din al-Tusi (1201-1274), whose work on planetary theory inspired Copernicus.

The recipe is a variation on one made with sparrows. The pigeon meat is chopped into pea-sized pieces and then cooked through in chickpea water. Before serving, it is sprinkled with ginger, long pepper and cinnamon. It is eaten with unleavened bread, which is also made using chickpea water, ‘in the manner of the sages’, as the author informs us. A great dish for Valentine’s Day!

Medieval Syrian Stuffed Chicken

We are still in the sour (Seville) orange season and what better way to use them than in this recreation of a wonderful recipe from a 13th-century text compiled in Aleppo for a stuffed chicken with sour oranges, parsley, pistachios, pepper, coriander, caraway, mint, rue, salt and sugar. The recipe comes in a number of variations and can also be made with lemon juice or verjuice (sour grape juice). Though our modern sweet orange was not around in that period, it is an obvious — and tasty — substitute in case you don’t have any sour oranges to hand. But there’s more… You should leave a bit of the stuffing aside and then mix it with some chicken broth and lemon juice into a tangy dip for that tender roasted chicken!

Andalusian leg of lamb with fig vinegar

A succulent recipe from The Exile’s Cookbook for a leg of lamb with salt, pepper, coriander, fig vinegar, murrī and olive oil. However, it wouldn’t be a medieval Andalusian dish if it did not contain eggs, now would it! In this case, you need five eggs which are beaten together with flour and breadcrumbs into a mixture which serves to coat the meat. The suggested serving is i a bowl, and there really is no reason not to comply with that recommendation! For accompaniments? Well, it goes well with some bread and salad of your liking!