Syro-Egyptian filled chicken 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!

Ibrahimiyya (rose syrup chicken)

This is one of many mediaeval dishes named after (or created by) the gastronome caliph Ibrahim al-Mahdi (779-839). What is unusual is that this one comes from Andalusia. It is chicken (though you can also use lamb, if you wish) in a sauce of rose syrup with olive oil, vinegar, sugar, pepper, saffron, coriander, salt, and a little bit of onion. Peeled and broken up almonds, pistachios, spikenard and cloves are sprinkled on before ‘crusting’ the dish with a mixture of flour, rose water, camphor, and eggs. The result is a wonderfully tangy symphony of sweet-and-sour flavours.

The caliph’s fried liver strips (كشتابية كبدية, kushtabiyya kabidiyya)

This recipe is included in the earliest Abbasid cookery book and is attributed to the ill-fated Musa al-Hadi, whose caliphate lasted only around a year (785-6) before he was succeeded by his younger brother, the great Harun al-Rashid. The dish is quite simple to make, and requires lamb’s liver, vinegar (it works well with apple cider, too!), murrī (use soya sauce as a substitute), sesame oil, coriander, cumin, caraway, and pepper. The liver is cut into narrow strips and marinated in the seasonings and spices before frying. When serving, sprinkle on some more spices. They make a wonderful liver sandwich, with sauce and trimmings of your choice.

The Frightful Lady

The dish is found in 13th-century cookbooks from Egypt and Syria. Its Arabic name is سِتّ شناع (sitt shunā’) or ست الشنع (sitt al-shuna’ ) and translates, somewhat mysteriously, as ‘the lady of terrible things’. It is one of relatively few dishes made with taro root. The recipe also calls for meat, hazelnuts, tahini, coriander, and pepper. The taro is fried and serves as a bed for the other ingredients.

Pomegranate-glazed chicken

A dish allegedly created by the hedonistic prince Ibrahim Ibn alMahdi (779-839), the half-brother of the famous Abbasid caliph Harun al-Rashid, who makes numerous appearances in the Arabian Nights. Ibn al-Mahdi was known as a singer, poet, and gastronome, and this recipe is probably from his cookery book (كتاب الطبيخ, kitab al-tabikh), which has unfortunately been lost. The dish is essentially a grilled chicken rubbed with salt, thyme, and olive oil, and then basted with the juice of both sweet and sour pomegranates, mixed with murrī. It is served with a rich gravy made with the chicken juices and crushed walnuts. According to the author of the 10th-century treatise who has preserved the recipe, it is “delicious, flavoursome, wondrous, and often used (لذيذة، طيّبة، عجيبة، مستعملة).” Deservedly high praise, indeed.

Oven-roasted lamb kebabs

This recipe from 10th-century Baghdad is both flavoursome and easy to make. Cut tender lamb into slices ((شَرائح, sharā’iḥ) and marinate in fresh coriander (cilantro) juice, mixed with asafoetida. Coat the kebabs with olive oil before skewering, and then cook. Serve with rice and a wonderfully delicate dip made with red wine vinegar, murrī (use soy sauce), asafoetida and caraway seeds.

Andalusian lamb tharida with cheese and spinach

The tharīd (ثَرِيد) is one of the oldest and most popular dishes in Arab cuisine and usually denotes crumbled bread in a meat or vegetable broth. Deriving its name from the verb tharada (ثَرَدَ), ‘to crumble’, the dish was apparently one of the favourite foods of the Prophet, himself, who reportedly said that “the virtue of ʿĀ’isha [his favourite wife] among women is like that of the tharīd among all food” (فضل عائشة على النساء كفضل الثريد على سائر الطعام). This 13th-century recipe is attributed to a Cordoban physician by the name of Abu ‘l-Hasan al-Bannani, who would apparently make it in spring. It is prepared with diced lamb, salt, onion juice, pepper, coriander seeds, caraway and olive oil. Once this is cooked, spinach, grated cheese and butter are added, before pouring everything onto the bread crumbs. In this recreation, the dish is served with couscous.

Cherry chicken

A recipe from a 15th-century Egyptian cookery book. It is one of many fruit stews which were very popular. This dish is very simple to make. The chicken is boiled with galangal and cassia, whereas ripe cherries (قَراصِيا, qarāsiyā) are cooked in the broth with honey, thickened with ground almonds, and scented with rose water, camphor and musk. Serve with flatbread.

The Nubian Lady (سِتّ النُّوبة)

As the name indicates, this is originally an Egyptian dish, for which there are several recipes. The one recreated here dates from the 13th century and involves frying a chicken in sesame oil and then drenching it in a thick sauce, which is made with almond milk, sugar, and saffron. Afterwards, garnish with jujubes and black raisins that have been macerated in rose-water and mastic. When serving, sprinkle on split pistachios and toasted almond oil. A truly amazing dish, and yes, you can have fries with that, if you like!