Rhubarb stew (ريباسية, ribasiyya)

As rhubarb is currently in season, what better way to celebrate this much-underused vegetable than by recreating a recipe for a rhubarb stew from The Sultan’s Feast? The instructions are rather minimal, as are the ingredients: meat, spices (what else?), onions, rhubarb juice, sweet almond conserve (murabbā) and mint. A wonderful dish with flavours that are in perfect harmony. What to eat with it? Well, that’s got to be some flatbread to soak up every last drop of the sauce.

Medieval Syrian carrot and lamb stew (dinariyya, دينارية)

This recipe from a cookbook compiled in 13th-century Aleppo, takes its name from the fact that the carrots are cut into the shape of dinar (the currency at the time) coins. It is a two-in-one dish in that it involves both chunks of meat (for the recreation lamb is used) and meatballs. The former is boiled with crushed chickpeas, whereas the latter are made with rice, some more crushed chickpeas, and spices, such as corander, pepper, cassia, caraway. After everything is fried (in fat) with some fresh coriander and garlic, broth and carrots cut into coins are added and then everything is left to cook. As a further enhancement of the visual effect, some eggs are cracked on top of the dish at the end. The result attests to the medieval chef’s proficiency at balancing flavours.

Andalusian lamb stew with prunes

This is the oldest known ancestor of one of Morocco’s best known dishes, tagine of laḥm wa barqūq (لحم وبرقوق, ‘meat and prunes’), which is a staple at weddings. This particular recipe (simply called لون بالإجّاص, ‘dish with prunes’) is from a 13th-century Andalusian manual and involves diced fatty young lamb, cooked with salt, pepper, coriander, cumin, saffron, vinegar, mint juice and oil. When it is almost done, it’s time to add the prunes, also known in Andalusian Arabic as ‘cow’s eyes’ (عين البقر, ‘ayn al-baqar), which have previously been candied and soaked in vinegar. Continue the cooking until everything is done, and then leave to cool down before serving with a garnish of egg yolks ad meatballs dusted with aromatics. As for the accompaniment, well that just has to be couscous, doesn’t it? And what about enhancing those taste buds even more with some of that sweet-and-sour pickled fennel?

Sumac stew (summaqiyya, سمّاقية)

This is a 13th-century Syrian recipe of a dish said to be a favourite of the caliph Harun al-Rashid, who was particularly partial to the taste of sumac. It is made by first soaking the berries in water and then kneading the sumac with parsley, rue, breadcrumbs, thyme, aṭrāf al-ṭīb spice blend, lemon juice, sesame paste, yoghurt, and pounded toasted walnuts to make a stuffing, to which pieces of pickled lemon are added. The next crucial ingredient is (lamb) meat (chopped) and meatballs, which are kneaded with rice and chickpeas. The dish is rounded off with a variety of vegetables, such as chard stalks, eggplant, gourd, carrots, turnips and leeks. The result truly is a delight fit for a caliph!

Pomegranate stew (rummaniyya, رمّانية)

Pomegranates (rummān, رمّان) are a core ingredient in medieaval Arab cookery books; in addition to the seeds of the fruit, its juice (or syrup) are often called for in stews. This particular dish is a recreation of a 14th-century Egyptian recipe. It is made with meat (in this case lamb), half of which is cut into pieces and the other half is turned into meatballs. When the meat is done, (sour) pomegranate juice is added with rose water and sugar to sweeten it. Then mint leaves are added, followed by pistachios (or almonds) for thickening, saffron for colouring, as well as the aromatic spice mix known as arāf al-ṭīb (أطراف الطيب). Sprinkle on a dash of rose water before serving. A delicious meal that can perfectly be paired with some crusty bread!

Andalusian tabahija (طباهجة) trio

This is a 13th-century variation of a dish that was very popular in the Muslim East and starts with meat (lamb) cut into strips. The recipe is of particular interest because it results in the creation of no fewer than three dishes. The first involves the meat, oil, ginger, salt, pepper and water. One third of the dish is then taken and placed in another pot with vinegar. Half of this is transferred to another pan and sprinkled with chopped rue. Finally, add asafoetida to the remaining half and crack five eggs over it.

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.

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.