Egyptian barberry and taro stew

A wonderful and unusual recipe from Mamluk Egypt from The Sultan’s Feast with barberries (Berberis vulgaris), known in Arabic as amīrbārīs (أمير باريس) and anbarbārīs (أنبر باريس), or by their Persian name zirishk (زرشك). The other core ingredients are taro, chard and salted lemons (also from The Sultan’s Feast!). The dish, aptly called amīrbārīsiyya, is actually a variation of a sumac stew (summāqiyya). The author tells us that some people would sweeten it with sugar, though this is by no means necessary. According to the 11th-century Baghdadi pharmacologist Ibn Jazla, this stew (which he calls anbarbārīsiyya) is particularly useful for those with hot temperaments and inflamed livers; it is one of the best astringent dishes, and should be made with pullets and partridges. The Sultan’s Feast also contains a recipe shared with a 13th-century Aleppine collection, for a barberry conserve which, when added to chicken with a bit of mint, is beneficial for diarrhoea.

Andalusian lamb and orache stew

This thirteenth-century recipe from The Exile”s Cookbook is a variation on a spinach stew made with ram, though lamb works very nicely as well in case you can’t get your hands on some ram meat. The meat is cooked first and then the orache, known in Arabic as qaṭaf (قطف) or baqla dhahabiyya (‘golden herb’). It’s not readily available in shops, but very easy to grow and so for the re-creation, the one grown in the garden was used. It is no coincidence that this vegetable is given as an option since it has a very similar taste to spinach. Other ingredients include suet, coriander — both fresh and juiced — and mint. Apparently, this was a dish that was served at banquets, in which case it would have been garnished with fresh cheese before serving. And why not, indeed?

Medieval large-grain couscous

A recipe from The Exile’s Cookbook for a variation of the famous Berber (Amazigh) dish couscous, this one involving hand-rolled large grains known as muhammas (محمّص). The word is derived from ḥimmiṣ (حمّص), ‘chickpea’, in reference to the shape and size. It is still used in this sense in North African Arabic dialects, alongside others like barkūk, barkukes, abāzīn or mardūd. The importance that is attached to this kind of couscous is such that in some regions it is known, simply, as ‘aysh (‘life’).

It is different from the usual couscous in that semolina is kneaded and shaped into pellets the size of peppercorns which are then dried in the sun before cooking them with the meat of your choice. For the re-creation, chicken was used, but it works just as well with beef or mutton. A wonderful dish.

Tuniso-Andalusian lamb and asparagus casserole

This unusual dish from The Exile’s Cookbook is made with a vegetable that had been imported from the East by the famous Ziryab (9th century). The lamb is cut into chunks and cooked wit olive oil, murri, onions, garlic and a variety of spices and herbs, such as cumin, coriander and citron leaves. The asparagus is cooked separately with vinegar, and coloured with saffron. The third component is eggs, which are fried in a casserole dish with aromatics, after which the asparagus and lamb are added in alternate layers. To cap things off, some more eggs are required — it’s an Andalusian dish after all! — combined with spices and saffron. The mixture is poured on top, followed by egg yolks for garnish before taking the casserole to the oven and so the yolks can set. Not enough eggs, I hear you shriek? Not to worry, why not add a garnish of split [boiled] eggs before serving, as well as a sprinkling of cinnamon and ginger. Not only does it taste wonderful, but it also gives you a few days’ worth of proteins!

Andalusian aphrodisiac tharida

This thirteenth-century recipe from a Tuniso-Andalusian collection is made with a plump poussin, olive oil, salt, cinnamon, coriander seeds, chickpeas, onion juice, egg yolks, breadcrumbs, as well as spikenard, cloves, ginger and pepper. The author suggests that sparrows can also be used instead of chicken or, to increase the effect, both can be cooked together.

The aphrodisiac effect is achieved by the presence of ingredients such as poultry, eggs, and chickpeas, all of which were considered to be sexual stimulants. For an extra boost — as well as to enhance the flavour — carrots (another known aphrodisiac) can also be added to the pot.

No 250! Tuniso-Andalusian apple stew (تفّاحية, tuffahiyya)

Named after its principal ingredient (tuffāḥ, ‘apple’), this 13th-century recipe is made with fatty yearling ram (though I think it’s even better with tender lamb!), which is carved up and cooked with salt, olive oil, pepper, coriander seeds, a little cumin, and some onions. It also requires apples, of course — both sweet and sour, which are peeled, cored, seeded, and chopped. Round off with some saffron and vinegar and then serve with a sprinkling of cinnamon and ginger. If you really want to push the boat out, perfume the dish with musk, ambergris, rose water and camphor, which, so the author assures us, will strengthen the soul and gladden the heart.

Tuniso-Andalusian lamb stew with unripe green almonds

Almonds are used very frequently in medieval Arab cooking, not least as a thickener. In Muslim Spain, the area of Jerez was particularly known for its high-quality almonds. This 13th-century dish is somewhat unusual in that it requires unripe green almonds, which are cooked whole in a wonderful lamb dish with, among other things, onion, garlic, coriander, citron, fennel and (loads of) chickpeas. When the meat and almonds are almost done, it’s time to add some colour with saffron before boosting the dish with some vinegar. The dish was also made with a layer of eggs and spices at the end. Before serving, sprinkle on ginger and, as the author says, and eat and enjoy! To mix things up, the dish can be made with veal, as well.

Tifshila, Tuniso-Andalusian ِlamb and chickpea stew

This is an Andalusian recipe of an eastern dish — sometimes known as tafshīl (طفشيل) — for which recipes can also be found in two Baghdadi cookery books, from the 10th and 13th centuries, respectively. It could also be made without meat, while the usual ingredients included chickpeas, lentils and other pulses, with, in some cases, aubergine, chard, or leek. The Andalusian variant is made with diced yearling ram meat (lamb works well, too!), pepper, coriander seeds, onion, chickpeas, saffron, and vinegar. The texture is supposed to be similar to the famous harīsa (meat porridge), a staple at medieval markets across the Arabic-speaking world. Medicinally, it was said to be beneficial for the chest and for removing phlegm.

Medieval Egyptian Pomegranate Chicken

This is one of the shorter recipes from The Sultan’s Feast, and is also found a 13th-century Syrian cookery book. The dish is somewhat unusual in that it is made with pomegranate seeds. Afterwards, sugar, mint, and cinnamon are added and then a chicken is stewed in the mixture. The result is nothing short of amazing! And if you can still manage dessert after this delicacy, I can recommend the Ma’muniyya. You may well need a bit of a lie-down afterwards, but don’t let that stop you!

Medieval Egyptian coriander stew (كزبرية, kuzbariyya)

Despite the widespread use of coriander (كزبرة, kuzbara), this is one of the few coriander stews in the medieval Arab culinary tradition. This recipe from The Sultan’s Feast is made with chicken, onions, sesame oil, various spices, garlic and, of course, a large amount of fresh coriander. Interestingly enough, the author mentions that it is made like a mulūkhiyya (a popular stew made with Jew’s mallow) — was it perhaps a variant made if no Jew’s mallow was available?.