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!

Medieval Chicken Pie

This is a recreation of an Abbasid pie known as maghmuma (مغمومة), i.e. ‘concealed’, in that the content is covered by a top sheet of dough. As it was cooked in a tannūr (clay oven), it is also a tannūriyya. The principle is simple — and decidedly modern — one; after lining the bottom of a pan with dough, the chicken pieces are placed on top, after which a variety of spices (including coriander, spikenard, cloves and pepper) and wine vinegar and murrī are added, though for this recreation the variant with raisins and pomegranate seeds was used, alongside eggs and olive oil. Then, it is time to put the roof on the pie! The recipe states that it should be lowered into the tannūr, but your standard kitchen oven works just as well. A true delight.

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.

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?.

Andalusian saffron chicken (الجعفرية, al-Ja’fariyya)

A wonderful chicken dish from a 13th-century Tuniso-Andalusian treatise which requires salt, olive oil, vinegar, pepper, coriander, cumin, onions, almonds, chickpeas, garlic, murrī, citron (leaves), fennel, and, of course, saffron. The chicken is first cooked in a pot and then transferred to a glazed casserole dish (tajine) for roasting in the oven until golden brown. It is served with cut hard-boiled eggs and mint.

The author also gives another method of making the chicken which involves frying it in a pan, instead of oven roasting. After it has browned, it is then cooked again with many of the above ingredients, as well as meatballs. When it is done, it is covered with a layer of eggs beaten with spices — a very common finishing to dishes in medieval Andalusian cuisine.

The name of the dish is quite interesting, and is explained in another Andalusian cookery book, which claims that it refers to the amount of saffron it includes as this makes the dish look ‘ja’far‘, i.e. gold of the finest quality. It is also said that it was named after a certain Jaʿfar, who invented it.

Medieval chicken tharida (ثريدة)

This 13th-century Tuniso-Andalusian recipe is made with chickens — and, if you have some available, capons –, as well as salt, olive oil, pepper, coriander, onions, and chickpeas. The dough is made with semolina, and is folded and smeared with clarified butter (ghee), just like for making musamman. The pastry is cut into pieces which are put in the top pot of a couscoussier, with the chicken being in the lower chamber. When everything is done, the chicken pieces, onion, and chickpeas are put on top of the pastry, with the edges of the serving dish being lined with boiled eggs, olives, and preserved limes. A sprinkle of cinnamon and ginger, and voilà, it’s ready to tuck in!

The author explains that this recipe is a Tunisian speciality, especially in the capital Tunis, and that it is often made at celebrations. It is very similar, of course, to the modern Moroccan dish rfissa (رفيسة), though this is usually prepared with lentils.

Tuniso-Andalusian stuffed chicken ‘à la turque’

This 13th-century chicken dish is called al-Turkiyya, ‘the Turkish one’, for reasons that are not quite clear. In Andalusian cuisine, stuffing is an often-encountered method, and this recipe is a wonderful example. The stuffing is made with a large number of ingredients, including eggs, salt, ginger, pepper, cinnamon, coriander seeds, olives, pickled limes, saffron, almonds, and mint. The mixture is stuffed inside the chicken, which is then sewn up before cooking in a pot with water, salt, olive oil, pepper, coriander seeds, as well as some chopped onion. When the bird is done, colour it slightly with saffron, and then put it in the oven to finish the cooking, and browning on all sides. It is served with a garnish of split eggs and mint leafstalks, and a dusting of cinnamon and ginger. Beyond finger-lickin’ good!

Spotlight on: Rabbits

The rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus) is a member of the Leporidae (Latin, lepus, ‘hare’) family, which includes various species of hare, and is native to the Western Mediterranean, more specifically Morocco and the Iberian Peninsula. The animal was unknown as food in ancient Greece, and the Romans were the first to import the animals (from Spain) for food, using ferrets to catch them, in the 2nd century BCE. Rabbits and hares were bred and fattened in special warrens, known as leporarium, and the poet Martial (1st century BCE) considered hare the best game meat.

It is unclear when rabbits travelled eastward along the southern Mediterranean, and when they did, their meat was not highly praised since no recipes can be found in any of the Near Eastern medieval Arabic cookery books. In terms of terminology, the Arabic arnab (أرنب) to this day is the word for both hare and rabbit (especially in the Near East), though only the latter is used for food in the present-day Arab world, most famously in the Egyptian mulukhiyya (though this is also made with chicken or beef). Andalusian Arabic had separate words for rabbit, i.e. qunilya (قنلية) or qunayna (قنينة), both going back to the Latin cuniculus, which would also result in the English ‘coney’, as well as Kaninchen (German), konijn (Dutch), and kanin (Danish, Swedish). The linguistic confusion continues to this day in Morocco, where arnab can mean ‘hare’ or ‘rabbit’, but qniya only denotes rabbits. Like in ancient Rome, rabbits were bred for food in al-Andalus. Interestingly enough, though the hare appears in the name of certain dishes called arnabī, none of these require it and were, instead, made with beef, dried tuna, or aubergine!

It is only in their homeland that rabbits and hares were used in cooking, with a number of recipes for both in the anonymous Andalusian cookbook and that compiled in Tunisia by the Andalusian emigré al-Tujībī, both from the 13th century. The animals are usually roasted but also stuffed, in one instance with a rich mixture including some more rabbit meat!

In the medical and pharmacological literature, only arnab is mentioned, though as stated, it probably referred to both hares and rabbits. The 13th-century Andalusian physician Ibn Khalsun recommended young female rabbit, cooked with vinager, murrī, garlic, olive oil, onions and spices. Other scholars also praised hare meat; when eaten with vinegar, it is useful against epilepsy and when roasted, it was considered good for bowel ulcers, as well as being a diuretic. The blood of hares was prescribed in a poultice to remove freckles, pimples and blisters.

rabbits in a 13th-century manuscript of a work by the physician Ibn Bakhtishu’ (“the rabbit is afraid of all animals and is nocturnal…”)