5 June 2004
A Feast of Arabic Andalusia in the thirteenth century

Pleasures may be divided into six classes, to wit, food, drink, clothes, sex, scent and sound. Of these, the noblest and most consequential is food: for food is the body’s stay, and the means of preserving life. (al-Baghdadi)

In the name of Allah, the merciful, the compassionate. It is given unto us to know and enjoy the fruits of the earth, and to partake with delight of wholesome and lawful foods. For how shall it be forbidden to enjoy the pleasures of eating, when, as the philosopher of al-Baghdadi tells us, whenever the Prophet was invited by any of his Companions to partake of food with him, which he had prepared to the best of his ability, according to his lights, he did not refuse. Thus, as a sacred duty of hospitality, do we offer to our guests and our favoured companions these good foods, prepared according to our best efforts.

Truly is it written by the philosopher of al-Andalus that many are the differences of people in their dishes and their garnishes; their tastes, their foods, their strengths, and their benefits are opposite. Thus do we offer different dishes in their correct order, that each may find something according to his liking. And, the better to display and enjoy the dishes, they are presented in succession, for the philosopher says, Many of the great figures and their companions order that the separate dishes be placed on each table before the diners, one after another; for, he says, this is more beautiful than putting an uneaten mound all on the table, and it is more elegant, better-bred, and modern; this has been the practice of the people of al-Andalus and the West, of their rulers, great figures, and men of merit.

And God grant us all good appetites.


Medieval Arabic cookery is well-represented in the corpus of medieval cookbooks, the two most substantial sources being thirteenth-century: the Baghdad cookery book of Muhammad ibn al-Hasan, and the long and comprehensive Andalusian cookery book of the same century. Both of these, which form the basis for this feast, have been translated from their original Arabic. Unlike many contemporary medieval cooks, the Arabic sources are often exact with measurements and directions, reflecting the status of their civilisation, streets ahead of Western Europe in both culture and science. Arab Andalusia, particularly, was a locus of culture in the Middle Ages, its Moslem rulers open-minded, urbane and tolerant of other cultures and religions.

Medieval Arabic cuisine, with its characteristic elements of lamb, cilantro (fresh coriander), eggplant and honey-nut desserts, is extremely recognisable to any diner familiar with Arabic cuisine, or that of Morocco.

Generally I have worked from the translation of the original recipe, although I have also used redactions from Cariadoc’s Miscellany for purposes of comparison at some points.

A.J. Arberry (tr), A Baghdad Cookery Book, Baghdad, 1226, by Muhammad ibn al-Hasan ibn Muhammad ibn al-Karim al-Katib al-Baghdadi. Islamic Culture, 1939. Reprinted in Cariadoc’s cookery collection, Volume I.
Charles Perry (tr), An Anonymous Andalusian Cookbook of the Thirteenth Century. In Cariadoc’s cookery collection, Volume II.
Duke Cariadoc of the Bow et al, A Medieval Miscellany.

Note to our guests: dishes not explicitly containing meat are vegetarian, vegetable broth having been substituted for meat where necessary. Several dishes specify rue as a herb, but I have omitted this, as it has nasty side effects in quantity, and I don’t want to take any risks. Recipes given below are as they appear in the original source.

Meatballs from chicken breasts (Andalusian)

Pound the meat until it becomes like brains, and pick out its tendons, and throw on it murri and oil and some eggs, salt, lavender, clove, almond and pistachio. Pound all that until mixed with much or little of the meat, and make the meatballs round, and throw in boiling water, and leave till done, and use them.

4 skinned, deboned chicken breasts
1/2 tsp ground cloves
2 tblsp fresh lavendar leaves, chopped finely
100g ground almonds or almond/pistachio mix
1 egg
1 tsp salt

Chop the chicken breasts coarsely and process in food processor until finely ground. Add remaining ingredients and blend briefly until mixed. Form into small dumplings and cook in simmering water for 10-15 mins, or until cooked.
Notes: these taste better if you stick a chicken stock cube into the water you poach them in. It also helps to cook one sample meatball first and taste it, in order to (a) judge how long they'll take to cook, and (b) adjust the seasoning. I used almonds in these as pistachios were considerably more expensive. These were good with mustard.

Preparation of Sanbusak (Stuffed Dumplings) (Andalusian)

Take meat of the innards or any meat you wish and pound fine, and pick out its tendons, and put cut-up fat with it, about a third the amount of the meat, and throw upon all many spices, and increase the pepper, onion juice, cilantro, rue and salt, and mix well, and throw in oil and a little water until wrinkled. Take semolina and knead well with clarified butter and a little pepper, and take an amount of the dough the size of a walnut, and roll it out as large as half a hand-span, and take a piece of stuffing as large as a walnut and put it in the middle of the dough, and wrap up the edges over it, and fry it in fresh oil, and dispose of it as you wish, God willing.

500g beef or ostrich mince, not too lean
1 small onion, minced
1/2 cup fresh coriander, finely chopped
salt and pepper
spices to taste (I used cinnamon and cloves)
3 tblsp olive oil
250g flour
100g margarine

Mix minced meat, onion, coriander, seasoning and olive oil. Cut marg into flour with salt and pepper; make basic shortcrust pastry and roll out thinly. Cut into rounds with pastry cutter; place small ball of mince mix on each pastry round and pinch together to make a little dumpling. Deep fat fry; make sure the oil doesn't get too hot, as otherwise the middle of the mince won't cook.
Notes: these were very good! If you don't like deep fat frying, it also works to brush the dumplings with oil and bake them in a hot oven, although the pastry isn't quite as tender. I didn't use semolina flour as I couldn't find any; I'm not sure how it would affect the final product.

Honey Cakes

Sift white flour three times, take the choicest part, mingle it with butter and knead it with egg yolk and put into the dough some saffron and salt. Put clarified butter into an earthenware frying pan, boil it and take one kail of honey and one of dough and throw them into the melted butter until it is cooked. Before it is thickened, put in blanched almonds and pine-nuts, sprinkle it with pepper and present it.

300g white flour
150g butter+100g butter
2 egg yolks
generous pinch saffron
salt and pepper
approx. 250ml honey
50g each chopped almonds and pine nuts

Sift flour and a pinch of salt, rub in 150g butter. Steep saffron strands in a few tablespoons hot water and allow to cool. Add saffron water and egg yolks to flour/fat mix and mix to stiff dough. Roll out thinly on floured board and cut into smallish rounds with a cookie cutter.
Melt a few tblsp butter in a frying pan and add a few tblsp honey. Fry the first few cakes, keeping the heat moderate to low, and turning when they have browned. When almost done, sprinkle with nuts and turn again. Remove cakes from pan with an eggflip; place on a plate and scrape remaining honey/butter/nut mix from the pan onto them. Repeat with more cakes, butter, honey and nuts.
Notes: the honey/butter mix burns really easily, so keep the heat moderate and make sure you scrape the pan out between batches. Otherwise you'll end up with toffeeish stuff.

Bread, cheese, fruit

First Course

Ahrash, fried meat patties with sauce(Andalusian)

This is similar in nutrition to mirkâs and meatballs. Take a piece of tender meat, free of tendons, and pound it fine, as you previously described for mirkâs. Knead it with some murri … oil, pepper, cinnamon, and coriander seed. The secret of this recipe lies in adding some fine white flour, which holds the mixture together so that it becomes a flat loaf (raghîf). Then put frying pan with oil over a moderate fire and form the loaf into the like of meatballs, and arrange them in the pan so that they all touch, leaving the raghîf until it is done, and turn it over so that it browns on both sides. Then make a sauce with vinegar, oil, garlic, a little murri naqî', and whoever wants to may add sinâb [a sauce of mustard and raisins].

Counterfeit (Vegetarian) Isfariya of Garbanzos(Andalusian)

Pound some garbanzos, take out the skins and grind them into flour. And take some of the flour and put into a bowl with a bit of sourdough and some egg, and beat with spices until it's all mixed. Fry it as before in thin cakes, and make a sauce for them.

Stuffed Eggs(Andalusian)

Take as many eggs as you like, and boil them whole in hot water; put them in cold water and split them in half with a thread. Take the yolks aside and pound cilantro and put in onion juice, pepper and coriander, and beat all this together with murri, oil and salt and knead the yolks with this until it forms a dough. Then stuff the whites with this and fasten it together, insert a small stick into each egg, and sprinkle them with pepper, God willing.

Zabarbada of Fresh Cheese(Andalusian)

Take fresh cheese, clean it, cut it up and crumble it; take cilantro and onion, chop and throw over the cheese, stir and add spices and pepper, stir the pot with two spoons of oil and an equal quantity of water and salt, then throw this mixture in the pot and put on the fire and cook; when it is cooked, take the pot from the fire and cover with egg and some flour and serve.


Starter platters.

Second Course

Hen Roasted in a Pot at Home(Andalusian)

Take a young, plump, cleaned hen; slice it on all sides and then make for it a sauce of oil, murri naqî', a little vinegar, crushed garlic, pepper and a little thyme. Grease all parts of the hen with this, inside and out; then put it in the pot and pour over it whatever remains of the sauce, and cook it; then remove the fire from beneath it and return the cover to it and leave it until it smells good and is fried. Then take it out and use it.

Stuffing (for lamb breast)

… get a large handful each of peeled almonds and hazelnuts, and a dirham each of Chinese cinnamon, lavender, cloves, saffron and pepper, and a little salt; pound all this and mix it with breadcrumbs and knead it with oil, and knead until it thickens and can be used as a stuffing.(AA 5)

Kuskusu Fityani (Soldiers Couscous)(Andalusian)

The usual moistened couscous is known by the whole world. The fityâni is the one where the meat is cooked with its vegetables, as is usual, and when it is done, take out the meat and the vegetables from the pot and put them to one side; strain the bones and the rest from the broth and return the pot to the fire; when it has boiled, put in the couscous cooked and rubbed with fat and leave it for a little on a reduced fire or the hearthstone until it takes in the proper amount of the sauce; then throw it on a platter and level it, put on top of it the cooked meat and vegetables, sprinkle it with cinnamon and serve it… I have also seen a couscous that one makes from a fat chicken or stuffed and fattened capons and it was as if it were moistened only with fat, and in it were turnips of Toledo and “cow’s eyes” (prunes).

Qar Bi-laban (gourd with milk)(al-Baghdadi)

Take gourd, peel, throw away the pith and pips, and cut up small. Boil in salt and water until cooked, then take out of the water and dry. When dry, put into Persian milk into which has been placed some fine-chopped garlic. Sprinkle with sesame, and serve.

Third Course


Take fat meat and cut into small strips: throw into the saucepan with a little salt and dry coriander, and boil until lamost cooked. Remove and throw away the scum. Cut up onions small and throw in, with cinnamon-bark, pepper, mastic and ginger ground fine, and a few sprigs of mint. Take sour apples, remove the pips, and pound in a stone mortar, squeezing out the juice; put in on top of the meat. Peel almonds and soak in water, then throw in. Kindle the fire under it, until the whole is done, then leave over the fire to settle.

A Muzawwara (Vegetarian Dish) (Andalusian)

Take boiled peeled lentils and wash in hot water several times; put in the pot and add water without covering them; cook and then throw in pieces of gourd, or the stems [ribs] of Swiss chard, or of lettuce and its tender sprigs, or the flesh of cucumber or melon, and vinegar, coriander seed, a little cumin, Chinese cinnamon, saffron and two ûqiyas of fresh oil; balance with a little salt and cook. Taste, and if its flavor is pleasingly balanced between sweet and sour, [good;] and if not, reinforce until it is equalized, according to taste, and leave it to lose its heat until it is cold and then serve.

Mahshi with eggplants

Take sweet eggplants, peel them and boil in salted water until done, then remove their seedy flesh to one side. Make mahmiyya for the eggplants in a tajine. Add as much bread crumbs [as the quantity of eggplant], and pepper, coriander seed, cinnamon, saffron, chopped almond and as many eggs as you need; beat it all and cover with plenty of oil and bury in it whole egg yolks. Then plant the seedy flesh in it and put in an oven at moderate heat and leave until it has finished cooking and binds and is brown on top, then take out and leave until its heat flags and leave it. You might pound in it whatever meats of fried fowl you have ready, and each will result in a different dish; there are some who serve it with juices of coriander and mint.

Fourth Course

Honeyed Rice(Andalusian)

Take rice and soak it in fresh water, enough to cover it, for a day or overnight. Then wash it and put it on the fire in a pot or kettle (tinjir). Cook it with water or fresh milk, then add four or five ratls of clean honey from which you have skimmed the foam. Cook it carefully on a gentle fire. Moisten it, while cooking, with fresh milk until it sticks together, coagulates and becomes a paste. Pour it onto a platter and macerate it with a spoon. Make a hole in the center which you fill with fresh, melted butter and dust it with ground sugar and cinnamon and use it.

Rutab mu’assal(al-Baghdadi)

Take fresh-gathered dates, and lay in the shade and air for a day: then remove the stones and stuff with peeled almonds. For every ten ratls of dates, take two ratls of honey: boil over the fire with two uqiya of rose water and half a dirham of saffron, then throw in the dates, stirring for an hour. Remove, and allow to cool, When cold, sprinkle with fine-ground sugar scented with musk, camphor and hyacinth. Put into glass preserving-jars, sprinkling on top some of the scented ground-sugar.

Stuffed Qananit(Andalusian)

Pound almond and walnut, pine nuts and pistachio very small. Knead fine white flour with oil and make thin breads with it and fry them in oil. Pound [sugar] fine and mix with the almond, the walnut and the rest. Add to the paste pepper, cinnamon, Chinese cinnamon and spikenard. Knead with the necessary amount of skimmed honey and put in the dough whole pine nuts, cut pistachio and almond. Mix it all and then stuff the qananit that you have made of clean wheat flour.

Its Preparation Knead the dough well with oil and a little saffron and roll it into thin flatbreads. Stretch them over the tubes (qananit) of cane, and you cut them [the cane sections] how you want them, little or big. And throw them [into a frying pan full of oil], after decorating them in the reed. Take them out from the reed and stuff them with the stuffing and put in their ends whole pistachios and pine nuts, one at each end, and lay it aside. He who wants his stuffing with sugar or chopped almond, it will be better, if God wishes.

Syrup of Simple Sikanjabîn (Oxymel)(Andalusian)

Take a ratl of strong vinegar and mix it with two ratls of sugar, and cook all this until it takes the form of a syrup. Drink an ûqiya of this with three of hot water when fasting: it is beneficial for fevers of jaundice, and calms jaundice and cuts the thirst, since sikanjabîn syrup is beneficial in phlegmatic fevers: make it with six ûqiyas of sour vinegar for a ratl of honey and it is admirable.

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