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Andalusian cookbook: Collection of grandest non Islamic recipes

Europe 21 Jan 2021
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andalusian cookbook
© Manuel Milan Checa | Dreamstime.com

Kitab al tabij fi-l-Maghrib wa-l-Andalus fi `asr al-Muwahhidin, li-mu’allif mayhul. This precisely is the name of one of the most interesting cookbooks I have come across. Translated into English, the title of the book would read something like this: The Book of Cooking in Maghreb and Andalus in the era of Almohads, by an unknown author. In brief we will call it the Andalusian Cookbook.

Andalusian Cookbook covers vast area of Iberian peninsula

Three words indicate the region and the time period in which this fascinating cookbook was compiled. Al Maghrib, Al Andalus and Al Muwahhidin. Al Maghrib and Al Andalus together form the vast territory including northern Africa. And much of the Iberian Peninsula, including a major part of Spain. And Al Muwahhidin is the Arabic for the Latin Almohad. It was a North African Muslim empire founded in the 12th century. It was  controlled both the Maghrib and Andalus at the peak of its glory.

The Islamic period of in this vast region is known for its history. For its great strides in the fields of science, literature and the arts. And the Andalusian Cookbook is a glowing testimony to the heights to which the arts and science of cooking had reached during the middle ages. The book has been translated into English by one of the leading culinary Historians of our times, Charles Perry. In the preface to the book noted Italian author Candida Martinelli informs us that the book was not really compiled during the Almohad Dynasties rule. It collates recipes taken from that period, collected in various older cookbooks.

Andalusian cookbook bears testimony of the tolerant Islamic culture

She points out that besides recipes from the Caliphate in Baghdad, the Persian empire, Morocco, Spain, Sicily, Sardinia and other regions, it also includes several Jewish recipes, indicating the liberal and tolerant spirit of the Islamic culture in Al Andalus. Thus, in a sense the book includes in it the finest and grandest of recipes from the Islamic and non-Islamic world of the period.

Spread over 200 pages, it contains recipes for hundreds of mouth-watering dishes of all varieties, including bread, fish, mutton, chicken, numerous vegetables, pastas, calzones, sausages, pastries, cookies, candies, cakes and puddings. Overtime we will certainly try out some of those in these columns. But today let me end with, what may be called the grandest recipe of the collection: a signature dish of the grandeur of the Islamic culture of Al Andalus:

Roast Lamb, which was made for the Sayyid Abu al-‘Ala in Ceuta

Take a young, plump lamb, skinned and cleaned. Make a narrow opening between the thighs. Carefully take out everything inside of it of its entrails.

Then put in the interior a roasted goose and into its belly a roasted hen. In the belly of the hen a roasted pigeon and in the belly of the pigeon a roasted starling and in the belly of this a small bird, roasted or fried. All this is roasted and greased with the sauce described for roasting. Sew up this opening and place the ram in a hot tannur [clay oven] and leave it until it is done and browned.

Paint it with that sauce and then place it in the body cavity of a calf which has been prepared clean. Sew it up and place it in the hot tannur [clay oven] and leave it until it is done and browned.

Then take it out and present it.

Note on the Kinds of Roast

Although roasts are easy dishes, it is fitting that what has already been explained be followed, except that concerning the “covering” [sauce, marinade].

Take meat of a young, plump animal and cut it with a knife in thin fillets, so that the meat is mixed with fat, without bones, from the tender parts, meat from the shoulder or hip or similar things.

Place it in a dish and pour on it whatever is needed of murri naqî [use soy sauce], vinegar, thyme, pepper, pounded garlic and a little oil. Beat everything and coat the fillets with this [marinade].

Then order them on a spit, so they do not touch, so that the fire reaches them, and turn them on the spit over a charcoal fire, turning continuously, until they are cooked and browned. Baste with the sauce, being careful until done. Then sprinkle with the sauce [cook the remaining sauce first] or mustard, already prepared, and serve.

This [dish] strengthens and increases the blood, but is difficult to digest and slow to go down.

(My note:1. Sayyid Abu al-‘Ala was The Governor and admiral of Ceuta, son of the Almohada Caliph Yusuf I,)

2. The sauce for roasts may be surmised from the ‘Note on the Kinds of Roasts.

3. Murri Naqi is an obsolete sauce that tasted similar to today’s soy sauce.

 

(Written by Author and Translator Nilanjan Hajra)