Time: 13th century | Place: Andalusia (part of Spain near Seville) | Author: unknown
Kitab al-Tabeekh fi ‘l-Maghrib wa ‘l-Andalus fi ‘Asr al-Muwahhidin (Cookbook of al-Maghrib and Andalusia in the era of Almohads)
We often see cookbooks that focus on one specific culture of food – Italian cuisine, Indian cooking, Persian food. Well, this medieval Andalusian cookbook incorporates a bunch of different cultures into one book. Andalusia, or al-Andalus as it was called in Arabic, was a place in which many diverse cultures lived side by side.
Islamic, Christian, and Jewish religious groups blended and overlapped, and this has often been called a period of convivencia – tolerance or coexistence, though some historians say that this description of coexistence is more of a fantasy than a reality. Regardless of whether things were actually good for everyone involved, Andalusia was certainly a place of many cultures.
Located in the south of Spain on the Iberian Peninsula, al-Andalus incorporated influences from Northern Africa, Arabia (modern-day Iraq and the surrounding areas), and continental Europe, to name a few. Not only did ideas and social movements travel. Materials and techniques – like spices, ingredients, and cooking styles – moved as well.
This book includes recipes such as “Abbasid chicken,” Tunisian Qursa,” “a stuffed, buried Jewish dish,” “Egyptian chicken,” and “Recipe for Fried Tafâyâ, Which Was Known in Morocco as Tâhashast.” Many of these recipes call for the use of saffron, Chinese cinnamon, which came from farther east, or murri, a condiment made from fermented barley that was a hallmark of medieval Byzantine and Arab cuisine. The “buried Jewish dish” was likely an adaptation of adafina, a Jewish dish which was left to slow-cook on the hearth and covered in embers overnight, to be eaten on the Sabbath day when, according to Jewish law, it was forbidden to kindle a new flame.
Through recipes like this, we can see the impact of cultural diffusion in medieval Spain. As much as Andalusian culture was a hybrid, so was its food.
How much do we use? As is often the case with pre-modern recipes, there are no measurable quantities of ingredients listed here, only “a handful,” “spoonfuls,” “sprinkle.” This makes a lot of the reconstruction guesswork.
What is murri? And what is rue? It was very difficult to locate some of the ingredients, and we didn’t even know what murri was at the start. It turns out that murri is quite an undertaking and requires its own cooking process, so we opted to replace it with sumac, Worcester sauce, and honey, which recreate some of the same flavors. Likewise, rue is quite hard to find and can actually be dangerous if not used sparingly. Since it is used as a garnish in this recipe, we felt okay skipping it here.
What is Chinese cinnamon? The recipe calls for cinnamon and Chinese cinnamon. Although there’s a difference between them in that they come from different plants, the Chinese variety is actually the one most commonly used in the US. Still, it’s difficult to distinguish between the two types in what is commercially available, so we used them somewhat interchangeably.
How do you break eggs over chicken successfully? We weren’t sure if this dish was supposed to be pan-fried or cooked in a pot, which made the whole part about the eggs kind of difficult to figure out. Since it calls for a “hearthstone,” we assumed it was more of a pot-cooked/boiled chicken, which allows the spices to really seep in. As a result, we skipped the whole part about the eggs, because we didn’t want to eat chicken with raw egg yolks on top of it!
Farrûj Mubarrad, Cooled Chicken
“Wash the chicken, clean it and salt it with salt and pepper and put it in a pot. Pound a handful of almonds and throw it on. Break over it six eggs, whole pine-nuts, pepper, cinnamon, Chinese cinnamon, ginger, lavender, and a spoonful of murri; stir all this with three spoonfuls of fresh oil and a little water. Put the pot on a moderately hot hearthstone and stir it carefully. When it has cooked, put it in a dish and sprinkle it with pepper and cinnamon, cut rue over it, garnish it with egg yolks, and present it.”
Our modern version:
- 1 whole chicken, cut into eighths
- ½ cup almonds (crushed/pounded in mortar and pestle)
- ¼ cup pine nuts
- 3 cinnamon sticks, + 2 tsp ground cinnamon to compensate for Chinese cinnamon as well
- 2 tsp finely chopped/grated ginger
- 1 ½ tsp sumac (replacement for murri)
- 1 tbsp Worcester sauce
- 1 tsp honey
- 2 tsp lavender
- black pepper
- 1/3 cup olive oil
Pound ½ cup of almonds. After cutting up chicken, season with salt and pepper and place in pot. Add pounded almonds, ¼ cup pine nuts, pepper to taste, and all other spices; stir with 1/3 cup olive oil and fill the pot with water until the chicken is covered. Cook on high heat till boiling, then reduce to simmer and stir periodically until chicken is cooked. If the water doesn’t evaporate completely once chicken is cooked, scoop chicken out onto a platter and then use a slotted spoon to pull out remaining nuts and spices to pour on top of chicken. Garnish with cinnamon and pepper.
So how good is this cooled chicken? We thought it was very fragrant and tasty, and better if it cooks for longer. You can also add more honey or date honey to taste.
Further reading on convivencia and Medieval Spain:
- The Ornament of the World: How Muslims, Jews and Christians Created a Culture of Tolerance in Medieval Spain, Maria Rosa Menocal.
- The Arts of Intimacy: Christians, Jews, and Muslims in the Making of Castilian Culture, Dodds, Jerrilynn D., Menocal, Maria Rosa, Balbale, Abigail K (2009)
- Convivencia: Jews, Muslims, and Christians in Medieval Spain, Vivian B. Mann, Thomas F. Glick, Jerrilynn Denise Dodds (1992)
- “Whose Golden Age? Some Thoughts on Jewish-Christian Relations in Medieval Iberia,” Jonathan Ray
- Beyond convivencia: critical reflections on the historiography of interfaith relations in Christian Spain,” Maya Soifer