Some Recipes of al-Andalus

[ This article first appeared in Tournaments Illuminated number 96 (Fall 1990). It has been updated in a few minor areas since. The author, Stephen Block, is on the net at . This version is dated February 12, 1996. ]

It is to the glory of God that He who created us all hath provided us with a rich variety of good things to eat. But the memory of man is short, and already many of the dishes made of old are no longer stylish, and people have forgotten them, which is a great ill, since they are both healthful and pleasant to the taste. And so it is fitting that I should take pen in hand to tell of the cooking of my country, that it be not lost in the passage of time.

The making of many of these dishes I learned from a most wonderful book, written down by a learned Moor of al-Andalus; this book, alas, is without its first few pages, and so the author's name is lost to us, for which reason it is called the Manuscrito Anonimo. His Grace, the wise and learned Master Cariadoc, did lend me portions of the book translated from Arabic to the Spanish tongue of Asturias, which I have endeavoured to further translate to the English language spoken in Caid, where I now dwell.

I must say too that while I am not of a sect that doth forbid the eating of meat, or specify meatless days, many of my friends are, and thus have I particularly sought out those dishes which conform to their law, for otherwise I should have only few and uninteresting things to serve them, and my name should be besmeared as a poor host. These recipes, therefore, are made entirely without meat; yet eggs, having something of the same quality as meat, afford that my guests should not leave the table hungry.

For each recipe I give details on how I have made the dish myself, using the common measures of this realm; but that the reader may try his own hand, unbiased by my tastes, I first copy the original recipe, translated into our tongue. For readers unacquainted with murri or almori, recipes for its making have appeared in these pages under His Grace's name; I used the "false" murri of the Byzantines, which may be made in an afternoon rather than a month, in these recipes. I use safflower in frugal stead of saffron when cooking not for guests but for myself.

The reader who desireth more recipes of this sort is encouraged to seek out Master Cariadoc, who doth sell a vast collection of reprinted and translated recipes, including (by the time the present article sees print) the entirety of the Manuscrito Anonimo, translated by various hands. But as that horse is counted best which serveth not itself but its master's wishes, so must I end my own tale and tell the words of another older and wiser.

Dishes of Eggplant

A Dish of Eggplants

from the Manuscrito Anonimo, my translation

"Peel eggplants and remove the flavor of the peel first, pound all this, and put into a kettle a spoon and a half of oil, two of murri, pepper, caraway, well-crushed onion, and salt. Put it on the fire and when it has boiled, throw in the crushed eggplants and stir it little by little, and when it is done, cover it with eggyolks and cover the whites with nut crumbs, and when it is put into a dish, sprinkle it with pepper and cut rue over it."

I used one somewhat small eggplant, and as I have no large mortar I diced it small rather than pounding it. Reading "tablespoons" for "spoonfuls" in the recipe, I heated the oil in a frying-pan, added half a minced onion, and fried it briefly before adding half a teaspoon each of pepper and caraway, then the murri and eggplant. I then covered the pan and let it cook, on a medium fire, until the eggplant was tender. I then mixed in two eggyolks, then the eggwhites, and the third part of a cup of chopped cashews, and as soon as the egg was cooked I served it, sprinkled with pepper on the plate.

The combination of caraway and murri doth most wondrously draw forth the waters of the mouth, but neglect not the sprinkle of pepper at the end. I have also made it without eggs for a friend who cannot eat them; this way it sticks together less and must be eaten a morsel at a time, but it is still good.

Cooking Stuffed Eggplants

from the Manuscrito Anonimo, my translation

"Divide medium-sized eggplants and fill the cut with salt to remove any bitterness they have, then boil them until they are cooked, take them out and place them in cold water. Then take a bud of garlic, clean it and pound it in a mortar with a little salt and cold breadcrumbs, a little sifted flour, a little steeped murri and another little bit of cilantro juice. Then press the water out of the eggplants and take out all the greasiness and seeds inside them, and add to the contents of the mortar good pepper, canel, and powdered lavender. Combine six eggs, or as many as suitable, with all this, beat it very well, and remove the yolks from the eggs. Then stuff [coat] the eggplants with this, and save some of the stuffing. Then cover it with flour and place it in sweet oil until it is browned, boil eggyolks and also fry them a little, then arrange the eggplants in a dish covered with citrus leaves, and pour the stuffing over all parts of the dish, cut the eggyolks and dress the dish with them, with buds of citrus, mint, and rue, then sprinkle with extraordinary spices and present it."

As a side dish for my household at a War, I made this with four eggplants, a dozen eggs, a cup of murri, and six cloves of garlic (all I had). Slice the eggplant crosswise into rounds less than an inch thick and boil them in salted water, but not too long (see the next recipe). Meanwhile, mix the garlic, breadcrumbs, murri, flour, cilantro juice (I grind chopped cilantro in a mortar with a few drops of water), black pepper, cinnamon, and lavender (also ground in a mortar) in a wide dish. When the eggplant slices are done, take them out and put them in cold water, while thou dost separate the eggs, gently placing the yolks in boiling water so they do not break (thou canst use the still-hot eggplant water for this), and beating the whites together with the spices. Drain the eggplant, take the boiled eggyolks from the water with a slotted spoon and brown them in oil; then press the water out of the eggplant slices, dip each in the breading mixture, and fry it likewise. Serve the eggplant topped with the re maining breading and garnished with eggyolks. I had no citrus leaves, but rather used orange segments, which form a delicious contrast with the still-hot eggplant. Reactions were mixed: some who despise eggplant liked it, and some who love eggplant (but had never had murri) despised it.

Recipe for Eggplants With Ground Spices

from the Manuscrito Anonimo, transl. Janet Hinson and used by permission

"Take the sweetest of them and split in strips crosswise and boil at a gentle boil; then take out of the water and leave to drain and dry a little; then take white flour and beat with egg, pepper, coriander, saffron and a little steeped almori; then it is like thick soup, put in it the eggplants and fry with oil in the hot pan; then brown them, put them back and return for a second or third time."

To feed one hungry person I used one eggplant, three eggs, half a teaspoon each of pepper, coriander, and safflower (I would use less were it saffron), and perhaps the fourth part of a cup of murri, all this thickened with several spoonfuls of flour until it was indeed like thick soup. I dipped the eggplant pieces, boiled as in the previous recipe, in this sauce and fried them in oil, removing them to a serving dish and pouring the remaining sauce over it. It is important not to overcook the eggplant; five minutes is plenty, else thou wilt have eggplant mush rather than eggplant pieces. It is likewise important to drain the boiled pieces thoroughly (I let them stand out for half an hour, then pressed them between two wooden boards), else kitchen and cook will both be covered with spattered oil by serving-time! The dish is reasonably tasty, but some may have trouble with the raw eggs in the sauce; if the yolks be objected to, they may be boiled separately as in the previous recipe and used as a garnish.

Dishes of Eggs, and Sweet Dishes

A Dish in a Frying-Pan with Cheese

from the Manuscrito Anonimo, my translation

"Take soft cheese, not fresh that day but that has passed three or four days, and mash it by hand. To two pounds of this add two ounces of select flour, put it in fresh milk and break in ten eggs and sprinkle with pepper, saffron, canel, lavender, and coriander. Beat all this together in the frying pan and when it is thick, pour fresh milk over it and cover it all with plenty of oil. Place into it fried small birds or pigeons, eggyolks, and minced almonds. Place it in the oven on a moderate fire and leave it until it is dry and thickened and browned on top, take it out so it can cool, and serve it. This dish is also made smaller with mint juice and water of coriander and of cilantro, without saffron, and another dish will result. And he who wishes to make this dish with cheese alone, without fowl or meat, shall do so and in each of these ways it is good."

I divided the recipe in half, using thus a pound of white cheese, an ounce of flour, and five eggs. I used about a cup of milk, a teaspoon of lavender ground in a mortar and the same of coriander, half a teaspoon each of ground cinnamon, black pepper, and safflower (also ground in a mortar). At the end I mixed in two or three tablespoons of liquid oil, sprinkled half a cup of chopped almonds over it, and baked it in an uncovered casserle in a moderately-hot oven for three quarters of an hour, at which time some oil remained on top, but the dish was otherwise firm.

This is a most delicious dish. Do not fail to let it cool, as the recipe says, else it will burn your mouth! The first time I made this, I omitted the almonds and found the top of the custard (beneath a layer of oil) white rather than brown as we are told it is to be, but it was still tasty.

The Making of Stuffed Eggs

from the Manuscrito Anonimo, my translation

"Take as many eggs as thou wilt, and boil them whole in hot water; put them in cold water and divide them in half with a thread. Take the yolks quickly and crush cilantro, put in onion juice, pepper and coriander and beat all this together with murri, oil and salt and mash the yolks with this until it forms a paste. Then stuff the whites with this, insert a small stick into each egg, and sprinkle them with pepper, God willing."

I used six eggs, one onion, a few tablespoons each of cilantro and murri, and sprinkles of pepper, coriander, oil, and salt. I chopped the onion finely, then crushed it in a mortar, discarding the pulp and pouring the liquid in with the other ingredients. At various times I have used both cilantro and parsley for this dish; either must be very finely chopped and crushed, or the pieces will stick in the teeth and be unpleasant.

It is said that the people of each country fear different devils; and in some lands the devils are apparently good cooks, for in those places this dish is called "devilled eggs".

Filled "Muqawwara"

from the Manuscrito Anonimo, my translation

"Sift a pound and a half of wheat flour in a good sifter, mix it with the yolks of fifteen eggs and as much fresh milk as necessary. Put in a little leavening and the dough will be firmer, make a loaf like a raguif [patty] of this, and leave it to ferment. Then put sweet oil in a frying pan and take it to the fire, and when it has heated, put in the raguif, turn it little by little, and watch that it not stick. Then turn it and when it has browned a little, take it out and put it in a dish and cut it out like a muqawwara. Take out all the crumbs that are in it and crumble it by hand until it thickens a little. Then take sufficient peeled nuts and almonds and sugar, pound them well and put a handful of this, then another of crumbs, into the muqawwara until it is full; and scatter, again between the two hands, ground sugar, and after this sprinkle it with rosewater. Then boil sweet butter and good honey, pour into the muqawwara and when it makes a boiling sound, go back to putting the topping on top, and pour the rest of the honey and butter over the topping, sprinkle with sugar, and present it."

The name Muqawwara is Arabic for an arena or amphitheatre, which this dish is intended to resemble. The good folk of my household, who while they love the dish, find the Arabic tiresome to the tongue, have therefore dubbed it "Arena-Bread". I have three times made it at Wars, with only a large bowl and frying-pan as equipment. For leavening I used dried yeast on two occasions, and a cup of sourdough on another; the latter has more flavor but takes longer to rise. Know thou that the farmers of this realm sort their eggs by size, and sell those called "Extra Large" the most readily; when using such eggs, I find it best to reduce their number to some nine rather than fifteen. The dough is made as any bread dough, kneaded, and left to rise once, punched down, then fried on both sides in a large pan (using coals left from breakfast, the pan must rest directly on the coals or it will not cook) to form a disk of a handsbreadth thickness. I cut out the center with a knife held at an angle, cutting perhaps an inch from the edge, mixed the crumbs with a cup of crushed almonds, half that of pistachios, and a little brown sugar, and scattered this back into the cavity alternating with half a pound of butter melted in a cup of honey. (I had no rosewater.) And know that if less butter and honey are used, the crumbs will be dry and fall apart, making the dish impossible to eat in pie slices, as we did. This dish is a most excellent one, but it was complained that none was left for the next day.

Making Filled Isfuny

from the Manuscrito Anonimo, my translation

"Take thou samid [semolina] and sift it and take its flour, and put it in a dish. Take water and sprinkle it very lightly on the samid. Then put it in thy hand, roll it and cover it in a second dish, leaving it until it is dry and cracked. Then uncover it and grate it until it is like white flour, fry oil with it, mash it and put in leavening and egg, throw in a measure of five eggs and then mash the dough with the eggs. Then put it in a new pot, after greasing it with oil, and leave it until it becomes like salt [until it rises]. Then take pure honey and put it on the fire and boil it until thou thinkest it smooth. Then take almonds, nuts, pistachios and pine-nuts that thou hast pounded, and cast all this upon the honey and stir it until it is blended. Then take thou the dough that was put in the bread-pot, and make a thin, small raguif of it, and put on it part of the mixture of honey, pistachios etc. Then take the thin loaf with thy hand and turn it until it is smooth and round and bite-sized. Shape all the dough, according to this recipe, until the filling is finished; the dough should be only moderately thin. Then take a frying pan and put oil in it, and when it starts to boil, throw in a piece of isfuny and fry it with a gentle fire until it is done. And if thou wishest to combine it with sugar, go ahead, and if thou desirest to cast almonds, ground sugar, and rosewater into the filling, do so and it will come out aromatic and agreeable."

The Making of Braids

from the Manuscrito Anonimo, my translation

"Take what you will of white flour or of semolina, which is better. Sift it, mix it with hot water, then add some fine flour, leavening, and salt, and mash it well. Sprinkle it again and again until its height is even. Then break, for each pound of semolina, five eggs and a dirham of saffron, and beat all this very well, and put the dough in a dish, cover it and leave it to rise, and the way to tell when this is done is what was mentioned before [it holds an indentation]. When it is risen, clean a frying pan and fill it with sweet oil, then take it to the fire and when it starts to boil, make braids like hair-braids, of a handspan or less in size. Coat them with oil and throw them in the oil and fry them until they brown. When they are done frying to the heart, arrange them in a pot and pour over them honey cleaned of its foam, spiced with pepper, canel, Chinese canel, and lavender. Sprinkle it with ground sugar and present it, God willing. And do thou the same with isfuny, except that the dough for isfuny will be better blended; leave out the saffron, make it into balls and fry them in this shape, God willing. And if thou wishest filled braids or isfuny, stuff them with a filling of almonds and sugar, as indicated for making qahriyat."

As the latter of these recipes refers to the former, I thought it meet to use it as a key in interpreting the isfuny recipe. I have not made the "Braids" recipe, but I have made isfuny dough from wheat flour, again from semolina flour, and again from semolina flour formed into a ball, dried, and grated (a common practice in the East) as described in the recipe; this process seems to me to make little difference to the result.

With the "Braids" recipe as guide, I used a pound and a half of flour, six eggs (again assuming the author's eggs were not "Extra Large"), and yeast proofed in half a cup of warm water with a bit of honey. I left this to rise while I started shelling pistachios. I heated half a cup of honey, then mixed in about half a cup each of chopped pistachios and almonds, with a few pine-nuts; the resulting mixture was thick and, when cooled a bit, a spoon would stand in it easily. When the dough had risen I took a small handful at a time, kneaded it a few times on a heavily floured board (the dough is fairly sticky, especially with semolina), and patted it into an oval a handsbreadth long, then placed a spoonful of filling in the center, folded it over, and rolled it into a ball. (It is best, methinks, to do this while the filling is still hot, for one can detect thin spots in the dough by feeling its heat.) The balls were then deep-fried in liquid oil for a minute or two each, depending on size, and presented topped with powdered sugar, cinnamon, and lavender ground in a mortar. They are most delicious, although for the richness of the filling, few people will eat more than one at a sitting.

Webbed by Gregory Blount of Isenfir