In a Moorish Home at Mealtime by Lisa J. Yarde

Posted by on May 13, 2013 in Historical Tidbits, Medieval Europe, Muslim Societies | 5 comments

Traditional moorish style wooden door in a white backgroundWelcome! Enter into the large whitewashed house of a prosperous Moorish family in thirteenth-century Spain, and enjoy a feast for the senses. Take off your shoes at the door and wash your hands with rosewater from the ceramic basin and ewer set. Sit at the low round table covered with a woven or leather covering offered by your host or hostess. Inhale the pleasing aroma of aloe wood, musk and perfumed candlesticks. A warm Andalusian breeze brings the scent of fresh homemade breads baked in the beehive-shaped oven. We hope you like bread coated in fragrant honey or served with the butter kept in the earthenware jars suspended from the ceiling. In the ground floor kitchen, roasted lamb sizzles on a brick-built hearth or over a fireplace. Meat and vegetable stews seasoned with red sumac, green cumin, yellow tumeric or its more expensive counterpart saffron, simmer in stoneware or copperware pots.

Perhaps you would like something to drink while you wait. Sekanjabin, which came to Andalusia from Persian influences, is the perfect blend of sweet and sour, made from one part vinegar and two parts sugar boiled down into syrup. You can have it hot (does wonders for fever) or cold with ice water. Modern variations of sekanjabin add a spring of mint – we do not. Would you prefer the taste of pomegranate syrup instead? Did you know the word ‘Granada’ is Spanish for pomegranate? It is also the city from which the last Moorish dynasty of Spain rules. Back to the drinks: you still have not decided what you will have. What about a tincture of lemon syrup? Equal parts of the juice mixed with sugar are refreshing and have medicinal properties, whether served hot or cold. If none of the above appeals, you might prefer a sharbah of ice brought down from the Sierra Nevada’s ice-capped mountains and mixed with fruit juices. Ah, you would prefer coffee. It doesn’t exist in Muslim Spain of the thirteenth century.

PomegranatesHere in Andalusia, we have access to many spices and herbs brought by trade caravans and ships, or grown locally. We blend a variety of seasonings into our foods, adding almonds, caraway, cinnamon, cilantro or coriander, cumin, garlic, lavender, onions, pepper, saffron, sugar, sumac, tumeric and vinegar. We eat lamb, mutton and certain poultry. We cannot consume pork for religious reasons. We enjoy fried, baked, roasted, boiled and stewed foods. We love sweets! Perhaps you will try some of our dishes in your home. Here are a few recipes for our favorites, collected from tenth through thirteenth century sources.

Baqliyya with Eggplants

“Take the breast of a sheep and its ribs, cut small, to the size of three fingers, cut onion in round slices and then take cilantro and pound coriander seed, caraway, and Chinese cinnamon; cut up the eggplants in round pieces and the same with the gourds; then take a pot and put a little oil in its bottom then arrange a layer of meat and eggplant and a layer of gourd and put some spices between each layer and the next; then put the pot on the fire, after putting in it an adequate quantity of meat, and do not add water; cook until done”

Barmakiyya                 

“It is made with hens, pigeons, ring doves, small birds, or lamb. Take what you have of it, then clean it and cut it and put it in a pot with salt and onion, pepper, coriander and lavender or cinnamon, some murri naqi (a fermented paste for which the original recipe has not been mass produced since the 15th century), and oil. Put it over a gentle fire until it is nearly done and the sauce is dried. Take it out and fry it with mild oil without overdoing it, and leave it aside. Then take fine flour and semolina, make a well-made dough with yeast, and if it has some oil it will be more flavorful. Then stretch this out into a thin loaf and inside this put the fried and cooked meat of these birds, cover it with another thin loaf, press the ends together and place it in the oven, and when the bread is done, take it out.”

Dafair (braided loaves)

“Take what you will of white flour or of semolina, which is better in these things. Moisten it with hot water after sifting, and knead well, after adding some fine flour, leavening, and salt. Moisten it again and again until it has middling consistency. Then break into it, for each ratl (a weight of dry measurement for spices equal to 468.75 grams) of semolina, five eggs and a dirham (a silver coin bearing a religious verse, weighing 2-3 grams) 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 has risen, clean a frying pan and fill it with fresh oil, then put it on the fire. When it starts to boil, make braids of the leavened dough 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 their cooking is done, arrange them on an earthenware plate and pour over them skimmed honey spiced with pepper, cinnamon, Chinese cinnamon, and lavender. Sprinkle it with ground sugar and present it.”

Safarjaliyya

“Take meat and cut it in pieces which then throw in the pot and throw on it two spoons of vinegar and oil, a dirham (a silver coin bearing a religious verse, weighing 2-3 grams) and a half of pepper, caraway, coriander seed and pounded onion; cover it with water and put it on the fire, clean three or four quinces or five and chop them up with a knife, as small as you can; cook them in water and when they are cooked, take them out of the water and when the meat is done throw in it this boiled quince and bring it to the boil two or three times; then cover the contents of the pot with two or three eggs and take it off the fire, leave it for a little while, and when you put it on the platter, sprinkle it with some pepper, throw on a little saffron and serve it.”

Sukkariyya

“Take a ratl (a weight of dry measurement for spices equal to 468.75 grams) of sugar and put in two ûqiyas (half of a ratl) of rosewater and boil it in a ceramic pot until it is on the point of thickening and sticks between the fingers. Then take a third of a ratl of split almonds, fried, not burnt, and pound well and throw the sugar on them and stir it on the fire until thickened. Then spread it out on a dish and sprinkle it with ground sugar.”

Zabarbada of Fresh Cheese

“Take fresh cheese, clean it, cut it up and crumble it; take fresh coriander and onion, chop and throw over the cheese, stir and add spices and pepper, shake the pot with two tablespoons of oil and another 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 thicken with egg and some flour and serve.”

Zirbaya

“Take a young, cleaned hen and put it in a pot with a little salt, pepper, coriander, cinnamon, saffron and sufficient of vinegar and sweet oil, and when the meat is cooked, take peeled, crushed almonds and good white sugar, dissolve them in rosewater, pour in the pot and let it boil; then leave it on the embers until the fat rises.”

For your hosts, it is a sacred duty to offer hospitality to all guests. There are some rules of common courtesy governing the conduct of guests during the meal.

  • Respect the rules regarding the separation of the sexes.
  • The meal is communal.
  • Please eat only with your right hand, preferably soiling only the tips of your thumb, index and middle fingers.
  • You may use a toothpick if necessary.
  • The rosewater sprinkling signals the end of the meal.

We hope you enjoyed the food! (It would be impolite to say you did not.)

Source: 

Lisa Yarde, May 13, 2013 See her two novels set in Medieval Spain, Sultana and Sultana’s Legacy.

5 Comments

  1. Wonderful post. Now I’m hungry.

    • Same here as soon as I finished writing this post.

  2. Wonderful description, Lisa. I did enjoy this piece!

  3. Fascinating post–the baqliyya dish sounds like something that could be cooked in a modern slow cooker.

  4. Fantastic piece! I’m a fan of the Moorish period in Spain, and this trip into a home at mealtime was a real treat. And yes, I’m dying for a piece of that bread!