06 March 2012

Chicken Salad with Almond Butter: Food Item Thirteen: A&S 50 Challenge

Chicken Salad with Almond Butter: Food Item Thirteen: A&S 50 Challenge
Bārida dish, Um al-Faḍl made for al-Mahdī
Ibn Sayyār al-Warrāq’s Tenth-Century Baghdadi Cookbook
Translation by Nawal Nasrallah
Redaction by Sayyeda al-Kaslaania
March 2012

English Translation from the chapter: “Cold Poultry Dishes”

    Grill pullets to succulence, disjoint them, slice the breasts, and arrange the pieces on a platter (jām).
    Thoroughly crush 20 skinned almonds. Crush with them ¼ raṭl (4 ounces) white sugar and the pulp of 2 khiyārs (small and smooth cucumbers). Pour on mixture ½ raṭl (1 cup) wine vinegar with 2 dirhams (6 grams) salt. Add to the mixture, 1 ūqiyya (2 tablespoons) olive oil and 1 ūqiyya (2 tablespoons) almond oil. Beat all these ingredients in a bowl (ghuḍāra) to mix them well.
    Pour sauce all over the chicken. When [after a while] sauce is absorbed, drizzle ½ ūqiyya (1 tablespoon) almond oil all over it and garnish with khiyārs, chopped fresh thyme, naʿnaʿ (cultivated mint) and basil (bādharūj).
As it appears in: Nasrallah, Nawal. Annals of the Caliphs’ Kitchens. Brill: Leiden, 2007.

One quarter recipe:
½ of a roasted chicken
1 Tbl almond butter
1 oz white cane sugar
½ cucumber
¼ c red wine vinegar
Pinch salt
½ Tbl green olive oil
½ Tbl almond oil

Splash almond oil

Strip the meat off the chicken and reserve the carcass for another use. Peel the cucumber, slice lengthwise, and use a spoon to remove the pulp (the “jelly” with seeds in the middle). Slice and keep the cucumber for garnish when serving. In a bowl, mix almond butter, sugar, and olive oil. Add the cucumber pulp to the mixture, crushing with the back of a spoon. When well crushed, add the almond oil, salt and vinegar. Mix well, and pour over the chicken. Cover and refrigerate overnight. Serve with garnish.

    We started with a rotisserie chicken from the grocery store. While one of was preparing this dish, the other was making chicken salad with the other half of the chicken. When the sauce was completed we tasted it and I announced: “this would be great as chicken salad!” We decided we had a winner.

    I regularly use almond butter for “well crushed almonds.” When our house gets a good food processor I will try making almond butter from blanched almonds to see how different it is. This recipe was interesting because it called for the pulp of the cucumbers. Other recipes in this collection tell the reader to remove the pulp from cucumbers, so I felt that I was on the right track with this reading of it. I used regular grocery-store-green cucumbers for this attempt, and I have not yet done research on the differences in the two common medieval cucumbers. The quantity notes were included by Dr. Nasrallah in her translation. A pullet is a hen younger than 1 year. I would like to try this recipe again with a pullet from the farmer’s market.

06 February 2012

Creamy Chicken Hotdish: Food Challenge Twelve: A&S50 Challenge

White Tharîdah of al-Rashid from the 9-10th c. Islamic collection of Ibn Sayyar al-Warraq: Food Challenge Twelve: A&S50 Challenge
Crockpot Creamy Chicken Hotdish*
Redaction by Sayyeda al-Kaslaania
Original translation by Charles Perry

*In Minnesota, a one-pot meal cooked in a casserole or crockpot is called “hotdish.” Others might call this dish “creamy chicken casserole.”

The impetus for this redaction was to have a hot meal for lunch at an indoor site where meals were not being offered, and we would not have access to the kitchen.

I have made a few choices that are not readily spelled out in the original recipe. First, I have chosen boneless, skinless meat. Our modern palate does not like to pick bones or gristle out of stew. The second is to brown the meat. In the thirteenth century cookbook by al-Baghdadi, cooks are reminded that meat should always be fried in oil before boiling (as translated in Medieval Arab Cookery). Third is the addition of rice. In his article “The Pleasures of Consumption,” H.D. Miller points out that frequently in al-Baghdadi rice is added “carelessly” to dishes that contain meat and vegetables. He considers rice common in the Medieval Islamic diet, but does not find evidence for it being served as a dish on its own. The addition of rice makes this a better one-pot meal, and rice is also a common ingredient in hotdish.

Many Middle Eastern recipes of this period include eggs cooked on top of a dish, almost as “lid” or crust. This recipe is interesting in that is says add eggs “and mix with wine vinegar”. With that in mind, as well as the fact that crockpots only cook with bottom heat, I chose to stir in the eggs, as done in egg-drop soup, rather than allowing them to set up on top.

I chose ingredients that I had in the house for my first attempt. In the future I would try this recipe with sheep's milk instead of cow's milk (knowing that wool production was second to flax production in the Middle East, I expect sheep milk more readily available). I also used medium grain white rice. During this period, rice was "typically husked white rice (aruzz abyad maqshur)," according to Mark Nesbitt, et. al. in "History of Rice in Western and Central Asia" (Opens a .pdf.) Finally, I used turnips at the root vegetable. The two groceries I stopped at only had orange carrots and I thought color would be more important with the "white tharîdah".

Crockpot cooking is different than stewpot cooking, and there are tomes of knowledge published on the topic. Of course, being a good Minnesotan Protestant, I had learned many of the tricks at my mother’s knee. First, the meat was added without the skin or extra fat. The spices are reserved for the last hour of cooking, along with the milk. The rice is cooked before adding to the dish, and it’s also added in the last hour. Finally, every time you take the lid off of a crockpot to stir you need to add 20 minutes of cooking time. Knowing how helpful people are at activities where a good smelling pot is left alone, I decided to cook the meat through before adding to the crockpot.

Original recipe, translated to English:
Take a chicken and joint it, or meat of a kid or lamb, and clean it and throw it in a pot, and throw on it soaked chickpeas, clean oil, galingale, cinnamon sticks, and a little salt. And when it boils, skim it. Take fresh milk and strain it over the pot and throw in onion slices and boiled carrots. And when it boils well, take peeled almonds and pound them fine. Break over them five eggs and mix with wine vinegar. Then throw in the pot and add coriander, a little pepper and a bit of cumin and arrange it and leave on the fire, and serve, God willing.

3 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breast
Sesame oil, pale and untoasted
2 cups chicken broth
2 cans chickpeas, rinsed and drained
2 onion, sliced
1 lb white or yellow carrots, peeled and sliced into coins (or other root vegetable)
Extra virgin olive oil
1 ½ teaspoon powdered galangal
1 stick Ceylon cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt
Scant ¼ cup white wine vinegar
½ c almond butter
1 c whole milk
2 c cooked rice
5 eggs
Ground white pepper

Toss the onions and carrots in olive oil, and roast them on a cookie sheet for 15 minutes. Cube chicken breast and cook it in sesame oil. Put all of this in a crock pot with two cans of chickpeas (rinsed and drained), and two cups of chicken broth. Cook on high for three hours.

In a small bowl mix almond butter, vinegar, and ground spices. Add milk to this mixture, ¼ c at a time, mixing well with each addition. Add the almond mixture, rice, and cinnamon stick to the crockpot and stir. Scramble the eggs and add to the crockpot while stirring (much like egg-drop soup). Cook an additional 30-60 minutes.  Garnish the pot with sprigs of cilantro, pepper and a ring of sprinkled cumin before serving. Fills a 5 quart crock pot.

29 January 2012

Small Fatimid Cup, a Modern interpretation: Material Culture 21: A&S 50 Challenge

Small Fatimid Cup, a Modern Interpretation
Painted beaker in the Fatimid style
A&S 50 Challenge, Material Culture 21
Sayyeda Samia al-Kaslaania
 Written January 29, 2012. Revised and Presented at Boar's Head 2012.

Obtaining a period-appropriate drinking cup is something that newcomers are encouraged to have fun seeking out. It’s not too difficult to find something “not modern” in which to conceal your favorite acid-green soda, but it’s nerdy fun to find something that matches what you see in period images or extant pieces!

Participants with Middle Eastern personas have several great sources to explore for drinkware. A beaker,visually similar to those carried by illustrations of Fatimid women, can be obtained from SCA artists like Ash and Griffin Pottery www.facebook.com/pages/Ash-and-Griffin-Pottery/ .

Fatimid or Ayyubid glass beaker at the British Museum. Source: [http://www.discoverislamicart.org/database_item.php?id=object;ISL;uk;Mus01;9;en&cp]

This extant cup (bottom left), held by the National Museum of Damascus, item ع 16021, is dated to the 9th century as an Abbasid piece (the Fatimid period is 10th to 12th centuries). I was tickled by the two inscriptions reading “drink and be filled with delight” and “made in Damascus”.

The undecorated glass I selected was found at a local retailer. The shape is similar to other truncated cone-shaped glassware from the period, seen upper left. While researching techniques to decorate pottery, I learned about Pebeo Vitrea 160 Glass Paint and was able to purchase it from the art supply store Wet Paint as felt-tip pens and jars of paint. I found the pens to be difficult to work with, so worked with jars of paint, applying it with brushes. Keeping cotton balls and cotton swabs handy with a bottle of rubbing alcohol, applying the designs was not difficult. Once completed, the pieces are baked in a home oven to set the paint.

Being a member of the order, I used the Pyxis medallion as the motif in place of the flowers. I copied the text on the extant cup, including “made in Damascus”. There are extant examples of textiles which bear inscriptions of “made in X,” however chemical and technical analysis indicates this is patently false (R.B. Serjeant, Islamic Textiles. Lebanon: Libraire du Liban, 1972, p. 46, fn.56.). That inscription, like modern branding, is believed to have made the textile more valuable in period. I changed the orientation of the text to follow the rim, inspired by the bowl pictured below on the right. The colors were based on extant examples. Of painted glass, I have only found pieces that have browns and gold as colors. I don't yet know if this is a factor of age, firing, or choice. Update- In visiting with the proprietor of Historical Glassworks, I am excited to have learned that this coloring is silver after being fired.

"Bowl [Probably Egypt] (1974.74)". In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000 ndash;. http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/ho/07/nfe/ho_1974.74.htm (October 2006)

Emily Shovelton "Beaker" in Discover Islamic Art. Place: Museum With No Frontiers, 2010.  http://www.discoverislamicart.org/database_item.php?id=object;ISL;uk;Mus01;9;en