10 February 2013

Sanbusaj Poem recipe from Baghdad: Food Item Fifteen: A&S 50 Challenge

Sanbūsaj (meat-stuffed pastry) poem – 1226 Baghdad
Translation by A.J. Arberry
Recipe redaction by Sayyeda al-Kaslaania
Food Item Fifteen: A&S 50 Challenge

“O Commander of the Faithful,” Ishaq ibn Ibrahim of Mosul described sanbūsaj as follows:

If thou wouldst know what food gives most delight,
Best let me tell, for none hath subtler sight.
Take first the finest meat, red, soft to the touch,
And mince it with the fat, not overmuch;
Then add an onion, cut in circles clean,
A cabbage, very fresh, exceeding green,
And season well with cinnamon and rue;
of coriander add a handful, too,
And after that of cloves the very least,
Of finest ginger, and of pepper the best,
A hand of cumin, murri just to taste,
Two handfuls of Palmyra salts; but haste,
Good master, haste to grind them small and strong.
Then lay and light a blazing fire along;
Put all into a pot, and water pour
upon it from above, and cover o'er.
But, when the water vanished is from sight
And when the burning flames have dried it quite,
Then, as thou wilt, in pastry wrap it round,
And fasten well the edges, firm and sound;
Conveniently soft, and rubbed just so,
Then with the rolling pin let it be spread
And with the nails its edges docketed.
Pour in the frying-pan the choicest oil
And in that liquor let it finely broil.
Last, ladle out into a thin tureen
Where appetizing mustard smeared hath been,
And eat with pleasure, mustard about,
This tastiest food for hurried diner-out.

[“A Baghdad Cookery Book (Kitab al-Tabikh)” translated by A. J. Arberry in Medieval Arab Cookery: Essays and Translations. Edited by Maxime Rodinson, A.J. Arberry, and Charles Perry. Prospect Books: 2006. Pp 19-90.]

Sanbūsaj poem redaction
Sayyeda al-Kaslaania

1 large white onion
1 1/3 lb ground meat
1 Tbl pale (untoasted) sesame oil
1 tsp cumin, ground
½ tsp rue, dried
1 tsp coriander, ground
1 tsp black pepper, ground
½ tsp ginger, ground
3 Tbl soy sauce (for murri)
Pinch cloves
1 cup cabbage, shredded (omitted)
Pastry or wonton wrappers
¼ c flour or more
Sesame oil (pale, untoasted) for deep frying

 Slice the onion and sauté in sesame oil over medium heat, covered, until golden. Remove to a cutting board and mince.

Brown meat in the pan used to cook the onions. When most of the pink is gone, add spices, soy sauce, and add back the onion. Finish cooking, and then cool completely.

While meat cools, prepare pastry for filling. Mix flour with 1/3 cup of water to make a fluid paste. Cut the pastry into circles about 2 ½ inches across. Smear flour paste around the edges, drop a dollop of meat filling in the center of the circle, then lay a second circle on top. Use a fork to squish the edges together and leave a pattern, being careful not to pierce the pastry. If using wonton wrappers, seal two adjoining edges to form a cone. Drop in filling and seal the top to form a “triangle” shape.

Heat the frying oil in a wok over medium high heat. Cook 3-4 sanbūsaj at a time, flipping them once during cooking. Drain on paper towels. Serve with brown mustard.

Notes about the redaction:
·    Food historian Charles Perry suggests soy sauce as a good substitute for murri, which is “barley sauce”—created essentially the same way as soy sauce.
·    Pale sesame oil is sold in Middle Eastern and Indian grocery stores. It has a very different flavor from Asian toasted sesame oil. Safflower oil makes a good low-flavor, high-smoke point substitute.
·    Round sanbūsaj, pressed together with the fingernail were called “crowned”, the shape being reminiscent of a king’s crown.
·    Sanbūsaj were a commonly seen street food in urban areas at this time. This is likely the reference for the “hurried diner-out”.
·    The shape of the pan described in some recipes is essentially a wok. Less oil is needed to fill the pan, while still exposing much of it to the heat.
Teaching at a class day
February 2013

I volunteered to teach two classes for this past weekend. One on sanbūsaj, or meat-filled pastries, and the other on advanced t-tunic construction.

The sanbūsaj class fell flat.  Two people stopped in for handouts, and one person showed up for the class. When he tentatively asked if he was the only the one, I suggested he take a handout and head to another class (classes were stacked 10 deep per hour, so it was easy to have a second and third choice). Several people approached me before hand to say mine was their second choice class. Sigh. I felt loved with the pre-apologies, but I had been excited about the idea of working with others on redacting recipes and learning pastry tricks.

The t-tunic class was well attended, but I fear I was just low enough on spoons that people did not come away with as much knowledge as I had wanted to share [learn more about the Spoon Theory for people with auto-immune disorders at butyoudontlooksick.com]. People asked good questions, and I have my contact info on my handouts, which included measurements and sewing directions. It was suggested I do more with how the layout looks before cutting. Not a bad suggestion, but I hesitate to share my layout, which works for a luxury-sized 5’10” woman. There are many more people who don’t fit that description than do. I suppose I could give mine as examples. Cataloging all of the tricks I talked about may not hurt, too.

I also thought about making a small tunic with each of the different pattern pieces colored differently. And maybe serged pieces that can be played around with….

05 February 2013

Sanbusaq Cairo Recipe: Food Item Fourteen: A&S 50 Challenge

Recipe of Sanbūsaq [samosa] 1373 Cairo
Food Item Fourteen: A&S 50 Challenge
Translation by Charles Perry
Redaction by Sayyeda al-Kaslaania

Take all lean meat, without fat, and remove the tendons, and boil it lightly. Then pound it in a mortar and dry it in the air. You mince four bunches of parsley, and you mince a bunch of green mint for it. You pound the weight of half an ounce {an ounce here is 33 grams} of pepper, half an ounce of caraway, three sticks of Ceylon cinnamon, a race of ginger and the weight of a mithqual {4.5 grams} of atraf tib {spice powder} of cardamom and cloves. Then you put the pounded meat in the pot and you put the minced parsley [sc. and mint] on it, and you put half the spices on it, and you fry it. You put the quantity of [the juice of] twelve lemons on it and leave it until it thirsts and dries out. Then put it in a bowl [zubdiyya] and throw half the spices on it and mix it well. You take kunafa [a fine pancake] and roll it up and stuff it with it and seal it with dough and fry them in a tagine until they float. It comes out good.

[“The Description of Familiar Foods: Kitāb Waṣf al-Aṭ’ima al-Mu’tāsa.” Translated by Charles Perry in Medieval Arab Cookery: Essays and Translations. Edited by Maxime Rodinson, A.J. Arberry, and Charles Perry. Prospect Books: 2006. Pp 273-466.] al-Kaslaania’s notes in {}.
Mountain of Sanbusaj

Samosa recipe (reduced volume)

1 pound ground beef or lamb
1 bunch parsley
1 handful fresh mint
Tsp ground black pepper
Tsp ground caraway
2 tsp ground Ceylon cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
Dash ground Cardamom
Dash ground Cloves
Juice from one lemon
Flatbread pastry (a good recipe can be found here http://xawaash.com/?p=3412) or wonton wrappers
Oil for deep frying (pale sesame oil or safflower oil)

Mix ground spices together. Mince parsley and mint. [“Boiling lightly” was done to tenderize the meat for mincing, and to remove the unpleasant raw-meat smell before working with it. By starting with ground beef, I am skipping this step.]

Brown the ground beef, adding greens and half of the spice mixture about half way through (to make up for what would have been par-cooked meat). Remove from the heat and mix with lemon juice (in the middle ages, lemons were smaller than modern limes and full of seeds, so less is used then you might expect).

Allow to cool, then refrigerate (this is the “drying out” part).
liquids to "dry out"

While the meat is cooling, make the pastry dough. Wonton wrappers are good substitute (and a good idea to have as backup). Stuff the pastries, using a paste of flour and water to seal them. Aim for a “triangular” shape by first sealing two adjoining sides, then folding the remaining point down after stuffing. Be careful not to over-stuff them and break holes in the pastry.

Deep fry until the pastry is golden and crispy. Turn over each pastry once during cooking. Drain on paper towels to cool.

Serve warm or room temperature with mustard and other vinegary condiments. These were considered a “cold” dish that was pre-set on the table as diners were joining the table. Sanbūsaq, both sweet and savory, were also often used to adorn other dishes. Sanbūsaq were also a commonly seen street food in urban areas.

Both the mint and the parsley mellow with cooking. Many people frowned saying, “Is that mint?” but continued to eat them and praise them. I forgot to add the second half of the spices. While they were tasty meat pastries, they were slightly lacking in full flavor.

·    Pale sesame oil is untoasted and found in Middle Eastern grocery stores for much less money than standard US grocery stores. Safflower does not have a strong flavor and tolerates heat well.
·    Even if making your own pastry, keeping wonton wrappers on hand is not a bad idea. I was able to use four from my original batch of 24.
·    In humoral science, lamb is considered a better meat. Beef should be reserved for those who do physical labor.

Cotton during the Middle Ages in the Middle East?

Cotton during the Middle Ages in the Middle East?
Sayyeda al-Kaslaania
4/4/2011, revised 2/5/2013

 The short answer is: yes, cotton was used in the middle ages. It was not like cotton we use today, and it was used decoratively and in small quantities until the thirteenth century. Modern long-staple cotton has only been widely know in the last century.

According to S.D. Goitein in A Mediterranean Society, Vol 1, examinations of trade records reveal that cotton was available but it was quite rare. In Egypt in the 11th century, flax trade and linen production out paced every other commodity combined in trade. Wool production came in second among the textiles, and sericulture products (silk) were still made in measurably higher quantities than cotton.

Marianne Erickson notes "It was not until the 13th century that the cotton culture in Egypt actually reached a great level of importance, and it is only in the last century that the long-fibered type of cotton has been known, " in her book Textiles in Egypt 300-1500 AD. (Personally, I don't know that I could identify a short-staple cotton).

This is supported by Golombek and Gervers in their article "Tiraz Fabrics in the Royal Ontario Museum" where they note that until the about 12th century, the western Islamic world only used cotton as decorative threads (this would include Islamic Spain during this period, but I don't know about Christian Spain).

Cotton seems to be frequently mixed with other fibers in extant tiraz pieces (for example, held in the Royal Ontario Museum, The Museum of Islamic Art in Cairo; and found in the Quseir al-Qadim excavations) and those pieces are relatively small.

Yedida Stillman, in her dissertation, indicated that many times the ma'raqa, a sweat cap worn by men and women, was made of cotton according to trousseau lists. I have not transcribed everything, but I have no other mention of cotton in period from this work (however, her study of Lane's travels during the 19th century mention cotton several times).

Works cited and links to museums coming shortly.