Goat stew with verjuice
10th century, Baghdad
Take 4 ratls (4 pounds) of fatty meat from [slaughtered] kid, cut it into chunks [and set it aside].
Take about 1 ratl (1 pound) of boneless mean meat from its thighs, or use its kishtamazija (tenderloin) and a small amount of its tallow or fat tail, or whatever you wish. Pound the meat [in a stone mortar] and cook it in a pot on burning coals until it is done. Sprinkle the meat with a sour liquid such as lemon juice, wine vinegar, sumac juice, or citron pulp. Continue cooking the meat until all moisture evaporates. Take the pot away from the fire. Make sanbusaj (filled pastries) using this meat [for filling] and stiff dough, which you have kneaded very well. Set the filled pastries aside.
Alternatively, you can fry the pounded meat in oil and mix it with masl (dried yogurt whey), cilantro, and coriander seed. Make sanbusaj using this meat mixture and the prepared stiff dough. Set them aside.
Now wash the [set aside] chunks of meat and put them in a pot along with a handful of soaked and split chickpeas (mufallaq), 2 pieces of cassia –about 2 dirhams by weight (6 grams), and one piece of galangal—about 1 dirham by weight (3 grams). Add as well, chopped cilantro, a suitable amount of white part of fresh onion (bayad basal), 1/3 ratl (2/3 cup) sweet and mellow olive oil (zayt ‘adhb), and a little salt. Add juice of citron to the pot, enough to cover the meat, and cook the pot until the meat is done. Add some dry spices such as coriander seeds, black pepper, and a little bit of ground ginger.
Gently add the prepared pastries (sanbusaj) to the cooking pot and wait for a short while until they are done then add 1 dirham (3 grams) chopped fresh rue leaves. Leave the pot on the remaining heat of the coals until it stops simmering, and ladle it.
[Instead of using citron juice only] you may mix it with juice of sour unripe grapes or juice of sour apples. The dish has also been made with [sour] Levantine mulberries (tut Shami), small sour plums [ijjas], and rhubarb (ribas).
In fact, if you mix mulberry juice with black murri Razi, then cook the dish the way you do with rakhbina, and add spinach to it and serve it, the eater will easily mistake it for a delicious true rakhbina and spare himself its harmful and putrefying effects.
Source: Nasrallah, Nawal. Annals of the Caliphs' Kitchens: Ibn Sayyar al-Warraq's Tenth-Century Baghdadi Cookbook. Islamic History and Civilization ed. vol. 70. Brill, 2007.
Sheikah al-Kaslaania’s Redaction
Hummadiyya (stew soured with citron pulp) Ibrahimiyya
Goat stew with verjuice
10th century, Baghdad
1 lb kid meat, ground (or lamb)
Sumac, 2 T.
Pastry (wonton wrappers, 1 package)
Dried yogurt whey
4 lb kid meat, cubed
chickpeas, peeled (two cans)
Cassia cinnamon sticks, 2
Galangal, 3 grams
Cilantro, ¼ cup packed
White onion, peeled and chopped, 1 medium
Citron juice (or verjuice, or rhubarb juice), 10 ounces
Coriander seed, 1 Tbl
Black pepper, 1Tbl
Ground ginger, 1 Tbl
Fresh rue, several sprigs
Add the ground sumac to 1 cup of water. Simmer for 20 minutes to reduce the water and extract the sumac flavor.
Fry the ground meat in olive oil. When meat begins to brown, add ½ cup sumac cooking water, but allow the sumac itself to settle to the bottom first. Cook until the sumac water has evaporated. Let meat cool. Follow package directions for using wonton wrappers. Seal the edges in the shape of a tiny samosa (tetrahedron). Cover and refrigerate.
Brown the cubed meat in olive oil. Place the browned meat in a pot and add chickpeas, onion and spices. Cover with half strength verjuice or the extracted juice of rhubarb. Bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer for two hours. This simmer time is needed to break down the connective tissue in the stew meat.
At this point, the stew and the samosas can be cooled and stored separately overnight.
Bring the stew to a boil. Add samosas and cook for 15-20 minutes. The meat in the samosas is cooked so this is simply to bring them to temperature. Do not overcook or the samosas will begin to disintegrate. Add fresh rue and serve.
Preparing meat in the Middle Ages
The medieval mindset in the Middle East believed that all meat inherently smelled bad before it was cooked. Washing the meat was a tool for removing the fragrant “scum” from the outside of the meat, as skimming the cooking water removes the scum from the inside of the meat. However, modern safety standards do not recommend washing raw meat, as the practice typically only serves to splash germs around the kitchen.
Furthermore, although the recipe doesn’t call for browning the goat meat, “the preliminary technique in preparing meat for stews, called ta'riq, which al-Baghdadi religiously followed in all his meat recipes, gave us the impression that that was the only way to do it.”
“Literally, ta'riq means 'sweating.' Before adding liquid to the stew pot, meat was first briefly fried in rendered sheep's tail fat. In the process, meat first releases its juices (i.e. sweats), which then evaporate, leaving behind the meat swimming in its fat. This was believed to eliminate undesirable meat odor zafar.” Caliphs’ Kitchens, p 23.This recipe, having been collected by al-Warraq, does not indicate ta’riq is required. I elected to include it because our modern mindset enjoys the savory umami flavor browning creates.
The kid meat I picked up came as bone-in chunks. I decided to roast it at 325 for 25 minutes to cook the meat away from the bone. I then stripped the meat into the cooking pot and discarded the bone.
I elected to use ground lamb, rather than kid, in the samosas simply because I can purchase it already ground. Likewise, I already have verjuice on hand.
Sourness, or tartness, as a flavor is considered savory in the Middle East. A distressing experience can be had by a US-raised person tasting a Middle Eastern sour cherry fruit leather and finding it salted instead of sweetened with sugar. Whereas sweet items, such as prepared dates, are almost cloying sweetened but have zero tart flavor.
When we think of the climates of Baghdad and Cairo, it isn’t really surprising that sour, vinegary, and tart flavors are incorporated into many of the staple meals of the region. Sour foods, such as pickles, oranges, and sekanjabin, help us rebalance our electrolytes when we’ve spent part of the day sweating.