Monday, April 7, 2014

Lent Dishes

From the Caliphs' Kitchens to Yours

Muzawwarat Recipes from Medieval Baghdad

المزوّرات: وصفات صيامية من بغداد الرشيد

Pureed Fava Beans Dip, Medieval Style
باقلا خضراء مهروسة

Gorgeous medieval Baghdadi dip that will put even hummus to shame.


It is no secret that Arab cuisine glorifies meat. No meal is rendered complete without it, even the host's hospitality is gauged by the amount of meat served. This has been the case all along, particularly in pre-modern times when vegetarian dishes were not considered real food. In fact, in medieval times a meat-less dish is called muzawwara (counterfeit) and sometimes kadhdhaba (false). Such dishes were usually offered before the main meat-dish. But they also proved quite handy when someone was sick, as they were believed to be easier to digest. As such, they were tolerated but not sought after. Medieval books preserved for us verses written in frustration by a sick poet who was ordered by his physician to stick to a vegetarian diet:

How can muzawwara my nourishment be?
Eating muzawwara is a falsity!
Vinegar and the trifling vegetable dishes are not for me.
Let the doctor get out of my way!
Say in doctors and medicine faith has gone astray.
Give me! Where is kebab? Where are the fried dishes?
The succulent roasts and the spiced meat? Bring them on! 

                                                 













But most of all, the meatless dishes were in demand among Christians fasting during Lent, and the extant medieval Arab cookbooks do include a good number of them, the most interesting of which may be located in 10th-century cookbook by Ibn Sayyar al-Warraq Kitab al-Tabeekh (كتاب الطبيخ). It dedicates the whole of chapter 46 to such dishes. It is given the title ما يأكل النصارى من الطعام المزور في الصيام (Counterfeit Dishes which Christians Eat during Lent). All made with chard, fava beans, beans, gourd, truffles, purslane, and the like. Some recipes show how to make shrimp and small fish relishes without shrimp and fish, how to make milk with coconut, omelet without eggs, harisa (rice porridge) with leeks instead of meat, or making stews thickened and flavored with ground sesame and almonds instead of meat.

Pureed Fava Beans Dip, Medieval Style
باقلا خضراء مهروسة

Here is a recipe I adapted from Ibn Sayyar al-Warraq's tenth-century cookbook (see my English translation Annals of the Caliphs' Kitchens, Chapter 45, and Delights from the Garden of Eden, p. 132):

You can prepare this dip year round using frozen green fava beans, available at Middle Eastern stores, but also at major super markets (look for it in the Goya frozen vegetables section). 

Note: If using fresh fava beans, blanching them in hot water first will make shelling them a breeze. If using frozen fava beans, dipping them in hot water first will also make the task quite fast and easy.     



2 cups (12 oz) skinned fresh or frozen fava beans (= 1 pound or 3 cups, with skins still on)
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
½ teaspoon crushed coriander seeds
½ cup, finely chopped cilantro 

2 garlic cloves, grated
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon ground cumin
¼ cup lemon juice
½ cup (2 oz) ground pistachio

For garnish: olive oil, olives, and basil or parsley 


1. Put the skinned fava beans in a medium pot and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil, then lower heat to medium, and let them boil gently for about 15 minutes, or until tender. Drain beans and reserve some of the liquid, in case you need it. When beans are cool enough to handle, mash them with a fork. 

2. Sauté onion in oil until it starts to brown. Add coriander and cilantro, and stir briefly. Set aside 2 tablespoons of it for garnish, add the rest to the mashed beans along with garlic, salt, pepper, cumin, lemon juice, and ground pistachio. If mixture looks dry, add a little of the drained liquid in which beans were cooked or some extra lemon juice, to taste.



3. Spread mixture in a shallow bowl, and garnish with the browned onion, olive oil, olives, and basil or parsley.  Serve with warm bread.

 Makes 4 servings   


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