Monday, January 8, 2018
Sunday, September 17, 2017
Stuffed Potato Dough
Kubbat Puteta Chap
However, the art of making kubba, of stuffing food with food, is certainly not new to the Iraqi cooks. Indeed, it can be traced all the way back the ancient times, as manifested in the Babylonians' bird pies, prepared by enclosing birds cooked in white sauce between two layers of seasoned dough. Detailed recipes for making such an ancient stuffed food are found in a Babylonian culinary tablet written in Akkadian cuneiform in 1700 BC:
|Babylonian culinary tablet 8958, Yale Babylonian Collection|
Here is how to make it:(Makes 18 to 20 pieces)
2 pounds potatoes (all-purpose will do), boiled whole and unpeeled
½ cup cornstarch (use a bit less with starchy potatoes)
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon black pepper
For the filling, see my previous post on kubbat Halab
About 1 cup breadcrumbs for coating
Oil for frying
5. Put the fried discs in a large colander lined with white paper towels, and let them cool off a little before serving. Alternatively, you may spread the paper towels on a rack and put the fried discs in one layer to cool off. This way you will prevent them from getting soggy.
4. Bake it in the preheated oven for about 40 minutes, or until surface is golden brown. Let it cool for 10 minutes, and divide it into 18 to 20 squares.
Tuesday, July 26, 2016
The Sweet and the Salty:
Cookies of the Medieval Arab World
with Modern Adaptations
Growing up in Baghdad, I remember that our favorite snack-time was in the afternoon, when Mom would summon us all to her tray of tea and goodies, typical of which would be an assortment of the flavorful aromatic sweet homemade cookies of kleicha (see my post), some stuffed with sugar and walnut and some with dates, and yet others stuffed with cheese and parsley. Along with these, would also be the purchased sugar-less sesame-encrusted dunking cookies of ka'ak, as well as baqsam (biscotti) and churek (see my post). A perfect harmony of flavors and textures of which we couldn't have enough and wished the afternoon would last for ever.
|The famous ka'ak bakery of Al-Seyyid in downtown Baghdad|
A Bit of History:Of the more than 300 varieties of breads the ancient Mesopotamians of Iraq knew, a good number of them were of the kind they called 'improved'. They were cookies, cakes and pastries variously enriched with clarified butter, dairy, beer, sweeteners, nuts, and dried fruits. The cookies were shaped into rings, pillars, turbans, crescents, hearts, heads, hands, ears, and even women's breasts. Such top quality breads were called 'kuku' in Akkadian, the ancient language of the Mesopotamians, from which the Arabic ka'k (كعك) must have derived. Mesopotamia was indeed the cradle of cookies.
And the tradition continued. The existing cookbooks of the medieval Arabo-Islamic world testify to the sophistication and popularity of cookie-making and consumption. The most prevalent were those stuffed with nuts or dates, back then called khushkananaj (خشكنانج), which resemble the ancient Mesopotamian 'qullupu' cookies, and the kleicha and ma'mul of modern times. There were also varieties of the ka'k dry cookies, sandwich cookies, glazed cookies, and there were the delicate almond cookies, sensuously called virgin's breasts. All differently infused with the aromas of rosewater and musk, seasoned with spices, and decked with nuts.
Here is the recipe for virgin's breasts:
|The same recipe in 14th-century Egyptian cookbook Kanz al-Fawa'id|
Only one recipe survived, which describes how to make salted cookies. The recipe explains that these cookies are to be offered with the sweet ones, in case the eater’s appetite dulls with having only sweet foods. Here it is:
|Recipe for aqraas mamlooha (salted cookies) from 14th-century Egyptian cookbook Kan al-Fawa'id|
Following are my adaptations of the two cookies, the sweet and the salty.
1 cup almond flour
3/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup oil (such as canola)
3 tablespoons rosewater
1. Put all the dry ingredients (the first six) in a food processor, and pulse once or twice to mix ingredients.
2. Add oil slowly through the tube, and pulse a few more times.
3. Add the rosewater, and pulse several times until the mix clumps together. Add a bit more if needed.
4. Take a walnut-size piece, press by hand into a ball and place it on a lightly oiled cookie sheet. Slightly moisten your hands with a bit of rosewater while handling the mix. Repeat with the rest of pieces. Press a raisin in the middle of each piece, and bake on the middle shelf of a preheated oven (375 F.) for 13 to 15 minutes (do not let them over bake). During the last two minutes of baking, let the cookies bake on the top shelf of the oven.
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons dried dill weed
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground aniseeds
1/4 teaspoon ground nigella seeds
1/4 teaspoon ground dried ginger
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1/2 cup oil (such as canola)
1/2 cup yogurt
2 eggs, divided
26 macadamia or hazelnuts nuts
chili pepper, for sprinkling, optional
1. Stir dry ingredients (first seven) in a bowl.
2. Stir in the cheese by fork or hand.
3. Beat together oil, yogurt and one egg, and pour them on the flour mix. Stir with a fork or by fingers in a circular movement at first to allow the flout to absorb the moisture, and then knead them into a medium-consistency dough.
4. Lightly flour the working space. Take some of the dough, and flatten it with a rolling pin to 1/3-inch thickness. Cut it into shapes with cookie cutters. Arrange the pieces on a lightly greased cookie sheet. Stick a macadamia nut or a hazelnut in each cookie, and sprinkle surface with chili pepper (optional). Beat the second egg and brush the pieces with it.
5. Bake on the middle shelf of a preheated oven (375 F.) for about 15 minutes. During the last two minutes of baking, let the cookies bake on the top shelf of the oven.
Monday, April 4, 2016
Everybody Loves Salsa
|12-century glass bottle, probably Syrian.|
Credit: MET Museum, 2005,318,
Friends of Islamic Art Gifts, 2005
Take sweet almonds, skin them, finely pound them, and mix them with very sour vinegar, adding enough of it to thin down the mix. Finely pound mustard seeds and add, as much as you wish of it to the the almond mix, along with the spice blend atraf al-teeb (My translation).
Wednesday, December 16, 2015
Eggplant makes easy but bewitchingly scrumptious sandwiches. They are quite popular in Iraq, eaten especially at dinnertime, the time for the smaller meal of the day (for lunch, more serious stuff is offered). Interestingly, Iraqi Jews used to eat it for the Sabbath morning meal, and they simply called it laffa (wrap sandwich), and they are the ones credited for making it a popular sandwich in Israel today, where it is more popularly known as sabich (but see a reader's comment below).
Sabich, the name, is most probably derived from the word subuh 'morning', which hearkens to the old times of Baghdad when the sandwich was a Sabbath morning staple. (Have a look at Vered Guttman's interesting article)
Sammoon is traditionally shaped into diamonds and baked in the commercial brick oven.
A Bit of History:
Besides, in a monograph on the Assyrian vegetable drugs The Assyrian Herbal, based on 600 Assyrian cuneiform tablets, Campbell Thompson, the translator of these ancient Akkadian documents, is of the opinion that the plant pi(l)lu perhaps refers to Solanum Melengena L, eggplant. Pillu, at that time, he says, was also used to designate 'egg' and the mandrake fruit, which itself belongs to the same family as that of the eggplant. It is the
nightshade (Solanaceae), a family of dubious history.
In classical Arabic, the word luffah (لفّاح) designated both the eggplant and the mandrake. Medieval Arabic sources also called the eggplant badhinjan, a name we still use today. It is said to have originally been beidh al-jinn بيض الجن), that is 'eggs of demons', which may be linked to the ancient Assyrian name pillu 'egg', mentioned above.
In the medieval Arab-Islamic world, the eggplant was the least favorite vegetable among their physicians, who unanimously condemned eating it, and the bitterness of the vegetable has a lot to do with this. It was said to generate black bile, cancer, melasma (kalaf), and blockages.
Eggplant has a taste like saliva a generous lover offers.
|Eggplant illustrated in 14th-century Tacuinum Sanitatus, based on Taquim al-Sihha (تقويم الصحة) by Ibn Butlan, 11th-century Arab Christian physician from Baghdad|
To lessen the harms of eggplant, the medieval physician al-Razi (d. 923) for instance, recommended parboiling it before incorporating it into the dishes, as this would get rid of most of its harmful stuff. The best way for cooking it after this initial step was frying it in light oils such as almond oil or sesame oil. He also recommended peeling and slashing the eggplant then stuffing it with salt and soaking it in cold water for a while, before using it. Grilling was not recommended because it would not rid the eggplant of its bitter, hot, and sharp taste. This explains the absence of recipes for grilled eggplant in extant medieval sources. The closest recipe we have to our modern baba ghannouj was a 13th-century Buran dish, in which fried eggplant was mashed and mixed with garlic, coriander seeds, salt, and yogurt (in Kitab al-Tabeekh by al-Baghdadi).
In Iraq today eggplant is a summer crop, which though quite popular, is still maligned, such as when people lose their temper, they put the blame on eating eggplant; or cautioning distressed people against eating it; otherwise it will cause hives.
But see this article for modern day views on eggplants (and more recipes).
|Eggplant illustrated in 14th-century Tacuinum Sanitatus, see above caption|
Here is how to prepare the eggplant to make sandwiches with it:
Eggplant slices simply fried in oil can get quite oily. To prevent them from soaking up oil like a sponge, sprinkle the slices with a little flour before frying them as this will help block most of the pores. Our medieval ancestors used to do the same thing.
For assembling sandwiches:
Serve the arranged platter as a side dish by itself, or make into sandwiches by filling a piece of bread with some of the layered vegetables.
5. Arrange pieces on a platter, garnished with parsley, sliced tomato, and pepper slices. Serve as a side dish or make into sandwiches, as described above.