[Sca-cooks] recipes using sumac berries?

lilinah@earthlink.net lilinah at earthlink.net
Wed Aug 23 23:25:21 PDT 2006

Stefan li Rous <stefanlirous at austin.rr.com>
>  I'm not quite sure which recipes these "'Abbasid recipes" are,

Well, there's
1.) al-Warraq's 10th century Kitab al-Tabikh, a compendium of 9th and 
10th century recipes
2.) al-Baghdadi's 13th century Kitab al-Tabikh (means "Book of 
Dishes", i.e., "cookbook")
3.) the as-yet not fully translated book that has a long complex 
title that is sometimes translated to include "The Link of the 
4.) the 14th century Book of the Description of Familiar Foods which 
was compiled in Mamluk Egypt, but the recipes are about 1/3 
al-Baghdadi and many, if not most, of the rest are in a similar vein, 
so clearly 'Abbasid.

There are several others, as well, which have not been translated 
into English. And while the 13th c. Andalusian cookbook is not 
'Abbasid, per se, being from a kingdom far far away with its own 
unique set of flavorings (such as lavender, which is never used in 
al-Baghdadi), it has many dishes of 'Abbasid origin.

As for what was the 'Abbasid dynasty... The 'Abbasid family came into 
power by organizing non-Arab Muslims to fight against the Umayyad 
armies in 750 CE, and then by murdering* every single member* of the 
ruling family, except one youthful prince who fled to North Africa, 
and became 'abd al-Rachman I, the first ruler of al-Andalus.

The next generation moved the 'Abbasid capital from Damascus (Syria) 
(which they felt was both too Byzantine and too Umayyad) to Baghdad 
(Iraq). There they built a fabulous and wonderful city - a circular 
city with well laid out roads. The ruler was the Caliph of Dar 
al-Islam. It was in this remarkable city that the Caliph Harun 
al-Rashid (r. 786-809) lived, half-brother to a famous recipe writer, 
and mentioned in the fabled "1,000 Nights and a Night".

But within a generation of taking control, the 'Abbasid caliph was 
clearly the ruler over all Dar al-Isalm in name only. Dar al-Islam 
quickly split in to many smaller kingdoms, only some of whom gave 
lip-service the the 'Abbasid Caliph, but basically ruled ignoring 
him. When the 'Abbasid caliph was petitioned to help the people of 
the Levant fight of the invading Franji (European crusaders), the 
caliph couldn't be bothered to lift a finger.

And then Baghdad was truly madly deeply sacked and destroyed when the 
Mongols invaded in 1258. The 'Abbasid caliph was killed by the 
Mongols. And the remaining scion of the family was taken into... 
uh... mmm... protective custody in Egypt, where an 'Abbasid caliph 
remained while the Mamluks ruled, until the Ottoman invasion of 1517.

By this time the 'Abbasid caliph was no longer a ruler of anything, 
although he was generally recognized as a religious authority, and he 
was often used as a political pawn.

A sophisticated gourmet culture arose in early 'Abbasid Baghdad, when 
men met to eat the finest foods, tell stories, and recite poetry, 
often with food as a subject. It was from this culture gastronomes 
that all the cookbooks i mentioned above arose.

More than you probably wanted to know, but truly a slight and 
insufficient description of a great culture.

>  but
>  can anyone point me to some other period recipes, preferably European
>  ones, which use sumac berries?

Mmm... the only European recipes i know of using sumac are 
adaptations of Arabic recipes. There's an Italian recipe for 
sommachia (the Arabic original is summaqiyya)

Sommachia - Chicken with Spicy Sumac Sauce
Zambrini, Libro della cucina
from Perry, Medieval Arabic Cookery<

Take some jointed chickens and fry them in bacon fat. Take some 
almonds, some sumac and water and cook with the chicken. The dish 
should be quite thick. Serve. The same recipe can be applied to fish, 
partridge, capons, etc.

Polastri a Sumacho boni e perfecti
Frati, Libro di cucina
as reproduced by Perry in "Medieval Arabic Cookery"

If you wish to make chicken with sumac for twelve people, take twelve 
chickens and two pounds of almonds, also about an ounce each of 
cinnamon, ginger, and [?- pepper] , two ounces of cloves, half a 
pound of plums and one pound of sumac. Take the chickens and brown 
them whole in melted bacon fat. When they are well browned, add some 
sweet spices, root ginger, cinnamon sticks, and whole cloves and 
brown well (again). Add a little water, then take some very clean 
sumac and put it to soak in some plain vinegar. Take the unpeeled, 
washed almonds, pound them thoroughly and diffuse the resulting 
powder in water. Take the sumac and mix it well with the vinegar in 
which it has soaked. When the chickens with the other ingredients are 
cooked, add some prunes which have been washed thoroughly, then take 
the sumac and strain it; repeat with the almond milk and throw away 
the solid residue. Add the remaining liquid to the chickens and boil 
with the spices to taste and plenty of water and salt. This dish 
should be made with sumac, spices, saffron, vinegar and sumac juice. 
When the entire mixture had been boiled well, remove from the fire in 
order to serve it. Place the chickens on the plates (or, rather, 
trenchers) and serve with no further garnish. If you wish to serve 
the chickens in pieces prepare these in the same way.


I note that 2 oz. of cloves may be too much...


Here is the original Arabic recipe from Charles Perry's wonderful new 
translation of al-Baghdadi's Kitab al-Tabikh. And i must add that 
anyone interested in this cuisine MUST get Perry's new translation. 
It isn't just that Arberry got some things wrong, but that the 
transcription by Daoud Chelebi had some problems - apparently he 
skipped some significant marginal notes and included some less 
important notes...

(Notes in parentheses from Charles Perry)
[Notes in square brackets from me]


The way to make it is to cut up fat meat medium, then leave it in the 
pot. (Sc. add water) Then throw a little good salt on it. Then let it 
come to a boil until it is nearly done. Thoroughly take its scum 
away. Then throw on it boiled chard, cut in pieces a finger width 
long [note that the Arabs liked to use the white stem and cut the 
green leafy parts away], and carrots. Then take onions and Nabatean 
leeks [not sure how these differ from other leeks], peel them, wash 
them in  water and salt and put them on. If it is the season of 
eggplant, put it in with its black peel removed; boil it in a 
separate pot (i.e., before putting them with the meat). Then take 
sumac and put it in a separate pot, put a little salt and bread 
crumbs on it, boil it well and strain it [i suspect the bread crumbs 
are forced through the sieve]. If you want, take a scalded, jointed 
hen and throw it in the pot. Pound lean meat fine and (sprinkle) 
spices on it. Make it into medium sized meatballs and throw them in 
the pot also. Put spices on it, namely coriander seed, cumin, pepper, 
ginger, cinnamon, fine mastic and bunches of fresh mint. Then take 
the mentioned sumac water and put it in the pot. Pound walnuts, beat 
them to a liquid consistency with water and throw them in the pot. 
Then crumble dry mint onto its surface, and throw in whole pieces of 
walnuts without pounding. Pound a little garlic, mix it with a little 
of the broth and throw it in the pot. Some people put whole raw eggs 
(Sc. in the pot). Leave it on a quiet fire to grow quiet, then take 
it up.


Below is a recipe contained in a marginal note. It was copied into 
the margin by a much later scribe from an 11th century medical 
encyclopedia, Minhaj al-Bayan. I include this note because it 
mentions barberries (!!). And it supports my idea that while sumac 
and barberries don't taste the same, they can be used similarly.

'Amirbarisiyya, which is zirishkiyya.
It is made like sumaquyya, except that it is made with almonds. The 
best of it is made with fresh barberries
('amirbaris and zirishk are Persian names for barberries)


Finally, there are several other Arabic dishes in 14th-15th c. 
Italian cookbooks, besides Summaqiyya/Sommachia. They include 
Rummaniyya/Romania (a meat dish with pomegranates) and 
Limuniyya/Limonia (a meat dish with lemons). There are others that 
were taken from Arabic recipes or somewhat adopted. For example, 
there are a number of Italian escabeches from this period, the 
technique adopted from the popular Arabic dish of Persian origin 
called Sikbaj, which had a lot of vinegar, and often chopped onions.
Urtatim (that's err-tah-TEEM)
the persona formerly known as Anahita

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