[Sca-cooks] 15th C. Ottoman Bulghur w/Chestnuts

Lilinah lilinah at earthlink.net
Wed Sep 19 17:19:08 PDT 2007

I'd like to serve some version of bulghur wheat with chestnuts at my 
upcoming Ottoman feast. The dish is mentioned in many 16th C. menus. 
It was served at meals as a primary grain dish. Unfortunately there's 
no surviving recipe.

So i'm trying to invent something - yes, not good for perfect 
historical accuracy - but there may be some diners who cannot eat 

I'm trying to figure out a few things and i'd like to run them by folks here.

Bulghur - Based on my reading of other recipes, it is likely that the 
Ottomans prepared bulghur either with broth or water. Broth would be 
more flavorful, so that what i plan to do. It is quite edible if just 
soaked in liquid and not actually cooked over a fire. Modern bulghur 
pilavs simmer the bulghur about 25 min. But if i can keep a burner 
free, that would be nice. Any opinions, based on cooking and/or 
eating bulghur, as to whether i should just soak the bulghur in hot 
broth (which would free up a stove burner) or actually put it over 
the fire?

Chestnuts - Again, i know you and i are working blind, pretty much, 
but i'm asking for non-Ottoman food experiences... I could just stir 
roasted and peeled chestnuts into the cooked bulghur. But i figure 
the chestnuts would be more tender if i simmer them in broth after 
peeling them, then stir them into the bulghur. (i may be able to get 
packs of peeled chestnuts which will save wear and blistering on my 
fingers) Any opinions?

Fat - Sheep tail fat apparently figures in a lot of the actual 
Ottoman recipes. But i'd like this dish to be edible by any 
vegetarians who attend. Butter is an option, as it was frequently 
used. Olive oil was NOT used in Palace cooking, just for oil lamps. 
On the other hand, there are folks here with genuine health related 
food issues - a need to reduce cholesterol intake. So i'm considering 
oil - obviously not olive. I'm wondering if sunflower oil would be 
too off-base to use. As far as i can tell, the Ottomans didn't use 
it, but i won't use canola, since nearly all grown in the US is 
genetically modified. Opinions?

Flavoring - This is the trickiest part. While the Ottomans ate dishes 
from al-Baghdadi's cookbook (which is where the actual Ottoman 
recipes showed up - in a translation of al-Baghdadi into Osmanli), 
the actually Ottoman dishes use far fewer spices and seasonings than 

I'm leaning toward finely chopped onions cooked in some butter or oil 
until soft and translucent, then stirred into the bulghur with salt 
and pepper, and maybe some cinnamon (although i'm not a fan of 
cinnamon). I'll be making 4 kinds of rice: white, red, yellow and 
green - so i'm thinking of skipping parsley and/or mint (in the 
green) and saffron (in the yellow).


I haven't found a recipe for bulghur with chestnuts in a modern 
Turkish cookbook, but i only have two of them. Modern bulghur pilav 
calls for bulghur, butter, onions, salt, pepper, and broth, sometimes 
tomato paste (clearly, i'm not using this), sometimes with fried 
dried vermicelli (which are then cooked). The bulghur is simmered, 
but as i said, if i can keep a burner free, that would be nice...


I did a count of the ingredients in the very limited number of 
recipes in Yerasimos's book - 22 from the late 15th C. (and 2 more 
that appear in menus, but not in the 15th C. cookbook, so Yerasimos 
got them from other later historical sources - which i didn't count) 
(there are either 77 or 82 recipes in the 15th C. book written in an 
old form of Osmanli that is similar to Seljuk Turkish, which was used 
in the 13th C.)


5 - saffron
3 - "some brayed spices"
3 - cinnamon
3 - musk
2 - cloves
2 - pepper
----- (only mentioned twice in the recipes, but shows up a lot in the 
Palace records, so probably added but not mentioned)
1 - cumin
1 - ginger
(it seems odd to me that mastic doesn't show up)

3 - parsley
3 - mint, dried
1 - mint, fresh

17 - salt
9 - rose water
3 - garlic

9 - honey - sometimes as a substitute for sugar
8 - sugar, white

2 - lemon juice - or orange juice as a substitute in 1
2 - verjus - or lemon juice as a substitute in 1
2 - white vinegar (doubtless white wine)
1 - sumac (added by Yersimos to a second)
1 - barberries - or tamarind in place of barberries

10 - Onions, usually "finely chopped"
8 - Chickpeas
2 - Gourd fresh
1 - Spinach
1 - Chard
1 - Carrot, preserved /carrot jam

7 - apricots, dried
6 - grapes: white razaki, red, pink, black, green (in 2)
5 - apples - with quinces as a substitute in one recipe
1 - figs
1 - dates

17 - lamb/mutton (not always specified, many say only meat, but beef 
and pork were not used)
6 - meatballs (undoubtedly of lamb/mutton)
5 - chicken
1 - meat of camel, sheep, lamb, or chicken
1 - sausage stuffed with fatty chopped meat, an abundance of black 
pepper, and an onion, and almonds sliced
1 - eggs
1 - egg whites

14 - almonds
   1 - walnuts

12 - butter, "fresh and sweet"
1 - fat from the tail of fat-tail sheep
1 - oil sesame
1 - oil (type not specified) (for frying)
NOTE: meat is often specified as fatty

2 - milk, fresh
2 - yogurt, ewe's milk

water (i didn't count - in many recipes for cooking meat, making 
dough, soaking dried fruit, etc.)
4 - broth from cooking the meat
2 - broth from cooking the chicken

8 - chickpeas
8 - rice
5 - starch
4 - flour sifted / finely ground / good, white, and pure
2 - rice flour
1 - bread, soaked
1 - vermicellis

1 - pomegranate juice - optionally with: the juice of plums and 
plums, or currant juice and currants (real currant fruit - ribes), or 
cherry juice and cherries
1 - yeast


Thanks for any opinions and suggestions
Urtatim (that's err-tah-TEEM)
the persona formerly known as Anahita

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