[Sca-cooks] Atraf al-Tib

lilinah at earthlink.net lilinah at earthlink.net
Fri Jan 30 16:49:07 PST 2009

There are several issues here:

Katharina brought up spike lavender
1. I'm familiar with different kinds of lavender, and i have heard of spike lavender. And lavender is used a great deal in Medieval Andalusian cooking - i've cooked a  number of savory dishes that use lavender, using regular lavender. I'll have to get some spike lavender and see how it changes the flavor.

However, the real issue is that the Arabic word "sumbul" means spikenard, Nardostachys jatamansi, and not lavender. I can't even find a word for lavender in the Middle East, although there is a word for lavender in al-Andalus.

Arberry made quite a few errors in his work, some slight, some significant. I'm not "trashing" him. His was the very first translation of a Medieval Arabic cookbook into any European language, as far as i know, and certainly the first into English, and his work was groundbreaking. But i suspect he was not very familiar with spikenard, as many of us probably weren't until we started cooking Medieval food.

As for sumac, i'll get back to you. I've used it in both Medieval and modern Arabic language recipes.

2. Kiri wrote:
> I have made atraf al-tib using regular lavender and it does have a wonderful
> flavor.  The recipe I followed was the one Dame Hauviette has in her
> "Celebration at the Sarayi" CD.  She used the version in the Baghdad Cookery
> Book as translated by Perry.  It also called for rose hips.

I gave the page numbers of both Perry's and Rodinson's translations of the ingredient list for atraf al-tib found in "Kitab Wusla ila al-Habib" in "Medieval Arab Cookery".

I respect Charles Perry and his work, and rely heavily on his translations. And he has been of great assistance to me in areas of study i have not discussed on this list. However, i am skeptical of his translation of the rose ingredient as rose hips. I have not found rose hips used in Arabic-language cuisine, although IIRC it shows up a few times in medicinal compounds, but even there, far far less often than rose buds or rose petals.

If i may ask, what did Hauviette use for Perry's "common ash", which Rodinson gave as beech nuts and Nasrullah gave as elm seeds?

3. Mahmoud Shirvani translated al-Baghdadi's cookbook into Eski Osmanlica (Old Ottoman) and added approx. 80 Ottoman recipes to his manuscript in the mid-15th century. However, he also significantly altered quite a few of al-Baghdadi's recipes in his translation, and left his imprint on many others. For example, he changed one recipe for kid in al-Baghdadi to chicken in his Ottoman translation and altered some of the cooking directions. So one cannot assume that the Ottoman court chefs were cooking al-Baghdadi's recipes as written by al-Baghdadi. It is likely that Shirvani made changes to many of the early 13th c. recipes to suit 15th c. Ottoman court taste. I do not yet have translations of all of Shirvani's versions of al-Baghdadi's recipes. But based on those i do have, i am not convinced that the Ottoman royal cooks would be using atraf al-tib, and i suspect that some other flavoring was substituted.

Further, it becomes clear in an analysis of actual Ottoman recipes, and a comparison of them to recipes in al-Baghdadi's and other Arabic language cookbooks, that the Ottomans used a greatly reduced number of spices in their own dishes. And when they used spices, they often did not use very much. Some delicious Ottoman recipes use no spices at all, or only saffron, or black pepper. I found this surprising, considering that the Ottoman court would have had access of to everything produced within the vast borders of the Empire and everything traded into the Empire.

I counted all the spices in the approximately 25 of Shirvani's added recipes i've found or translated into English - about 1/3 of them - not a complete sample, but, i think, a reasonable starting place. Here they are, with the number of recipes in which they were used:
* Salt - in nearly all of them
* Saffron - 6
* Rosewater - 6
* Black pepper - 4
* Cinnamon, ground - 4 (plus 1 opt.); whole - 1
* Cloves - 3
* Mint, dried - 3; fresh - 1
* Musk - 3 = 1 savory, 2 sweet
* Cumin, whole - 1; ground, optional - 1
* Ginger - 1
* Brayed unspecified spices - 1

That isn't much, considering a number of recipes use 2 or 3 spices together while some savory recipes use no spices other than salt.

For example, there's the Persian derived dish Zirva/Zirbaj. Here are the two Ottoman versions and al-Baghdadi's version:
-- Zirva, Shirvani, folio 112 recto-verso *paraphrased*
Cook cut up sheep meat in water; add peeled almonds, peeled and seeded pink grapes, honey ("so it is sweet like syrup"); add salt, saffron, several dried apricots, several figs. Mix a little starch in water and stir in to thicken the broth.

-- Zirva, Shirvani, folio 123 verso *paraphrased*
Fry cut up sheep meat in fat. Add crushed chickpeas, some (dried) apricots, some grapes, some black plums, several chopped onions, some almonds, some figs, a little saffron, salt, and honey. Add a little starch to thicken. Serve sprinkled with poppy seeds.

-- Zirbaj, al-Baghdadi (p. 33, Charles Perry, trans.) *paraphrased*
Cover cut up sheep meat with water and cook with pieces of cinnamon, peeled chickpeas, and a little salt; if desired, when the pot comes to the boil, add a jointed hen. Add 1 ratl wine vinegar, 1/4 ratl sugar, and 1 ounce pounded almonds; 1 dirham each ground coriander, pepper, and mastic, and color with saffron. Top with split almonds and sprinkle with rosewater.

I think the differences are quite striking. And the few surviving recipes from the 16th c. show similar restraint.

In the end, Ottoman recipes as compared to al-Baghdad's recipes show:
- less use of spices in general;
- fewer spices combined in a single dish;
- quite a few dishes with no spices at all;
- greater use of butter, little use of sesame oil, and no use of olive oil;
- fewer purely sour dishes;
- greater use of sweeteners, most often honey, and less use of sugar, in savory dishes;
- fruit used more often in savory dishes;
- more different fruits combined in a single savory dish;
- much use of fruits in sweet dishes;
- a great variety of fruits in sweet dishes.

Anyway, i know i've strayed from atraf al-tib, so i'll stop typing...
Urtatim (that's urr-tah-TEEM)
the persona formerly known as Anahita

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