Tabahaja (beef with pistachios)

This recipe is from the Kanz al-Fawa-id fi tanwi al-mawa’id (“The Treasure of Useful Advice for the Composition of a Varied Table.”) It can be found on p. 79-80 of Lilia Zaouali’s Medieval Cuisine of the Islamic World.

You need meat and mint. Blanch the meat, brown it in a little oil, then pour its broth over it. Mix honey, pistachios, atraf tib, some starch, saffron, and pepper in a little vinegar. Add this mixture to the meat and cook until it thickens.


1 kg stewing beef, such as chuck steak or beef shin 1 tsp atarif tib
½ cup pistachios, crushed ¼ tsp saffron
2 tbs honey Salt and pepper to taste
1tbs arrowroot/cornflour Generous handful roughly torn mint
2 tbs virgin sesame oil


  • Cover the beef with water, and simmer for about 1.5 – 2 hours until the meat is very soft. Strain and reserve the cooking liquid. Remove any scum from the surface of the cooking liquid.
  • Soak the saffron threads in boiling water until the water is a deep orange.
  • In a pan, heat the sesame oil, then add the beef and fry briefly.
  • Add the honey, the reserved and de-scummed beef broth, the arrowroot, the spices and saffron water, and stir to thicken.
  • Add the pistachios and stir to warm through.
  • Sprinkle with the mint to serve.
  • Notes

    • This dish would have been served as part of the second or third course, after the cold dishes and pickles.
    • It is possible the blanching refers to the practice of boiling the meat to clean it and balance the humours. However, the double cooking actually results in a very tasty dish – the meat is soft from the stewing, and then develops a lovely crust from the frying.
    • Atarif tib is a medieval spice mix of around 10 different spices: pepper, long pepper, rose petals, cardamom, nutmeg, mace, spikenard, cloves, ginger, bay leaf and oregano.
    • Virgin sesame oil is very different to the Chinese sesame oil – it’s made from unroasted seeds and has a much milder flavour. You will need to visit specialty shops, such as delicatessens or Middle Eastern or Indian grocers, to find it.

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