Natif (Nut Brittle)

Thicken dissolved sugar or honey on a quiet fire to the degree that when a piece of it is taken and cooled, it breaks and shatters. Then knead what you want of sesame, walnuts, pistachios, almonds and poppy seeds with it. It cools and is taken up. Kitab Wasf al-Atima al-Mutada Chapter X (The Description of Familiar Foods)

Natif is either a nut brittle, as here, or a nut studded nougat-like sweet (Nasrallah, 2009, 599).


300g caster sugar
1 cup mixed nuts (I like a mix of almonds and pistachios)
100mL water


  1. In a heavy saucepan, combine the sugar and water, and stir over a low heat until the sugar is completely dissolved. Then stop stirring.
  2. When the sugar syrup comes to the boil, brush the sides of the pan down occasionally with a natural bristled brush, and check the temperature regularly.
  3. When the syrup reaches the hard crack stage (149 – 154°C), add the nuts and stir well.
  4. Pour the mix onto an oiled marble slab, or oiled earthenware plate (not melamine or plastic). When it’s cooled completely, break the mass up and store.


  • If making this on a hot day, adding the nuts when the syrup reaches the soft ball stage (112 – 116°C) will help the cooking process. Make sure you stir the mix occasionally or the nuts will stick and burn. You can use raw caster sugar for this if you like, to get a more caramel looking toffee setting for the nuts. Raw caster sugar is also less likely to crystallise badly if making on a hot day.


Further Reading

Click on the links below to buy direct from The Book Depository.
Nasrallah, Nawal (2009) Annals of the Caliphs’ Kitchens
Rodinson, Maxime Medieval Arab Cookery

Chickpea Puree

Cook the chickpeas in water, then mash them in a mortar to make a puree. Push the puree through a sieve for wheat, unless it is already fine enough, in which case this step is not necessary. Mix it then with wine vinegar, the pulp of pickled lemons, and cinnamon, pepper, ginger, parsley of the best quality, mint, and rue that have all been chopped and placed on the surface of the serving dish [zubdiyya]. Finally, pour over [this mixture] a generous amount of oil of good quality.

This recipe comes from the thirteenth century Kanz al-Fawa id fi tanwi’ al-mawa id (“The Treasure of Useful Advice for the Composition of a Varied Table”) which was written in Egypt. It can be found in Lilia Zaouali’s Medieval Cuisine of the Islamic World (p 66).


200g dried chickpeas, OR 1 can chickpeas 1/2 tsp cinnamon tbs finely chopped parsley
2 tbs wine vinegar 1/4 tsp pepper 2 tbs finely chopped mint
pulp of 1/2 pickled lemon 1/2 tsp ginger 1 tsp finely chopped feverfew or rocket
2 tbs extra virgin olive oil


  1. If using dried chickpeas, soak the chickpeas overnight, then boil them for at least two hours in fresh water, until they are tender. If using canned chickpeas, drain and rinse well.
  2. Put the chickpeas in a mortar and pound to a paste, then pass through a fine sieve. You can also do this step the modern, painless way in a food processor.
  3. In a bowl, mix together the preserved lemon pulp, spices and herbs, and spread over the bottom of the bowl.
  4. Put the chickpea puree on top of the lemon, spice and herb mix, then mix together well.
  5. Transfer the puree to a serving bowl and drizzle the olive oil over the top.


  • Rue is a very bitter herb that is mildly toxic; it can bring about abortions and often provokes allergic reactions. For this reason, I have substituted feverfew or rocket, two other bitter herbs which tend not to have the side effects.
  • Preserved lemons are preserved in salt, and have an extremely strong flavour. This recipe is somewhat unusual in calling for the pulp, as the skins are more often used. You can find them at Middle Eastern grocers.
  • A zubdiyya is a small, decorated ceramic bowl, used to serve small appetiser dishes such as this.

A C13 zubdiyya from Syria

Chickpea puree

Further Reading

Zaouali, Lilia. Medieval Cuisine of the Islamic World. Los Angeles, 2007.

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.

Tahinniyya – Carrot and Leek Salad

This recipe comes from Lilia Zaouali’s Medieval Cuisine of the Islamic World.  The original source is Kanz al-Faxa’id fi tanwi al-mawa’id (“The Treasure of Useful Advice for the Composition of a Varied Table,”) which was compiled in thirteenth century Egypt or Syria.  This dish would have been served as an appetiser in a Middle Eastern banquet.

Get some carrots, [the] white [part of some] leeks, tahina, wine vinegar and atarif tib. Slice the carrots and boil them. Take the [green] tops of the leeks and boil them separately, then drain them and soften them in sesame oil. Put the tahina in a dish, sprinkle it with boiling water, and mix it by hand so the sesame oil can express itself; then add a little vinegar, honey and some atarif tib. Put the drained carrots and leeks in a serving dish and add the tahina. You must do [this] in such a way that the quantity of carrots and leeks suits that of the condiments.


4 medium   carrots or 3 large carrots 3 tbs tahini (sesame paste)
1 large leek 3 tbs boiling water
3 tbs tahini (sesame paste) 1 tbs wine vinegar
2 tbs virgin sesame oil 2 tbs honey
1 tsp atarif tib


Slice the entire leek into rounds, keeping the white and green separate, and was thoroughly.  Peel carrots and add to cold water.  Bring to the boil, then add the whites of the leek.  After a couple of minutes, remove from the water and drain them – the carrots should have started to soften but still have some resistance.  Slice the carrots into rounds.  Boil the green leek tops for around 5 minutes, then drain, and fry in virgin sesame oil until they’ve gone really soft and lost a lot of their green.

To make the dressing, put the tahini in a bowl with the boiling water (preferably not the vegetable water – see notes) and stir until the tahini is nicely liquid.  Add more water if your tahini is really solid.  Add the wine vinegar, honey and atarif tib, then pour over the combined carrot and leeks.  Can be served either hot or cold.

Equipment required: knife, chopping board, sauce pan, fry pan, stove, bowls.

Total Time: approx. 30 minutes preparation.

Difficulty Rating: X

Prep ahead of time?  Yes.

Serves: 6 as a side

Leftover Potential: reasonable.


  • The recipe doesn’t say to boil the white part of the leeks, but the dish turns out much better if you do.
  • The green tops of the leeks are quite bitter, which is why you have to boil them and then fry them – it leeches out the bitter toxin.
  • Make sure you get virgin sesame oil, not the stuff sold in the Asian section of supermarkets.  Virgin sesame oil is made from unroasted sesame seeds, and is a lot less strong than the Asian stuff; if you use Asian sesame oil in medieval Middle Eastern cooking, the result will be inedible.
  • Atarif tib, or atraf al’tib, is simply a term for mixed spices.  If using a modern Middle Eastern spice blend, be very careful, as many of these contain New World spices such as chilli, allspice and paprika.  Based on the work of Charles Perry, my mix uses spikenard, bay leaf, nutmeg, mace, green cardamom, cloves, rose hips, long pepper, ginger and pepper.

Allergy Notes

  • Gluten Free
  • Lactose Free
  • Egg-allergy friendly
  • Contains sesame