Nuhud al-Adra – Virgin’s Breasts

Honestly, you see a recipe with that title… you have to make it work.

Knead sugar, almonds, samid and clarified butter, equal parts, and make them like breasts, and arrange them on a brass tray. Put it in the bread oven until done, and take it out. It comes out excellently.
Kitab Wasf al-Atima al-Mutada Chapter XI (trans. Charles Perry)

And here we have another problem with period recipes… You get ingredients, even some indication of quantity, but not precise quantities and no indication of how to actually combine the ingredients. There are a number of ways of combining butter and sugar for starters. It took about 5 goes to get this recipe right.

I started out with a cup of all the ingredients, creaming the clarified butter and sugar. The clarified butter and sugar didn’t combine well, and the biscuits crumbled if you looked at them too hard. The second attempt I cheated and used more butter, and raw sugar, hoping the molasses in the sugar would add extra liquid. It did… the biscuits ran.

The first breakthrough came when I realised I was making something similar to shortbread, so I found a modern recipe for shortbread that didn’t contain eggs, and adapted it to get the method of combining the ingredients (working with melted clarified butter). The second major breakthrough came when I realised I’d been working with equal volumes (that is, a cup of everything), when all the period recipes went by weight. So I worked out how much a cup of clarified butter weighed, and lo, it worked! There probably wasn’t much difference in weight to volume… but clearly there was enough to affect the outcome.

Ingredients

200g clarified butter 200g semolina
200g caster sugar 200g almond meal

Method

1. Preheat your oven to 180°C.
2. Mix the semolina and almond meal in a bowl.
3. If your clarified butter is not melted, melt it, and then combine with the sugar until the sugar is at least partially dissolved and the mixture is frothy. You can do this step with an electric mixer.
4. Gradually add the combined semolina and almond meal to the butter and sugar – it is better to do this by hand. You will wind up with a crumbly dough that binds when compressed.
5. Take walnut sized balls of dough and press in to “breast” shapes. Bake for around 12-15 minutes, until pale gold.

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Many thanks to the Mordenvale Company of Cooks, and the populace of Mordenvale, for their help and feedback while developing this recipe.

Shiraz Laban bi-Buqul (yoghurt/cheese dip with herbs)

Take mint, celery leaves and vegetable leeks and strip them all from their stalks and cut them up finely with the knife.  Throw them in the mortar, and when they release liquid after pounding, dry them off.  Then mix them well with shiraz.  Throw a little salt on it, as much as it will bear, and mustard pounded fine, and moderate its flavour with the mustard.  Put it in a vessel and strew its surface with a little nigella.  If you like, put pounded walnuts on it.Source: Kitab Wasf al-At’ima al-Mu’tada (The Description of Familiar Foods) trans. Charles Perry (C14 Egypt)

This is a very tasty, simple dip and would be served as part of the appetisers at a Middle Eastern banquet.

Ingredients

2 cups cottage cheese OR 2 cups Greek yoghurt 2 tsp mustard powder
4 tbs fresh mint leaves Pinch salt
4 tbs celery leaves 2 tsp nigella seeds
6 large spring onions 4 tbs walnuts, pounded in a mortar and pestle

Method

Put the cheese or yoghurt into a square of cheesecloth and a strainer, suspended over a deep bowl, to drain excess moisture.  This is best done overnight to drain the maximum water.  Give the cheesecloth a final squeeze at the end.

Mince the herbs and spring onions, then add to the drained cheese/yoghurt, along with the salt and mustard powder.  Mix well.

Serve sprinkled with nigella seeds and ground walnuts.  A good accompaniment to crudite vegetables, or lavash bread.

Equipment required: cheesecloth, strainer and tall bowl to strain yoghurt; bowl to mix dip; mortar and pestle

Total Time: approx. 10 minutes to make dip + overnight

Difficulty Rating: X

Prep ahead of time?  Yes.

Serves: Would probably do 2 serves for a feast

Leftover Potential: Poor (saving food with dairy that’s been sitting uncovered for a while is a Bad Idea, and there’s rarely any left).

Notes

  • Shiraz is either a yoghurt or cheese drained of whey, which is the liquid remaining after milk has been curdled and strained.
  • Make sure you don’t accidentally use cheesecloth you’ve previously used to squeeze onions and zucchini for zucchini fritters.  It adds a very weird taste to the dip.
  • Herb measurements are vague – add more or less as you please.
  • This recipe also works well with coriander leaves or parsley leaves.

Allergy Notes

  • Vegetarian friendly
  • Gluten Free
  • Egg-allergy friendly

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