When I was asked for immunity boosting recipes from a mediaeval cookbook penned in Mameluke-era Egypt entitled Kanz al-fawa’id fi tanwi’ al-mawa’id, I readily complied. I knew that the Kanz, a culinary reference that I have grown to love, would definitely provide healthy and nutritious meals.
The recipes included were written 600 years ago in the 14th century by an anonymous author, probably an accomplished cook, who compiled a full repertoire of the foods known then in Egypt and the surrounding region. The book was presented to the world for the first time in English under the title Treasure Trove of Benefits and Variety at the Table in a brilliant and meticulously researched translation from the original Arabic manuscript by Iraqi food expert and scholar Nawal Nasrallah.
Needless to say, all the recipes listed below fit the bill for wholesome foods prepared with relish and care. This is true of the black-eyed peas (called black-eyed beans here) or lubya as they are known in Arabic, with their high-fibre, high-protein content and mega-dose of Vitamin B, the anti-oxidant garlic and onions with which the dishes are prepared, and the Vitamin C-full cilantro, as well as the anti-inflammatory black pepper.
Last but not least, there is the ever-popular tahina (made from sesame seeds) combined with carrots and the fireek (or freekeh) porridge, which can also be cooked without meat. The latter would be a perfect protein source for both vegetarians and vegans as would the tahina and carrots.
Kanz al-fawa’id never ceases to delight in every season. It is a true “treasure trove” of benefits and variety as its name suggests. The entries are presented as they were in the original manuscript, faithfully translated by Nasrallah and made clearer by her where needed, while preserving the charming mediaeval spirit of the book.
The only contribution I have made is to add measurements to suit the modern cook.
Recipes from the Mamelukes
Lubya (meat with black-eyed beans)
1 kg stewing meat cut in cubes
2 cups lubya or black-eyed peas soaked overnight
4-5 cloves of garlic
1 level teaspoon of black pepper or to taste
Fresh cilantro – about a quarter of a cup
Boil the meat (drain off its broth) and fry it with the garlic, cilantro and black pepper until done. Pour a small amount of the broth back into the pot, throw in the (prepared) beans, and let the pot cook until the beans are done and the broth is all gone except for its fat and spices and herbs.
Basaliya (meat with onions)
1 kg stewing meat
4 medium onions finely chopped
1 tablespoon of honey
A bit less than a quarter of a cup of vinegar
Half a teaspoon of saffron
1 teaspoon of black pepper or to taste
Half a teaspoon of spice blend (atraf tib)
A sprig of fresh mint or a full teaspoon of dried mint leaves
Boil the meat (drain off its broth) and fry it. Chop the onion finely and boil it by itself. Pass it through a sieve (ghirbal) and add it to the pot along with the broth. Mix the honey with vinegar, and add it to the pot along with the saffron and the (rest of the ingredients (hawa’ij)). Let it cook for a while and then remove.
Tahiniya (meatless tahini dish)
4 medium carrots cut in rounds
5 leeks (kurrath abyaạ)
1 cup of tahina undiluted
1/4 cup of wine vinegar or balsamic if the former is not available
1 teaspoon of spice blend (atraf al-tib)
Slice the carrots into thin discs and boil them. Chop the white heads of the leeks, boil them separately, and fry them in sesame oil. Put the tahina in a container, and sprinkle it with hot water little by little while beating it by hand until its oil (shayraj) separates. (Remove the oil) and dissolve the tahina in a container in a small amount of vinegar, with honey and atraf al-tib. Put the carrots in a pot, without adding any liquid, also add the leeks, and spread the prepared tahini and the rest of the ingredients all over them. Put only the carrots and leeks that the dish needs to suit the amounts of the rest of the ingredients.
Farikiya (porridge with farik toasted green wheat)
Half a kg of stewing meat
Three quarters of a cup of farik (fireek or freekeh) soaked overnight
Half a teaspoon of black pepper or to taste
Half a cup of cheese of your choice
Half a teaspoon of cumin
Two tablespoons of dill
Two to three mastic gums
Half to one teaspoon of cassia (cinnamon powder)
A bit more than a quarter cup of milk
Boil the meat and add the coarsely ground farik to it. When done, add the milk, cheese, cumin, a small amount of dill, mastic gum and cassia. Cook for a while and remove it from the fire.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 30 April, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly