Middle Eastern Food

A Book of Middle Eastern Food, Claudia Roden, 1968/1974, ISBN 0-39471948-4


It is an ancient custom for women to eat fresh herbs with bread and cheese at the end of a meal to help to keep their husbands away from rivals.

If thou woulds’t know what food gives most delight,

Best let me tell, for none hath subtler sight.

Take first the finest meat, red, soft to touch,

And mince it with the fat, not overmuch;

Then add an onion, cut in circles clean,

A cabbage, very fresh, exceeding green,

And season well with cinnamon and rue;

Of coriander add a handful, too,’And after that of cloves the very least,

Of finest ginger, and of pepper best,

Two handfuls of Palmyra salt; but haste,

Good master haste to grind them small and strong.

Then lay and light a blazing fire along;

Put all in the pot, and water pour

Upon it from above, and cover o’er

But, when the burning flames have dried it quite,

Then, as thou wilt, in pastry wrap it round,

And fasten well the edges, firm and sound;

Or, if it please thee better, take some dough,

Conveniently soft, and rubbed just so,

Then with the rolling pin let it be spread

And with the nails its edges docketed,

Pour in the frying-pan the choicest oil

And in that liquor let it finely broil.

Last, ladle out into a thin tureen

Where appetizing mustard smeared hath been,

And eat with pleasure, mustarded about,

This tastiest food for hurried diner-out.

10th century poem by Ishaq ibn Ibrahim of Mosul desribing sanbusaj (sanbusak)

(From Mas’udi’s Meadows of Gold. Translated by Professor A. J. Arberry in Islamic Culture, 1939)



1/2 cup oil 8 tbls butter

1/2 cup warn water 1 tsp salt

3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, sifted

1 egg, beaten

Sesame seeds (optional)

Clarifed butter for shall frying or oil for deep frying

Cheese Filling:

Meat Filling:

To make the dough: put the oil and butter together in a small heat-proof bowl, and heat over boiling water until the butter has melted. Mix with warm water and salt, and pour into a large mixing bowl.

Add flour gradually, stirring slowly with your hand, until the dough forms a soft, rather greasy ball. One or two tablespoons more flour may be required. The dough should be handled as little as possible, so stop mixing as soon as it holds together. Alternatively, work the oil and creamed butter into the flour, and add milk insteda of water gradually until the dough becomes a ball and leaves the side of the bowl. In this case, too, do not work the dough longer than necessary.

Traditionaly, sanbusak are half-moon-shaped. Either roll the dough out thinly and cut into round about 3 inches in diameter with a pastry cutter, or take walnut-sized lumps and flatten them out as thinly as possible between the palms of your hands.

Put a heaping teaspoonful of filling in the center of one half of each circle. Fold the other half to make a half-moon shape and seal by pinching the edges tightly. If you like, make the traditional festoon-type edge by pinching and folding over all along. Arrange on baking sheets, which need not be greased.

Brush the surface with beaten egg and, if you like, sprinkly lightly with sesame seeds. Bake in a preheated slow to miderate oven (350 to 375) until they are a pale golden color, about 35 to 45 minutes. Alternaltively, fry gently in claarified butter, until golden and well cooked inside , shich takes only a few minutes, or deep-fry in oil. In this case, do not brush with the egg-and-water mixture.

Serve hot or cold, but preferably just out of the oven, when they are at their best. Depending on the size of the sanbusak, this quantity makes about 30 pastries.

From A Book of Middle Eastern Food.

Beid Hamine, eggs cooked over the lowest heat possible for at least 6 hours or over night. North Africaian Hard-boiled Eggs- hard boiled eggs peeled, then gently simmered in water with saffron and salt dissolved in it.

Baid Masus / Fryed Eggs

Take fresh sesame oil, place inthe saucepan and heat: then put in celery. Add a little fine-brayed coriander, cumin, and cinnamon, and some mastic; then pour in vinegar as required, and color with a lattle saffron. When thoroughly boiling, break eggs, and drop in whole: when set, remove. From al-Baghadadi.

Khall Wa-Kardal / Almond and Vinegar Sauce

Take sweet almonds, peel, and chop up fine: then moisten with sour vinegar until making a thin paste. Grind mustard fine, and mix in as required, together with a little blattes de Bysance (Strombus lentiginous): then serve. From al-Baghadadi

Modern method:

Mix 1/4 lb. (1/2 cup) ground almonds with wine vinegar and mustard to taste. Beat well and add enough water to make a smooth, thinnish sauce. Omit the blattes de Bysance.

This is equally good with deep-fried, poached or baked fish. From A Book of Middle Eastern Food.

Malih bi-Laban / Salted Fish in Milk

Take salted fish, wash and clean (desalt), then fry in sesame oil. Take out while hot, and drop into milk in which chopped garlic has been placed. Sprinkle with fine-ground cumin, coriander, and cinnamon. Eat either hot or cold. From al-Baghadadi

Desalt and “freshen” 1 lb. salt cod by ssoak for at least 24 hours in several changes of cold water. Put in a sauce pan with a fresh portion of cold water to cover, bring to a boil, and simmer for 20 to 30 minutes. Drain well, skin and bone.

Fry in olive oil or other cooking oil until golden. Cover with milk, and a clove or two of crushed garlic, and simmer for 10 to 15 minutes. Serve hot of cold, garnished with a pinch each of cumin, coriander, and cinnamon.

This recipe is particularly good when used for othe cmoked fish such as haddock which so not require the desalting process. From A Book of Middle Eastern Food.

This is a quote from Kitab al-ifadah wa’l-l’tiba writen in 1204 after a visit to Egypt by Abd al-Latif al-Baghdadi:

“As for the stews of the Egyptians, those which are sour or ordinary have nothing in particular, or very little, different from those used elsewhere, but on the contrary, their sweet stew are of a singular kind, for they cook a chicken with all sort of sweet substances. Here is how they prepare the food: they boil a fowl, then put it in a julep, place under it crushed hazelnuts or pistachio nuts, poppy seeds, or rose hips, and cook the whole until it thickens. Then they add spices and remove it from the fire.

These stews are surnamed fistakiyyeh (pistachio), bondokiyyeh (hazelnut), khashaschiyyeh (poppy) or wardiyeh (rose hip) or sitt alnoubeh (purslane, called ‘Nubian woman’ because of its black color). There are many skilful ways of preparing this kind of food which would entail too great detail to describe.”

In this manuscript over 500 recipes for chicken were described, such as Stuffed Boned Chicken, Chicken with Pomegranate Sauce, A Loaf of Bread Stuffed with Chicken, and Chicken Balls (Koftit Ferakh).

Koftit Ferakh / Chicken Balls

1/2 lb. cooked boned chicken 1 tbls. olive or salad oil

1/4 lb. White bread, crusts removed juice of 1/2 lemon

1/3 cup pistachio nuts, finely chopped salt and white pepper

Grind or chop the chicken finely. Soak the bread in water, squeeze dry, and crumble. Mix the chicken with the crumbled bread, pistachios, oil, lemon juice, and salt and pepper to taste, and knead vigorously. Shape and roll into marble-sized balls.

These can be servied as they are as a cold dish with salad; or they can be roled in flour and fried, or poached ina chicken soup, and served hot.

This is adaption of a recipe from al-Baghdadi in A Book of Middle Eastern Food.