mini-feast-330Al-Sikbāj [1]

The way to make it is to cut up fat meat medium and put it in the pot with water to cover it, [a bunch of] green coriander, a stick of cinnamon and the necessary amount of slat. Then, when it boils, remove its scum and froth with a spoon and throw it away. Then put dry coriander on it and remove the green coriander. Then take white onions, Syrian leeks and carrots, if in season, or eggplant (if they are not). And skin them all. Quarter the eggplant lengthwise and half boil it in salt water in another pot. Then dry it and leave them in the pot on top of the meat. [Throw the spices on it and adjust its salt in it.] When it is nearly done, take wine vinegar and date molasses – some people prefer to use honey, but date molasses is more appropriate – and mix them, balancing the sweetness and sourness. Then pour them into the pot and boil it for a while. When the fire needs to be cut, take some of the broth and mix it with the necessary amount of saffron. Pour it into the pot. Then take peeled sweet almonds which have been split in half and leave them on top of the pot, with a few jujubes, raisins and dry figs. [And put them on top of the pot.] Cover it awhile to grow quiet on the heat of the fire. Wipe the sides of the pot with a clean cloth and sprinkle rose-water on top. When it grows quiet on the fire, take it up [2].

Modern Adaptation

500 g braising lamb
1 small onion
1 bunch of fresh coriander
1 tbsp dry coriander
1 Stick of cinnamon
1 tsp ground cumin
50 ml Vegetable Oil
Salt and pepper to taste
1 medium White onion
1 small leek
2 small aubergines
1 fistful of peeled split almonds
1 fistful Raisins
6 tbsp Wine vinegar
2 tbsp Honey
5 or 6 Figs
3 tbsp of brewed Saffron
2/3 tsp rosewater

1. Clean the meat of gristle and connective tissue. Wash and dry it and cut it into inch cubes.
2. Peel and chop the onion.
3. Peel the aubergines and quarter them lengthwise. Par-cook them in salted water. Drain the water and dry the aubergine quarters.
4. Peel the white onion and cut into six or eight pieces.
5. Wash and peel the leek and cut it into quarter inch slices lengthwise.
6. Keep the fresh coriander tied in a bunch. Wash it well and let it drain. Keep a sprig for the garnish.

Fry the chopped onion in the oil. Add the meat and stir for a couple of minutes. Add the fresh coriander and a stalk of cinnamon. Season and add water to cover the meat. Once it comes to a boil reduce the heat and let it simmer until the meat is nearly cooked. Take the fresh coriander out and add the dry coriander. Add the leek and the white onion. Take the par-cooked aubergines and place them on top of the meat. Add the ground cumin and season well. Mix the vinegar and honey and add to the pot. Taste to check the balance of sweet and sour and adjust as desired. If the stock is low add a little more water. Let it simmer gently for another ten minutes. Gently stir in the saffron and sprinkle the almonds, raisins and figs on top. Allow to simmer on low heat for another 10 minutes. Add the rose water and let the pot simmer for another five minutes before dishing out into a shallow serving dish. Spoon the meat in first, arrange the aubergines on top and then the figs, raisins and almonds. Garnish with a sprig of fresh coriander.

[1] Middle Persian sik ‘vinegar’ and bāg ‘stew’

[2] The recipe is taken from:
‘A Baghdad Cookery Book’, The Book of Dishes (Kitāb al-Tabīkh) by Muhammad b, al-Hasan b. Muhammad b. Al-Karīm, The scribe of Baghdad, Newly Translated by Charles Perry, Prospect Books, November 2005
Written by a 13th century scribe it is one of the earliest Arabic cook books. Sikbāg is one of the dishes which date back to the Sassanid period. Like a large number of other recipes from the period, it was adopted by the kitchens of the court of Umayyad and later Abbasid Caliphs.

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