Islam—A Thousand and One Nights of Cooking

Food: A Cultural Culinary History—Episode 12

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The following episode transcript and images will remain for posterity. Enjoy!

In this podcast we’re going to examine the Islamic take on food and cooking. We’ll contemplate the Muslim cultural values that permitted pleasure and the cultivation of the senses, and we’ll look at their creation of an exquisite cuisine. We’ll take a look at the prohibition of alcohol and the rise of coffee as a drink of choice. We’ll even study Islamic eating rituals and Persian-influenced culinary techniques, such as perfuming food and cooking meat with sweets.

Images for this Episode:

Culinary Activities for this Episode:

• Baghdadi Recipe

This recipe is an adaptation of one appearing in the Kitab al-Tabikh (“Book of Dishes”) by Muhammad b. al-Hasan b. Muhammad b. al-Karim, translated by Charles Perry as A Baghdad Cookery Book (p. 98). It dates to the 13th century. It is what we would today call taffy. Keep in mind when making this that we inherited our sweet tooth directly from medieval Islam.

Halwa Yabisa
Start with sugar dissolved in water and boiled until it thickens. This should be at what is called the “hard ball” stage, which you can determine by dropping a little bit of the dissolved sugar from a spoon into ice water. (Don’t touch it with your fingers until after it’s in the water.) A firm but still malleable ball should form. If you have a candy thermometer, it should be about 260 degrees Fahrenheit. Pour the thick syrup onto a marble counter or a smooth platter. Drive a large nail into the wall, and when cool enough to touch, fold the taffy over the nail and pull. Repeat until it is shiny, white, and opaque. Knead into it pistachios (or crushed almonds or sesame seeds). Cut it up into strips or triangles. It can also be colored with saffron or cinnabar, though the latter is toxic because it contains mercury. Red food coloring would be better than historic authenticity in this case.

Suggested Reading:

Zouali, Medieval Cuisine of the Islamic World.

Zubaida, Taste of Thyme: Culinary Cultures of the Middle East

Images courtesy of:

• Map of Spread of Islam: The Great Courses
• Islamic depiction of paradise: Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
• Halal butcher: Shutterstock
• Omar Khayyam: Adelaide Hanscom Leeson [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
• Coffee: Shutterstock
• Green Coffee: Shutterstock
• Eating during Ramadan: Azim Azimzade [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

• Dates: Shutterstock
• Mutton: Shutterstock
• Camel’s Milk: Shutterstock
• Ibn Sina : Veloso Salgado [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
• Bite-sized lamb: Shutterstock 
• Marinade: Shutterstock
• Rice: Shutterstock 
• Spinach: Shutterstock
• Eggplant: Shutterstock 
• Artichoke: Shutterstock
• Halva: Shutterstock 
• Marzipan: Shutterstock
• Ice-cream: Shutterstock 
• Alfalfa crop: Shutterstock
• Arabic spices: Shutterstock