In these perilous times, in this part of the world, what we hear about Islam and Muslims in general is rather negative. And yes, it's understandable, given the wars we are in. But does anyone realize that, at one time, the tables were turned and while Europe was in the throes of its dark ages, the Islamic world was at the height in terms of science, culture, and government? Not only that, while Medieval western man was dining on rancid meat, in the Arab world, they were dining on savories cooked with spices from China and India and exotic fruit from Central Asia. In the West they subsisted on salted pork, roots plants and fermented ale, if they were lucky. In the Arab world they were using rosewater in their cooking and enjoying truffles from the Arabian Desert.
One of the earliest cookbooks comes from this period. It dates from the 13th century, and its author is a famed gourmet of the time, al-Baghdadi (his whole name is Muhammad ibn al-Hassan Ibn Muhahad ibn al-Karim al-Katib al-Baghdadi). His recipes reflect the times: they are full of spices from the East and are replete with frying, mincing, boiling, staining and stewing, usually all in one pot. Al-Baghdadi's masterworks are lamb recipes. He cooks lamb with rice, with chickpeas, even with noodles. But the recipe given, Buran (my favorite) is simply lamb kabobs served with friend and mashed eggplant.
So, tonight, imagine you're in the court of the Caliphs, you're the prince or princess of Persia and you're dining on Buran, a gastronomic Arab delight.
1 medium eggplant, about 1 1/2 pounds, peeled and cut lengthwise into 1/2-inch slices
1 pound ground lamb
1/4 cup sesame oil
1/2 cup vegetable oil
Salt to taste
1/4 teaspoon ground coriander
1 cup plain yogurt
2 cloves garlic, peeled and finely minced
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1. Cook the eggplant in boiling salted water for 5 to 6 minutes. Drain and let stand at least 1 hour.
2. Meanwhile, use wet and oily hands to shape the lamb into small meatballs (about 20 to 30 kabobs). Heat the sesame oil in a large skillet and fry the meatballs over medium-high heat until well browned (about 10 minutes). Cover with water, bring heat to low and simmer until most of the water has evaporated and only some of the oil is left. Set aside and reserve.
3. Heat the vegetable oil in a large skillet (or use the same skillet from before), and fry the eggplant over medium heat until golden on both sides. The frying may be done in several batches with more oil being added as needed. Place the eggplant in a bowl and mash with a ladle or large spoon. Add salt, coriander, yogurt, garlic, and mix well.
4. Transfer the eggplant to a serving dish, arrange the meatballs on top, sprinkle with cumin and cinnamon, and serve.
Yield: 4 servings.
Labels: Arabian Desert, Buran, Central Asia, Cook, Eggplant, Home, Lamb and mutton, Meat