Recipe Source: al-Warraq, Ibn Sayyar. Annals of the Caliphs' Kitchens. Nawal Nasrallah, trans. Brill Press, Leiden, 2007 p. 437
I've been avoiding medieval recipes lately. There are a few reasons for that. Some of them are perfectly good reasons. I don't often have time to come up with a proper list before going to the grocery store these days. While I'm perfectly willing to play fast and loose with modern recipes, adapting them to my circumstances and tastes, I try to be a little more faithful when re-creating historical recipes. That doesn't mean that I won't make adaptations, I just don't like to. I have a favorite medieval cookbook (this one). I feel kind of like I turn to it too often. Believe me, I would use it every day if I thought I could get away with it. There are some other reasons that I won't get into here because they're less valid. I don't want to let them stop me from doing what I do, from enjoying an activity that has always brought me pleasure. Giving a voice to those reasons, especially a written voice, gives them validity that they simply do not merit. Instead, I shall do my best to ignore them and carry on.
Because frankly, there is no excuse for not cooking something like this. It has three ingredients - four if you count the water. I had used the chard in another recipe. Chard stalks can be treated like asparagus, and I frankly think this would be a tasty if not necessarily time-and-place-appropriate treatment for asparagus too. So you've got this vegetable that is basically a bonus vegetable - if you've bought chard for the leaves you've got the stalks just sitting around anyway. Sumac is available in fairly large quantities in the right markets, and it doesn't have to be an ethnic market either. I got a giant sack of it at Wegmans' for crying out loud. And olive oil. According to the author it will help you with your excess of yellow bile, and that's important to anyone who travels to places where the water supply might be a little iffy. (Note: I'm not prescribing any actual medical course of treatment. I'm commenting on medieval medical ideas. It could have been worse; I don't know how far the humoral theory had re-penetrated the West by the time this volume came out in Baghdad but I'd take my chances with al-Warraq's advice thank you.)
My daughter absolutely loved this dish. So did my husband. I did too. It is simple, it is delicious and it is easy. Again, there is no excuse for not making it.
Chard Stalks with Sumac (serves 4; approx. $0.60/serving)
Stalks from 1 generous bunch chard (I halved them to fit into the pot)
Approx. 1/2 cup ground sumac
2 - 3 tablespoons olive oil
- Large saucepan
- Fill the pot with water and bring to a boil.
- Boil the chard stalks until they reach your desired level of doneness. I prefer my vegetables to be a little on the crisp side.
- Drain them. The original recipe encouraged the cook to press them to remove excess moisture and I did not do this. I believe that this is more necessary the longer the vegetables are boiled.
- Dredge the stalks in the sumac.
- Arrange them on the serving platter.
- Drizzle with the oil.