Recipe Source: al-Warraq, Ibn Sayyar. Annals of the Caliphs' Kitchens. Nawal Nasrallah, trans. Brill Press, Leiden, 2007 pp. 220 - 1.
You might have kind of wondered where I've been for the past couple of weeks. (Then again, you might not.) My computer died. I work on a laptop and the hinges broke. The thing was flat and the screen was green. It kind of needed a shot of penicillin. It needed to go to the shop for repair, and this took quite some time. I put it off for as long as I could, propping the stupid thing up and hoping I didn't need to sneeze, but when one lives with a toddler and three furbabies this is not really an effective solution for more than ten seconds. So just in time for Thanksgiving - possibly the single point in time when a food blogger is at her most useful - I was idle. Sigh. Oh well. It is back now, and it's not like I haven't been cooking. I have. Some of it, to the delight of some and the dismay/disdain of others, has even been medieval.
I knew I wanted to cook some period recipes last weekend. (I wanted to cook more of them than I actually did, but that's a whiny tale and Fearless Kitchen is not about whining.) I asked my husband to pick a region: Italy, France or Iraq. He picked Iraq, possibly because he knows that Annals of the Caliphs' Kitchens is my favorite cookbook medieval or modern and cooking from it always makes me smile. This recipe is no different - if you can even call it a recipe. The chapter heading is called "Boiled Vegetable Dishes - Their Varieties, Names and Properties." Now, before I got this book, and even if you were to be talking about medieval French or German cookery, if you were to come up to me and say, "I want to serve you some boiled cabbage and some boiled cauliflower," I would probably remember a pressing engagement on the other side of the continent. Either that or find a way to turn off your gas line for the benefit of humanity. Possibly both. This dish, though - it was incredible. I had three helpings of boiled cabbage. I hate cabbage. I hate boiled cabbage more than I hate cabbage in other forms. My hate is true hate, the kind that has whole volumes of legislation and pages in the criminal code in many states. I had three helpings. It is so incredibly simple and so cheap - if I hadn't spend more than was necessary on the stupid cauliflower it would have been even cheaper.
So al-Warraq gives a basic description: you boil the vegetables and you dress them in a sauce made of olive oil and murri, which many authorities agree that at least in this part of the world at this point is made in a way that is very similar to soy sauce and is in flavor nearly indistinguishable from soy sauce. I will let them do that work for me. Then he gives a list of vegetables that are commonly treated in this way. I had them on hand at the time. There were four ingredients, because I used two different vegetables. There weren't really many changes or innovations to make. I did make one change and it's very minor: I used wheat-free tamari, which is a soy sauce substitute used by people who need to avoid gluten for whatever reason. No one living in my home is actually gluten-free, but there are enough gluten-free folk in my life at this point that tamari is what I had on hand at the time. Soy sauce is significantly cheaper and will bring down your cost per serving. If you're serving a big SCA feast (for example, you know who you are) I'd go with the soy sauce unless you know there are some GF folk attending. (Again, you'll be able to find cauliflower cheaper than I did too, or you can just leave it out.)
Seriously. This is possibly the best way to prepare cabbage. I've done carrots this way too with great success, although not enough success to make me say "Wow I must eat three times my body weight in carrots."
Medieval Vegetable Dish (serves 10; approx. $0.57/serving) (see notes above to reduce that.)
1 head green cabbage, chopped and shredded
1 cauliflower, trimmed and chopped
1/2 cup tamari or soy sauce (see notes above)
1/2 cup olive oil
- Two large saucepans
- Two colanders
- Small whisk
- Bring two saucepans of water to a rapid boil.
- Add the vegetables - each to its own saucepan, as they will cook at different rates. I think they present better separately as well but to each his own.
- Boil the cauliflower until done to your desired degree of tenderness - this will vary from person to person, although if the room stinks you've probably overdone it. I like a little bit of firmness to mine. Drain well.
- Boil the cabbage for a while, but drain as soon as the slightest hint of an odor develops. Seriously, be very vigilant. Don't let it change color at all. Drain well.
- When the vegetables have drained, arrange them on your serving platter. (I served mine in a roasting pan because I knew I would have to reheat them in the oven at least briefly. This had the happy effect of containing any excess dressing.)
- Whisk together the soy sauce and the olive oil until they are emulsified.
- Pour the dressing over the vegetables and serve.