Recipe Source: al-Warraq, Ibn Sayyar. Annals of the Caliphs' Kitchens. Nawal Nasrallah, trans. Brill Press, Leiden, 2007 p. 233.
Beans are easy. Too bad I kind of never want to see another one for as long as I live. I kind of feel like I'm running out of things to say about them. They're... well, they're beans. They kind of bean around, doing their little bean things, and then you eat them, and they bean around in your gut for a while, and then they bean their way out of you one way or another. They're healthy. They're tasty. Case closed, right? Sigh.
Beans have been around in one form or another roughly since the dawn of agriculture. There was a time when I could have probably told you exactly when the first evidence of legume cultivation enters the archaeological record but I don't care enough to remember it and I left that book at home today. They just make good sense. They return nitrogen to the soil, which helps to keep fields fertile. They pack a powerful punch of nutrition - fiber, protein, other stuff - in a very small package. Once dried they can be stored more or less indefinitely. Some varieties can be ground into flour and baked into things like bread. This, in some cultures, has led to their being relegated to "peasant food." They were consumed all over the ancient Mediterranean and Middle East, but they aren't exactly treated as fine dining.
There are exceptions to that rule, of course, and one of those exceptions is al-Warraq. Many medieval recipe collections - not just those from the Middle East - consist solely of highly complex recipes that only the super-rich could have possibly even considered, recipes that would still require an army of specialists to prepare even with modern equipment. Vegetarian recipes exist - especially in the Christian world, where depending on the time and place they were a religious requirement - but they are not particularly common. Al-Warraq has given us a huge volume of vegetarian and even vegan recipes that are sometimes even very simple, recipes that sometimes require absolutely no cooking at all if you've got canned beans. (He, of course, did not have canned beans. But I do.)
This is one such recipe. I served it for my big medieval more-or-less Baghdadi feast up in Maine this year. It is easy. I mean it. If you use canned beans, as I did, there really isn't much need to actually boil the beans. That's been done for you. I omitted the rue - fresh rue can give some people a severe reaction, and while it is sometimes possible to find dried rue I thought it best when so far from medical attention to not take the chance. Sometimes I'll use rosemary instead - they're both vaguely resinous evergreen plants, found in the same geographic area, and can be vaguely bitter - but in this case I decided to just leave it out instead.
Like I said, this is an incredibly easy recipe that you can bring along to a picnic, potluck or barbeque.
Medieval Cold Bean Dish (Baridat al-Lubya) (serves about 25; approx. cost per serving not available)
6 15-oz cans black-eyed peas, drained and rinsed
1/2 cup commercial yellow mustard
1/2 cup white wine vinegar
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 cup ground walnuts
1 large bunch parsley, washed and finely chopped
- Large colander
- Large mixing bowl
- Drain the beans very, very well; you don't want any excess moisture in this dish.
- Meanwhile, whisk together the mustard, vinegar and olive oil.
- Transfer the beans to the serving bowl and pour the dressing on top of them.
- Scatter the walnuts and parsley on top. Toss to coat and serve.