HCH 21 / March 2018
Medieval winter meal, by Eyal Streett
A few weeks ago I found a very interesting book in the library. A cookbook from the 14th century called Llibre del Sent Soví apparently written by a great chef who cooked for kings and nobles during his incredible life. As far as I know it’s the first cookbook of Spanish recipes. The book was originally written in Catalan, and is the first ever published book in Catalan, by the way.
I’ve been fascinated with the pre-Colombine non-Americas different kitchens for a long time: what was food like in Italy before tomatoes arrived? What was food like in Russia before potatoes arrived? What was food like in Thailand before chili peppers arrived? Almost every meal we eat, no matter the origin of the dish itself, has the Americas represented in one way or another.
So, what did they eat in Spain before products of the Americas made it to Europe? Well, it seems like they were big meat eaters. But, due to religious reasons they had to avoid meat on certain days and therefore this cookbook gives us also some interesting fish, seafood and even some vegetarian recipes. There was a very rich use of spices and an interesting combination of sweet, sour and bitter, an art we have left behind, I would say.
Most of the dishes themselves have also been forgotten so most of the names of the recipes are unrecognizable and many of the familiar names have very different ingredients than the same dish would have today (the sofrito, for example). The cooking directly from the cookbook is challenging since the recipe doesn’t give us enough details about the amount of ingredients we should use or what the final result should look like, which means one has to get in the kitchen and make some experiments.
I decided to make a vegetarian winter meal and found a combination of 2 recipes that makes a nice and powerful meal. The main course is a white broth served with a fried egg on top. In the cookbook this dish is called Alideme. In addition, I added a side dish (which could also be served as a 1st course or dessert) which is basically a porridge made from barley flour and almond milk, you then choose to either add salt or sugar.
So, I hope you become adventurous and try these recipes. Keeping an open mind and letting go of your built-in palate (after years of training it to like or reject certain things) I really think one can experience these flavors with great joy.
Hope you agree with me!
1 – 1 1/2 litres of broth (I used vegetable broth, but a chicken broth would also be great)
2 onions, cut in chunks
4 garlic cloves, crushed
1 small parsley bunch, chopped
3 Tbs. white vinegar
1/2 tsp. black pepper
high-quality vinegar (I used balsamic vinegar, but a good apple vinegar would be ideal)
3 Tbs. sugar (or a bit more)
salt to taste
vegetable oil (olive oil)
eggs to fry (1 per person)
2 green garlics, chopped
A bit of parsley, chopped
Pour your broth into a large pot and get it on a medium flame. Add a nice drizzle of oil, the onion chunks, crushed garlic and chopped parsley. If your broth isn’t salted yet then add salt (make it a bit less salty than you would like). Add the spice cloves, black pepper and sugar. Make the flame a bit lower (low-mid). Break 3 eggs in a small mixing bowl and add the white vinegar (1 Tbs. per egg). Mix these 2 ingredients very well together. Then add it to the stock. Very important, mix it around well and quite often. BUT, get it off the fire just before it gets to its boiling point. This will give the liquid a nice white color. Once the pot is off the fire, add a generous drizzle or two of the high-quality vinegar. Mix it all around, taste and try finding a nice balance: you might need to add a bit more sugar, probably a bit more salt.
Now, put enough oil for frying eggs in a frying pan and put it on a high flame. Once the oil is hot, quickly fry your green garlic for a bit over a minute, constantly moving the garlic around, then put the garlic aside and fry one egg at a time.
For serving: fill a bowl with the soup and then add the green garlic in the bowl, gently lay the fried egg on the soup and sprinkle on top some parsley and a bit more of the green garlic. Serve with the porridge (recipe below) and some good bread on the side.
Enjoy your Alideme!
Ordiate (medieval barley porridge)
1 cup whole barley flour
2 cups almond milk (ideally unsweetened)
salt or sugar (brown) to taste
This is a very simple recipe. The most challenging part of the recipe is to actually find the barley flour. You could use oat flour instead, though the taste is different, of course.
Use a sieve to mix into a bowl the flour and almond milk (let it all go through the sieve to get a finer blend).
Pour the mix into a saucepan and heat over a medium fire, constantly stirring. Wait for the mix to thicken until it feels and looks like porridge.
Serve in small bowls with the addition of either salt or sugar mixed in.
I’m sure you’ll enjoy this small journey into the medieval kitchen.
Until next time, keep on cooking!
Eyal Streett, Madrid–Oslo, March 2018