A Dinner at the Topkapı Serai - mid-16th Century
Second Course - Meat, Vegetables, & Grains
Historical recipes translated from Eski Osmanlıca (Old Ottoman) into French and Modern Turkish, with historical information written by Stéphane/Stefanos Yerasimos © 2005
Translations from French into English and modern recipes by Ellen Perlman (SCA: Urtatim, formerly known as Anahita) © 2006
In June 1533 Cornelius de Schepper, ambassador of Ferdinand of Austria, presented himself to the Divan [that is, the Council of Ministers]. He gave a detailed description of his meal. First the dining tables were set up and dressed. Then "bread was brought which was placed upon the aforesaid platter, near to each of us." This was followed by "Little round dishes... such as are customarily filled with vinegar when eating fish in Germany, some of those dishes containing cucumbers preserved in vinegar and some rose preserves."
So i began the second course of this feast by having fresh cucumber pickle and rose petal jam in little dishes, along with bread brought to each table.
I don't have a period Ottoman recipe and I am not an experienced baker. So rather than face potential disaster, I bought loaves of flat bread about 1 foot wide and 3-1/2 feet long (yes, really this big) at a local halal market. The bread had sesame and nigella seeds in it.
Fresh Pickled Cucumbers
I bought Persian cucumbers - these were dark green, matte skinned, and about 6 inches long, quite unlike the standard American cucumber, and darker and proportionally narrower than standard small "pickling cucumbers". Unfortunately i don't remember how many i bought, i suspect it was about 1 for every 4 anticipated diners. That would mean i had around 18.
Early in the day they were sliced crosswise into disks, around 3/8" thick, and put into a food-safe container with a lid. Next they were tossed with salt, about 1/4 cup. Then about 3/8 cup of white wine vinegar was poured in. And finally, the container was filled with enough water to cover the cucumbers well. I recommend tasting the liquid to make sure the balance between the salt and the vinegar is correct.
The container was covered with its lid and they were let stand on a kitchen counter until serving time. People even asked for refills, and they were all eaten...
Personally, i think the type of cucumber makes a huge difference. So when i make historic-style pickled cucmbers, i never use standard cucumbers, which are shiny, thick, watery, and often a bit bitter. I often use a long, thin, not too moist cucumber which is often sold as "English hot house cucumbers", but which are not particularly English, and are very like a kind of cucumber found in the Medieval Middle East. This was my first time using "Persian cucumbers", and i was very happy with them. However, they are not always available.
I am also thoroughly convinced that the type of vinegar makes an enormous difference in the flavor of the final product. When cooking Near and Middle Eastern dishes, i always use wine vinegar, since this is traditionally and historically the kind used there. I vary between using red and white, since i'm not certain which kind their vinegar was.
As I do not have a reliable source for fresh rose petals free of pesticides, i did not make my own. I purchased a Turkish brand of rose petal jam at the halal market.
13 lb. Lamb, cut for stew
This dish appeared in the winter menu of Topkapı Palace , as well as in menus of the royal circumcision feasts of 1539 where it was dusted with powdered sugar.
25 lb halal Chicken thighs and breasts
This dish appears among the recipes added by Shirvânî under the name of kâchkül-i kabak. Kâchkül is the name given to the wooden bowl with which mendicant dervishes beg for food, which would indicate that this is a dish of the masses. It appears in Müntahâb-i chifâ (The Compendium of Health), a Turkish medicinal work from the end of the 14th century. It is the only dish to carry the name kalye into the Turkish cuisine of today. However squash kalye of today is a dish without meat and without spices or other seasoning, other than parsley.
8 lb canned Chick Peas
There is no "period" recipe for this, however, there are descriptions of colored rice in the menu lists and visitor memoirs. Based on these, i made the colored rice as follows.
To serve, arrange equal parts of each of the four colors artistically on one platter for each table.
NOTE: The rice coooker we had could only cook 1 lb. at a time. So rather than making a separate batch for each color, we cooked all the rice (which took 5 rice cooker cycles), mixed all the rice together with the butter, then separated it into four equal parts
NOTE: There is some evidence to suggest that *medium-grain* rice was what was grown and used in the Medieval Middle East. However, I have had difficulty finding a regular supply of medium-grain rice. Ordinary American rice is, well, rather lacking in so many ways. So I *highly* recommend using Basmati or Thai Jasmine rice instead for flavor and fragrance, although these are long-grain rices.
This dish is mentioned in a number of menus from the Palace where it was served in autumn and winter. There is no surviving recipe, however. Therefore I reconstructed this based on what i know of how a number of dishes were cooked in the 15th and 16th centuries, and a comparison with modern Turkish recipes. Modern recipes are often seasoned with ingredients such as dill. I feel certain that in the late 15th century and in the 16th century spices such as cinnamon and ginger were used, however.
5 finely chopped Onions