The class made the classic Syrian-Lebanese-Palestinian comfort food dish, mujaddarah, today. Rice and lentils, lentil pilaf, call it what you will.

The dish is academically important for many reasons. Lentils are native to the regions and are a great example of the cultural diffusion that occurs when one realized the extent of economic and cultural trade between South Asia, Central Asia, Southwest Asian, North Africa, Subsaharan Africa and Europe. While we are studying classical, mostly Abbasid agriculture and trade as well as the relation between resource management (mostly water) and grain agriculture Ottoman- Mamluk  Egypt these past couple of weeks, it is important to note two features about mujaddara. One is that it is rice based and would depend in the cultivation of rice in the region largely expanded by Abbasid care for public and agricultural infrastructure (e.g. dams, water wheels, irrigation canals, trade roots, storage facilities, etc.).  Ironically, the key spice, Allspice, in fact, was imported into the  Ottoman Empire, I believe, from the “New World.”

Using organic lentils and fair trade basmati, the class learned to make this simple but classic dish and, scandalously, ate it with pickled stuffed eggplants for breakfast (and without yoghurt at that!)!

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The students experienced a rare treat. We made manqushah on a saj. Manqushah is flat bread with z’atar (dried thyme,  sesame seeds and sumac) and olive oil cooked on a saj, an inverted iron dome put on an open fire.

To enhance this experience, the students learned to make their own dough, using genuine heirloom durum wheat. Durum wheat, a progeny of the first domesticated wheat (emmer), is the original wheat that Arabo-Islamic civilization cultivated and disseminated throughout the classical period. It was introduced to Spain and Italy and is the basis for pasta.

This past week and over the next two weeks the students will be reading about Abbasid “Green Revolution,” “medieval Arab food,” and agriculture and cuisine between the ninth and sixteenth centuries.

We are also fortunate that this durum wheat was grown in the Carolinas and milled by Anson Mills (ansonmills.com) here in Columbia!

The students did a fantastic job making their dough at home and rolling it out in class.