A trip down forest paths

A 10th century tortilla

I like to cook. I like to read, research, and compare. So recently I’ve been playing with food in the form of a 10th century recipe for a thin bread as part of recreating a Baghdadi rolled up chicken salad pinwheel.

The recipe is found in the Kitāb al-Ṭabīkh, a 10th century cookbook written in the Abbasid Caliphate. The English translator has made a big deal that the Arabs ate sandwiches and thus we should stop saying that the Earl of Sandwich invented the sandwich. I think that is going a little too far. Many things are invented in multiple places and I certainly never got the idea that John Montagu was being put forth as The First Person to Put Food in Bread but only as the guy who popularized it in a specific social setting and ended up giving us the word for it. But I do think it is a neat connection that over a thousand years ago people had the same idea of cutting up cooked chicken, adding salady things, rolling it up in thin bread, and cutting it so that it looks pretty on a plate.

Chop [cooked chicken] and spread it on ruq§q (thin sheet of bread). Let there be underneath the chicken some skinned walnut, citron pulp (Èumm§' al-utruj), nabnab (cultivated mint), tarragon, baï9aråj (basil), and salt. Roll up the bread [with the filling inside].

No mayo or cream cheese but I think that might be an improvement!

Really, my main interest now is in trying to make the thin bread. The recipe given has the proportions of 100g of flour, 2g salt, 2g of yeast, and 2g of baker’s borax plus enough water to make a dough. Roll thin and bake in a domed oven like a tandor. If you make it and ignore the borax it is a perfectly normal bread dough recipe. So far I haven’t mastered getting the rounds thin enough but there is nothing odd it is simply a matter of playing with hydration. Instead of using a domed oven some more modern flat breads with similar names are formed by spreading the dough thinly by hand on a very hot pan or by using a spatula to spread the dough into a thin layer as you put it on. This means that only one side gets the heat at a time but it is simpler to do.

More interesting to me are questions about the borax and the yeast. First off; what is baker’s borax? I don’t think anyone really knows! Right now I’m thinking that perhaps it is something that might act as leavening. Potassium carbonate (pot ash / pearl ash) is what I think I’ll try first although I suspect that the word borax might be a clue to something that was also used as a flux and that natron would be a better match. The thing is I don’t know where to get natron or soda ash.

The yeast question is also odd to me. Of course this is unlikely to be yeast in a pure sense. Yet by having a specific ingredient identified as yeast it implies that this wasn’t simply a sourdough with a continuing culture but more of an additive. The foam that rises to the top in brewing, barm, can be used in making bread and has yeast in it so perhaps this is a dried barm? For now I am going with sourdough from a starter and mostly skipping the addition of yeast.

I’ll update this and add to it when I have some results.

#cooking #SCA