Sanbūsaj (meat-stuffed pastry) poem – 1226 Baghdad
Translation by A.J. Arberry
Recipe redaction by Sayyeda al-Kaslaania
Food Item Fifteen: A&S 50 Challenge
“O Commander of the Faithful,” Ishaq ibn Ibrahim of Mosul described sanbūsaj as follows:
If thou wouldst know what food gives most delight,
Best let me tell, for none hath subtler sight.
Take first the finest meat, red, soft to the touch,
And mince it with the fat, not overmuch;
Then add an onion, cut in circles clean,
A cabbage, very fresh, exceeding green,
And season well with cinnamon and rue;
of coriander add a handful, too,
And after that of cloves the very least,
Of finest ginger, and of pepper the best,
A hand of cumin, murri just to taste,
Two handfuls of Palmyra salts; but haste,
Good master, haste to grind them small and strong.
Then lay and light a blazing fire along;
Put all into a pot, and water pour
upon it from above, and cover o'er.
But, when the water vanished is from sight
And when the burning flames have dried it quite,
Then, as thou wilt, in pastry wrap it round,
And fasten well the edges, firm and sound;
Conveniently soft, and rubbed just so,
Then with the rolling pin let it be spread
And with the nails its edges docketed.
Pour in the frying-pan the choicest oil
And in that liquor let it finely broil.
Last, ladle out into a thin tureen
Where appetizing mustard smeared hath been,
And eat with pleasure, mustard about,
This tastiest food for hurried diner-out.
[“A Baghdad Cookery Book (Kitab al-Tabikh)” translated by A. J. Arberry in Medieval Arab Cookery: Essays and Translations. Edited by Maxime Rodinson, A.J. Arberry, and Charles Perry. Prospect Books: 2006. Pp 19-90.]
Sanbūsaj poem redaction
1 large white onion
1 1/3 lb ground meat
1 Tbl pale (untoasted) sesame oil
1 tsp cumin, ground
½ tsp rue, dried
1 tsp coriander, ground
1 tsp black pepper, ground
½ tsp ginger, ground
3 Tbl soy sauce (for murri)
1 cup cabbage, shredded (omitted)
Pastry or wonton wrappers
¼ c flour or more
Sesame oil (pale, untoasted) for deep frying
Slice the onion and sauté in sesame oil over medium heat, covered, until golden. Remove to a cutting board and mince.
Brown meat in the pan used to cook the onions. When most of the pink is gone, add spices, soy sauce, and add back the onion. Finish cooking, and then cool completely.
While meat cools, prepare pastry for filling. Mix flour with 1/3 cup of water to make a fluid paste. Cut the pastry into circles about 2 ½ inches across. Smear flour paste around the edges, drop a dollop of meat filling in the center of the circle, then lay a second circle on top. Use a fork to squish the edges together and leave a pattern, being careful not to pierce the pastry. If using wonton wrappers, seal two adjoining edges to form a cone. Drop in filling and seal the top to form a “triangle” shape.
Heat the frying oil in a wok over medium high heat. Cook 3-4 sanbūsaj at a time, flipping them once during cooking. Drain on paper towels. Serve with brown mustard.
Notes about the redaction:
· Food historian Charles Perry suggests soy sauce as a good substitute for murri, which is “barley sauce”—created essentially the same way as soy sauce.
· Pale sesame oil is sold in Middle Eastern and Indian grocery stores. It has a very different flavor from Asian toasted sesame oil. Safflower oil makes a good low-flavor, high-smoke point substitute.
· Round sanbūsaj, pressed together with the fingernail were called “crowned”, the shape being reminiscent of a king’s crown.
· Sanbūsaj were a commonly seen street food in urban areas at this time. This is likely the reference for the “hurried diner-out”.
· The shape of the pan described in some recipes is essentially a wok. Less oil is needed to fill the pan, while still exposing much of it to the heat.