Kitab al-Tabikh (The Book of Recipes) – Cooking with the Caliphs & Bethany Kehdy

It started around the 10th Century, a collection of recipes from the court of ninth-century Baghdad authored and put into a recipe book Kitab al-Tabikh. Interesting is that much of the ‘familiar’ food eaten in The Levant today bears no resemblance to recipes in the book.

So it was great excitement that sight of a random post on Instagram recently, by the Chef and Author Bethany Kehdy attracted my attention. The opportunity to sign up to a zoom cookery lesson and create some historically significant dishes was too much of a temptation and within a few minutes It was booked.

I know Bethany, I have her two cook books and we met in London a few years back when she ran a popup at a restaurant called Jago, in fact she was my inspiration to start this food blog several years ago and explore food in more detail, moving away from the conventional, dipping into the unfamiliar which has been a thoroughly satisfying journey so far.

So, a two hour ‘Zoom’ session was the plan, three recipes to tantalise the taste buds, and some culinary education on the way, Saturday was going to be very wet so a perfect excuse to spend some valuable time in the kitchen, with hopefully some tasty results to satisfy the appetite, and sharing the experience with global ‘foodies’.

Bread is a staple of the Levant, and so it made sense to come up with something to go with the dishes we were going to prepare. First thing Saturday the Mixer was loaded with a dough hook and a simple flat bread produced, yes, I know I could/should have done it by hand but I was simultaneously getting the ingredients ready (mise en place), so unusual for a man, multitasking!

We were going to make a Borani to start with, an appetiser made with either Spinach or Chard, soft Labneh and an assortment of aromats to add extra flavour, the dish would be topped off with halved, pickled grapes, yum.

I have never made Labneh before, the joining instructions we received several days before gave some alternatives, but I decided I wanted to make the ‘real deal’, which was a simple process. Yoghurt, Salt, Mix, Muslin cloth, hang over bowl in Fridge to drain the moisture. I started this on Thursday afternoon and it was ready for Saturday, delicious.

The Swiss chard and Grape Borani was very tasty with the Bread, fragrant, and crunchy with the addition of some chopped Walnuts. So that was the appetiser, what next?

If I said ‘Candied Beetroot’, what would you be thinking? My interpretation was slightly off the mark! I have been in the mobile telecoms industry for a long time. I can remember the ‘start’ of social media, and times before when you used a stamp or carrier pigeon to communicate. The miracle of communications, the internet and social media meant that I was ‘talking’ with Bethany (in Dubai, where she is based at the moment), within seconds and my mis-understanding clarified just as quickly!

Candied Beetroot Maqluba, or in my case Burgundy Beetroot was great fun to make. Layered Rice, with optional flaked Mackerel and beautiful earthy (not candied/sugared) Beetroot was delicious. I have seen this particular dish on YouTube, turned out in ceremony as its looks quite impressive when on the plate, the white and yellow Rice, and, rich and indulgent Beetroot, again another very tasty dish. This is one one of the recipes originating in the Kitab al-Tabikh cook book, the word Maqluba means ‘upside-down’.

Anyone think Aubergine is boring, if so this beauty will definitely change your mind, and its name is somewhat intriguing, ‘Lady Buran’s Sticky Badhinjan Fingers’! Its kind of sweet, sour, spicy, earthy, deliciousness and takes your mouth on a journey of tastes you will never forget.

Having been sent the ingredients and their alternatives I had decided I wanted to try and use the authentic ones like Argan Oil, Verjuice and Pomegranate Molasses, the latter I already had in the cupboard. For the Verjuice I went a bit ‘off piste’, and found something called Ab Ghorreh which is similar but actually Middle-Eastern. I checked with Bethany (Instant Messaging is just so useful), and was advised it was fine, but not to use so much as it was a bit more sour than Verjuice.

What fun we all had, Zoom did its job despite the audience being in two different American States, the UK and Dubai, and two hours of cooking chatting, questions the result was, well you can see for yourself, taste wise, it was delicious and now I have some more historic and unusual cuisine in the portfolio.

Bethany was very patient, frequently checking where we all were, answering queries on the various stages we had to go through to produce three, to be honest extremely impressive looking dishes, fit for any party, banquet, or in my case, cooked for a loved one.

I would highly recommend trying to get on one of these cookery lessons, they are about 2 hours long and great value for money, I enjoyed it so much I have already booked the next one!

As usual, I paid full price, was not offered anything and this Is just an honest view of my experience, great fun and more culinary experience to use in the future.

I have not updated this blog for a long time, obvious reasons with the mad world we are living in I have been distracted but apart from another session with Bethany on Saturday, I am attending Jericho Kitchen in Oxford (hopefully if rules don’t change), at the end of the month to do an Indian Street Food Course.

……………………………………..Until Next Time……Keep Safe……………………………….