A lack of locusts

Early on this sunny Sunday, wanting to feast the end-of-grading & -of-semester, I stuck my new Chef’s knife dada-fashion into the cookbook I am reading right now, and it came up with what may be the only recipe I have absolutely no way of cooking here in Albany (well, there are a few other ones I’d have great problems trying to put together at short notice). Which won’t prevent me from at least retyping it here, for your pleasure, I hope:

140. Locust Sahna

Take locusts that have returned from hunting, discard the dead ones, and drown the ones that are alive in water and salt. When they are drowned and dead, put them in a large container. In a mortar crush dry coriander [seeds], fennel, and asafetida in due quantity, and in [another] container alternate a layer of locusts with a layer of spices, adding salt generously in the course of doing this. [Let the prepartaion macerate for awhile.] When the water in which the locusts were drowned has lightened and become clear, pour it little by little [over the locusts] until there is none left and seal the two handled jug, taking care that you do not let in air, which would ruin the contents. It is necessary to wait for the product to mature; then it may be eaten.

This recipe comes from a delightful book, Medieval Cuisine of the Islamic World, by Lilia Zaouali, published by the University of California Press in 2007. Details here. The book is a splendid read, even if you do not intend to cook from it (though some of its couscous and pasta recipes are quite worthwhile experimenting with — not to speak of the pastries and jams.) Based on the earliest existent Arab cookbooks, the book gives powerful insight into the golden age of Arab culture, the Abassid period (~750-1258 AD) in Baghdad, as well as into the earliest cuisines of the Maghreb. Interesting tidbits come to light, such as when the author informs us that “Iraqis during the Abassid period invented a special sauce for long-distance travel (recipe 115), a dehydrated preparation similar to the powdered soups — Maggi and Knorr tablets — we know today; it was a forerunner of Liebig’s famous extracts in the nineteenth century.” Though I think I’ll rather prepare that Sibagh for long-distance travel than use a Maggi cube…

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  1. PB says:

    Dear Pierre, hi,

    In conversation,in Paris years ago (in the 90s), with Habib Tengour he told me about eating locusts in southern Algeria.
    This was the first I’d heard about this meal – delicious apparently.

    A book on medieval mediterranean cuisine that I enjoyed is Barbara Santich’s The Original Mediterranean Cuisine but she only has a small chapter on Arabic influence.

    Thanks for the post – I’ll buy that book.


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