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Anissa: It has been quite some time since the great Charles Perry wrote a guest post and I was delighted when he suggested mastic, one of my favourite ingredients, except that he is writing about it in the context of savoury cooking which is fascinating.

Charles: With its heady resinous aroma, mastic seems a natural flavoring for sweets. The Greeks  and Turks drink mastic syrup with coffee; they put it in ice cream and Turkish  delight. The Moroccans can’t seem to grind almonds without throwing in a  little mastic.

And yet medieval Arab cooks scarcely ever flavor sweets  with mastic – it was more likely to contribute its aroma to meat dishes. The  greatest mastic fan on record is Muhammad b. al-Hasan al-Baghdadi, because  mastic appears in more than half of the 96 red meat recipes in his 1226 book  Kitab al-Tabikh.

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Here is another guest post from my wonderful and very erudite friend, Charles Perry. It  is just as fascinating as the previous two, although I can’t quite believe it is completely safe to eat. Perhaps I will try making some now that I am back home and spending all summer in London.

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Charles Perry: When people make cheese, they curdle milk and press out the whey to make a less inviting environment for bacteria that would spoil it. But in medieval Baghdad, they had another method. They mixed milk, yogurt and salt, put it in a tub — open to the sky — on their rooftops in the hottest part of summer and left it there till October. You’ve just got time to start a batch!

I suspect the reason for this odd technique had to do with a shortage of cool cellars for ageing cheese in Baghdad. In fact, you don’t really need the outdoor location or summer heat. I’ve made kâmakh rîjâl in my dining room, where it was quite the conversation piece, I can tell you.

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