Ni‘matnāma is a beautiful Indian source written in the 15th century, dedicated to the pleasures of life, which collects the favorite recipes of Ghiyath Shahi, the Sultan of Mandu. After his father’s death, Ghiyath Shahi, who had spent 34 years on the field at his side, decided to give to his son the military command and dedicate the rest of his life to pleasure and arts. Just one illuminated manuscript collects this text, with 50 miniatures that show the preparation of food and other aspects of the life of the Sultan, such as hunting. In Ni‘matnāma, indeed, we find several recipes for food, beverages, aphrodisiacs, medicinal remedies, and perfumes, but also sections dedicated to the use and preparation of betel leaves and tips for hunting. We used the translation by Norah Titley, titled The Ni‘matnāma Manuscript of the Sultans of Mandu.
The recipe we chose is just a list of ingredients, very similar to many Indian dishes still prepared today: the author writes to make a soup with minced meat and chickpeas, then to add a lot of garlic, fresh ginger, onion, lime juice, cardamom, cloves, pepper, turmeric, and fenugreek, then to aromatize with asafoetida.
With these directions, we have many options for the preparation of this dish. We noticed that, whereas the ginger must be fresh, the author writes nothing about the turmeric, so we used it dry, and that asafoetida is listed in the end as an ingredient to flavor the soup, so we grated it on the plate. We pounded the ginger and garlic in the mortar, in the same way as many traditional Indian recipes, and minced the onion, without browning them, because in other recipes the medieval author specifies to stir-fry some ingredients, but again, it is just a possible interpretation. If you change a bit the way to use the ingredients or the order in which you put them in the soup, you obtain an excellent dish anyway.
This recipe was written in a Muslim court, so beef is one of the kinds of meat the author uses, but in this case, he writes nothing about which one to use, just to mince it. In the book, we find partridge, pigeon, quails, chicken, rabbit, mutton, lamb, deer, mountain goat, and others. Excluding pork, you may use the meat you prefer. Since this dish is a soup with chickpeas and meat, we used a good amount of chickpeas, but feel free to try a different ratio, if you want, with more or less meat, depending on how you like it. There are no directions in the recipe about it.
All the ingredients for this soup are easy to find in Indian grocery stores. We prefer to use asafoetida resin, which is tastier and has an intenser flavor, but it may be easier to find the powder. We bought our resin directly from India.
We suggest using a bit more turmeric and fenugreek than the other spices, without exaggerating to prevent the soup from being excessively spicy, but it is up to your taste.
If you are interested in European medieval cooking, check out our books Registrum Coquine. A medieval cookbook, with the translation of a 15th-century source, and De Observatione Ciborum. Early-medieval recipes at the court of the Franks, written by the physician Anthimus to the king of the Franks Theuderic in the 6th century. This book contains some of the earliest medieval recipes, in addition to information about the diet of the Franks and the differences between their food habits and the alimentation of the Mediterranean populations, showing the passage between ancient and late-medieval cooking.
For more information about ancient food, we recommend reading Ancient Roman Cooking. Ingredients, Recipes, Sources and check out our Patreon page, in which you find several articles about historical food and the translations of sources, among which a booklet dedicated to medieval sauces, the Opusculum de Saporibus, and the first part of the Tractatus de Modo Preparandi et Condiendi Omnia Cibaria.
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300 grams of beef
200 grams of dry chickpeas
7 cloves of garlic
half an onion
half a lime
Steep the chickpeas in water overnight, then discard the water and simmer them for half an hour. Mince the meat and add it to the soup. The cooking time may change depending on the kind of chickpeas and meat.
Peel and pound the ginger and garlic in the mortar, then mince the onion. Pound in another mortar the other spices. When the meat and chickpeas are almost done, add two pinches of salt, the spices, the garlic and ginger, and the onion. Before removing the soup from the fire, squeeze half a lime and stir.
Plate grating on top a bit of asafoetida.
De Observatione Ciborum by Anthimus. Early-medieval recipes at the court of the Franks.
Registrum Coquine by Johannes Bockenheim. A medieval cookbook
Ancient Roman Cooking. Ingredients, Sources, Recipes
Translations of Historical Sources
De Re Coquinaria by Apicius – books 1-5
De Observatione Ciborum by Anthimus (6th century)
Appendicula de Condituris Variis by Johannes Damascenus (8th-9th century)
De Flore Dietarum (11th century)
Tractatus de Modo Preparandi et Condiendi Omnia Cibaria – first part (13th-14th century)
Opusculum de Saporibus by Mainus de Maineris (14th century)
Anonimo Toscano – first part (14th century)
Anonimo Veneziano (14th century)
Registrum Coquine by Johannes von Bockenheim (15th century)
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