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The cuisine of Al-Andalus

Francisco J. González

In the year 711 an Islamic Arab army crossed from Morocco into the Visigothic Kingdom
of Spain, conquering what was once Rome’s richest European province. The resulting
mixture of cultures (Roman, Gothic, Middle Eastern, etc.) is reflected in many aspects of
Medieval Spain, including its cuisine.

“One takes a fat young sheep, skinned and cleaned. It is opened between the two
muscles and till that is in its stomach is carefully removed, In its interior one puts
a stuffed goose and in the goose's belly a stuffed hen, and in the hen's belly a
stuffed young pigeon, and in the pigeon's belly a stuffed thrush and in the thrush s
belly another stuffed or fried bird, all of this stuffed and sprinkled with the sauce
described for stuffed dishes. The opening is sewn together, the sheep is put in the
hot clay oven, or tannur, and it is left until done and crisp on the outside. It is
sprinkled with more sauce, and then put in the cavity of a calf which has already
been prepared and cleaned. The calf is then stitched together and put in the hot
tannur, and left till it is done and crisp on the outside. Then it is taken out and

That is the recipe for a royal dish published in an early 13th-century book on Spanish-
North African cuisine by an anonymous Spanish Muslim author from Valencia. The book
is clearly intended to be a practical manual, written without any literary pretensions, yet it
contains more than 500 recipes that give us an intriguing glimpse into a cuisine so
original, creative and complicated that it reminds us of the vast world of Chinese
cooking. It is the cuisine of Al-Andalus -Muslim Spain

In addition to new cooking techniques, new ingredients were introduced to Europe from
Arab Spain, such as almonds (originally from Central Asia) and which in one form or
another, were a feature of almost every Andalusian dish and are part of uncounted
Spanish dishes now.

In addition, sugar cane brought from Egypt and became an important crop in southern Al-
Andalus. Sugar had been unknown in Europe until the arrival of the Arabs in Spain.

These traditional Andalusian recipes came to the Americans with the Spanish settlers and
conquistadores of the 16th century, and are also part of Latin America’s gastronomic

Below are a few selected traditional recipes from Al-Andalus… buen provecho!


500 grams (1 lb.) flour

100 grams (3½ oz.) shortening

300 grams (10½ oz.) butter

A scant ½ liter (7 oz.) water

A small squirt of vinegar

One teaspoon salt

2 beaten eggs

500 grams (1 lb.) cabello de angel (grated candied pumpkin)



Knead the flour, water, vinegar, shortening and salt into a homogeneous dough, adding the water gradually to
make sure it does not become too soft or liquid. Roll the dough out with a rolling pin and spread the butter evenly
on top. Then fold it and roll it again like a puff pastry. Repeat six times. Divide into two equal parts and roll them
out into two rounds. Cover one round with the grated pumpkin. Place the other round on top. Painting the edges
with a little of the beaten egg, pinch to seal the two rounds together with a braided effect. The two layers together
should be no more than two to three centimeters (1 in.) thick. Put it in a preheated oven at 250 degrees Celsius
(475° F) for 35 minutes. Just before it is done, dab the crust with the rest of the beaten egg and sprinkle sugar and
cinnamon on top. Serve hot or cold.






Olive toil

Peel the eggplant, slice it, and leave the is to soak for several hours in milk with a leaded salt, so that the
eggplant, having soaked up the milk, will not soak up oil when frying. Remove the slices from the milk, letting
the excess run off, dip them in flour and fry in virgin olive oil till crispy.


250 grams (½ lb.) onions

750 grams (1½ lbs.) eggplant (aubergines)

250 grams (½ lb.) zucchini (courgettes)

3 green peppers

500 grams (1 pound) tomatoes

1 teaspoon of ground allspice

2 ½ tablespoons of olive oil

1 tablespoon of flour

Pepper and salt

1 cup water

The eggplant and zucchini are cut into cubes. The green pepper, tomatoes and onions are finely chopped.

The oil is heated in a deep frying pan and the chopped onion is added. As soon as it is golden, add the eggplant,
squash, peppers, and, lastly, the tomatoes. Cover and let cook for a while, then put in the allspice, the flour and a
little pepper. A cup of water can be added, and salt is added to taste. Let it all cook slowly until the dish sits in its
own sauce. Serves six.

Article and recipes adapted from The Cuisine of Al-Andalus by Tor Eigeland