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Andalusian Winds

Meat and Walnut Nadi with Dates

By Tim Hazell

The Arab empire swept through most of Spain and Portugal, Sicily, and a portion of southern Italy. Andalusian Arabic, its language under Muslim rule, deeply influenced modern Spanish. Although resisted by fierce Basques of the Pyrenees, most of the indigenous population had converted to Islam by AD1000.

Moorish presence initiated a renaissance throughout the sciences and humanities. Metropolises like Córdova boasted paved streets illuminated by oil lamps, raised pedestrian sidewalks, and libraries. Great universities sprang up in Almeria, Córdova, Granada, Juen, Malaga, Seville, and Toledo.

Sea trade routes from the Arabian Peninsula extended to the Spice Islands in Indonesia, Zanzibar in east Africa, the Han Chinese kingdom to Malacca, and from Ezion-Geber along the mouth of the Aqaba Sea to the gold mines of Solomon. Their dhows were coastal vessels, unsuited to deep water, hugging the contours of the land masses, then docking at night and setting out the next morning, staying a day or two at most to take on cargo and refurbish their supplies.

Tales of New World riches set Renaissance imaginations ablaze. It would be left to Spain, liberated from the Arab empire, to cross an ocean to trade, conquer, convert, and plunder as fortunes were made and dissipated. Mediterranean languages were incorporated into the myriad ones spoken by indigenous cultures. The results gave hybrid religions, art, music, and literature a distinctive eloquence. French, Portuguese, and Spanish contributed vitality and elasticity to the cadences inherent in regional vocabularies.

Modern writers living in Latin America create bold experiments from multiracial roots. We can still hear winds from the Oriental desert and African steppe whispering in medieval verses such as these:

 

The Bull-Fight of Gazul

King Almanzor of Granada, he hath bid the trumpet sound,

He hath summoned all the Moorish lords from the hills and plains around;

From vega and sierra, from Betis and Xenil,

They have come with helm and cuirass of gold and twisted steel.

 

Contact with ancient civilizations such as Rome, Persia, and, later on, the Ottoman Empire brought the Arabs in close contact with sophisticated cuisines. This recipe combines the sweet and savory legacy of the Moors and comes from the Arabian Gulf.

 

Meat and Walnut Nadi with Dates

Ingredients:

3 tbsp butter

1 lb ground beef

1/2 cup coriander leaves, finely chopped

3/4 cup chicken broth

5 tbsp lemon juice

1/2 tbsp lemon zest, shredded

3/4 cup walnuts or pecans, chopped

1/2 cup dried dates, chopped

3 tbsp molasses

2 tsp ground cumin

Good pinch of ground black pepper

 

Garnish: Red onion, finely sliced

Directions:

Heat the butter in a saucepan. Add meat and coriander leaves and saute for 10 minutes over medium heat. Add the chicken broth and simmer for another 10 minutes until the meat is cooked and most of the liquid is absorbed. Add the lemon juice, lemon zest, walnuts, dates, cumin, and pepper. Cook for a further 5 minutes. Transfer to a large serving platter, surround with cooked rice, and garnish with red onion.

 

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