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Moorish Al-Andalus

Lahm Bi Ajeen

By Tim Hazell

Islamic Moors crossed the Strait of Gibraltar and swept like a desert sirocco onto the Iberian Peninsula in AD 711, renaming the region Al-Andalus. According to an account of the time, “The reins of their horses were as fire, faces black as pitch, eyes like burning candles and riders fiercer than wolves in a sheepfold at night!”

The Arab empire spread 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 the fierce Basques of the Pyrenees resisted, most of the indigenous population had converted to Islam by AD 1000.

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 flourished in Almeria, Córdova, Granada, Juen, Malaga, Seville, and Toledo.

Rifts in ideologies between Christian and Muslim Europe led to prolonged struggles to regain lost territories, known as the Reconquista. The Moors were expelled from Sicily in 1224. The Kingdom of Granada continued for three more centuries in southern Iberia. On January 2, 1492, the leader of this last Muslim stronghold surrendered to the armies of recently united Christian Spain under Ferdinand II and Isabella I.

Moorish cuisine endures in the use of honey, almonds, citrus fruits, and saffron. These thirteenth-century Arab breads, deliciously spiced, are folded in half and eaten with the fingers!

Lahm Bi Ajeen

Serves 4

 

1 cup flour

1/2 tsp salt

1/2 cup water

Pinch sugar

2 tsp dried yeast

3 tsp oil

 

Topping:

1 medium onion, finely chopped

1 tbsp oil

1/2 lb ground beef

1/2 tsp salt

Good pinch black pepper

1 tbsp chopped coriander

1/4 tsp allspice

1 heaping tbsp ground almonds

1 tsp sugar

1 tbsp lime juice

Pine nuts or sunflower seeds

 

Add flour and salt to a mixing bowl. Combine sugar and yeast in another bowl. Heat water to just above lukewarm. Stir into the yeast and sugar. Set aside in a warm place until yeast is frothy.

Pour yeast liquid into center of flour. Add the oil, stir to mix ingredients, and knead into a rough dough, adding more flour or water if necessary. Turn out onto working surface. Knead about 15 minutes until dough is smooth and soft. Return to the bowl, cover with a cloth, and let stand in a warm place until doubled in size. Fry onion gently in oil until translucent, but do not brown. Add ground beef, salt, pepper, coriander, allspice, ground almonds, sugar, and lime juice. Continue to fry gently until meat loses its pink color. Turn out the risen dough. Press to force out air. Take small pieces and flatten with heel of hand to make 4–5 inch circles. Spread a generous quantity of meat filling over top. Sprinkle with pine nuts or sunflower seeds. Place on a lightly oiled baking tray. Bake in a hot oven (450F) for about 8 minutes until dough is done but still soft. Avoid browning. Serve hot.

 

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