Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Eating Medieval Art: Buran (Meatballs in Eggplant Sauce)

Since election day, writing about medieval food and cooking has seemed a little silly to me.  I've wanted to privately take refuge in the Middle Ages, reading books and writing my lectures about medieval art, but putting medieval stuff out over the interwebs has seemed to be beside the point.

But.  Then I got thinking about this recipe, which I made the week before the election, and is a medieval Middle Eastern dish.  According to Pleyn Delit, Middle Eastern or "Saracen" food was the trendy new cuisine in western Europe in the Middle Ages.  That fits a pattern I often talking about in teaching medieval and Islamic material: the medieval perception of the east and specifically of the Islamic world as a source of good things that people wanted for themselves.  In the current political climate, it also strikes a useful contrast against perceptions of the Middle Ages that have begun to concern the broad community of medievalist scholars: specifically the idea that the medieval past can serve as the origin point for a "European" identity and so can provide historical legitimacy for contemporary extreme right and white nationalist movements in Europe and in the United States.  Sierra Lomuto's guest post on "White Nationalism and the Ethics of Medieval Studies" and Dorothy Kim's on "The Unbearable Whiteness of Medieval Studies," both on In the Middle, provide an excellent introductions to these issues.   Imagining medieval people enthusiastically eating "Saracen" food can strike a very immediate blow again any idea of a "pure" European past, as it shows medieval people as actively incorporating the "other" into themselves.

To get to the cooking: there isn't a charmingly ye olde English version of this recipe in Pleyn Delit, since its from an Arabic source.  The book has you start by boiling the eggplant, whole, and then frying it, again whole, until it gets soft.

The meatballs should be either lamb or beef: I picked lamb.  Pleyn Delit recommends buying it ground but then asking the butcher to grind it again, to get it a finer texture.  I don't have a close relationship with a butcher, so I bought it ground and then whirred it up in the food processor to break it down further.

Then the meatballs get formed up and fried.  Interestingly, they are pure meat balls - no fillers and no binders, no breadcrumb or eggs.  And the eggplant gets peeled and whirred up in the food processor with some yogurt and spices.

Finally, the eggplant sauce gets added to the meatballs and the whole thing cooked together to marry the flavors.  I obviously had a proportion problem:  since you cook the eggplant whole, I had to use the whole eggplant, but I didn't want to make more meatballs than I could eat, so I ended up with a lot more sauce than I needed.  If I had been smart, I would have saved half of the eggplant for later.  I served this with more cariota (carrots) in order to avoid carbs, but it would have been better with rice or naan or pita.