Drizzle of Honey: The Life and Recipes of Spain's Secret Jews

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From the Authors

The 100 modernized recipes in this book are based on information found in Spanish Inquisition documents and other works from the 15th through the 17th centuries. These references to culinary customs show how some conversos (sometimes called crypto-Jews) strove to maintain aspects of Jewish life even when it jeopardized their well-being. When we can, we give the biography of the person who referred to or made the culinary dish. Occasionally the person was found ...

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A Drizzle of Honey: The Life and Recipes of Spain's Secret Jews

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From the Authors

The 100 modernized recipes in this book are based on information found in Spanish Inquisition documents and other works from the 15th through the 17th centuries. These references to culinary customs show how some conversos (sometimes called crypto-Jews) strove to maintain aspects of Jewish life even when it jeopardized their well-being. When we can, we give the biography of the person who referred to or made the culinary dish. Occasionally the person was found guilty and punished severely, but not always. Generally the person was sentenced to lesser punishment (jailing) or even sent home, required to perform certain religious acts (going to mass, confessing) on a regular basis. The Spanish Inquisition has perhaps the highest acquittal rate of the European inquistions. The recipes for salads, egg dishes, vegetables, meat casseroles, fish, pastries, holiday dishes, and desserts bring to life aspects of the daily existence of a group of people in the Iberian Peninsula and Spain's colonies in the New World over nearly three centuries. When we make these dishes we think how the crypto-Jews held on to their customs and their ancestors' cuisine. Even though the sources are sometimes saddening, we are impressed with the amount of information and detail we can learn about people's lives during those difficult centuries. We think that recreating those recipes and then eating them in 20th-century America gains us a needed glimpse of another world and time.

Linda Davidson/David Gitlitz (dgitlitz@aol.com), March 2, 1999.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
The "secret Jews" are the Iberian Jews who were forcibly converted to Catholicism under the Spanish Inquisition but still maintained Jewish religious practices in the privacy of their homes. Since this was strictly forbidden, the courts devoted a lot of time to ferreting out the "secret Jews," using the testimony of neighbors, servants, and family members. The authors, specialists in Spanish history and culture, have written a meticulously researched scholarly work focusing on this aspect of the Inquisition, using a variety of primary sources but relying mostly on the testimony of those questioned and often sentenced to imprisonment or worse. From these sources, they have re-created dozens of medieval recipes. While their efforts to discover and preserve this aspect of Jewish heritage are laudable, perhaps the idea of a cookbook was misguided. A recipe headnote that concludes "Maria went to the stake on November 20, 1486" is unlikely to make many readers feel like making Maria Sanchez's Greens. For religious/cultural history collections and some specialized cookery collections.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780312267308
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press
  • Publication date: 9/28/2000
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Pages: 352
  • Product dimensions: 7.50 (w) x 9.24 (h) x 0.86 (d)

Meet the Author

David and Linda Kay Davidson are professors at the University of Rhode Island. They are married and each has written several books on Spanish culture, including Gitlitz's Secrecy and Deceit, an alternate selection of the History Book Club and winner of the 1996 National Jewish Book Award for Sephardic Studies and the 1997 Lucy B. Dawidowicz Prize for History.

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Read an Excerpt

A Drizzle of Honey

Recipes, Stories & Commentary

Salads and Vegetables

Salads tend to be eaten raw, while vegetables are usually cooked, but the line of demarcation between the two has always been a thin one. Beets, peas, and spinach, for example, are served both cold and hot; they can stand alone as a main dish or be mixed with other ingredients. Lettuce can be eaten cold in a salad or fried in oil, and its stalks can be boiled with lots of sugar to make a conserve.1

Spanish culinary traditions and terminology complicate matters further. Spanish categories overlap: an hierba is a grass or an herb; a legumbre is a vegetable, but especially a legume; verdura gives the sense of something green; while an hortaliza is almost anything that grows in the huerta, or garden. All of these terms were used in the Middle Ages, sometimes interchangeably. Enrique de Villena's Arte cisoria (The Art of Carving) lists twenty "yerbas," including thistle, carrots, lettuce, turnips, onions, garlic, borage, purslane, fennel, caraway, and mustard.2 The seventeenth-century dictionary writer Covarrubiaseven uses the same two examples—lettuce and radishes—to illustrate two different categories, verduras and hortalizas. For Covarrubias, the legumbre has fruit that develops in a pod, while hierba denotes produce without stalks that can be either cooked in stews or served raw in salads.3

In the late Middle Ages and Renaissance, salads must have been ubiquitous. The occasional references suggest that they included a wider variety of ingredients than are common today. Covarrubias defines "salad" (ensalada) as "different herbs, meats, salted [ingredients], fish, olives, conserves, condiments [,] egg yolks, borage, sugared almonds, and a great diversity of things ... ."4 He also tells us that its name derives from the custom of sprinkling the miscellany with salt (sal).5 The single salad recipe in the late fourteenth-century cookbook from the kitchens of English King Richard II lists more than a dozen different ingredients, including some still-common greens and herbs such as parsley, garlic, onions, and watercress, and others not quite so common: fennel, leeks, borage, mint, rue, and purslane.6 Renaissance literary references tell us about "sliced lettuces and carrots with oregano"7 and "onion ... artichoke ... and chopped cucumber."8 Sources such as these suggest that anything green and edible raw could be thrown into a salad, but that a salad was not limited to greens. Other ingredients depended only on what was seasonably available. In the temperate regions of the Iberian Peninsula, including the humid north where varieties of chard are common, people could count on salad greens during much of the year. Though rarely cited, seasonal varieties of lettuce were undoubtedly common in salads. People then believed that lettuce contained properties that calmed lust and thus it was the symbol for continence.9

No matter what went into the salad, salt, vinegar, and oil were its constant dressing, and this is still the norm on the Spanish table. The account ledger of a sixty-eight-day journey in 1352 from Estella to Seville lists the purchase of vinegar on forty-three occasions generally accompanying some reference to salad makings, such as lettuce, radishes, and rocket. According to a Spanish proverb, "To make a good salad, four men are needed: for the salt, a wise man; for the oil, a prodigal man; for the vinegar, a stingy man; and to mix it, a crazy man ... ."10 Granado's recipe for cooked white beans insists that if they are to be served as a salad one must add vinegar and oil.11

Elsewhere during the rest of the year, people largely consumed cabbage and root vegetables such as carrots, parsnips, and turnips. One popular proverb states, "There's nothing better than turnips with cabbage."12 Radishes were so common that they gave their name to several Iberian towns, such as the Salamancan and Leonese Rabanal. Other proverbs substantiate the radish's popularity: "A tender radish, no matter the size, isgood" and "There is no good life without radishes and candles."13 Covarrubias adds that radishes help people suffering from jaundice.14

The list of vegetables common in Roman Iberia was expanded when the Muslims introduced Eastern products, notably the chickpea and the eggplant.15 The Al-Andalus cookbook gives a good sense of the vegetables commonly consumed in Islamic Spain. Its "garden recipe" is for a green dish to be made from whatever happened to be in the garden. The author lists for summer: chard, squash, eggplant, fennel, and melon; for spring he suggests lettuce, fennel, fresh beans, spinach, chard, and cilantro. The directions make clear that any combination of these also could be used to make a vegetable broth which was thickened with eggs.16 The vegetables mentioned in the rest of his book, such as cauliflower, turnips, artichokes, squash, and spinach, are generally a part of a stew or a seasoning for meat. One notable departure is an emphasis on the eggplant, for which the Al-Andalus cookbook offers more than a dozen recipes.

A common characteristic of medieval cookbooks has been thought to be the scant attention they give to vegetables as stand-alone foods.17 However, two Christian Iberian cookbooks, Sent soví and Granado's, devote space to Lenten dishes featuring vegetables, usually prepared as thick stews. In fact, Granado devotes an entire section to vegetable stews (escudillas de yeruas), with individual recipes for borage, chard, spinach, lettuce, chicory, malva, asparagus, squash, and chickpeas, some of which are made with meat broth and others with almond milk.18 We also find recipes for artichokes, asparagus, leeks, squash, cabbage, and mushrooms.

The medieval table included whatever was edible in its season. In addition, some vegetables were stored, or preserved, for later consumption when it was too cold for the greens to grow. We may infer that greens and legumes growing around the house were not highly prized, but they were eaten and probably eaten in great quantities, especially on non-meat days in the Christian calendar.19

Jews and crypto-Jews shared the taste for salads and vegetables. There is no reason to believe that the salads eaten by the crypto-Jews differed in any way from those eaten by their old-Christian neighbors. On the other hand, based on the frequency of references specifically associating them with Iberian Jews, eggplant, greens like chard, and chickpeas, combining equally well with meat, fish, and fowl, seem to have been defining characteristics of medieval Sephardic vegetable cuisine.

Juana Núñez's Lechugas Y Rábanos

Lucia Fernández alleged that for lunch Juana Núñez used to give them "lettuce and radishes and cheese and cress and other things she does not remember."20

Juana Nunez and her husband, Juan de Teva, a clothing merchant, practiced crypto-Judaism in Ciudad Real in the early sixteenth century. When the Inquisition's curiosity focused on the couple, Juan fled to Portugal. The Spanish Inquisition tried him in absentia and burned his effigy on September 7, 1513.21 Juana was arrested on March 3, 1512, and her trial dragged on for two and a half years. Juana got along poorly with her neighbors, and the pettiness of their squabbles is evident in the malice with which they shared gossip about her with the Inquisition.

Malice aside, their testimony is rich in details about Juana's crypto-Jewish customs. For example, Juana and her closest women friends used to fast during daylight hours on Mondays and Thursdays. According to one neighbor, in the afternoons when Juana's sons Hernandico (twelve years old) and Antonito (thirteen years old) came home from school, to show their respect they would kiss their mother's hand in the Jewish fashion, and she would put her hand on their heads and draw it down across their faces, but without making the sign of the cross.

Above all, Juana tended to keep the Sabbath fully, on Friday sweeping and scrubbing her house, preparing food to be kept warm until Saturday, and taking a bath with her crypto-Jewish friends Maria Gonzalez and Luisa Fernández and their daughters. She heated water in a large tub, into which she sprinkled rosemary and orange peels. After the bath, according to her servant Lucia Fernández, wife of the shepherd Francisco de Lillo, she used to hop straight into bed with her husband without quarreling the way they did on other weeknights. She had several strategies to abstain from working during the Sabbath. Again according to Lucia, her favorite was to pretend she had a headache and to throw herself down on some pillows until Saturday afternoon, when she routinely recovered and invited her women friends to her house for a social late afternoon to talk and snack and make jokes about the Catholic mass. It was at these Sabbath gatherings that Juana used to serve this salad.

The Inquisition found Juana guilty of Judaizing, but because so many of the prosecution witnesses were shown to be biased against her, Juana's sentence was relatively light: to remain under house arrest, to wear the penitential San Benito robe, to abstain from wearing jewelry or any adornment, and to make confession a minimum of three times annually. Ten months later, at Juana's petition, even these minor sentences were commuted.

Juana Núñez's Lettuce and Radish Salad

Serves 4-6


1—2 ounces watercress 1/2 head green lettuce 2 cups torn-up other greens, such as a combination of radicchio, red lettuce, romaine, endive, or fennel 1 tablespoon chopped fresh mint 3—4 radishes, sliced 1—2 ounces grated hard cheese, such as Romano or Manchego 1—2 teaspoons coarsely ground sea salt


1—2 teaspoons balsamic, cider, or red wine vinegar3 tablespoons olive oil

1. Remove the stems from the watercress. Chop the leaves into bite-size pieces.

2. Tear the lettuce into bite-size pieces. Toss all the greens together in a large bowl.

3. Top with the radishes and cheese.

4. Sprinkle with the salt.

5. Make the dressing: Pour the vinegar into a jar; add the olive oil. Cover and shake vigorously.

6. Pour the dressing over the salad and toss well before serving, or pass a cruet at the table.

María Sánchez's Verduras

Maria Sánchez testified that on Saturday in Guadalupe she had seen "lots of conversa women sitting by the doors of their houses eating greens with vinegar."22

María Sanchez, the widow of the butcher Diego Ximenez of Guadalupe, was herself tried in 1485—86. The most damaging testimony came from her daughter Ines, who was also a prisoner. She told inquisitors that her mother had most likely confessed to all their Judaizing customs except three: that after the baptism of her son Diego she had scrubbed off the chrism; that she frequently donated oil for the lamps in the synagogue in Trujillo; and that she had taken the crucifix that her now-deceased husband had hung at the foot of their bed and had thrown it in the privy. Ines reported that when she went into her mother's cell she found her despondent, moaning that she would be killed for what she had confessed. Ines said that she had asked her mother if she had mentioned the crucifix to the inquisitors, to which Maria replied, "Daughter, nobody knows it but you; so tell me if you talked about it, for if you didn't I won't say anything."23 The fact that we have this datum proves that this attempt at collusion failed.

A principal witness against Maria was a serving girl who had become a confidante of one of Maria's daughters. The daughter explained to her in great detail how in the time before the founding of the Inquisition the local crypto-Jewish community was accustomed to observing the Sabbath, and how in the afternoons they used to gather in the doorway of someone's house to talk and munch on greens with vinegar.

María went to the stake on November 20, 1486.24


We have seen that the Spanish term verdura encompasses any edible green grown in the garden. The greens could have been eaten raw or cooked, sprinkled with vinegar or, perhaps, vinegar and oil. It is common in modern-day Spain to sprinkle vinegar over cooked green vegetables such as chard. Because we already have a number of clear references to salads that were eaten with vinegar, we have opted to interpret this reference to greens as a vegetable dish. Since we cannot be sure if the greens were cooked or not, we offer two recipes for this dish.

María Sánchez's Greens

As a cold Dish

Serves 4

1 large bunch of greens (see Variations) 2 tablespoons other finely chopped fresh green herbs (see Variations) 1—2 tablespoons balsamic or red vinegar 1/2 teaspoon coarsely ground sea salt

1. Wash the greens and pat them dry. Cut them into bite-size pieces and place them and the herbs in a large bowl. You should have about 8 cups.

2. Sprinkle with the vinegar and sea salt.

3. Mix well and serve.

As a Hot Dish

Serves 4

1 large bunch of greens (see Variations) 1—3 tablespoons olive oil 2 tablespoons other finely chopped fresh green herbs (see Variations) 1—2 tablespoons balsamic or red vinegar 1/2 teaspoon coarsely ground sea salt

1. Wash the greens and pat them dry. Chop them into medium-size pieces.

2. In a medium skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Toss in the greens and herbs and stir-fry briefly Sprinkle the vinegar over the greens and stir it in. Continue to fry just until the vinegar has been absorbed, about 2 or 3 minutes.

3. Sprinkle with the salt and serve immediately.


Any green or combination of flavorful greens is possible. It is best to balance peppery or spicy flavors, like turnip, lovage, or mustard greens, with more bland ones, such as lettuces, radicchio, or spinach.

The herbs add diversity to the greens. Here are some possibilities:

2 tablespoons chopped chives or onions 1 teaspoon chopped fresh marjoram 1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh oregano 1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh dill or fennel 1 tablespoon chopped nasturtium leaves 2 teaspoons chopped fresh basil

María Alvarez's Acelgas Ahogadas en Aceite

In the Sorian city of Almazán in 1505, María Alvarez allegedly prepared "Swiss chard, parboiling it in water and then frying it with onions in oil, and then boiling it again in the oil. And then she threw in water and grated bread crumbs and spices and egg yolks; and she cooked it until it got very thick."25

Medieval recipes generally distinguished between spices, herbs, and greens. Greens grew locally and were eaten as what we today term "vegetables," generally in meat stews. The leaves of other plants, used for flavoring or for salads and not for bulk, were known as herbs.26 These were grown in the garden, or picked on the mountainside, where even today wild thyme, rosemary, oregano, and anise scent the boots of the Iberian hiker. Spices, on the other hand, tended to be the seeds, bark, or roots of plants. Some popular spices—mace and grains of paradise, for example—were not native to Iberia and had to be imported. Because they were exploited commercially and represented a significant expense, they show up in household accounts and were often mentioned specifically by cookbook writers. Other spices, such as caraway, mustard, and cumin, were cultivated on the Peninsula.

Any devotee of medieval cookbooks will notice four things with regard to these flavorful additions. The first is that they are used everywhere: on meats and fish, in sauces and gravies, in pastries and soups. If a dish is prepared in six stages, each stage is likely to contain spices. Second is the enormous quantity of individual herbs and spices used. When medieval recipes specify amounts, which is rare, the measures given for seasonings astound the modern cook.27 A cook faithful to the quantity of just the saffron specified in the Al-Andalus cookbook may need to take out a second mortgage. Third is the variety used, both in individual recipes and in the aggregate. An eggplant recipe in the Al-Andalus cookbook calls for dried and fresh cilantro, pepper, caraway, cumin, fennel, garlic, saffron, salt, citron leaves, rue, mint, and thyme.28 Nola's sardine recipe requires pepper, ginger, saffron, almonds, pine nuts, parsley, and peppermint.29 Last, and most problematical for the modern cook, is that medieval spices seemed to have been used in a number of fixed combinations so well known to cooks that there was rarely any need to list them individually in the recipe's directions. Some common combinations were given names: salsa fina contains ginger, cinnamon, pepper, cloves, mace, nutmeg, and saffron.30 "Duke's powder" (polvo de duque) combines white sugar, cinnamon, ginger, and cloves.31 Another version adds nutmeg, galingale, and cardamom as well.32 Another mixture listed in Nola, salsa de pago, consists of ginger, cinnamon, cloves, grains of paradise, and saffron.33 One of Nola's recipes for a roast stuffed chicken calls for ten separate seasonings (cinnamon, cloves, raisins, almonds, mint, parsley, saffron,sugar, rose water, and marjoram) plus an unspecified amount of salsa fina. The specific contexts of the generic references to "spices," which appear in hundreds of medieval recipes, must have been transparent to their audience, even though they are often opaque today.

Individual spices, and many herbs, were thought to have specific properties related to the body's four humors. They were important not only as flavorings but also to keep the body's essential fluids in balance. Many had medicinal properties as well, which led taxonomists like the lexicographer Covarrubias to define spices as "those drugs which come from the Indies with which we flavor stews, like clove, cinnamon, ginger and pepper; not only these, but any other medicinal substance which is sold by pharmacists ... ."34 Despite the modern myth, spices were not used in medieval kitchens to mask the unpleasantness of spoiled meat.35

Herbs and spices were known and used in antiquity: the Bible mentions several and the Talmud dozens more.36 The wealthy Roman Apicius used them profligately. Locally grown products were probably always part of every region's cuisine, but there is good evidence that from as early as the tenth century Western Europeans had developed a craving for Eastern spices. An Iberian Muslim visiting the German city of Mainz, in the year 978, remarked about the quantity of spices for sale in the markets there and the role of the Jews in importing them from the Orient by way of Kiev. With the exotic tastes of the returning crusaders, the spice markets boomed. Jewish merchants participated in the Mediterranean and Indian Ocean spice trades in the eleventh through the thirteenth centuries, in the African spice trade in the fifteenth century, and in the American trade, which added so many new flavors to Europe, in the sixteenth.37

Iberia's Christian cooks did not have to go as far as the crusaders to acquire the taste for the highly spiced Islamic cuisine. Andalucia was a perfumed garden. As the Al-Andalus cookbook put it: "The knowledge of the use of spices is the principal base of the dishes of the kitchen, because it is the scent of cooking, and one builds on top of it."38 The large-scale use of saffron as a colorant and of nuts, particularly ground almonds, are Islamic characteristics which northern European cooks also quickly adapted.39 Three other aspects probably derive from the Islamic palate: the heavy use of sugar as a sweetener, of citrus fruits, and of scented essences like rose water or orange-blossom water to perfume the food.

It is unlikely that Iberian Jewish cooking was in any way special in its use of herbs and spices. The Inquisition's informants keyed on the principal ingredient of the main dish, its relation to the Jewish or Christian calendar of ritual, and a few foods—chard, chickpeas, eggplant—that old-Christians associated with Semitic cuisine. Spices did not attract their attention. Thus, given the pervasive imprecision with which most of the contributors reported these recipes to the Inquisition, two problems confronted us in preparing this book. Which spices to use? And in what amounts?

Our solutions were based on the following assumptions. Keeping the general principles that we have just outlined in mind, we searched for analogous recipes in cookbooks contemporary to Inquisition times. We concluded that in the kitchens of the socio-economic class of our contributors, the easily available Iberian seasonings would have been used a lot. These include thyme, rosemary, and oregano, caraway, and cilantro (dried and fresh leaves, as well as seeds), mustard, anise, fennel, citron, and saffron. Certain imported spices, like pepper and cinnamon, probably were available everywhere and were within the reach of the average budget. The account books of the Navarran travelers show near-daily purchases of garlic, pepper, and vinegar, and frequent purchases of mustard sauce.40 The extant late medieval Iberian cookbooks also cite these ingredients in abundance and mention a host of others—like galingale, grains of paradise, and cubebs—somewhat less often. Spices appearing in more than 10 percent of Sent soví's recipes are saffron, pepper, and ginger; those appearing in more than 20 percent of Nola's recipes are cinnamon, ginger, pepper, and saffron.41

Finally, as we prepared our recipes, we looked for some indications of quantities. When none existed, the proof was in the pudding, so to speak. We experimented with a variety of amounts until we found a balance of flavors which would not occlude the dish's main ingredients.

María Alvarez's Boiled and Fried Swiss Chard

Serves 4

1 large bunch of Swiss chard (about 60 leaves and stems) 5—6 tablespoons olive oil, plus more if needed 1—11/2 cups finely chopped onions 2 teaspoons caraway seeds 1 teaspoon cinnamon 1 tablespoon Salsa Fina (page 23) 10 egg yolks, beaten 2/3—¾ cup water 2/3 cup ground bread crumbs

1. Wash and drain the chard leaves and stems. Chop them into 1-inch pieces. Simmer them for 15 minutes in a large, covered pan of water. Drain and press out the excess water. This should make about 3 cups of greens.

2. In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onions and stir-fry until just transparent, about 4 to 5 minutes.

3. Add the chard and continue to fry. If the oil is completely absorbed, add 1—2 tablespoons more.

4. Grind the spices together. Add them to the frying chard and mix them in evenly.

5. Mix the egg yolks and water. Add the bread crumbs to the liquid and stir briskly.

6. Stir the egg yolk mixture quickly into the frying chard. Move the skillet back and forth over the heat so that the resulting omelet won't stick.

7. Reduce the heat to low and continue cooking for about 5 minutes, or until the omelet is firm. With a spatula, turn the omelet over and cook another 5 minutes. Serve warm.


This dish can also be baked. Complete the first 5 steps of the recipe.

6. Remove the frying pan from the heat and allow the chard to cool.

7. Preheat the oven to 350°. Pour 1 tablespoon oil into a medium ovenproof glass casserole or two small ones. Put the casserole(s) into the oven to heat.

8. Combine the chard with the egg yolk mixture in a bowl and then pour it into the heated casserole(s).

9. Bake for 20 minutes, or until the bottom of the casserole begins to turn golden brown. Serve hot or cold.

Mayor González's Cazuela de Huevos y Zanahorias

Juana García testified that Mayor Gonzalez cooked "a casserole of eggs and carrots and spices and other things" on Friday and ate it cold on Saturday 42

Pedro Nunez Franco and his wife, Mayor González, lived in a large house in Ciudad Real next to a convent. Juana Garcia, wife of the laborer Miguel Rodriguez of Las Casas, a village near Ciudad Real, had a fourteen-year-old son, Miguel, who served in the Núñez Franco household. One Friday in 1510, just before Christmas, when Juana went to visit her son, she observed Nunez Franco slaughtering a goose in the Jewish fashion by cutting its throat.

During the visits to her son, Juana made note of several other Judaizing customs of the González-Núñez Franco family. On Fridays they kept a lamp burning all night long, and she reported hearing Mayor ask the serving girls to put a new wick in the lamp. She said that she heard Pedro Nunez Franco singing in bed, but that she couldn't understand the words. She also related that she had seen a group gather at the home for a Sabbath meal, and she listed by name the thirteen people at the table.

Another Friday she saw Mayor González prepare this Sabbath dish for the family. When questioned further, she stated that it may also have had meat in it, but that she personally had not seen it.43

Even though inquisitors found little evidence of Mayor's Judaizing after 1483, nonetheless she was sentenced to life imprisonment and confiscation of property. This was later reduced to certain penances, and eventually commuted altogether.

Mayor gonzález's Casserole of Eggs and Carrots

Serves 6

2 cups baby carrots 2 cups Vegetable Broth (page 24) 2 hard-boiled eggs, coarsely diced 2 eggs, beaten 2 green onions, thinly sliced (about 2 tablespoons) 1/2 cup grated Romano cheese 1/2 teaspoon ground dried cardamom ¼ teaspoon cloves (optional) 1/2 teaspoon salt 1/2 teaspoon pepper 1 tablespoon bread crumbs or matza meal

1. Boil the carrots in the vegetable broth for 10 minutes, or until fork-tender. Drain, reserving 2 tablespoons of the liquid. Cool. Slice the carrots lengthwise in half or in thirds.

2. In a bowl, combine the carrots, hard-boiled eggs, and onions. Add the beaten eggs.

3. Preheat the oven to 350°. In another bowl, mix the cheese and spices. Add the bread crumbs and stir. Pour the dry mixture into the carrot mixture and combine.

4. Lightly grease an 8-inch round or square (glass) ovenproof baking pan. Place the mixture in the pan and level it out. It should be about 1 inch thick. Bake 45—60 minutes, or until the bottom just begins to brown.

5. Refrigerate until ready to serve, at least 6 hours.


This dish can be served hot as well.


This casserole recipe is the most basic one.


Try adding either or both of the following ingredients in step 2:

1/2 cup raisins ¼ cup sliced olives

Sprinkle 1 tablespoon cinnamon-sugar over the top before baking.

Juan Sánchez Exarch's Hamín de Berzas

The converso Juan Sanchez Exarch was accused of "ceremonially (i.e., with religious intent) eating a Sabbath dish called hamín, made of chickpeas and spinach or cabbage."44

Juan Sanchez Exarch's trial began in Teruel in October of 1484. The first nineteen of the fifty-three articles of his indictment give a good picture of the breadth of Judaizing activities in the region just prior to the 1492 expulsion.

1. Sanchez Exarch keeps the Sabbath as the Jews do.

2. Specifically, on the Sabbath he eats food cooked on Friday and warmed over.

3. He eats this food, called hamin, ceremonially.

4. He lights clean lamps on Friday nights as the Jews do.

5. On the Sabbath he puts on clean clothes and clean tablecloths on the table.

6. On the Sabbath he abstains from selling and making contracts or handling money.

7. On the Sabbath he won't walk, but he walks about on Sunday to show his scorn for that holy day.

8. On the Sabbath he meets with the Jews.

9. He celebrates the Passover, on that day eating matza, celery, and lettuce, as the Jews do.

10. He gets unleavened bread from the Jewish neighborhood on the Passover.

11. He buys new dishes for the Passover.

12. He does everything else the Jews do on Passover.

13. He celebrates the Festival of Booths.

14. He makes a hut of branches outside his house; if he can't do it there, he goes to the home of a Jewish relative or a bad Christian to construct the hut, and eats almond pastries with them.

15. He also celebrates the Festival of the Horn,45 of Haman, and of Taamuz when the holy temple was lost.

16. He keeps the fasts of Quipuz, called the Pardoning Fast, and of Haman, and of Taamuz, and then in the evening breaks his fast with beef or chicken.

17. He does not observe the holidays of the Church, nor keep the Christian fasts.

18. He believes more in Moses than in Jesus, and prays in Hebrew, swaying back and forth, facing the east.

19. He washes his hands before praying.46

After a two-year trial and an extensive confession in which he confirmed these and other practices, Sánchez Exarch was condemned to death in 1486. His children and grandchildren were disqualified from ever holding public office or entering the clergy.

Juan Sánchez Exarch's Cabbage Stew

Serves 4

1—1¼ pounds green cabbage 6 tablespoons olive oil 6 cloves garlic, diced 2 (19-ounce) cans chickpeas, drained 1 cup broth 1/2 teaspoon salt 1/2 teaspoon pepper 1 teaspoon ground coriander 1 teaspoon ground cumin

1. Wash the cabbage and drain it. Cut it into 1—11/2-inch pieces.

2. Heat the oil in a large stew pot over medium heat. Add the garlic and fry it until it begins to turn golden, about 6 minutes.

3. Add the cabbage. Stir-fry for 4—5 minutes over medium heat, until the cabbage begins to wilt.

4. Add the chickpeas, broth, salt, pepper, and spices. Cover the pan. Turn the heat to low.

5. Simmer for 1 hour, stirring occasionally. For less broth, uncover the pan the last 15 minutes of cooking. Serve hot.


Although the Sanchez Exarch family ate this dish as a Sabbath stew, it can be cooked a shorter time (10—15 minutes) for a crisper cabbage.

Isabel vélez's Olla de Acelgas con Queso

In Almazán in 1501, an anonymous witness reported that when Isabel Vélez's father died, the family sat at a low table near the door, and ate "a casserole made of chard and bread crumbs and cheese," which Isabel had prepared at home and brought to her father's house.47

Isabel's father was evidently a first-generation convert who made his living as a toll collector. A servant noted that before going to bed he used to mutter phrases in Hebrew, which he followed with the Latin "Our Father." 48 A neighbor woman named Teresa, who served in the house, noted that when family members sat down to eat "she never heard them say any Christian prayers like the 'Ave Maria,' the 'Our Father,' the Creed, or the 'Hail Mary,' nor had she seen them cross themselves."49

When Isabel's father, Pedro Velez, was dying, he reputedly asked to be buried in the Jewish fashion in virgin soil.50 The neighbor Teresa noted that he had not received the last rites, and that no one in the family had recited any Catholic prayers as he lay dying.

The Church's Edicts of Grace, which included checklists of customs indicative of heresy, generally listed a number of Jewish funerary customs. This edict, from 1639, was promulgated in Mexico:

[Judaizing is suspected] if when some person is at the point of death, he turns to the wall to await death and then [the corpse] is washed with warm water, shaving the beard and under the arms and other parts of the body, and attiring it with clean linen, under drawers, and shirt and cover, which is folded over the top, and putting a pillow with virgin soil under the head, or money in the mouth, or a misshapen pearl or some other thing. Or singing some funeral dirge or throwing out the water from the large jars and emptying all the containers with water in the house of the deceased and all other houses of the area as a Jewish custom; eating fish and olives on the floor behind the doors; not meat because of sorrow of their loss; not leaving the house for one year in accordance with the observance of the laws. Or if they are buried in virgin soil or in a Jewish cemetery.51

In their cross-examination of witnesses in the Pedro Velez investigation, the inquisitors went right down the list. "No," the servant Teresa answered, "I did not see him wrapped in his shroud because I was not present, nor do I remember if they poured the water out of all the pitchers in the house when he died ... . I did see that when it was time to eat they set a bushel basket covered with a cloth on the floor near the door, where I never saw them eat on any other day. And I saw them bring from the house of Luis Velez, his son-in-law, the tailor, a new-Christian ... a pot of chard and cheese and bread crumbs ... . They also brought with them the dishes they served it on, and they brought them secretly, and when they went in ...Luis Velez said, 'Give me those dishes; I don't want people to see what we have hidden here.'"52


Typical of Iberian Jewish funerals was a communal meal eaten in the house of the deceased following the burial. The food most commonly served was hard-boiled eggs, in accordance with the dictates of the legal compendium Kol Bo (1490), which says that they are "symbolic of the roundness of the world and the mourning which comes to us all."53 Also common was the consumption of fish, which is reported at funerals of Judaizers from the 1480s and over the next two hundred years.54 Even more important seems to have been the specific prohibition against eating meat, the consumption of which was a sign of ostentation and not mourning. After funerals in Majorca in the 1670s, Judaizers ate rice fried in olive oil, which they called "funeral food."55 Juan de Chinchilla testified in 1484 that at funerals in Ciudad Real the Christians would sit "at their table where they ate chicken, and the converts on the floor ate chickpeas and eggs."56 At funerals in the 1630s the Mexican Vaez family ate raisins, almonds, salad, homemade bread, and chocolate, but never any meat.57 And the Velez family in Almazán prepared this dish of chard and cheese.

We have found evidence of one other culinary custom related to dying. In Mexico in the 1640s crypto-Jews in the Machorro clan often fasted on the anniversary of a loved one's death. The night before the fast they ate a soup made of bread soaked in water and salt.58

Isabel vélez's Chard and Cheese Casserole

Serves 4

2—3 tablespoons olive oil 2 cloves garlic, diced 1 medium onion, chopped 6 cups chopped chard (about 15 stalks), chopped in 1-inch pieces ¼ cup grated hard cheese, such as Manchego or Romano ¼ cup fine bread crumbs 1/2 teaspoon salt 6 thin slices Cheddar Cheese (about 3 ounces), to top the casserole

1. Heat the oil in a medium-size ovenproof pan. Add the garlic; stir-fry 3 minutes. Add the onion and continue to stir-fry until the onion is translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the chard. Stir gently until the chard reduces by half, about 10 minutes. Remove from the heat.

2. Preheat the oven to 325°. Mix the cheese, bread crumbs, and salt in a bowl to combine them evenly.

3. Smooth the chard mixture evenly into the pan. Stir half the cheese mixture into the chard. Pour the rest of the cheese mixture on top. Top with the Cheddar slices.

4. Bake in the oven 10 minutes, or until the cheese is melted. Serve hot.


This basic recipe invites variations. It is likely that several spices were used in its preparation in the Velez household. Try adding 1—2 teaspoons Salsa Fina (page 23).

The Cota wedding Berenjena con Acelguilla

"At the wedding," conversos were served " ... lots of eggplant and Swiss chard seasoned with saffron."59

Late fifteenth-century conversos were evidently so fond of eggplant that the satirical literature of the day is filled with pointed references to this predilection. Typical is the burlesque poem by Rodrigo Cota about a converso wedding at which the guests were served this vegetable.

The courts that grouped around fifteenth-century Castilian kings included a number of poets and court fools who entertained the monarch, the nobility, and each other with scurrilous satiric poetry that insulted women, the handicapped, conversos, and other marginalized members of their society, often using some topical event—a boar hunt, a dance, a wedding—as a pretext for skewering people who were well known at court. Many of the poets and fools themselves were conversos, and everyone in that milieu knew enough about Jewish customs to understand the burlesque allusions to Jewish practice. These poetic jibes, later gathered into songbooks known as Cancioneros, often provide interesting anthropological data about contemporary customs, including Jewish cooking.

The sixty-five-stanza poem that alludes to this dish poked none-too-gentle fun at conversos who attended the wedding of the grandson of Diego Arias Dávila,60 the notorious converso finance minister of King Enrique IV of Castile, to a girl related to the family of Cardinal Pedro Gonzalez de Mendoza. Rodrigo Cota, who was not invited to the wedding, decided to make his pique public with this poem. The recipe is in stanzas 41—42.

The Cota wedding Eggplant with Chard

Serves 6

1 medium eggplant (about 2 pounds) 2 tablespoons salt 1 large bunch of swiss chard (about 50 leaves and stems) 2 tablespoons olive oil 1/2 teaspoon saffron threads 1 medium onion, sliced 1/2 cup water or Vegetable Broth (page 24) 1 teaspoon salt ¼ teaspoon white pepper

1. Peel the eggplant and cut it into ¼-inch-thick slices. Soak it 30 minutes in heavily salted cold water (about 2 tablespoons salt to 3 cups water). You may have to put a weight on the eggplant to keep it from bobbing to the surface. Rinse it thoroughly three or four times. Press out as much liquid as possible between paper towels.

2. Wash the Swiss chard. Cut the large stems into 1-inch lengths.

3. Heat the olive oil and saffron in a large frying pan over medium-low heat until the oil begins to turn yellow, about 4 to 5 minutes.

4. Saute the onion and chard stems in the saffroned oil until they are translucent, about 10 minutes. Add the eggplant slices.

5. Add the water or broth. Cover. Boil for 8 minutes. Turn the heat to low and simmer for 15 minutes more. Meanwhile, chop the chard leaves into 1-inch pieces.

6. Add the chopped chard leaves, cover, and simmer for an additional 3 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Serve hot.

Berenjenas con Huevos

Conversos were frequently accused of eating "casseroles of eggplant with eggs."61

The eggplant (berenjena) belongs to the rather large horticultural family of Solanum, which also includes the potato and nightshade. Melongena is the term that designates the eggplant, and there are several varieties. It was known in the eastern Mediterranean before the tenth century.62

Eggplant appeared relatively early in the Hispanic Middle Ages as well. Legend has it that the Muslims who had conquered the Peninsula early in the eighth century brought a poisonous eggplant variety purposefully to kill the Christians.63 Eggplant of the nontoxic sort is documented in Iberia in the twelfth century. The thirteenth-century Al-Andalus cookbook contains more than a dozen eggplant recipes, including one called "Eggplant, Jewish Style."64 Apparently the eggplant was cultivated first on the east coast of the Peninsula in Cataluña and then spread throughout the south. The fourteenth-century Sent sovi has four recipes for eggplant65 and Nola's early sixteenth-century Catalan cookbook gives six recipes. Sixteenth-century comments on the eggplant speak of varieties colored white, yellow, and purple. Perhaps the earliest reference to the eggplant in European non-Iberian sources is found in a 1570 Italian menu for Pope Pius V in which it was combined with various spices in a sauce accompanying fried veal liver and sweetbreads.66

Common lore held the eggplant in low esteem, as Covarrubias corroborated when he said that eggplants have insipid taste and bad texture and engender melancholy, making for a sad spirit.67 What is crystal clear is that in Iberia the eggplant was closely associated with Semitic cultures. One of Nola's recipes is called Berenjena ala morisca ("Eggplant Moorish Style"). From as early as the fifteenth century, Toledo—considered the heartland of medieval Iberian Semitic culture—was proverbially linked to eggplant.68 In the second volume of Don Quijote (1615) the imaginary Muslim chronicler Cide Hamete Benengeli is, by slip of Sancho's tongue, called "Cide Hamete Berenjena."69

The following recipe emphasizes the reddish-purple color of the eggplant in contrast with the yellow of the egg yolks.

Eggplant and Eggs

Serves 6

1 medium eggplant (about 2 pounds) 2 tablespoons salt 3 tablespoons olive oil 1 clove garlic, chopped 3 hard-boiled Vermilioned Eggs (page 76) (see Notes) Salt and pepper to taste

1. Cut the unpeeled eggplant into 1-inch cubes. Place them on two layers of paper toweling. Sprinkle them with the salt. Leave for 20—30 minutes. With paper towels, firmly pat the eggplant as dry as possible.

2. In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over high heat. Add the chopped garlic. Stir—fry for about 2 minutes.

3. Add the eggplant and fry slowly over medium heat for 10 minutes, stirring often.

4. Shell the hard-boiled eggs. Cut into eighths.

5. In a serving bowl, mix the eggplant and eggs. Season with salt and pepper.


Traditional hard-boiled eggs can be substituted with little loss of flavor.

This dish can be served hot or cold. If served cold, a vinegar and oil dressing can be drizzled over the top.

Catalina de Teva's Cazuela de Berenjenas Rellenas

On the Sabbath the women of the Alfonso Alvarez family of Ciudad Real used to lunch on "a casserole of stuffed eggplant which was eaten cold, and grapes, and fruit."70

Catalina de Teva was identified as a Judaizer in testimony given in the 1511 and 1513 trials of her friend Maria Gonzalez, the wife of Pedro de Villarreal. Maria herself provided a good deal of information about the group of her friends who used to gather to spend the Sabbath together in one or another of their houses. Frequently the group included Catalina de Teva, Ximon de la Çarça's aunt Marina de Herrera, the spice dealer Diego Alvarez's wife Graçia de Teva, and the tax farmer Fernando de Alvarez's wife Leonor.71 Among the information about this group that emerged in Maria's testimony are the following insights into the women's activities:

• The Çarças' black slave had complained to Maria that her mistress, Catalina de Teva, would not let her do the family wash on Saturday, and sometimes used to send her out to the vineyards for the day so that she wouldn't see what the Çarças were doing at home.

• Marina de Herrera used to read Jewish prayers from a little book, which she hid when Maria came in.

• Leonor Alvarez used to deck herself out for the Sabbath with a clean shirt and head scarf, and a festival sash. One day Maria Gonzalez found her plucking her eyebrows. When Maria said she looked like a queen, or as if it were a festival Sunday, Leonor haughtily retorted that "women who had given birth to sons had the right to dress up."72

Maria testified that on one Sabbath afternoon in 1509 she had visited the home of Ximon de la Çarça, where she found his wife, Catalina de Teva, with her usual group, all dressed in their best clothes, relaxing and enjoying themselves and eating this eggplant casserole, which had been prepared the day before. Although the fruit cited in this reference seems to have been eaten as a snack, contemporary references suggest that fresh fruits in season were also added to vegetable casseroles, as we have done in the following recipe.

Catalina de Teva's Stuffed Eggplant Casserole

Serves 4

1 medium eggplant (about 2 pounds) 3—4 tablespoons olive oil, plus more if needed 1 clove garlic, finely minced 1 stalk celery, finely sliced ¼ cup sliced mushrooms ¼ teaspoon dried sage, crumbled ¼ teaspoon dried rosemary ¼ cup ground almonds 1 pear, diced 1 apple, diced ¼ cup broth 2 teaspoons red wine vinegar 2 tablespoons bread crumbs 1/2 cup water

1. Cut the eggplant in half lengthwise. Scoop out and save the seeds and pulp. Set the two cavities aside, cut side down. Chop the pulp finely.

2. In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium-low heat. Add the garlic and fry gently for about 3 minutes. Add the celery, mushrooms, and eggplant pulp and seeds. Fry about 5 minutes, until the celery is fork-tender. Add more oil if necessary.

3. Meanwhile, mix together the sage, rosemary, and almonds. Pour them into the frying mixture and combine well. Add the diced apple and pear, the broth, vinegar, and bread crumbs. Continue to cook another 5—6 minutes, until the flavors meld and the stuffing mixture begins to hang together.

4. Preheat the oven to 350°. Place the eggplant cavities, side by side, cut side up, in an ovenproof casserole. Fill them with the stuffing mix. Add the water to the bottom of the casserole dish. Cover with aluminum foil.

5. Bake 20 minutes. Take off the aluminum foil and bake another 10 minutes, until the stuffing becomes firm.


This dish may be served hot or cold. If you intend to serve it cold, put the baked eggplant on top of pieces of paper towels so that they may absorb any water. Cover lightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate.


You may substitute 1/3 cup diced dried apricots or 1/3 cup raisins for the apple.

Isabel gonzález's Berenjenas con Cebolla

Isabel Gonzalez, tried by the Inquisition in Ciudad Real in 1511, allegedly "used to cook on Friday for the Sabbath stews ... with eggplant and onions and coriander and spices."73

Beatriz and Isabel Gonzalez, the daughters of Fernan González, voluntarily confessed to Judaizing during the first wave of trials in Ciudad Real in 1483—84. Among the particulars of their confessions are that they koshered their meat; that they dressed up for the Sabbath and lit candles; and that they celebrated Yom Kippur and Passover. During their trials they successfully pled for mercy, claiming that their extreme youth had led them to imitate the adult Judaizers in their family without giving the matter serious thought.

Beginning in 1511, the Ciudad Real Tribunal reopened cases against suspected relapsed heretics and indicted the Gonzalez sisters again. This time, however, the Inquisition had to try them in absentia, because when the sisters became aware of the investigation, they fled to Portugal where Beatriz's husband Juan de la Sierra had a business selling saltpeter to King Manuel I. By then Isabel was a widow, for her husband, Rodrigo de Villarrubia, had been tried and burned by the Inquisition in the late 1490s. One witness reported that Isabel considered her husband a martyr and believed that false testimony had condemned him. Whenever she spoke of him she burst into tears.74

There is no question that the family continued to self-identify as Jews and to practice as many Jewish customs as they were able. Catalina Martin, who served in the Gonzalez house for three years, reported, for example, that "they celebrated Friday nights and Saturdays, when they did no work, and they put on clean shirts and holiday dresses and they decked themselves out like it was a Sunday, or a [Christian] festival; and on Saturdays they did no cooking, and would not even let [her] or a black slave who worked for the family make a fire."75 They would not eat from any utensil used by their servants, nor would they drink from ajar that the servants might have used. They would not let their clothing and the servants' clothes be washed in the same tub. Catalina also described how Beatriz and Isabel used to pray, their shoulders covered with linen cloths, lowering and raising their heads and swaying forward and backward.76


This recipe for Sabbath eggplant casserole is part of Catalina Martín's testimony against the sisters.

Isabel González's Eggplant and Onion Stew

Serves 4

1 medium eggplant (about 2 pounds) 2 tablespoons salt 2 cups chicken broth (see Variations) 2 medium onions, quartered 1 (11/2-inch) stick cinnamon 3 whole white cardamom pods (see Variations) 1/2 teaspoon ground dried coriander (see variations) 1 teaspoon dried cilantro leaves ¼ teaspoon ground cloves (see variations)

1. Peel the eggplant. Cut it into 1/2-inch-thick slices. Soak for 30 minutes in salted water (about 2 tablespoons salt to 3 cups water). You may have to put a weight on the eggplant to keep it from bobbing to the surface. Rinse the eggplant three or four times in cold water, and press the slices between paper towels to remove the excess liquid. Cut the eggplant slices into ¾-inch cubes.

2. Place the eggplant in a saucepan with the chicken broth. Add the onion quarters. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to low, cover the pan, and simmer for 25 minutes, stirring occasionally.

3. Remove the lid. Stir in the five seasonings, and continue to simmer for another 30—40 minutes.


Serve over rice or couscous.

This dish is good served hot or cold.


This stew may be thickened by adding 1 piece of toasted bread that has been soaked in 4 tablespoons white vinegar (see pages 16-17 for more about thickeners).

Instead of the cardamom, coriander, and cloves, substitute:

1 teaspoon ground caraway seeds and 1/2 teaspoon ground fennel seeds or 1/2 teaspoon ginger and 1/2 teaspoon pepper For the chicken broth you can substitute meat stock or vegetable broth.

Aldonza Laínez's Olla de Nabos con Queso

Aldonza Laínez of Almazán served some workmen "a casserole made of turnips and grated cheese."77

One day in the spring of 1504 several workmen had come to Aldonza's house for lunch before going up to plow their vineyards. When Aldonza had her black slave, Angelina, spoon out this dish, the workmen laughed at her, pointing out that she could not serve cheese during Lent.

In addition to disregarding Lenten rules, Aldonza evidently preserved a number of Jewish customs. One neighbor saw her "seated at the entrance to her ... kitchen, with a white linen cloth spread out over her knees, covering her skirt, and on it a whole leg of lamb, or of goat, and a knife next to it, and it was cut open; and she was holding it with one hand and with her nails or the fingers of the other she was digging out all of the fat and the large vein."78 Another remarked how Aldonza pinched her nose whenever she smelled pork cooking and boiled any utensils that might have come in contact with pork. Martin de Ortega heard Aldonza say she did not have to go to mass because she had a prayerbook at home, and that when her family were Jews they had everything they needed, but now they lived in poverty. A neighbor named Olalla heard Aldonza say of her daughter Orobuena, who had died before the family converted, that "she wished her well in paradise," 79 the implication being that having died as a Jew she would have to be in hell, not paradise. Another woman, who used to go to Aldonza's house to spin thread with her, said that once she heard her lamenting her change of religion and sighing, "Old Testament, alas, Old Testament ... . Cursed be the one who prohibited the Old Testament."80 Still another neighbor heard her cursing the expulsion of the Jews, which she called an "evil day."81

Aldonza Laínez's Turnip and Cheese Carresole

Serves 4

11/2 pounds turnips (1 large white turnip or 4—5 smaller purple- topped turnips)

Spice Mixture

¼ teaspoon galingale 1/2 teaspoon caraway seeds¼ teaspoon cinnamon 1/2 teaspoon salt


4 ounces cream cheese, softened 1/2 cup cottage cheese ¼ cup grated Manchego or Romano cheese 1 egg, beaten ¼ cup coarsely ground bread crumbs (optional)

1. Preheat the oven to 350°.

2. Pare the turnip(s). Slice thinly by hand or with a food processor. In a large pan of water, parboil the slices for 6—8 minutes over medium heat. Remove and drain.

3. Combine the four spices and grind them together.

4. In large bowl, combine the cheeses, egg, spice mixture, and bread crumbs, if you are using them. Stir until well mixed. Add the drained turnip slices. Spoon into an ungreased 9 × 12-inch glass ovenproof casserole dish.

5. Bake about 35 minutes or until it begins to turn golden brown on the bottom. Serve hot.


The purple-topped turnips impart a slightly peppery flavor to this casserole.


Add any of the following for variety in step 4:

1 tablespoon capers 3 tablespoons ground almonds or pistachios 3 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro

Cebollas con Almodrote

"Onions in almodrote" was a favorite dish among the conversos in Castile in the 1480s.82

The Spanish term almodrote apparently derives from the Latin moretum, related to the word mortar. The first-century Roman cookbook attributed to Apicius contains this recipe for "Mortaria" or "Moretaria": "Mint, rue, coriander, fennel, all fresh, lovage, pepper, honey, liquamen. If needed, add vinegar."83 By its form, almodrote might also logically be an Arabic term, and this has been confirmed by modern lexicographers,84 even though the thirteenth-century Al-Andalus cookbook written in the southern part of the Peninsula does not use the term to refer to any of its many sauces.

In medieval Cataluña, almadroc was a dish that included garlic and cheese. Nola offers a recipe for almodrote, a sauce for partridges, composed of cheese, garlic, eggs, and broth.85 Sent soví's two recipes for almedroch are similar to Nola's sauce and, as Sent sovi's editor Grewe suggests, they are much like the modern garlic ali-oli sauce.86 The late sixteenth-century cookbook by Granado copies Nola's recipe, calling it capirotada, and adds several variants, with garlic present only in the version called "common capirotada." Granado's recipes are particularly helpful because he lists the spices by name. Covarrubias describes almodrote as "a certain sauce made from oil, garlic, cheese and other things,"87 but the examples he chooses come from Latin sources, not Arabic.

To conclude, it appears that at least by the fifteenth century in the Iberian Peninsula, the aspect of grinding green ingredients in a mortar had been lost for almodrote, even though lexicographers still recognized the Latin etymological debt. Instead, the Iberian variants of almodrote centered on garlic and cheese. In Guadalupe in the 1480s, Fray Gonçalo Bringuylla was reported to have eaten "eggplant with almodrote" one Friday. The witness who named the dish responded to an inquisitior's query by saying that he didn't know "if it had cheese or garlic in it."88

Several modern Sephardic cookbooks contain eastern Mediterranean recipes called almodrot and almodrote. These are hot vegetable casseroles made with a generous amount of eggs and cheese, but without vinegar or garlic.89

Onions in sauce are also still popular throughout the Levantine Sephardic world, but they are not related to or called almodrote.90 The modern recipes usually contain a sweet-sour sauce of lemon and sugar and sometimes are based on tomato paste.



It is difficult to know whether the popular fifteenth-century Castilian crypto-Jewish dish was served hot or as a cold salad. As a result, we offer four recipes for this dish. The first is the basic almodrote sauce. The second, a kind of salad that is served cold, and the third, a salad served hot, emphasize the green nature of the dish. The fourth, based on the ingredients listed by Covarrubias and Granado, is intended to be served hot as a vegetable.


Makes 2 cups sauce

1 cup grated Romano cheese or a combination of Romano and Parmesan ¼ cup bread crumbs 3 cloves garlic, chopped 6 hard-boiled egg yolks 2 tablespoons olive oil 1 cup warm Vegetable Broth (page 24) or water Salt and pepper to taste

1. In a food processor, mix the cheese and bread crumbs. Add the garlic, making sure the garlic gets thoroughly minced and combined.

2. Add the egg yolks and combine thoroughly. Gradually add the olive oil.

3. Continue mixing, adding the broth slowly, 1 tablespoon at a time (14—16 tablespoons should make a sauce the consistency of creamy dressing).

4. Season with salt and pepper.


Refrigerate the sauce, tightly covered, until ready to use, up to 1 week.

Allow the sauce to come to room temperature before using.

If the sauce has thickened, slowly thin with cool broth or water to the consistency of a creamy dressing.


For an even spicier sauce, use four cloves of garlic.

Onions in Almodrote

As a Cold Salad

Serves 4

1 tablespoon olive oil 2 cups frozen pearl onions 2—3 cups chopped fresh mixed greens, including 1—2 cups chopped lettuce, ¼ cup chopped mint, ¼ cup chopped cilantro, ¼ cup chopped fennel greens, ¼ cup chopped lovage or celery greens, 1/8 cup chopped parsley (see Variation) 1/2 cup Almodrote (page 58)

1. In a medium skillet, heat oil over medium heat. Add the pearl onions. Fry 4—5 minutes, stirring often, until no more than two teaspoons of liquid remain in the pan and the onions begin to brown.

2. Cool the onions. Put the greens into a large bowl. Toss the cooled onions with the greens when ready to serve. Drizzle the Almodrote sauce over the top. Serve.


If the sauce has thickened, slowly thin with cool broth to the consistency of a creamy dressing.


Other greens may be substituted.

As a Hot Salad

Serves 4

1 tablespoon olive oil 2 cups frozen pearl onions 2—3 cups chopped fresh mixed greens, including 1—2 cups chopped lettuce, ¼ cup chopped mint, ¼ up chopped cilantro, ¼ cup chopped fennel greens, ¼ cup chopped lovage or celery greens, 1/8 cup chopped parsley (see Variation) 1/2 cup Almodrote (page 58)

1. In a large skillet, heat oil over medium heat. Add the pearl onions. Fry 4—5 minutes, stirring often, until the onions just begin to brown.

2. Warm the almodrote sauce gently, either over low heat in a small pan or at medium power in a microwave oven for 45 seconds. The sauce should be very warm but not boiling.

3. Add the greens to the frying onions in the skillet. Stir-fry 1—2 minutes over medium heat, until the greens are wilted. Turn them into a serving bowl and top them with the almodrote. Combine and serve immediately.


Other greens may be substituted.

As a Hot Vegetable

Serves 4

2 tablespoons olive oil 1 clove garlic, finely chopped 2 cups thinly sliced onions (see Variation) 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon ¼ teaspoon nutmeg 1/8 teaspoon cloves 1/2 teaspoon salt ¼ teaspoon pepper 1/2 cup Vegetable Broth (page 24) 4—5 tablespoons Almodrote (page 58)

1. Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a small skillet. Add the garlic and fry 2 minutes.

2. Add the sliced onions and stir-fry another 6—8 minutes, until the onions turn golden brown.

3. Add the spices and salt and pepper. Fry another minute, continuing to stir, making sure that the onions are coated with the spices.

4. Add the broth and boil on medium heat for about 6—8 minutes or until most of the liquid has evaporated. Stir frequently.

5. Turn the heat off. Stir in the almodrote sauce. Serve immediately.


You can prepare steps 1—4 and refrigerate the onions for several hours or overnight.

Reheat the onions before adding the almodrote sauce.


Frozen pearl onions can be substituted. Fry them until most of the liquid has evaporated and the onions begin to brown.

Isabel García's Olla de Garbanzos

In a 1520—23 trial, Isabel García, a conversa from Hita, was accused of making a one- pot Sabbath dish of "chickpeas, onions, spices, and honey."91

The chickpea (Spanish: garbanzo, Latin: Cicer arietinum) was a widespread staple in the ancient Mediterranean and the East. Roman writers Columella and Pliny both describe it. The first-century Roman cookbook writer Apicius devotes three recipes to the chickpea. The twelfth-century Iberian author Ibn al Awam mentions it in his book on agriculture, and the thirteenth-century writer and teacher Albertus Magnus describes red, white, and black chickpeas.92 Several medieval treatises, such as the Tractatus de modo preparandi93 and Chiquart's On Cookery,94 tout soups made with chickpeas as being good for the infirm. The Tacuinum sanitatis contains an illustration of a sick person in bed waiting for the soup that is being made in the kitchen.95 Yet chickpeas seem to have been favored primarily in the Mediterranean region, for English cookbooks of the same era do not contain recipes using them.

Even in Iberia chickpeas seem to have been more popular in Castile than in Cataluna or Portugal, since the medieval Portuguese cookbook apparently does not contain references to the chickpea.96 Nola does not feature the chickpea, while the later Catalán cookbook by Diego Granado uses it sparingly97 Among the recipes in the Manual de mugeres, clearly intended for noble circles, there is only one recipe that contains chickpeas. Its title, Olla morisca or "Moorish Pot," suggests that chickpeas were Muslim food, not normally eaten by Christian nobility. Although the thirteenth-century Al-Andalus cookbook calls the chickpea a food of country people and gluttons, 98 it features chickpeas in several recipes and it contains a recipe for a soup made with chickpea broth meant for those who have been fasting. All this leads us to believe that the chickpea was a staple of the lower classes and therefore not worth featuring in a cookbook for a more refined audience.

But the reality of converso cooking is that the chickpea was pervasive. A good, cheap source of protein, grown on the Peninsula, it is mentioned by witnesses as a basis for soup, in vegetable casseroles, with onions (as in this recipe), and in stews with beef, lamb, and fish. Here are two versions of Isabel Garcia's recipe, using spices that were typical in the stews of the time and that contain sweet and sour flavors. The second recipe contains pomegranates, since they often appear in cookbooks of the period as a flavoring for vegetables.

Isabel García's Chickpeas and Honey with Cilantro

Serves 4

1 (16-ounce) package frozen pearl onions or 2 medium onions, diced (see Notes) 1 fresh bay leaf (optional) 2 tablespoons olive oil 2 (19-ounce) cans chickpeas, drained 1 tablespoon dried thyme, ground ¾ teaspoon ground cardamom ¼ cup honey ¾ cup chopped fresh cilantro

1. In a large pan, saute the onions and bay leaf, if you're using it, in the olive oil over medium-high heat 6—8 minutes, until the onion is golden.

2. Add the drained chickpeas, thyme, and cardamom. Cook over medium-low heat only until heated through (about 6 minutes). Remove the bay leaf, if you've used it.

3. Stir in the honey and simmer for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.

4. Stir in the chopped cilantro and serve at once.


The frozen pearl onions afford a nicer texture than the fresh onions, but they do not brown as readily.

This dish may be served hot or cold.

Isabel García's Chickpeas and Honey with Pomegranate

Serves 4

1 (16-ounce) package frozen pearl onions (see Notes) 2 tablespoons olive oil 1 (30-ounce) can chickpeas, drained 1 tablespoon honey ¼ teaspoon fresh ginger ¼ teaspoon cloves Seeds and juice of 1 pomegranate

1. In a large pan, saute the onions in the olive oil until golden, about 6—8 minutes.

2. Add the drained chickpeas, honey, spices, and the seeds and juice of the pomegranate. Simmer for 10 minutes over medium-low heat.


The frozen pearl onions afford a nicer texture than the fresh onions, but they do not brown as readily.

This dish may be served hot or cold.

María González's Habas

Speaking about the Saturday gatherings at the home of Rodrigo de Chillón in Ciudad Real in the early 1500s, Maria González said that on one occasion "they enjoyed themselves and ate [white] beans."99

As a rule the inquisitors applied torture only in cases where they thought a witness might be lying, or had not been fully forthcoming in his or her testimony. This, unfortunately, was the case with Pedro de Villarreal's wife, Maria Gonzalez, who testified in several of the Judaizing cases in Ciudad Real in 1513. This particular allegation, about Judaizers snacking on fava beans on the Sabbath, was extracted under duress. One of the most frequently used tortures involved putting a thin cloth over the person's mouth, and then pouring in a pitcher of water, which forced the cloth into the throat and created a sensation of drowning. At intervals the cloth was roughly removed so that more questions could be asked. Here is a fragment of the verbatim testimony in Maria González's case, written down in third person without quotation marks by a scribe who was present at the questioning:

She said that everything that she had said about Costanza Núñez was true, and that she had truly seen her observing the Sabbath in Fernando de Córdoba's house ... . She said why are they questioning her more, for she has already told the truth, and she wants only to die, and that she has told the truth for the sake of her soul. She was cautioned several times to tell the truth, for it would be better not to have been born than to tell a falsity. She said that she has not lied about anybody, and oh, God, have pity on her. Another pitcher of water was ordered. She said, I tell the truth, I have told the truth, I have already told you the truth, I speak the truth, what I have said is true, I tell you truly, I do not lie, I have not lied, I speak the truth. The jar was emptied. She repeated, I have told the truth.100

A moment later Maria evidently wavered, for she confessed that she had lied previously in saying that one of her mother's books really belonged to Fernando de Córdoba. With that, the questioning continued.

Their Graces ordered the water to be brought and the cloth put in place. She said, Stop, I will tell you the truth. I tell you that I really couldn't stand the sight of Lorenzo Franco's wife; I wanted to see her ground to dust. She [María] was asked if what she said about her was true, and she replied that lots of what she said about her was because she was her enemy, except when she reported that one Sabbath in Rodrigo de Chillón's house they spent the afternoon idly eating fava beans; the other things she said because she wished her ill, because she is an evil woman.101

Thirty-four days after this testimony was given Maria Gonzalez was condemned to be burned at the stake, not so much for her Jewish customs, the sentencing document makes clear, as for retracting her confession and for withholding evidence. The sentence was carried out on September 7, 1513, in the Plaza de Zocodóver in Toledo.


This reference to beans is too vague for us to know how the beans were prepared or served. The fourteenth- and sixteenth-century Catalan cookbooks have a few recipes for beans. One of Granado's recipes instructs the cook to add vinegar and oil and pepper if the beans are to be served as a salad. One of Nola's recipes, made with almond milk, is clearly a sweet pottage. Therefore, for this dish we are offering two versions: the first as a cold salad and the second as a sweet vegetable dish.

María González's Beans

As a Cold Salad

Serves 2

1/2 cup dry white beans (see Note) 1 ¼ cups water 2 broth cubes (beef or vegetable) 1/2 onion, quartered 1 clove garlic, quartered 1 tablespoon olive oil 5 teaspoons balsamic vinegar 1/2 teaspoon black pepper

1. In a medium pot, combine the beans, water, broth cubes, onion, and garlic. Simmer covered for 2—21/2 hours, or until the beans are tender.

2. Drain the beans. Add the oil, vinegar, and pepper. Stir. Refrigerate, preferably overnight. Serve cold.


See how to prepare the dry beans, page 15.


The addition in step 2 of ¼ cup sliced celery, ¼ cup sliced carrots, and/or ¼ cup fresh peas or the like, will add interest to the dish.

As a Sweet Dish

Serves 2

1/2 cup dry white beans (see Notes) 1—1¼ cups Almond Milk (page 19) 1 teaspoon sugar 1/2 teaspoon salt 1/2 teaspoon black pepper ¾ teaspoon ground (dry) ginger 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon 1 teaspoon rose water

1. Combine the beans, almond milk, and sugar in a medium saucepan. Simmer covered for 2 hours or until just barely tender. There should be a little liquid in the bottom of the pan.

2. Add the spices and simmer another 10 minutes. The liquid will thicken.

3. Add the rose water. Simmer another 2 minutes. Serve.


See how to prepare the dry beans, page 15.

For a creamier dish, mash the beans with a spoon when adding the spices.

Marquesa badia's Faves Tenres

"She says they kept the Jewish Festival of the unleavened bread which lasts eight days and that her mother during all eight days always ate unleavened bread, and rice, and fish, and tender beans and properly slaughtered chicken, but she never ate meat from the butcher shop."102

Marquesa, the wife of Pau Badia, was one of several conversas tried in Barcelona in 1491. There was little doubt that she was guilty as charged, for when she was arrested she confessed in great detail to her Judaizing activities.

Marquesa was thirty-eight years old when she was arrested. She told her inquisitors that from the time she reached the age of discretion, when she was eleven or twelve, until she was married at age sixteen, her mother had instructed her in the ways of the Law of Moses, and that for the first ten years of her marriage she had remained fairly observant. During her Judaizing years she always fasted for twenty-four hours on Yom Kippur, until the sight of the first stars told her the fast was over, and then the family broke the fast with chicken or fish. They also observed the Fast of Esther, and on Sukkot visited the booths of her Jewish neighbors. And she said that she used to recite a prayer that began "God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, have mercy on me and on all sinners. Amen."103

Like many people arrested by the Inquisition, Marquesa admitted having done the things she was accused of, but tried to shift the blame to someone else, preferably a relative who was already deceased and whose body was thus beyond the Inquisition's reach. Marquesa said that her mother's family kept the Sabbath strictly, and that although she had often wanted to work on Saturdays, her mother would not let her. She claimed that she herself had sometimes eaten scaleless fish, or rabbits, and that when her mother caught her she scolded her severely. Marquesa said that on Passover her mother ate unleavened bread for all eight days, but that she and her siblings only ate it the first day, because they were afraid that their servants would accuse them of not being good Christians. During her years at home Marquesa adopted her mother's scornful attitude toward all things Christian. She admitted that if they went to church it was only to give the appearance of being good Christians, for they did not really believe in the Catholic sacraments. For the same reason she and her mother and brothers used to show themselves at the front window when the Christian processions passed in the street. On saints' days they would visit the appropriate local shrine, but only to fool their neighbors, and afterward they would laugh about it. Marquesa claimed that her mother had told her that the reverence shown to the statue of Mary proved that Christians worshiped a hunk of stone.

In short, she admitted to the acts, but said that they were not really her fault, because she and her sisters were too young to break from their mother's control, and that later, "when they were all married they lived a good life, and no servant in their homes could accuse them of having done anything wrong."104

The inquisitors bought her argument, for they recognized that many second-generation conversos, once they became adults, tried to acculturate as best they could and leave behind the ingrained customs of their unassimilable parents. Marquesa and her sisters were excommunicated and forced to publicly abjure and renounce all their past heretical practices, but then they were welcomed back into the bosom of the Church.


Our recipe for tender beans is found in Sent soví.105 In contrast to Maria González's sweet beans, Sent sovi's faves tenres are more sweet and sour.

Marquesa Badia's Tender Beans

Serves 2

1/2 cup dry white beans (see Notes) 1 1/2 cups water 1 cup Almond Milk (page 19) 1 teaspoon olive oil 1 teaspoon salt ¼ teaspoon pepper 1 teaspoon dried marjoram 11/2 teaspoons dried basil or 1 tablespoon chopped fresh 1/2 teaspoon grated ginger 3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

1. Place the beans and water in a medium pan, cover, and simmer gently for 20-30 minutes until they are fork-tender.

2. Remove them from the heat. Drain the beans in a colander. Return them to the pan and add the almond milk. Add the oil, salt, pepper, marjoram, basil, and ginger.

3. Heat the mixture over medium heat just until it boils. Remove it from the heat and stir in the parsley and vinegar. Serve.


See how to prepare the dry beans, page 15.

This recipe is also good when made ahead and reheated or even served cold.

Copyright © 1999 by David M. Gitlitz and Linda Kay Davidson.

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments xi
Preface xiii
Introduction l
Jews and Conversos in Late Medieval Iberia 1
Sephardic Cuisine and the Inquisition 3
Eating in Medieval Iberia 5
A Note About the Published Resources 6
Modern Sephardic Cooking 10
A Note About the Contributors 11
Cooking Medieval in a Modern Kitchen 13
Ingredients 13
Sabbath Stews 18
Recipes, Stories & Commentary
Salads and Vegetables 27
Eggs 70
Fish 82
Fowl 108
Beef 146
Lamb and Goat 187
Sausages 209
Meat and Fish Pies 222
Breads 242
Desserts and Snacks 252
Endnotes 303
Bibliography 319
Culinary Sources 319
Historical Sources 322
Index 325
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First Chapter

Chapter One


In re-creating these recipes from the fifteenth, sixteenth, and seventeen centuries, we have used standard American measurements, utensils, and cooking techniques. We have not roasted meat over an open flame, nor have we banked coals around clay pots filled with Sabbath stew. The recipes in this book were developed in our late twentieth-century kitchen, with ovenproof glass and ceramic casseroles, enameled pots and pans, and cast-iron skillets and Dutch ovens, with an occasional use of the microwave oven for quick heating of ingredients. We have opted for modern food processors, blenders, and grinders to pulverize spices and mix ingredients. Our directions assume that you will use similar equipment.


Medieval recipes tend to be sketchy, and what was obvious to medieval cooks, and therefore had no reason to be written down, is often obscure today. Consequently, the exact nature of some ingredients will likely never be completely known or completely duplicable. Here are some governing assumptions and the resultant modern approximations of ingredients:


    Medieval Iberian cookbooks call for several kinds of cheese, including "fresh cheese" and "Catalán cheese." We use two broad varieties of cheese which approximate but which do not correlate exactly to what probably was available to medieval cooks. For fresh cheese we prefer farmer cheese, queso fresco, carried by many Hispanic groceries. If that is not available, we suggest cream cheese and/or cottage cheese, blended to a smooth texture. For hard cheeses, we recommend the Spanish Manchego cheese, which is usually available in specialty cheese shops. If that is not obtainable, then Italian Romano or Asiago cheeses are acceptable.


    Eggs present a minor quandary. They are ever-present in medieval recipes, but there are no indications about what kind of eggs were to be used or what size. In the United States almost all cooking is with chicken eggs, but we cannot presume that the same held true five hundred years ago. Still, in these recipes we use large chicken eggs.

    For those who must regulate their intake of cholesterol, we suggest that you try the recipes using half of the number of eggs and replacing the other half with "Egg-Beaters" or "Second Nature," unless otherwise indicated.


    The most common medieval flour was stone-ground wheat flour. The more it was sifted the whiter it became. We have found no references to kosher flour. Our recipes use standard white flour or, when so indicated, a combination of three to one of white flour and stone-ground whole wheat flour.

    Herbs and spices

    A variety of herbs grew in every medieval household garden. During the growing season, they were used fresh and we have done likewise. Some herbs, like rosemary and oregano, can be used dried. Others, especially cilantro, cannot. We are fortunate in that today's supermarkets generally carry fresh green herbs and we recommend their use.

    Medieval cooking used lots of spices and multiple flavors in a single dish. We have experimented to create pleasing combinations, but you may find that certain spices are not to your liking. You can reduce the amounts of those spices. Generally, we have used whole spices (e.g., caraway, cumin seed), grinding only enough for the specific recipes, unless otherwise indicated. We have found that using preground spices (such as dried ginger, cumin, or even pepper) diminishes the intensity of the dish's flavor.

    Some medieval flavorings (such as galingale, lavender, or grains of paradise) do not appear on the typical supermarket shelf. But they are purchasable from mail order herb suppliers throughout the United States and many are available in natural food stores or co-ops.

    Saffron deserves a special mention here. In medieval Iberian cooking it is called for in prodigious amounts to add both flavor and color. Often its flavor is combined with several other spices. However, it tends to be costly. We have suggested its use only in those recipes in which its effect will not get lost. If you wish to further enhance the yellow color of some recipes, especially stews, try turmeric or safflower tied in a muslin bag.

    Leavening agents

    Medieval bakers either used a fermented vegetable starter or a live yeast culture, which they kept going much as is done with a modern sourdough starter. Since potatoes come from the New World, potato starters were unavailable. We have used packaged dry yeast.


    Much like today, chickpeas and many varieties of beans were dried so that they could be preserved and eaten year round. As today, they were reconstituted by boiling or by soaking them for several hours and rinsing them before cooking. In many recipes, for convenience's sake, we have substituted canned chickpeas, drained and rinsed.

    To prepare dry beans or chickpeas quickly for cooking: boil the beans for two minutes in sufficient water to cover them. Set aside for one hour. Drain.


    Kosher meat was available to crypto-Jews prior to the expulsion. Afterward most kosher slaughtering was done at home away from prying eyes. There are many references to salting and soaking any meat before using it and to removing fat and veins. Recipes prepared with kosher meat will differ somewhat from those where the meat has not been soaked and salted. See page 161 for our directions for soaking and salting.

    Meat parts (innards)

    In the Middle Ages much more of an animal was consumed than is the common practice in modern, middle-class American kitchens: every part that was edible was eaten. Specialty butcher shops still sell tripe, heart, kidneys, livers, and chicken feet. Many ethnic markets carry a large variety. Still, it may be difficult to convince your butcher that yes, you really do want chicken necks with the skin. In those recipes whose main ingredients may be difficult to find, we suggest alternatives.


    Always olive oil. We recommend the use of "extra-virgin" olive oil for those occasions when the oil is not to be cooked (e.g., on a salad).


    Medieval references to salt indicate that many times a cook would buy a cone of salt and scrape off the necessary amount when needed. We have used coarse-ground kosher salt or sea salt. The recipes indicate if the salt is to be ground finer. Many recipes call for quantities of salt that today we consider unhealthy. If you choose, you may reduce the amount of salt listed.


    As with salt, late medieval cooks bought cones of sugar and scraped off the needed amount, sifting it to attain finer sugar powders. Most medieval sugar was probably brown, although we have used white sugar or a combination of white and brown sugars in, our recipes.


    Modern cooks tend to use cornstarch or flour to thicken stews, casseroles, and some fruit desserts. Medieval and Renaissance cooks, like the author of the Sent soví, Nola, and Granado, used a variety of thickeners, sometimes more than one in a single recipe. On days when meat was not prohibited, beaten eggs or egg yolks was one popular thickener. Other times poultry livers, especially chicken livers, either raw or previously cooked, were ground and cooked into a stew. On meatless days, or when a white color was more desirable, almond milk was a popular thickener. Two other thickeners, based on starch, were also quite common. The first is almidón (or amydon), a paste made of wheat steeped in water for several days, then dried. Apparently small bricks of amydon were at the chef's side in the kitchen, to pulverize and mix into stews and pottages. A thickener made of rice flour was used somewhat less often on the Iberian Peninsula. By far the easiest, cheapest, and most common thickener was bread crumbs or bread soaked in vinegar. If the cook wished to have a white or light-color dish, the bread was soaked in vinegar and tempered with white wine. If the dish was meant to be dark, toasted bread was soaked in vinegar and tempered with red wine. The Al-Andalus cookbook also occasionally mentions "flour" in an obvious thickening process.

    For this cookbook, we occasionally suggest a specific thickener when its use reinforces the dish's flavor. This is especially true for mild white dishes for which almond milk is best. For certain recipes from the Al-Andalus cookbook, the directions include thickening with chicken livers and we have followed the thirteenth-century work's instructions. Other times a vinegar-soaked bread adds depth of flavor to the stews. On other occasions, especially with the Sabbath stews, we leave it to the cook's own preference. Here are general instructions for various medieval thickeners. The quantities suggested here should thicken a stew meant to serve four people.

    Bread thickener

1. Toast 2 pieces of dry stale bread (whole wheat is good). Do not use commercial bread crumbs.
2. Pulverize the toasted bread in a grinder. You may have to do this in two batches.
3. Place the crumbs in a nonreactive bowl. Pour 3 tablespoons white or red wine vinegar and 2 tablespoons white or red wine over the crumbs. Let the crumbs soak up all of the liquid, making a very thick paste. Let the mixture sit for about 10 minutes.
4. Slowly pour 1 cup of the hot stew liquid into the bread mixture. Mix thoroughly with a fork, dissolving all lumps.
5. Gradually stir the mixture into the stew pot. Simmer gently, stirring occasionally, for about 8 minutes or until the stew thickens to the desired consistency.

    Flour paste

1. Place 2 tablespoons flour (white flour or a combination of white and whole wheat) in a small bowl.
2. Slowly add 2-3 tablespoons cold water and dissolve the flour completely.
3. Slowly mix in 1/3-1/2 cup of the hot stew liquid into the flour and water mixture.
4. Stir the flour and liquid mixture back into the stew and simmer until the desired consistency is reached.

    Rice flour

1. Take 6 tablespoons uncooked rice and pulverize it in a grinder. You may have to do this in two batches.
2. Place the rice flour in a small bowl. Stir in 9 tablespoons cool liquid (water or almond milk).
3. Mix in 1/2 cup of the hot stew liquid.
4. Slowly stir the rice mixture into the simmering stew, about 1/4 cup at a time, and cook for about 8 minutes, or until the stew thickens to the desired consistency. The pulverized rice will swell in cooking, adding a subtle granular texture to the stew.


    Vinegar is a basic ingredient of medieval cuisine. We know that vinegar, as well as wine, agraz (a liquid made of unripe green grapes), and orange juice from the sour, Seville oranges were used to give a special tang to the foods. In every recipe we indicate which souring agent we have used. Generally speaking, we prefer balsamic vinegar because its fermentation process, in wood casks, probably resembles the fermentation and storage of medieval vinegar. But we also use red wine vinegar in certain recipes.

Sabbath Stews

Many of the recipes reported to the Inquisition tribunals were for Sabbath meals. The ingredients did not necessarily evoke suspicion. Instead, it was the manner in which the meal was cooked. The defining element of the Sabbath meal is that it is prepared before sundown on Friday and then not touched again until time to be eaten on Saturday. Often the pot was sealed and put on the side of the fire, near banked coals, and kept warm until it was time to serve it on Saturday afternoon. Others were eaten at room temperature. In medieval times and still in modern North Africa the pot is sealed with a collar of dough of flour and water which bakes on tightly, keeping the juices in the pot.

    For purposes of this cookbook, we have prepared nearly all of the dishes as if they were to be served at the time of preparation, or refrigerated to be eaten cold or to be reheated later. Only occasionally do we replicate the Sabbath stew preparation. In general, any recipe can be held for a Sabbath meal by following these few directions:

1. Use an ovenproof cooking pot with a tight lid, such as a cast-iron Dutch oven.
2. Prepare the stew, adding all ingredients, including spices and herbs.
3. Follow the recipe directions until the stew's meat or main ingredient is nearly tender.
4. Cover and place the cooking pot in the oven and keep it at 200° until ready to serve.

Almond Milk

Makes about 2 cups milk

Almond milk was such a common ingredient in medieval recipes in Spain and elsewhere that no one seems to have written down precisely how it was to be made. It was used both as a thickener and to provide nourishment on those occasions when animals' milk was not possible. Our best information suggests that it was made by steeping ground almonds in a liquid, perhaps broth or water, or even wine.

1 cup sliced almonds
2 teaspoons sugar
2 cups chicken broth, water, or wine

1. Grind the almonds very finely. Place them in a medium bowl. Stir in the sugar.
2. In a medium saucepan, heat the liquid to nearly boiling over medium heat. If using bouillon cubes, boil the water and add the cubes and remove from heat. Stir to dissolve and let sit about 5 minutes. Reheat to very hot over medium heat.
3. Pour the hot liquid over the ground almonds. Stir and let steep about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.
4. Strain and separate the liquid from the almonds. Discard the almonds.


It is best to make the milk the day you intend to use it. However, it can be stored 1 or 2 days in the refrigerator.


Almorí (Arabic: murrí) appears to have been a strong mixture of rotted unleavened breads, salt, herbs, and spices, tempered with water. Lexicographers believe that the Arabism (from al and morí) has a root in the Latin muria (salt liquor, brine), from which derives the modern Spanish salmuera, pickling brine. It was a staple in medieval Islamic cooking, often used as a coating for fowl or as a paste to add to oil when frying.

    Both the twelfth-century Baghdad Cookery-Book and the thirteenth-century Al-Andalus cookbook mention almorí frequently in such a way as to indicate that the cooks of the time knew the mixture well. Other Arabic manuscripts also refer to almorí and other concoctions called kamakh and bunn, whose use seems to have been widespread and common. Although it had disappeared from use by the end of the Middle Ages, the eighteenth- century Spanish Diccionario de autoridades still records it, listing "flour, salt, honey, palm hearts, and other things" as almorí's ingredients. It further states that "it was an esteemed and medicinal food."

    The basic ingredient of murri was budhaj, an unleavened dough made from barley flour. It was placed in a vessel and left to rot. Then it was combined with wheat flour, salt, and some herbs and again left to rot. Toward the end of the process, when the mass had turned black, water was added and the mixture was left for another prolonged period. Sometime during this process other herbs and spices were added. Finally, when the mixture had ripened to its appropriate state, the liquid was drained and used in cooking.

    Arberry's translation of the Baghdad Cookery-Book in the late 1930s included two recipes for budhaj and murri which had been appended to the manuscript. His version features the herb pennyroyal as a basic ingredient. Since Arberry's translation, only Perry has dealt seriously with this culinary mixture. Perry believes that fudhanj is more properly "rotted barley dough" than "penny-royal." He has actually made and taste-tested the rotted budhaj, and cautions strongly not to eat it, since it is highly carcinogenic.

    For our cookbook, we have preserved almorí's arrays of spices without attempting to re-create the carcinogenic rotted mass. Our first version, with pennyroyal, reflects Arberry's interpretation of almorí. Version two is a combination of spices occurring frequently in the medieval Islamic almorí recipes. The first two versions can be used interchangeably, although with quite different flavor results. The third recipe, with nigella, combines the principal spices found in a thirteenth-century version of murri. Since the original almorí was obviously a liquid or paste, we generally combine the aromatic herbs with a tempering agent such as honey and/or vinegar. The cooked version of the third almorí recipe should be used the day it is made or shortly thereafter. It is a remarkably tasty enhancer of meat broths.

Pennyroyal Almorí

Makes about ¾ cup

1/3 cup bread crumbs
2 tablespoons sea salt
1 tablespoon dried pennyroyal leaves (see Note)
1½ teaspoons cinnamon
1 tablespoon fenugreek

1. Finely grind the ingredients together until they are well combined.
2. Store in an airtight container. The mixture will store indefinitely, but it is better used within a month, since the spices lose potency over time.


Important: Pennyroyal oil is toxic. The dried leaves are not. They are found in the medicinal herbs section of natural food stores. If you wish, substitute dried mint leaves. Or use the next recipe.


Substitute dried mint leaves for the pennyroyal leaves.

Simple Almorí

Makes about ¼ cup

2 tablespoons bread crumbs
1 tablespoon sea salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1½ teaspoons fennel
1 teaspoon safflower (optional)

1. Finely grind the ingredients together until they are well combined.
2. Store in an airtight container. The mixture will store indefinitely, but it is better used within a month, since the spices lose potency over time.

Nigella Almorí

Makes about ¾ cup

3 tablespoons matza flour or ground matza
3 tablespoons bread crumbs
2 tablespoons salt
1 tablespoon nigella (see Variation)
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
1 teaspoon caraway seeds
1 teaspoon fenugreek
1 teaspoon anise
1½ teaspoons cinnamon
1½ teaspoons fennel
1½ teaspoons safflower (optional)

Dry preparation

1. Finely grind the ingredients together until they are well combined.
2. Store in an airtight container. The mixture will store indefinitely, but it is better used within a month, since the spices lose potency over time.

Baked preparation

Makes about 6 tablespoons

1 tablespoon honey
4 tablespoons nigella almorí
4 tablespoons white vinegar

1. Preheat the oven to 325°. In a small saucepan over low heat, briefly warm the honey. Mix the almorí, vinegar, and warmed honey in a small nonreactive baking dish.
2. Bake the mixture for 20 minutes. Remove it from the oven. The top will look somewhat crusty, but the interior will be gooey. Use it when it cools, or refrigerate it, covered, for up to 3 days.


Nigella (Nigella sativa) is sometimes called "black cumin" or kalonji. It is a staple in Indian cooking, often seen as the black seeds in nan bread. If you cannot find nigella, an acceptable substitute is a finely-ground combination of
1 teaspoon oregano
1 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon poppy seeds

Cilantra Juice

Makes about 1/3 cup

Cilantro was a staple in medieval recipes of the Iberian Peninsula, especially the southern area, which had been influenced by Islamic cooking. Often the dried seeds are used, but the most important parts of the plant are the fresh green leaves and stems. Many recipes call for cilantro juice, which is often used in Moroccan cooking today. It is best made at the moment of its use, but if you must you may make a batch and freeze it in ice-cube trays.

1-1½ cups tightly packed chopped fresh cilantro leaves
3 tablespoons water

Puree the ingredients in a food processor.

Salsa Fina

Makes 3 tablespoons

Several fixed mixtures of spices were stocked by medieval Iberian cooks. Both Nola and Sent soví list the basic ingredients of this popular mixture called salsa fina.

4 teaspoons dried ginger
3 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon pepper
½ teaspoon ground cloves
½ teaspoon mace
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
¼ teaspoon crushed saffron threads

1. In a mortar or electric mill, combine all the ingredients and grind them to a fine powder.
2. Store the mixture in a tightly closed container.

Vegetable Broth

Makes 10-12 cups

The vegetable broth we use for stews and as a base for sauces is made up of only those vegetables and herbs that would have been available in medieval Iberia. Thus tomatoes and peppers are excluded. Outside of that, we invite you to make your own broth based on what you find in your market vegetable section. Here is one of many possibilities:

2 medium onions, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 bay leaves, fresh if possible
3 cups chopped cabbage
2 cups sliced carrots
1 cup sliced white turnip
1 leek, well cleaned and sliced
1-2 cups watercress
2 cups chopped mushrooms
1 cup chopped celery
½ cup chopped lettuce
½-1 cup chopped fresh parsley
10-12 cups water

1. In a large stewing pot, fry the onions and garlic in the olive oil over medium heat until the onions are translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the bay leaves and continue to fry until the onions are golden, about 8 minutes total.
2. Add the vegetables and herbs to the pot in any combination, totaling about 12-15 cups.
3. Add enough water to just cover. Bring to a boil. Turn down the heat, cover, and simmer for 1½-2 hours. Remove from the heat. Let cool.
4. Strain the broth from the vegetables. Discard the vegetables.
5. Freeze the broth in small containers (approximately ½ cup size) for easy use. We freeze the broth in ice-cube trays and store the frozen cubes in a plastic bag.
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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 13, 2013



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