middle eastern cooking

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Musk is noted in more medieval recipes for food and perfumes than you can shake a sword at, adding a depth and complexity to foods the same way sandalwood does.  A little goes a very long way!

Now modernly, we can get musk from whales (ambergris) also known a whale snot.

Beaver musk (castor sacks of Castor Canadensis or Castor fiber).

Civet (viverridae).

Finally ambrette musk (hibiscus ablemoschus).

Period musk is almost impossible to get.  Why you may ask?  While I was doing a bit of studying for another project (surprise, surprise), I’ve found that the original(ish) musk mentioned in period cooking came from three sources.  The Siberian musk deer (M. moschiferus), black musk deer (M. fuscus) Alpine/Himalayan musk deer (M. chrysogaster).  The glands of the musk deer were harvested (and small quantities from very small musk deer farms) by removing the scent glands of the deer.

The gland secretions would dry into small black grains that were, and are, prized for the pheromones they exude.  The description is that of a rich and earthy smell, almost heavenly.  Mostly.  Some people found it repulsive, but not so many that the deer aren’t on the verge of extinction now.

The original method for removal was to kill the deer and take the musk glands, without worry about sustainability.  This has come back to haunt those who relied on the deer’s scent gland.   Few of these animals survive, except in the most remote regions.  The price, in period is listed as being twice the weight in gold and modernly 3 to 4 times that price now.  (Nabhan, pp. 150-151).

So where does that leave the modern cook?  Up a creek for the period musk.  There is no way that musk, from the listed deer, is harvested cruelty free or without costing an arm and a leg (throw a kidney in for good measure).  There are substitutions.   There is a variety of plant based musks with beautiful earthy notes and of course synthetics.  If possible go with the plant based.  Experiment.  Try new things!  Always err on the side that more can be added but it’s going to be hard to remove what you’ve already put in!

May 2, 2017 | No comments

There have been a few hurdles over the past few months that I have had to address and recover from.  However I have a new recipe to add to my list of favorite dishes.  Meat plus fire, always an excellent combination!


 (Skewered Meat)



…for the method for skewered meat: mix meat with salt onions and turmeric and boil it with whole potherbs.  Cut it into very small pieces and strain it.  Then fasten one segment of meat and one piece of onion on the skewer and rub ghee, caraway, lime juice, white ambergris, rosewater and salt on it.  Bake it well and when it is tender, wrap it in thin bread and serve it.  (Mandu, pp. 26)


2 lb cubed meat

Salt (to taste)

1 onion (finely chopped)

1 tsp turmeric

½ tsp ea. thyme, cilantro and basil

Second stage

1 onion cut into quarters


2 tsp Caraway

1 tsp lime juice

¼ tsp rosewater

Salt to taste



I am going to change this slightly.  Here instead of boiling the meat, I am placing the meat to marinade overnight in the first set of ingredients.

So first, take a good piece of meat with a bit of marbled fat for excellent flavor and cut it into cubes.

cutting up meat with onionThen mix the marinade together.

???????????????????????????????After the meat has marinated for 24 hours (or slightly longer),

???????????????????????????????I skewer all the meat.

???????????????????????????????I alternate one cube with one slice of onion, until the skewer is filled.  The onion chunks actually help with the cooking.  I did several skewers with onions and several without.  Those without onions cooked slower and the meat was still very red in between the chunks while the outside was done and slightly charred.

Once the skewers are ready to grill, I brush each one with the ghee, caraway, lime juice, rose water and salt mixture, every 5 minutes until the meat is done.


This is the raw meat grilling on a small clay pot grill.

???????????????????????????????The meat is smelling heavenly at this point but still a bit raw.

???????????????????????????????The meat is done and ready to be devoured.

The meat actually never made it into the flat bread.  We ate the cubes hot off the skewers.  It was delicious.  I regret nothing!

August 4, 2014 | No comments