Connecting around the table
Around the kitchen of the Middle East there is a mysterious and exotic atmosphere. The Tales of Thousand and One Nights testify to this mystery and are full of colors, smells, tastes, abundance and sensual explosions.
Due to the arrival of the Moors to Al-Andalus - nowadays known as Andalusia, but in the past including Spain and Portugal - the Spanish kitchen is also blessed with a wealth of cultural influences. The Moors have made it their own on their travels through countless cultures and then passed it on to the Iberian Peninsula.
The well-known English-Israeli chef Yotam Ottolenghi is a famous contemporary example of someone who is inspired by various cultures. In his recipes, among others, the Persian, Jewish, Arabic and European cuisine can be found. His sense of taste combinations, colors, abundance and beauty ensure that his star continues to grow. The result of his kitchen is a unique, abundant, colorful cooking style full of flavor explosions and, above all, sustainable, healthy ingredients, combining the richness of multiple cultures into original dishes.
Cooking, in addition to managing the technique, is about colors, flavors, creating, passion and love! Managing the technique is not an end in itself when making a dish. Technique enables the artist to make a piece of art. A piece of art that is made without passion and love does not inspire! Food that is prepared without passion and love, tastes different!
In addition to the physical aspect (health and support of the immune system), nutrition has a strong social and binding character. Many social contact moments are accompanied by food and drink. We eat when we celebrate and mourn, we eat to discuss the day with each other. Guests sometimes arrive as complete strangers at a table and leave the table as friends. Eating together connects.
The culinary heritage of the Moors
In Spain we find many cultural and culinary influences, both on the menu and in the abundance of healthy products. The Andalusian kitchen has a parallel with the Spanish lifestyle, which brings a true explosion of colors and flavors, rooted in the patchwork of cultures from the long history of Andalusia. Throughout the year there are beautiful and healthy products with a historically very diverse origin, such as vegetables, fruit, nuts, herbs, olive oil, fresh fish, goats and sheep cheese, wine, meat and ham from the Iberian pig, lamb and wild boar. .
With their knowledge of wine production in the region of Xera, the current Jerez triangle, the Phoenicians brought wine production to Spain. From there, viticulture was developed throughout the Mediterranean area.
With the conquest of large parts of Spain in the 8th century, luxury entered the spartan life of the indigenous people of Al-Andalus. The Moors brought public baths, enveloped themselves in expensive fabrics and essential oils. They left their mark on architecture and brought their knowledge of medicine, weapon technology and the manufacture of ceramics and silk. Their kitchen served not only to satisfy the hunger but also to stimulate the taste buds, which was particularly reflected in their refined sweet and colorful dishes.
In agriculture, the Moors introduced highly developed irrigation systems and fertilization methods. Crops that were previously unknown made their appearance. Via Persia, which already traded with India and China, rice, mangoes, pomegranates, sugar cane and aubergines were introduced, among others. From Egypt came honey melons and techniques for preserving and salting. From Africa the Moors took watermelons and from Constantinople figs. Dates came from Iraq and coffee from Yemen. The Moors also cultivated citrus fruits, peaches and apricots, carob and quinces, almonds and pistachios all the way to the Atlantic coast. Herbs and spices played an important role in the kitchen and medicine of Al-Andalus. Popular were rosemary, thyme, basil, cumin, coriander, saffron, anise, mint, ginger, nutmeg and cinnamon. Besides almonds, pistachios, pine nuts, sesame, tamarind and jasmine. The transport over large distances led to the development of preservation methods such as drying fruits and preserving fruits in honey (confiture).
Sugar and the technique of extracting sugar from cane is a typical product that came from Persia into the Iberian Peninsula. With this the marzipan also entered Al-Andalus. Still cane sugar is grown around Salobreña.
Columbus later brought potatoes, vanilla, chocolate, and beans with him from his world travels.
There are still words in the Spanish language that remind us of the influence of the Moors on the crops and the improvement of crops. Especially the words starting with the Arabic article al- or a-, such as alcachofa (artichoke), albaricoque (apricot), almendra (almond), azafrán (saffron), azúcar (sugar), arroz (rice) and aceite (oil) . Also concepts like naranja (orange), bearsjena (eggplant) and zanahoria (carrot) have Arabic roots.
As a source of protein, the Arabs preferred mutton, lamb and fish. They brought with them the most suitable methods of preparation, in which they had been inspired by Persian cooks and Egyptian and Turkish customs.
For example, meat and fish were combined with fruits, herbs and spices and dishes such as tuna with morel, stockfish with orange, mutton with apricots and lamb with a sauce of mint or cumin. The Moors introduced the popular rice pudding with honey in Spain and also all kinds of almond pastries and cookies, quince marmalade and dates filled with nuts and almonds.
Andalusia is currently mainly agricultural. Large landownership predominates, especially in Western Andalusia. In the Guadalquivir basin citrus, grain, olives, figs, tobacco, cotton and sunflower are grown, the latter for oil extraction. On the vegas, which are the irrigated plains between the mountain ranges, lie olive and almond groves and vineyards. Viticulture is mainly around Jerez de la Frontera, sherry, and Málaga. Cork is extracted in the Sierra Morena, which is covered with cork oaks. Of course, fishing is done in the coastal towns. In the province of Almería sea salt is extracted.
"If you eat a pomegranate, eat it with the flesh, because this is the tanning of the stomach, and every penny that is in the stomach of a human being relieves his heart and silences the devil, who whispers him badly, forty days."
At the beginning of the 7th century Abdullah Ibn Abbas, distant relative of the Prophet Muhammad, described the function of the pomegranate, which was claimed to have always been fertilized by a drop of water from Paradise. Presumably the Carthaginians brought the pomegranate bush from Asia to the Iberian peninsula three thousand years ago. Jews and Arabs cultivated pomegranates in Andalusia and even named it a city: Gharnata.
Later this name changed to Granada. The pomegranate is the emblem of the city. Both the Jews and the Muslims regarded the radiant red pomegranate as the symbol of fertility and renewal.