Siculo-Norman Snack Beans

I am still not finished writing up the fish feast we had on Good Friday, but here is a small thing I tried out on Saturday with our Sicilian Norman supper. It is based on a passage in Isaac Iudaeus de diaetis in the translation of Constantinus Africanus:

(…) Some cook them (beans) in water, and some roast them by the fire. Those (beans) that are cooked in water are more laudable because the water takes much windiness and grossness away from them, especially if the first water is thrown away and other water substituted. And two ways also apply here: either they are cooked with their shells or without them. Those that are cooked in water with their shell are hard to digest and windy (…) Those cooked without their shells are less windy and faster to digest. And if a sauce is made for them with some heating ingredients (such as long pepper, ginger, and almond oil) it is the perfect medicine for the act of coition. They are sometimes also eaten with mint, oregano, cumin and similar ingredients which diminish their windiness and inflation even more. Those that are roasted by the fire have less windiness, and they are very hard to digest except is they are soaked in water after roasting and eaten with cumin, mint and oregano. …

Boiling beans is nothing new, obviously, but roasting them by the fire intrigued me. It sounded a lot like the crunchy toasted chickpeas so popular today. I decided to give this a try and provide some snack food to the weavers and seamstresses upstairs.

Of course this is not the season for fresh beans, so I had to take recourse to dried ones. Even so, fava beans – the only kind available in Europe in the 11th century – are not easy to find here. A Turkish grocer eventually provided a bag. I steeped them in warm water overnight, shelled them, and laid the kernels out on a baking sheet to roast. I also added some chickpeas to gauge the process and have something that would be palatable even if it failed.

Though the idea would have been interesting, I decided against the sauce of ginger, long pepper, and almond oil. Instead, I liberally sprinkled the beans with cumin, oregano, mint, and salt and drizzled them with olive oil before putting them, in a convection oven at 200°C. The result was quite excellent, though some were very hard. I am fairly sure they would still have been good soaked in water, but eaten crisp and warm, they were too tasty to try that.

Isaac Iudaeus de diaetis universalibus et particularibus, originally written in Arabic in the late ninth or early tenth century, was translated and adapted by Constantinus Africanus in the late 11th century and circulated widely in Italy and beyond soon afterwards. While the original applies to a different context, it is still reasonable to use it as a guide to the advice that Siculo-Normans would have found useful. It is an open question how much the original was altered in translation – I cannot say since I read no Arabic. However, the extensive reference to eating pork suggests that some alterations took place.

This entry was posted in Uncategorised and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *