The oldest known cookbook handwritten in Ottoman Turkish belongs to Muhammad ibn Mahmud Şirvani, one of the most important Ottoman physicians. This famous 15th-century physician, who lived during the reign of Murad II, is believed to have been born in Şirvan or to a family from that district. Having penned works spanning a wide range of topics from eye diseases to intestinal anatomy, precious mines and minerals to medicine and botany, in modern times, Şirvani is mostly popular for his cookbook.
At the heart of his cookbook lies Kitabu’t-Tabih, a work compiled by Muhammad ibn al-Karim (who lived in Abbasid Baghdad in the 11th century and was also known as Baghdadi) and preserved by Turks for long years. Şirvani not only translated this book into Ottoman Turkish but also added 82 recipes (77 recipes at the end of his translation and five within the text). It’s been accepted that these recipes were also cooked at the Ottoman palace.
Bearing great significance for our culinary culture, each recipe in this book also includes details such as the benefits and preventative qualities of dishes, and their effects on the body.
Şirvani, who also wrote a book called Sultaniyye for Mehmed I on preventative medicine, incorporated the Hippocratic principle “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food” into his cookbook. Even the architecture of the Ottoman palace kitchen adopted this belief and the cooking quarters were regarded as a healing center.
This month, I’ve prepared two recipes from Şirvani.
6 green apples / 170 g cubed lamb with fat / 170 g minced meat / 75 g raisins / 2 tsp. sumac / 2 tbsp. butter / 1 tbsp. rice / 5 dried apricots / 50 g almonds / 50 g walnuts / 5 g black pepper / 5 g salt
Tie 1.5 teaspoons of sumac in a cheesecloth, place in a saucepan with grapes and 100 ml water, and boil. Cook the cubed lamb in butter and add the boiling grape liquid. Knead the minced meat with rice, salt, black pepper, and ½ tsp. sumac. Carve out the apples and stuff them with the minced meat filling. Place the stuffed apples on top of the cooked cubed lamb. Sprinkle the apples with sliced dried apricots and almonds, and cook on low heat. Sprinkle with crushed walnuts and serve.
1 kg cubed lamb / 2 tbsp. butter / 3 tbsp. Concord grapes / 15-20 shallots / 2 cup water / 100 g peeled almonds / 5 dried figs / 2 tbsp. honey / 1 tbsp. flour / 10 g sumac / 2.5 g ginger / 5 g salt
Cook the meat in a tablespoon of butter. When the shallots start to change color, add a tablespoon of flour and stir for one or two minutes until the flour has browned. Add two cups of hot water and cook for another 40-45 minutes until the meat softens. Add the honey, ginger, sumac, and salt. Cook for two more minutes and transfer to a serving plate. Sauté the almonds, grapes, and figs in a tablespoon of butter and sprinkle them over the dish before serving.