Apr 272018
 

On this date in 711 CE Moorish troops led by Tariq ibn Ziyad landed at Gibraltar to begin what turned into the Muslim invasion of the Iberian Peninsula. (The name Gibraltar is the Spanish version of the Arabic name Jabal Ṭāriq meaning “Mountain of Tariq”which refers to the Rock of Gibraltar). One can make too much of single dates in history. July 4th 1776 gets celebrated in the US as Independence Day even though the war for independence had already started, and continued for a number years after. Dates get enshrined in history books because people like symbols to hang on to. The Umayyad conquest of Visigothic Hispania, the initial expansion of the Umayyad Caliphate over a large section of the Iberian peninsula, took from 711 to 788. The conquest resulted in the destruction of the Visigoth kingdom and the establishment of the independent Emirate of Córdoba under Abd ar-Rahman I, who completed the unification of Muslim-ruled Iberia, or al-Andalus. The conquest marks the westernmost expansion of both the Umayyad Caliphate and Muslim rule into Europe. One can peg the landing at Gibraltar as significant, but Muslim expansion into Iberia had begun earlier, and continued for many years after.

The historian al-Tabari transmits a tradition attributed to the Caliph Uthman (579 –  656) who stated that the road to Constantinople was through Hispania, “Only through Spain can Constantinople be conquered. If you conquer (Spain) you will share the reward of those who conquer (Constantinople).” The conquest of Hispania followed the conquest of North Africa.

Precisely what happened in Iberia in the early 8th century is uncertain. There is one contemporary Christian source, the Chronicle of 754 (which ends on that date), regarded as reliable but often vague. There are no contemporary Muslim accounts, and later Muslim compilations, such as that of Al-Maqqari from the 17th century, reflect later ideological influence. This paucity of early sources means that detailed specific claims need to be regarded with caution. Historical opinion about the initial nature of the expedition is divided into four directions (I favor #4):

(1) It was sent to aid one side in a civil war in the hope of plunder and future alliance.

(2) It was a reconnaissance force sent to test the military strength of the Visigoth kingdom.

(3) It was the first wave of a full–scale invasion.

(4) It was an unusually large raiding expedition with no direct strategic intentions.

The Visigoths who controlled Iberia from the 5th to the early 8th centuries were successors of the Western Roman empire. They, like other groups who swept over the Roman empire in the 5th century, are known to history as barbarians, because that is what the Romans called them. The word “barbarian” has changed meaning over time, unfortunately, and has corrupted our modern view of them. The Latin word from which the English word derives comes from the Greek βάρβαρος (barbaros), used by the ancient Greeks initially for certain Anatolians whose language sounded to them like, “bar bar bar bar . . .”  So, they were the “bar bar” people. We would say, “blah, blah people” these days. In other words, “barbarian” had no especially negative connotations, it just meant foreigners who spoke an incomprehensible language.

The Visigoths were barbarians in the ancient Roman sense (i.e. non-Romans), not in the modern sense. Therefore, saying that the Moorish conquest of the Visigoths in Iberia was a move that “civilized” a barbarian land is a stretch. This period in European history is often known as the Dark Ages, not because they were especially barbaric, but because we have few historical sources to judge them accurately, and archeology is of only limited help. There is no doubt that Islamic philosophers, mathematicians, scientists, and astronomers of the period were more accomplished then European Christians and pagans, and we owe them a great debt because they preserved a great many texts from ancient Greece that Christians destroyed or lost.

Tariq ibn Ziyad was a Muslim Berber client of Musa bin Nusair, the governor of Islamic Africa (Ifriqiya), who invaded Iberia with a disputed number of Berber men (anywhere from 1,700 to 7,000) in 711, while Roderic, king of the Visigoths was in the north fighting the Basques. The tale that Julian, Count of Ceuta, facilitated the invasion, because one of his daughters had been dishonored by Roderic, is apocryphal. By late July, a battle took place at the Guadalete River in the province of Cádiz. Roderic was betrayed by his troops, who sided with his enemies, and the king was killed in battle. The Muslims then took much of southern Spain with little resistance, and went on to capture Toledo, where they executed several Visigothic nobles. In 712, Musa, arrived with another army of 18,000, with large Arab contingents. He took Mérida in 713 and invaded the north, taking Saragossa and León, which were still under king Ardo, in 714. After being recalled by the Caliph, Musa left his son Abd al-‘Aziz in command. By 716, most of the Iberian Peninsula was under Islamic rule, with Septimania taken between 721 and 725.

The first expedition led by Tariq was made up mainly of Berbers who had themselves only recently come under Muslim influence. It is probable that this army represented a continuation of an historic pattern of large-scale raids into Iberia dating to the pre–Islamic period, and hence some historians believe that actual conquest was not originally planned. Both the Chronicle of 754 and later Muslim sources speak of raiding activity in previous years, and Tariq’s army may have been present for some time before the decisive battle. This possibility is supported by the fact that the army was led by a Berber and that Musa, who was a major player in North Africa, only arrived the following year, because as a governor he had not stooped to lead a mere raid, but hurried across once the unexpected triumph by Tariq and the possibilities for further conquests became clear. Several Arab-Muslim writers mention the fact that Tariq had decided to cross the strait of Gibraltar without informing his superior and wali Musa as evidence that he had planned no more than a raid. The Chronicle of 754 states that many townspeople fled to the hills rather than defend their cities, which might support the view that this was expected to be a temporary raid rather than a permanent change of government.

The only effective resistance to Muslim conquest was in Asturias, where a Visigothic nobleman, Pelagius (Pelayo), revolted in 718, allied with the Basques and defeated the Muslims at the battle of Covadonga. Resistance also continued in the regions around the Pyrenees with the establishment of the Marca Hispanica from 760 to 785. The Berbers settled in the south and the Meseta Central in Castile. Initially, the Muslims generally left Christians alone to practice their religion, although non-Muslims were subject to Islamic law and treated as second-class citizens. The northern areas of Iberia drew little attention to the conquerors and were hard to defend when taken. The high western and central sub-Pyrenean valleys remained unconquered.

The resistance of 1718 eventually evolved into the Reconquista (the Reconquest) which dragged on for 700 years. The Muslims were generically called Moors even though most were Arabs, and the battle to oust them spawned a series of traditional dances and dramas, including Moros y Cristianos, which I researched for over 30 years. The final act of the Reconquista, the Fall of Granada at the beginning of 1492 http://www.bookofdaystales.com/fall-of-granada/  led almost seamlessly to Columbus’ voyage of discovery and the Spanish conquest of much of the Americas.

Islamic Iberia was known at the time as al-Andalus (الأنْدَلُس ), which eventually metamorphosed into “Andalusia” the shrunken vestige of al-Andalus as the Reconquista progressed. Cooking in al-Andalus is represented by an anonymous MS of the 13th century, brimming with recipe ideas which show how Spanish cooking evolved over the centuries, and how much it owes to Arab influence. Many of the recipes from the MS are translated here: http://www.daviddfriedman.com/Medieval/Cookbooks/Andalusian/andalusian1.htm#Heading34 Worth a browse.

This little snippet gives the sense, and also reveals a few problems in actually recreating the recipe which is for a type of lamb sausage. The translator notes that the Arabic for “meatball,” “al-bunduqa,” became the Spanish “albondiga,” but the Arabic is derived from the word “hazelnut,” suggesting that the meatballs of the day were small. Here I will add the necessary caution that etymological reasoning of this sort can trip you up.  The ingredient that baffles most cooks is murri naqî’ It is apparently an ingredient unique to al-Andalus and means “infused” or “marinated” murri. There is a great deal of disagreement about what murri is, although food historians favor the idea that it was a fermented sauce made from barley flour that vaguely resembles soy sauce, and was used as a salt substitute.

Recipe for Mirkâs

It is as nutritious as meatballs and quick to digest, since the pounding ripens its and makes it quick to digest, and it is good nutrition. First get some meat from the leg or shoulder of a lamb and pound it until it becomes like meatballs. Knead it in a bowl, mixing in some oil and some murri naqî’, pepper, coriander seed, lavender, and cinnamon. Then add three quarters as much of fat, which should not be pounded, as it would melt while frying, but chopped up with a knife or beaten on a cutting board. Using the instrument made for stuffing, stuff it in the washed gut, tied with thread to make sausages, small or large. Then fry them with some fresh oil, and when it is done and browned, make a sauce of vinegar and oil and use it while hot. Some people make the sauce with the juice of cilantro and mint and some pounded onion. Some cook it in a pot with oil and vinegar, some make it râhibi with onion and lots of oil until it is fried and browned. It is good whichever of these methods you use.

Dec 032016
 

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Today is Flamenco Guitar Day. I don’t know who invented the holiday or what it really means, but seems like a good thing to celebrate. Let’s be clear, though. It’s Flamenco Guitar Day, not Flamenco Day. Flamenco is an art form that has a number of components — cante (singing), toque (guitar playing), baile (dance), jaleo (vocalizations), palmas (handclapping) and pitos (finger snapping). This post will focus exclusively on toque.

Traditionally, luthiers made guitars to sell at a wide ranges of prices, largely based on the materials used and the amount of decorations, to cater to the popularity of the instrument across all classes of people in Spain. The cheapest guitars were often simple, basic instruments made from the less expensive woods such as cypress. Antonio de Torres, one of the most renowned luthiers, did not differentiate between flamenco and classical guitars. Only after Andrés Segovia and others popularized classical guitar music, did this distinction emerge.

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The traditional flamenco guitar is made of Spanish cypress, sycamore, or rosewood for the back and sides, and spruce for the top. This (in the case of cypress and sycamore) accounts for its characteristic body color. Flamenco guitars are built lighter with thinner tops than classical guitars, which produces a “brighter” and more percussive sound quality. Builders also use less internal bracing to keep the top more percussively resonant. The top is typically made of either spruce or cedar, though other tone woods are used today. Volume has traditionally been very important for flamenco guitarists, as they must be heard over the sound of the dancers’ nailed shoes. To increase volume, harder woods, such as rosewood, can be used for the back and sides, with softer woods for the top.

In contrast to the classical guitar, the flamenco guitar is often equipped with a tap plate (a golpeador), commonly made of plastic, similar to a pick guard, whose function is to protect the body of the guitar from the rhythmic finger taps, or golpes.  Originally, all guitars were made with wooden tuning pegs, that pass straight through the head stock, similar to those found on a lute, a violin or oud, as opposed to the modern classical-style guitars’ geared tuning mechanisms.

“Flamenco negra” guitars are called “negra” after the darker of the harder woods used in their construction, similar materials to those of high-end classical guitars, such as rosewood or other dense tone woods. The harder materials increase volume and tonal range. A typical cypress flamenco guitar produces more treble and louder percussion than the more sonorous negra. These guitars strive to capture some of the sustain achieved by concert caliber classical guitars while retaining the volume and attack associated with flamenco.

A well-made flamenco guitar responds quickly, and typically has less sustain than a classical. This is desirable, since the flurry of notes that a good flamenco player can produce might sound muddy on a guitar with a big, lush, sustaining sound. The flamenco guitar’s sound is often described as percussive; it tends to be brighter, drier and more austere than a classical guitar.

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Flamenco is played somewhat differently from classical guitar. Players use different posture, strumming patterns, and techniques. Flamenco guitarists are known as tocaores (from an Andalusian pronunciation of tocadores, “players”) and flamenco guitar technique is known as toque. Flamenco players tend to play the guitar between the sound hole and the bridge, but as closely as possible to the bridge, to produce a harsher, rasping sound quality. Unlike classical tirando, where the strings are pulled parallel to the soundboard, in flamenco apoyando strings are struck towards the soundboard in such way that the striking finger is caught and supported by the next string, hence the name apoyando (from Spanish apoyar meaning “to support”). At times, this style of playing causes the vibrating string to gently touch the frets along its length, causing a more percussive sound.

Flamenco guitar is commonly played using a cejilla (capo) which raises the pitch and causes the guitar to sound sharper and more percussive. However, the main purpose in using a cejilla is to change the key of the guitar to match the singer’s vocal range. Because Flamenco is an improvisational musical form that uses common structures and chord sequences, the capo makes it easier for players who have never played together before to do so. Rather than transcribe to another key each time the singer changes, the player can move the capo and use the same chord positions. Flamenco uses a lot of highly modified and open chord forms to create a solid drone effect and leave at least one finger free to add melodic notes and movement. Very little traditional Flamenco music is written, but is mostly passed on hand to hand. Books, however are becoming more available.

Both accompaniment and solo flamenco guitar are based as much on modal as tonal harmonies –  most often, both are combined. There have been many guitarists who have become a part of the popularized Flamenco scene, such as Paco Peña, Paco De Lucia, Ramon Montoya, Pepe Romero, and Pepe Martinez. My suspicion, based on what I know about Argentine tango, is that there is a world of Flamenco that the general public does not see, and gets only a little taste from what becomes popular and, hence, mainstream.

Flamenco music uses the Flamenco mode which is a harmonic version of the Phyrgian scale with a major 3rd degree. If you can read music, below is a descending E Phrygian scale in flamenco style, with common alterations in parentheses.

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A typical chord sequence, usually called the “Andalusian cadence,” in E is Am–G–F–E. Of course, guitarists play with the “rules” a great deal, and there’s a great deal of variation anyway.

The compás is fundamental to flamenco. Compás is most often translated as rhythm but it demands far more precise interpretation than any other Western style of music. If there is no guitarist available, the compás is rendered through hand clapping (palmas) or by hitting a table with the knuckles. The guitarist uses techniques like strumming (rasgueado) or tapping the soundboard (golpe). Changes of chords emphasize the most important downbeats.

Flamenco uses three basic counts or measures: Binary, Ternary and a form of a twelve-beat cycle that is unique to flamenco. There are also free-form styles including, among others, the tonás, saetas, malagueñas, tarantos, and some types of fandangos. The 12-beat cycle is the most common in flamenco, differentiated by the accentuation of the beats in different palos. The accents do not correspond to the classic concept of the downbeat. The alternating of groups of 2 and 3 beats is also common in Spanish dances of the 16th century such as the zarabanda, jácara and canarios.

The Bulerías is the emblematic palo of flamenco: today its 12-beat cycle is most often played with accents on the 3rd, 6th, 8th, 10th and 12th beats. The accompanying palmas are played in groups of 6 beats, giving rise to a multitude of counter-rhythms and percussive voices within the 12 beat compás. Here’s a video presentation of the beats for Flamenco Bulerías with emphasis [12] 1 2 [3] 4 5 [6] 7 [8] 9 [10] 11 – also the rhythm for the song “America” from  West Side Story.

Enough of theory. Here’s Flamenco master Sabicas:

To celebrate Flamenco let’s make eggs Flamenco, a classic Andalusian dish. You’ll need ovenproof ramekins.

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Eggs Flamenco

Ingredients

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
2 red peppers, seeded and finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
500g fresh tomatoes grated on a cheese grater
1 tsp smoked paprika
8 eggs
8 slices of serrano ham
8 thin slices of chorizo
1 cup of peas frozen/defrosted or fresh
fresh parsley, chopped
salt and pepper

Instructions

Sauté the onion and peppers slowly over medium-low heat in the olive oil until they are soft.  Add the garlic. Sauté for a minute or two and then add the tomatoes and smoked paprika. Sauté gently for an additional 10 minutes and season to taste with salt and pepper.

Divide the vegetables into 4 ramekins, break 2 eggs on top of each and place 2 slices of ham, 2 slices of chorizo and a handful of peas on top.

Preheat the oven to 395°F/200°C and bake the ramekins for about 10 minutes or until the eggs are set but still runny.

Garnish with parsley and serve with crusty bread.

Serves 4

Feb 212014
 

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Today is the birthday of Andrés Segovia Torres, 1st Marquis of Salobreña, usually known simply as Segovia, a virtuoso Spanish classical guitarist from Linares in Andalusia. He is often considered the father of modern classical guitar although that title should probably go to Francisco Tárrega. Nonetheless his influence was profound in re-establishing the importance of the guitar as a classical instrument, in advancing technique, and in spreading the popularity of classical guitar through performance and teaching. Practically all professional classical guitarists today are students of Segovia, or students of his students. Segovia’s contribution to the modern repertoire included not only commissions but also his own transcriptions of classical and baroque works. He is remembered for his expressive performances, his wide palette of tone, and his distinctive phrasing and style.

Segovia was born in Linares, in the province of Jaén in Andalusia. He was sent at a very young age to live with his uncle Eduardo and his wife Maria. Eduardo arranged for Segovia’s first music lessons with a violin teacher after recognizing that Segovia had an aptitude for music. This proved to be an unhappy introduction to music for the young Segovia because of the teacher’s strict methods, and Eduardo stopped the lessons. His uncle decided to move to Granada to allow Segovia to obtain a better education, and after arriving in Granada Segovia recommenced his musical studies, largely on his own. Segovia was aware of flamenco during his formative years as a beginning guitarist, but did not have a desire to learn the style. Instead he was more drawn to classical guitar that was undergoing a revival, especially under Francisco Tárrega. Tárrega agreed to give the self-taught Segovia some lessons but died before they could meet. Instead he continued to develop his own style without teachers.

Francisco Tárrega

Francisco Tárrega

Segovia’s first public performance was in Granada at the age of 16 in 1909. A few years later he played his first professional concert in Madrid which included works by Tárrega and his own guitar transcriptions of J.S. Bach. Despite the discouragement of his family, who wanted him to become a lawyer, and criticism by some of Tárrega’s pupils for his idiosyncratic technique, he continued to develop his own style.

He played again in Madrid in 1912, at the Paris Conservatory in 1915, in Barcelona in 1916, and made a successful tour of South America in 1919. Segovia’s arrival on the international stage coincided with a time when the guitar’s fortunes as a concert instrument were being revived, largely through the efforts of Miguel Llobet. It was in this changing milieu that Segovia, whose personal drive and artistry coupled with new technological advances such as recording, radio, and air travel, succeeded in making classical guitar much more widely popular.

Here is Segovia playing Asturias (Leyenda), a work written by the Spanish composer Isaac Albéniz, and which is probably one of Segovia’s most widely known pieces. It was originally written for the piano, and set in the key of G minor. It was first published in Barcelona in 1892 as the prelude of a three-movement set entitled Chants d’Espagne. Despite the name (given to it by a German publisher) this piece is not considered suggestive of the folk music of the northern Spanish region of Asturias, but rather of Andalusian flamenco traditions. The original piano score clearly mimics guitar style.  During the piece you hear passages suggestive of the bulería, malagueña and copla from the flamenco repertoire. I’ve put the original piano version after the recipe if you are interested.

Because the piano piece was so evocative of guitar it was an obvious move to transcribe it for guitar.  It was transcribed several times, shifting it to E minor. This is Segovia’s transcription.

Andalusian cuisine is not especially well known outside of Spain, although gazpacho (in rather limited varieties) can be found widely.  Olive oil features heavily in the cuisine because the provinces of Jaén (where Segovia was born), Córdoba, Seville, and Granada are major producers.  Typically olive oil is used in all frying including deep frying giving the dishes a distinctive savor.  Here’s my recipe for puntillitas – baby squid deep fried.  As ever, I’ll give you the general idea and you can play with quantities. This method is typically Andalusian, and you can use it for any small fish.  It is simplicity itself.

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©Puntillitas

You really should use baby squid for this rather than adults, but you can make a version with larger squid (you just have to cut them into small pieces).  To begin let me explain how to clean squid.  Typically when you buy baby squid they are uncleaned.  Big or small, I always clean my own squid; it saves a lot of money.

Pull off the head and tentacles; they will separate easily and most of the innards will come out too. Cut off the tentacles and discard the eyes and innards. Squeeze firmly on the base of the tentacles and the beak should pop out. Discard it.  Reach into the body with a finger and you will locate a long cartilage (thin and clear).  Discard it.  The body is covered in a mottled membrane which is edible, but most people prefer to remove it.  It easily peels away. Wash the bodies and tentacles well, giving each body a squeeze to make sure everything is out. If you are using large squid cut the tentacles and bodies into small bite-sized pieces.

Pat the squid pieces dry well with paper towels.

Place the squid in a plastic bag with enough flour to coat them.  Do not worry about using too much; the excess will remain in the bag.  Close the bag tightly and vigorously shake it until you can see that all the pieces have a good coating of flour.  Reserve them on a plate.

Heat olive oil in a deep fryer or in a heavy skillet (deep enough for deep frying) to 350°F/175°C.  Fry the pieces in batches until they are golden brown.  Use a slotted spoon to toss them to ensure they are evenly browned.  Drain on wire racks.  You will notice that with this method of cooking the pieces are not evenly coated as with a batter.

Serve hot with lemon wedges.

May 272013
 

Ibn Khaldoun

Today is the birthday (1332) of Abū Zayd ‘Abd ar-Raḥmān ibn Muḥammad ibn Khaldūn al-Ḥaḍramī (بو زيد عبد الرحمن بن محمد بن خلدون الحضرمي) commonly known as Ibn Khaldoun, one of the greatest thinkers in the fields of history, economics, sociology, and anthropology of all times, and is now rightly considered by many experts in those fields to be their great-great grandfather.  Yet most of his work remained unknown in the West for centuries until it was rediscovered in the nineteenth century when many of his fundamental ideas were reinvented by scholars.  Even now in the social sciences his name is hardly a byword.  I first learned about him in graduate school when I took a class on the pre-modern history of anthropology.  Many of his ground breaking theories are current to this day.

Ibn Khaldoun (or Ibn Khaldūn) was an Arab Muslim born in Tunis into an upper-class Andalusian family of Arab descent, the Banu Khaldūn. His family, which held many high offices in Andalusia, had emigrated to Tunisia after the fall of Seville to Reconquista forces around the middle of the 13th century. After the fall of Tunis to the sultan of Constantinople in 1352, he relocated to Fez (Morocco) where he took up the position of writer of royal proclamations for the sultan, Abu Inan Fares I.  However, he got himself in hot water fairly soon for scheming against the sultan and landed in prison for 22 months. He was released on the sultan’s death but had mixed fortunes subsequently.  He decided to move to Granada, capital of the province of Granada in Andalusia, where he expected to be well received because in his time at Fez he had assisted the sultan of Granada, Muhammad V, regain power following his exile. There he came into conflict with the sultan’s vizier and so relocated to North Africa once again where he bounced around, because of his seemingly insatiable desire to cause trouble, finally ending up in Egypt, where he died in 1406. During his time in North Africa and Egypt he mostly devoted himself to writing and some teaching.  These were the years that produced his greatest works.

His best known book is the Muqaddimah, commonly called the Prolegomena in English because it is the introductory volume in his proposed grand history of the world.  In it he lays out his basic methods and theories to be applied in the body of the work.  He starts out with a critique of previous methods in history pointing out that they are often unreliable because of 7 critical errors in method, such as writing with the purpose of currying favor with a ruler, failure to examine the reliability of sources, and bias towards a particular creed or cultural norm (what we now call ethnocentrism). My favorite of them all, the cornerstone of all cultural anthropology, is the error of  failing to place events in their proper historical and cultural contexts and, hence, failing to interpret their true meaning — a principle I live by in my own writing.

You would be amazed at the breadth of his theorizing in diverse fields, and at how well his work continues to accord with contemporary theory. In economics he expounded on markets, laws of supply and demand, labor and human capital, exchange, and the effects of taxation on productivity. In sociology and anthropology he theorized on the nature of social cohesion, the effects of nomadic versus city life on culture, and the ways in which social bonds weaken as cultures move from a subsistence base to one of surpluses, and, eventually, luxury. He proposed that this progression was the ultimate cause of the cyclic downfall of empires. His political theory might best be summarized by his definition of government: “an institution which prevents injustice other than such as it commits itself” which we must all ruefully admit is the case.   He made major contributions to the philosophy and method of history which includes such sentiments as, “History is a science,” “Myths have nothing to do with history and should be refuted,” and “To build strong historical records, the historian should rely on necessary rules for the evaluation of truth.”  Those in the know believe that Ibn Khaldoun was one of the greatest thinkers of all time.

Few people nowadays realize that what is often referred to as the “Mediterranean Diet” has strong Arab influences dating back to the Middle Ages. Nowhere is this better illustrated than in Ibn Khaldoun’s ancestral, and actual, home of Andalusia in southern Spain.  This recipe is my modern adaptation from the 13th century anonymous cookbook, Kitab al-tabikh fi al-Maghrib wal-Andalus  (Book of Dishes from Morocco and Andalusia). It is for a raised dough (rather like egg bread) that is shaped into braids, shallow fried, and drizzled with scented honey then dusted with sugar. The original medieval recipe (which is typically vague about quantities and methods) calls for durum flour in preference OR plain wheat flour otherwise. You can choose your own proportions based on preference, experience with durum flour, and availability.  I prefer a 50-50 split because in bread making this makes a lighter product. The original recipe calls for both cinnamon and Chinese cinnamon.  What you buy in the stores today is Chinese cinnamon, also known as cassia. Cinnamon here means “true cinnamon” which is a different species and much more aromatic than cassia. However, you can use one or the other, or mix the two.

Dafaîr (Fried Dough Braids)

Ingredients:

Dough

10 ½ oz (300 gm) durum wheat flour, all purpose flour, or a mix of the two
¼ cup (½ dl) water
1 package ( ¼ oz/7g) fast acting yeast
2 large eggs
pinch of salt
½ tsp powdered saffron
2 oz (56 g) coarsely chopped blanched almonds
Vegetable oil for frying and coating the dough

Honey sauce

2/3 cup (1 ½ dl) honey
freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 tsp (50g) true cinnamon, cassia, or a mix
½ tbsp (7.5 g) finely ground lavender flowers or 1- 2 drops of lavender essential oil
caster sugar for dusting.

Instructions:

Put the yeast into a cup with 2 tablespoons of lukewarm water. Stir and let it sit for 5 minutes.

Put the flour and salt in a bowl and incorporate the water little by little. Then add the yeast.  Knead until the dough is elastic.

Pour the saffron into a bowl with the two eggs and beat the mixture thoroughly. Then pour it over the dough, add the almonds and mix them well together. Knead the dough again for a few minutes to be sure all the ingredients are evenly distributed.  Oil the surface of the dough and place it in a clean bowl. Cover with a moist towel and leave it to rise in a warm place.

It should take about an hour for the dough to double in size but you should check it periodically starting after 45 minutes. If a finger pressed into the dough springs back immediately it has not proofed enough. If a finger causes an indentation that remains it has proofed too long.  You ought to be able to press in and have the dough spring back after about 5 seconds. Then it is ready.

While the dough is rising, gently heat the honey so that it is slightly more runny than when cold.  Add the cinnamon, as much ground black pepper as suits your tastes, and the lavender. If you are using lavender oil, add one drop and check for flavor.  Add one drop more if the flavor is too light. Keep warm.

Divide the dough into six portions. Sprinkle the worktop and your hands with flour. Take one portion of the dough and keep the rest covered with a towel. Roll and manipulate the dough until you have a thin sausage about 15 inches long. Cut this in three equal lengths and braid them together, pinching both ends when you are done.  Repeat for the other five portions. Let the braids rest for 15 minutes.

While the braids are resting, pour vegetable oil into a heavy skillet to a depth of about ½ inch and heat until it reaches 340 F (170 C).

Place the braids gently into the skillet without overcrowding. You may need to do this in batches. Fry them  to a golden brown on the bottom , then flip them and cook the other side in the same way.

Place the cooked braids on racks over trays to drain. Don’t use paper towels because then they just continue to sit in the oil. You may pat them with paper towels though.

When the braids have drained, drizzle with the spiced honey, and sprinkle lightly with caster sugar.

Yield: 6