Recipes from the book of Kanz

Subiya (grain-based digestive non-alcoholic beer) السوبيا

A refreshing nutritious drink, good for winter and summer. The name survives in Egypt to this day to designate comparable drinks; it is especially popular during the month of Ramadan.

Subiya is sweetened grain-based digestive beer, a variety of what was called fuqqāʿ in medieval times. It was said to be popular in Egypt. The best was said to be the variety made with rice. The book of Kanz offers six recipes, two of which are made with rice; the rest are made with bread and with flour cooked into thick porridge and then used to make the drink.

The prepared liquid was kept in jars overnight to ferment a little, or for a day or two and perhaps a little longer but not more than five days. It was said to be useful for the digestion, and with the addition of spices, it could be aphrodisiac. From Edward Lane’s Account of Manners and Customs of the Modern Egyptians, p. 324, we also learn that subiya was made with melon seeds, which I assume were dried and toasted first before using them crushed as this would have brought out their enticing aroma. He says subiya was sold in the streets of nineteenth-century Cairo.

In today’s Egypt, sūbiya is still popular, especially in the fasting month of Ramadan. Professionals make it with crushed barley and bread broken into pieces, drenched in water and left to ferment for a couple of days. It is strained, and the resulting liquid is spiced with cinnamon and cardamom and sweetened with sugar. After setting it aside for a day, it is good to drink, chilled. There are also home recipes using rice flour.

Check out this link, for instance (it is in Arabic, but google translator will help in figuring out its contents).

In the book of Kanz recipes 429–34 all deal with this sort of drink. Here is one of them which I have tried and liked:

Subiya Recipe 430, makes 4 servings

5 slices of a plain white loaf of bread
5 cups warm water
A sprig of parsley
¼ teaspoon crushed cardamom
A stick of cinnamon
Optional: a few tender citron leaves, washed; a sprig of tarragon, and a sprig of mint
Put the pieces of bread in a bowl along with the water. Set aside for about 30 minutes to allow the bread to soften. Mash the mix with your fingers, and strain it through a fine-meshed sieve.

Pour the resulting liquid into a container with a lid. Add parsley, cardamom, cinnamon stick, and the optional ingredients, if used. Cover the container, and set it aside for a day or two at room temperature. Strain it again, and use it chilled with ice cubes, and sweetened to taste.


Qaliyyat al-Shawī, A Moist fry of Roasted Meat (Kanz Recipe 35)

Back in medieval times, meat of roasted lamb or kid was relished when still hot and fresh. Leftovers from the previous day’s roasting had to be served differently, as in this moist fry. This reminds me so much of nowadays Fridays’ sandwiches made with the leftovers of Thanksgiving roasted turkey. It can also easily pass for a sumptuous shawarma sandwich.

½ pound roasted meat (leftovers)

3 tablespoons oil

Your choice of spices and herbs (I used 1 tablespoon chopped cilantro, and coriander, tarragon, black pepper, and ginger, ¼ teaspoon of each)

1 tablespoon lime juice or wine vinegar

4 eggs (optional)

A bit of cinnamon for garnish


Cut the roasted meat into thin slices, and in a wide skillet, fry it in the oil, along with the herbs and spices and lime juice or vinegar. Keep on stirring until the meat is nicely browned and the seasonings start to emit a pleasant aroma. Taste it to see if it needs more salt, and give it a light sprinkle of cinnamon and serve it with bread.

If using the eggs, crack them open on the spread meat mix, keep them whole, cover the skillet, lower the heat, and let the eggs set, sunny-side up. Give the eggs a sprinkle of salt and another sprinkle of cinnamon, and serve.

(Makes 2 servings)

Zaytūn Mutabbal زيتون متبل Seasoned Olives (Recipe 567)


The book of Kanz offers a generous number of recipes dealing with curing olives, such as preserving them by treating them with slaked lime and ashes, and smoking them. Other recipes describe flavorful ways for seasoning already cured ones, as in the following.

Always handy and delicious as an appetizer.

(Makes 6 to 8 servings)

1 cup black olives

¼ cup toasted walnut, finely crushed

¼ cup toasted hazelnut, finely crushed

1 tablespoon coriander seeds, toasted whole, and then crushed

Half of a salted lemon (see recipe in a previous post), chopped

¼ cup olive oil


Combine all the ingredients in a bowl, and mix them well. If mix looks a bit dry, add some more olive oil. Cover the bowl and set it aside for an hour or two, to allow the flavors to blend, and use.

Fried Fish with Sumac Sauce, Samak Maḥshī سمك محشي (Kanz Recipe 234)


The book of Kanz includes an impressive variety of fish dishes, 36 fish recipes in all. Here is one of them, my favorite.

A pretty fish dish, simple and quite tasty. The savory and sour sumac sauce, enriched and thickened with walnuts, is quite flavorful.  Makes 2 servings

½ pound firm white fish, such as cod, cut into two pieces

For the fish rub: 2 teaspoons crushed coriander, 1 teaspoon ground caraway seeds, and ½ teaspoon salt

Flour for dusting the fish pieces

Oil for frying the fish (½-inch deep)

For the sumac sauce:

1 tablespoon each of sumac, oil, lime juice, chopped parsley, and chopped mint

¼ cup crushed walnuts

1 teaspoon crushed coriander

½ teaspoon each of dried thyme and ground caraway

¼ teaspoon black pepper

½ clove of garlic, crushed (Kanz recipe says to add a small amount only)

Half lemon preserved in salt (see recipe), chopped into small pieces

About ¼ cup water


Combine the rub ingredients and smear the pieces of fish with it. Put the fish in a colander set above a bowl, and set aside for about an hour. When ready to fry, dust the fish pieces with flour, and fry them in hot oil. Brown them on both sides, and keep them in a colander to get rid of extra fat.

In a small pot, combine all the sumac sauce ingredients, there should be enough water to moisten the mix well. Add a bit more if needed. Let it boil, for 4 or 5 minutes. Taste it to see if it needs more salt.

Place the fried fish pieces on a platter, and pour the prepared sumac sauce all over them, and serve.

Laymūn Māliḥ ليمون مالح Lemon Preserved in Salt (Kanz Recipe 609)


During the time of the book of Kanz, such salted lemons were very popular, there are nine recipes for making and seasoning it in the book. They were enjoyed as a delicious relish with other foods, and also used as an ingredient in many of Kanz recipes.

6 lemons, washed thoroughly

About ¼ cup pickling salt

4 pieces of fresh ginger, size of an almond each

4 sprigs of parsley

¼ teaspoon saffron


Cut off both ends of four of the lemons, slit them like a cross, lengthwise, but do not separate the quarters. Stuff the slits with salt, and pack the lemons tightly in a container. Cover it, and set it aside for three days (room temperature).

Take the lemons out of the container, and set aside the remaining liquid. Gently press them by hand to extract some of their juice, which is to be added to the set aside liquid. Discard all seeds. Stuff each lemon with a piece of ginger and a sprig of parsley. Pack them tightly in a container.

Extract the juice of the remaining two lemons, and add it to the set-aside juices. Add saffron to it, and pour it all over the lemons. There should be enough juice to cover the lemons completely, add more if needed.

Cover the container, and put it away, at room temperature, preferably in a dark place, for a week or so, and use. Refrigerate the remaining amount (as you will need it in several of the Kanz recipes, which I will be blogging about soon).

Takhlīl al-Shamār al-Akhḍar (Sweet and Sour Pickle of Fresh Fennel, Kanz recipe 591)

An unusual pickle, refreshingly sweet and sour, and scented with rosewater. The recipe recommends eating it after heavy meals because it aids digestion and dispels gastric winds.

1 bulb of fresh fennel, cut into medium pieces (use only the tender parts)

1 cup red wine vinegar

3 tablespoons sugar

¼ teaspoon of each of toasted whole seeds of coriander and caraway

A sprig of mint

1 teaspoon rosewater

Boil the cut fennel in wine vinegar until half-cooked. Drain it, and squeeze out extra moisture (keep the drained vinegar). Prepare the vinegar liquid as follows: Mix the remaining vinegar with sugar, toasted seeds, mint and rosewater.

Put the drained fennel in a container, and pour on it the prepared vinegar liquid. There should be enough to cover the fennel pieces. Cover the container, and set it aside for a week, at room temperature, and use. Refrigerate the remaining amount.

(Makes about 6 servings)