Here we have a dish that is inspired by Egypt, but is not an actual Egyptian recipe. There are no Egyptian recipes. They either didn’t write any, or we haven’t found them.
But through paintings, textual references, and actual meals left behind for archeologists to discover, we can still infer a lot about Ancient Egyptian cuisine.
River fish, particularly mullet, was probably important for rich and poor alike, and Egyptian morticians/chefs worked together to discover the secrets of pickling both food and corpses. Pickled fish not only allowed for preservation of a natural resource, it was considered quite a delicacy.
This fish is what I’m calling “Quick pickled.” It’s really more of a poached fish, but by doing it in vinegar you can achieve a mild, not too intense pickle flavor that make the fish a nice topper for salads or other cold sides.
QUICK PICKLED FISH
1 whole river fish (catfish pictured), filleted and cut in half
4 cups white vinegar
1.5 cups water
1/2 fennel head plus stem and fronds
1 head garlic, bisected
2 shallots, bisected
small bunch coriander (cilantro)
1/2 teaspoon fenugreek
1/2 teaspoon mustard seeds
Toast the spices until they smell nice, then add the water and vinegar plus all the other ingredients Bring to a boil then simmer for ten minutes. After that, carefully add the fish, and arrange the veggies as weights to submerge the fish in the liquid. Turn off the heat, and let stand 10 minutes, or until the fish is cooked through.
Remove fish and let cool when done. Meanwhile. Make your chopped salad…
It’s here that we run into another problem with recreating ancient dishes. There are foods referred to in Egyptian texts that might be fennel and radish, but evidence is inconclusive and many anthropologists think they refer to more unknown, distant ancient ingredients. But for the sake of an interesting recipe, we’re going to hope for the best and use them here.
The rest we know for sure was classic Egyptian. Wild greens fed all ancient people, and the Egyptians were known in even much later Ancient times for their love of onions and garlic. Lettuce in particular was considered a powerful symbol of fertility.
3-4 whole Romaine Leaves
1 large spring onion (or 1 bunch scallions), whites included
1/2 head of fennel
3-4 Radishes plus their leaves
1 bunch watercress
1 small bunch coriander (cilantro)
Slice the Radishes into thin rounds, then stack and cut across to make matchsticks. Slice the Fennel in a very thin juliene, and slice and or chop up the rest of the greens and lettuces to desired consistency. Don’t overchop the herbs! Once across is good enough. Season with salt and toss with Tahini Yogurt Dressing.
TAHINI YOGURT DRESSING
2 tbsp. Yogurt
2 tbsp. tahini
4 tbsp. white vinegar
1 tbsp olive or sesame oil (optional)
salt to taste
Whisk together all ingredients.
I haven’t mentioned yet that this is yet another upper class dish. Pickling of fish was a divine, closely guarded secret, but it’s the dressing that really seals it. Olive and sesame oils were imports that only the elite could afford. So keep that in mind as you enjoy these creamy, luxurious salad dressing
Serve the salad with the fish scattered on top in a bowl large enough to share, and dine like an Egyptian elite.