Re-enactment cooking is a very restrictive business. Quite apart from the normal problems you get when trying to feed a large group of people (allergies, whiners, vegetablists), you also need to be able to cook your chosen recipe in a big heavy cast iron pot over an open fire, so anything finicky, delicate or that requires quick changes of temeperature is out. The choice of ingredients is, not exactly limited, but different to what people are used to these days: potatoes, bell peppers, chillies, sweetcorn, tomatoes and others are all native to the New World and were not used in England until the late Elizabethan age at best (potatoes, for example, were considered poisonous, and were strictly an ornamental plant until the early 19th centruy).

So yeah, you need a bit of imagination and ingenuity in this business (as well as good research!). Of course, you could just cook beef stew or spit roast at every single event - in fact a lot of groups do just that. But that's boring not only for the diners, but for the cook too; and as cooking is my hobby, it seems silly to not have as much fun with it as I can.

Anyway, the point is that I'm always on the lookout for interesting recipes that are either actually authentic, are made from authentic ingredients, or can be adapted to suit my needs. The one below is an amalgam of two different medieval recipes, both from Moorish Spain, that I found while loitering on the web; originally a lamb chop casserole with green beans and a meatball and chickpea stew, I've combined the two into an all-in-one dinner that contains the meat, the veg and even the carbs if you want it to (although I still served mine with rice - had 16 greedy archers to feed!).

Seeing as not many of you are going to be catering for 16 any time soon, I've scaled down the recipe to what I think will feed about 4.

You'll need:

  • 500gr (1lb) lean lamb mince
  • 2 medium onions, finely chopped
  • 1 egg
  • 1 large carrot and 2-3 celery sticks, cut into 2.5cm (1 inch) chunks
  • 250gr (.5lb) fresh green beans
  • 250gr (.5lb) canned cooked chickpeas, drained
  • A little oil for fying
  • Salt to taste
  • Poudre forte; made from more or less equal parts of nutmeg, mace, clove, pepper and either grains of paradise or galangale, all ground up together. A less exotic and more North African spice mixture would use pepper, cumin, chilli powder, a pinch of cinammon and maybe a little cardamom.

Here's how you do it:

  1. Mix the meat, onion, spices, salt and egg in a large bowl - go on, get your hands in there! Then, preferably with cool hands that you've dampened in a bit of water, form the meat mixture into smallish patties about 5cm across and 2-3cm thick (don't have to be too precise).

  2. Heat the oil in a heavy skillet, and when it'ver very hot - almost smoking - fry the burgers off very quickly, less than 1 minute on each side. Set aside.

  3. You'll need a large heavy pan with a thick bottom and a close fitting lid. Make sure no steam can escape from under the lid. If it's not completely sealed, you could do what the Moors did: make a flour-and-water paste, knead it a bit and use it to seal the edges all around the lid from the outside. Just don't do what I did and borrow some bread dough from the baker: I ended up with a gynormous doughy bagel around my pot, as the dough kept rising and rising throughout the cooking time. It looked very strange and was a bitch to get off (tasted horrible, too).

  4. Place the carrot and celery chunks on the bottom of your cooking pot (no oil is required at this stage). They are primarily there to insulate the rest of the dish from the heat, however I found that they absorbed the juices from the meat and actually tasted very nice in the end.

  5. Spread the chickpease evenly over the vegetables. Follow this by carefully stacking up your burgers on top of the chickpeas - don't worry if you have to put burgers on top of burgers, they will hold up just fine. Finish the the washed and trimmed green beans, scattered over the top.

  6. Seal the lid tightly and cook for approximately 2 hours on a low heat. Resist the temptation to take a look, as you will let out a3l the steam and consequently end up with a less juicy dish.

Serve on its own with pitta bread, with rice like I did or on plain couscous - just make sure everyone gets a bit of the juicy goodness at the bottom, that's the bit that really makes this dish. Enjoy!

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