A Persian Samosa recipe (and other culinary delights) from a rare 15th century book

A Persian Samosa recipe (and other culinary delights) from a rare 15th century book ...
scroll.in 25/11/2016 Cuisine

Keywords:#British, #Cuisine, #East_India_Company, #India, #Iranian, #Iranian_Cuisine, #Mughal, #Mughals, #Persian, #Persian_Food, #Scroll.in, #Shah, #Shiraz, #Sultan, #Turks

This beautifully written and illustrated work was composed for the Sultan of Malwa, Ghiyas al-Din Shah Khilji.
by Ursula Sims-Williams
Published Yesterday · 07:30 pm.
Image credit: British Library

* * * To celebrate our new series of South Asian seminars and especially the focus on food with Neha Vermani’s talk, Mughals on the menu: A probe into the culinary world of the Mughal elite, I thought I would write about our most ʻfoodyʼ Persian manuscript, the only surviving copy of the Niʻmatnāmah-i Nāṣirshāhī (Nasir Shah’s Book of Delights) written for Sultan Ghiyas al-Din Khilji (r.1469-1500) and completed by his son Nasir al-Din Shah (r.1500-1510). We are planning to digitise this manuscript in the near future but meanwhile I hope some of these recipes will whet your appetite.
This beautifully written and illustrated work was composed for the Sultan of Malwa Ghiyas al-Din Shah Khilji who ruled from 1469 to 1500. According to the ʻAdilshahi historian Firishtah this colourful ruler shortly after his accession,
...gave a grand entertainment; on which occasion, addressing his officers, he stated, that as he had during the last thirty-four years been employed constantly in the field, fighting under the banners of his illustrious father, he now yielded up the sword to his son, in order that he might himself enjoy ease the rest of his days. He accordingly established within his seraglio all the separate offices of a court, and had at one time fifteen thousand women within his palace.
These included teachers, musicians, dancers, embroiderers, women to read prayers, and persons of all professions and trades. 500 female Turks, dressed in men’s clothes, stood guard on his right, armed with bows and arrows, and on his left, similarly, 500 Abyssinian women also in uniform, armed with firearms. This might seem quite an extravagent description but it is confirmed by the paintings and recipes in the book which describe in detail the methods for cooking luxurious savouries and sweetmeats, for preparing medical remedies, for making perfumes and for going on expeditions, whether in battle or hunting.
The Ni’matnāmah is undated and there are many unanswered questions about the format it has today. The first few leaves have been added later and there is no expected author’s introduction. The main work appears to end on folio 161v and then a new section begins on folio 162v which has the title Kitāb-i Niʻmatnāmah-i Nāṣirshāhī (‘Nasir Shah’s book of delights’). Altogether at least 15 leaves are missing which were extracted at various different times before it was acquired by the East India Company after the fall of Seringapatam in 1799. It seems most likely that the first part of the work at least was written in the latter part of Ghiyas Shah’s reign and then perhaps the second section was added after his son had taken over in 1500. The 50 illustrations demonstrate a fusion of Persian ‘Turkman’ Shiraz influence of the second half of the fifteenth century with a progressively Indic style, especially in the use of colours and the style of the costumes and architecture.
A flavour of the Niʻmatnāmah
We are very fortunate in having a published facsimile (albeit black and white) and translation of the Niʻmatnāmah made over the course of several years by Norah Titley after her retirement from the British Library in 1983. Below I quote her translations alongside some of the illustrations.
A recipe for samosas (ff. 4v-5r, see above)
Mix together well-cooked mince with the same amount of minced onion and chopped dried ginger, a quarter of those, and half a tūlcha [a measure] of ground garlic and having ground three tūlchas of saffron in rosewater, mix it with the mince together with aubergine pulp. Stuff the samosas and fry (them) in ghee. Whether made from thin course flour bread or from fine flour bread or from uncooked dough, any of the three (can be used) for cooking samosas, they are delicious. (Titley, p. 4)
--- Persian Food , Iranian Cuisine ---
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