My Citizens – I apologize profusely for being absent these last few weeks, as I have been feeling (to say the least!) poorly but I have rallied my flagging spirits with the help of a new drug that is helping my depression better than any other I have tried over the last 35 years! I am most pleased with its efficacy after a few scant day of usage, and I am reborn like the mighty Phoenix from the nova flames of My own depression! I will celebrate with a Spanish recipe that has bittersweet feelings for Me!
By this, I mean that my dear friend Toby is moving to Spain for a year and while I shall miss his quick wit, fine palate and superb cooking skills immensely – I intend to fly to Spain in October to meet him and his family! He is the one who first told me about this beloved Spanish recipe of pinchos morunos that dates all the way back to the Moorish occupation, thus its use of Moroccan spices and a flavor profile right out of North Africa (despite it being considered today as a Spanish recipe).
Similar dishes in North Africa or other Muslim majority countries tend to be lamb-based, but pork and chicken are the most popular meats for the dish in Spain. The original version of pinchos morunos was assuredly lamb, as the Moors were Muslim and would NEVER eat pork! It’s believed by historians that after the Moors were kicked out of Spain that the Christian monarchy insisted that patriotic Spaniards should make them with pork as a final ‘one finger salute’ to the hated Muslims!
Pinchos morunos are usually made today in Spain of lean diced pork or chicken, marinated with olive oil, and herbs and spices (such as garlic, cumin, thyme, paprika, oregano, turmeric and pepper) and seasoned with salt. Pinchos morunos is one of the main meat dishes cooked at Andalusian and Extremaduran barbecues during the summer months. They are normally served with bread, wedges of lemon and wine.
Pinchos morunos is a Moorish-derived food in Spanish cuisine, similar to kebab that is very popular in the southern Spanish autonomous communities of Andalusia and Extremadura. They consist of small cubes of meat threaded onto a skewer (Spanish: pincho) which are traditionally cooked over charcoal braziers. Pinchos Morunos (pronounced PIN-chose MOR-on-ose) technically means ‘Moorish little sticks’, but they are in essence kebabs!
The Moors were a North African tribe who occupied a large part of Spain and Portugal from the 700s-1400s. The term ‘Moor’ is an exonym first used by Christian Europeans to designate the Muslim inhabitants of the Maghreb, the Iberian Peninsula, Sicily and Malta during the Middle Ages. The Moors initially were the indigenous Maghrebine Berbers – the name was later also applied to Arabs and Arabized Iberians.
Moors are not a distinct or self-defined people – the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica observed that the term had “no real ethnological value.” Europeans of the Middle Ages and the early modern period variously applied the name to Arabs, North African Berbers, as well as Muslim Europeans. The term has also been used in Europe in a broader, somewhat derogatory sense to refer to Muslims in general, especially those of Arab or Berber descent, whether living in Spain or North Africa.
In 711, troops mostly formed by Moors from northern Africa led the Umayyad conquest of Hispania. The Iberian Peninsula then came to be known in Classical Arabic as al-Andalus, which at its peak included most of Septimania and modern-day Spain and Portugal. Differences in religion and culture led to a centuries-long conflict with the Christian kingdoms of Europe, which tried to reclaim control of Muslim areas; this conflict was referred to as the Reconquista.
In 1224, the Muslims were expelled from Sicily to the settlement of Lucera, which was destroyed by European Christians in 1300. The fall of Granada in 1492 marked the end of Muslim rule in Spain, although a Muslim minority persisted until their expulsion in 1609.
During the classical period, the Romans interacted with, and later conquered, parts of Mauretania, a state that covered modern northern Morocco, western Algeria, and the Spanish cities Ceuta and Melilla. The Berber tribes of the region were noted in the Classics as Mauri, which was subsequently rendered as ‘Moors’ in English and in related variations in other European languages.
Mauri (Μαῦροι) is recorded as the native name by Strabo in the early 1st century. This appellation was also adopted into Latin, whereas the Greek name for the tribe was Maurusii (Ancient Greek: Μαυρούσιοι). The Moors were also mentioned by Tacitus as having revolted against the Roman Empire in 24 AD.
During the Latin Middle Ages, Mauri was used to refer to Berbers and Arabs in the coastal regions of Northwest Africa. The 16th century scholar Leo Africanus (c. 1494–1554) identified the Moors (Mauri) as the native Berber inhabitants of the former Roman Africa Province (Roman Africans). He described Moors as one of five main population groups on the continent alongside Egyptians, Abyssinians (Abassins), Arabians and Cafri (Cafates).
The term ‘Moor’ initially denoted a specific Berber people in western Libya, but the name acquired more general meaning during the medieval period, associated with ‘Muslim’, similar to associations with ‘Saracens. During the context of the Crusades and the Reconquista, the term Moors included the derogatory suggestion of ‘infidels’.
Apart from these historic associations and context, Moor and Moorish designate a specific ethnic group speaking Hassaniya Arabic. They inhabit Mauritania and parts of Algeria, Western Sahara, Tunisia, Morocco, Niger, and Mali. In Niger and Mali, these peoples are also known as the Azawagh Arabs, after the Azawagh region of the Sahara.
The authoritative dictionary of the Spanish language does not list any derogatory meaning for the word moro, a term generally referring to people of Maghrebian origin in particular or Muslims in general. Some authors have pointed out that in modern colloquial Spanish use of the term moro is derogatory for Moroccans in particular and Muslims in general.
As eruditely noted on latienda.com:
Spain has been influenced by several great civilizations. Legend has it that Hercules founded the city of Cádiz, though that is hard to verify! For certain, the Phoenicians established cities and towns across southern Spain around 3,000 years ago, imparting seafaring traditions such as the Almadraba tuna harvesting methods.
The Romans ruled for six centuries, and during that time, Spain became a major source of grain, wine and olive oil for the empire. In the north, Celtic tribes and Visigoths brought other food traditions, such as ciders, lard and beer, along with pastoral foods from pigs, sheep and goats.
Arriving in 711, the Moors from north Africa quickly conquered the fragmented post-Roman Visigoths and within eight years they controlled nearly all of Iberia except for the mountainous regions of Asturias and the Basque Country. For the next 800 years, their culture influenced all of Spain, though some regions were only under their rule for less than a century.
The heart of the empire was Ál-Andalus, the vast southern region now called Andalucía. The Moors transformed cities like Sevilla and Granada into prosperous centers of culture, and Córdoba was arguably the biggest city in Europe in the 10th century. Over time every aspect of life began to reflect the new culture, from architecture and language to the spices and ingredients used to make everyday meals.
I recently visited the Triana neighborhood of Sevilla with my friend Ika Zaken, a Sephardic Jew of Moroccan descent. As he walked through the market and passed restaurants and historic buildings, his face kept lighting up. From the intricate ceramic tilework to the local foods, he saw so much that was familiar. Other than the fact that everyone was chatting in Castilian, he swore that he could be in Morocco.
Even the Spanish language was transformed. There are hundreds of words with Arabic roots, especially in food, including arroz (rice), aceite (oil), aceitunas (olives), azafrán (saffron), albaricoque (apricot) and almendra (almond), to name a few.
This speaks to the changes in agriculture brought by the Moorish conquerors. These invaders from an arid land were delighted by the relative abundance of water, and their expertise in irrigation brought an increase in farming production. They planted groves of oranges, lemons and grapefruit, expanded the olive groves, and introduced almonds to the hills.
Rice was one of their greatest gifts, and soon rice fields were established not only in the lowlands of Valencia and Catalonia, but even in mountain valleys such as Calasparra in Murcia.
Many of these foods became so established that we now simply consider them Spanish. As I mentioned, paella, the rice dish seasoned with aromatic saffron, has become famous worldwide.
Turrón candy, a delicious confection mixing roasted almonds and honey, is enjoyed across Spain to this day. An aside – because almonds are harvested in the fall, most turrón is made in November and December. Through this coincidence, ironically, this candy with Arabic roots is now closely associated with Christmas celebrations in Spain.
Seafood preparation is also strongly influenced by Moorish techniques. The Moors introduced the idea of deep-frying fish in olive oil. Thus, was born the tradition of ‘pescaito frito,’ where fresh fish like anchovies, flounder, squid and cuttlefish are tossed in a light garbanzo flour and fried until crispy. One of my favorites is puntillitas – tiny squid fried whole, so small you can eat fifty of them in a serving!
Another Moorish tradition is preserving seafood in salt and vinegar, basically pickling them. A great example is boquerones en vinagre, or anchovy fillets preserved in wine vinegar. Another is cazón adobado, shark prepared with vinegar and paprika.
Even Spain’s passion for jamón and other types of cured pork was partly a response to the influence of the Moors. Because Islam forbids consumption of pork, eating jamón and other pork products was a source of pride for the Christians, and a way to prove you weren’t loyal to the Moors.
Moorish rule in Spain officially ended in 1492 when Emir Muhammad XII of Granada surrendered to Queen Isabella of Castilla. By then Spain’s architecture, language and cuisine had been irreversibly transformed and enriched. The next time you nibble on a piece of turrón candy or a enjoy a tasty white anchovy, remember the legacy of the Moorish culture and all the other great civilizations that made Spanish cuisine what it is today.
With this concise but accurate historical summary of the flowering and withering of the Moorish empire, let’s now discuss the culinary meat of the matter – MY ultimate version of the Moorish delicacy pinchos morunos, touched by the benison of My glorious artistry of spicing and deep knowledge of Moorish gastronomy (as amply demonstrated in My other Moorish recipe here on TFD!).
First off, I have restored the original spice blend from the Moors, which was replaced by the Spanish Christians with a far simpler blend of a few spices such as paprika, cumin, sometimes cinnamon and turmeric. I instead opt for the full-blown Mother of all spice blends – ras el hanout, and specifically My 36-spice version of it! If you use My recipe, you are guaranteed a celestial taste experience that shall render you a vision of the Empyrean heaven itself! This store-bought blend is good.
I – of course – only endorse heirloom pork from breeds such as Berkshire, Mangalitsa (my preference), Old Spot and Red Wattle that are well-marbled with fat. You’re going to be using the leanest cut of the pig, the tenderloin, which needs all the help it can get to maintain juiciness which is why I recommend Mangalitsa, the fattiest and most tender of the heirloom breeds. You can easily buy top-quality Mangalitsa tenderloin from this fine purveyor! I also call for saffron instead of turmeric here.
Top-quality Aleppo pepper flakes (which you will blitz in a spice grinder to create Aleppo pepper powder) are originally from Aleppo, Syria and fit the Moorish theme very well indeed as a seasoning – of course, only the best smoked Spanish paprika is a necessity in this recipe (buy exceptional Aleppo pepper flakes and smoked Spanish paprika from the links). I call for a unique hit of Amontillado sherry as well – please only use this type, as the others are too sweet or too dry for the dish.
My Citizens – I am optimistic about keeping this positive mental state going in perpetuity, which means I can once again return to frequent recipe posting in the months ahead! TFD Nation is the reason I have done this blog for 7 ½ years now, and I look forward to continuing it for as long as you all want it to! You have my gratitude!!! Pinchos morunos is a simple recipe that is guaranteed to please everyone, whether made at your next Summer BBQ or on the stovetop!
Battle on – the GeneralissimoPrint
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