Saturday, April 25, 2015


A couple weeks ago I was cooking Chicken Marbella in which the chicken roasts with prunes. I commented then that chicken cooked with fruit is an unusual combination in Spanish cuisine--except for dishes in the medieval style. That inspired me to go searching through my recipe files for an example and I found this gorgeous way to cook rabbit in a sweet and sour sauce with figs and lots of spices. (The recipe appears in my book COOKING FROM THE HEART OF SPAIN—FOOD OF LA MANCHA, published by Wm. Morrow in 2006.)

Rabbit cooked, Mudéjar style, with figs and medieval spices.
Now that the Easter bunny season is behind us, it’s a good time to cook rabbit. Almost all rabbit is farm-raised and available year-round. It’s a lean, white meat with a delicate flavor.

This recipe comes from Toledo, a city in La Mancha (central Spain). Still enclosed by ancient walls and monumental gates, the old town of narrow, cobbled streets preserves much of its medieval character. Inhabited over the centuries by Romans (the ruins of a Roman circus, one of the largest of the Empire, lies just outside the walls); Visigoths (at least one church originally was Visigothic); Sephardic Jews (two synagogues remain in the old Jewish quarter); Arabs and Berbers (a 10th century mosque is preserved), and Christians, who built an astonishing cathedral and dozens of convents and monasteries, Toledo is at once monumental and intimate.

Toledo cathedral.
The Muslim Arabs (Moors) took Toledo in 712. When King Alfonso VI wrested control of the city in 1085, many of the Moors opted to stay under Christian dominion. Called Mudéjars—meaning “permitted to remain”—they had an enormous influence on architecture, building churches, synagogues and civic buildings in the graceful Mudéjar style, with its low towers, horseshoe arches, plaster, tile, and wood decorations.

The Toledo School of Translators flourished, bringing together Arab, Hebrew, and Latin scholars who translated Greek philosophy, Persian literature, Arabic medicine into Latin and Spanish.

The Mudéjar influence permeated the style of cooking as well, bringing exotic spices from eastern lands into Spanish cooking. This rabbit dish, perfumed with cinnamon, clove, aniseed and saffron, is a delicious example.

Seasonings used in medieval cooking. Clockwise from bottom left: thyme with flowers, mint, pine nuts, shelled and unshelled; almonds; green almonds; figs; nutmeg; ginger root, cinnamon sticks; bay leaves; rosemary, and parsley. On the tray in the center: top row from left: peppercorns, caraway seeds, cumin seeds and aniseeds. In the center, saffron. Bottom row, from left, coriander seeds, black mustard seeds and cloves.
Steep the whole spices and figs in the cooking liquid, then strain the liquid and add to the rabbit. Don’t overcook rabbit; as it is very lean, it easily becomes dry. If rabbit comes with the liver, sauté it and mash to a paste to thicken the sauce. If liver is not available, the sauce can be thickened with a little flour, if desired.

If rabbit is not an option, make this recipe with bone-in half chicken breasts. Serve the rabbit with rice or cous cous and minted carrots.

Rabbit with Figs and Mudéjar Spices
Conejo con Higos al Estilo Mudéjar

A subtle sweet and sour sauce complements delicate rabbit, here served with rice and minted carrots.
Serves 4.

1-2 tablespoons honey (preferably rosemary honey)
¼ cup Sherry vinegar
1-inch piece fresh ginger, cut in half
¼ teaspoon black peppercorns
¼ teaspoon coriander seeds
¼ teaspoon mustard seeds
1/8 teaspoon aniseeds
1-inch piece of cinnamon
3 cloves
2 cups water
12 dried figs, stems removed
Sprigs of mint, thyme and parsley
¼ teaspoon saffron threads, crushed
¼ cup hot water
¼ cup olive oil
1/3 cup blanched almonds
3 cloves garlic
1 rabbit, 2 ½ to 3 pounds, cut into 8 pieces
Rabbit liver, cut up (optional)
Freshly ground black pepper
½ cup finely chopped onion
½ cup white wine

Combine the honey, vinegar, ginger, peppercorns, coriander, mustard, aniseeds, cinnamon, and clove in a saucepan with 2 cups water. Bring to a boil and simmer 5 minutes. Remove from heat and add the sprigs of herbs and the figs. Cover and let them macerate at least 2 hours.

Crush the saffron in a mortar. Add ¼ cup of hot water and let it steep at least 15 minutes.

In a cazuela or large sauté pan heat the oil and fry the almonds and garlic until they are lightly golden. Skim them out and reserve.

Add the rabbit pieces and liver, if using, to the hot oil and sauté on medium heat until they are lightly browned on all sides. (Remove the liver pieces, if using.) Add the chopped onion and continue sautéing.

Put the fried almonds, garlic and liver, if using, in a blender with the wine and process to make a smooth paste.

With a slotted spoon, remove the figs from the spiced liquid and reserve them. (Don’t worry if some spices cling to the figs.) Strain the liquid and reserve it. Discard the spices and herbs. Add 1 ½ cups of the spice liquid to the rabbit with the saffron. Stir in the almond paste. Season with salt and pepper. Cover and simmer 20 minutes. Add the figs to the rabbit and cook until rabbit is tender, another 15 to 20 minutes.

Rabbit--the other white meat. 

More rabbit recipes here:
Rabbit in Wine Marinade (Conejo al Salmorejo),

Rabbit, Sierra-Style (Conejo a la Serrana),

Rabbit with Beans and Pasta (Conejo con Gurullos)


  1. Well, I am definitely a very "medieval" man then, as I like a lot to use all of these spices (in different combinations of course) in many recipes.

    Thank you for this great recipe.

    1. Tlaz: You're welcome! Of course, medieval spices did not include chile!

  2. Replies
    1. Donna: Thanks for saying! My pics seem to have improved since I stopped using the "automatic" setting on my camera. Have to re-learn apperture and speed and ISO.