Mesopotamian Cookoff Entry 2: Lamb and Carob Stew by Laura Kelley

Old Carob Tree

A carob tree and a wellspring of water have been called miracles that have sustained sages and prophets alike. The slow maturation and flowering of the carob tree also teaches one to invest in the future even when it is arduous and promises no immediate gains. The carob is staple that provides sutenance, the promise of the next generation, and is incredibly tasty when cooked in a stew with lamb.

Carob Seeds

The second entry in the Mesopotamian Cookoff is from yours truly, Webmistress, Laura Kelley. It is a Lamb and Carob Stew based on the “recipe” XIX on Yale Babylonian Culinary Tablet 25 (4464).  The original called for meat, fat, salt, shallots and semolina, carob and water.  The tablet also calls for the addition of leeks and garlic mashed with a milk product (probably yogurt or sour cream) as well.  I added cumin, coriander seeds and a bit of salt – all of which would have been available in the ancient Near East.  The dish that resulted is pictured below, and I can personally attest that it is absolutely delicious, savory, earthy without any carob or chocolate-flavor to mar the flavor of the meat and spices.

Lamb and Carob Stew

What the carob does do is make a savory stew even more savory, and in the case of my creation, it blanketed the sharp edges of the added cumin and coriander seed. I feel justified in adding the cumin and coriander because in most of the modern world, recipes still don’t list each and everything that goes into the pot – that is a sort of rigor and precision that is uniquely a western European and American expectation. All over the world, ingredients are left unspecified to allow for creativity of individual cooks or just to use what they have on hand. If your interested in this concept of culinary variation, check out my post Viva Variation. For justification of the use of carob and semolina, see my growing lexicon of Mesopotamian food terms. But I digress. . .


Lamb and Carob Stew
Buttery-soft and delectable halal lamb fresh from the farm is spiced with ground coriander and cumin seeds and sauteed in light sesame oil.  The shallots are added and lightly caramelized.  The stew is then given an incredible depth of flavor by the addition of ground carob powder.  Then it is lifted by the addition of leeks and garlic mashed with whole milk yogurt and served on a bed of semolina couscous cooked and steamed over homespun lamb stock.  As superb today as it was almost 4,000 years ago.

1-1.3 pound lamb roast, cut into bitesize pieces
1 tablespoon coriander seeds, freshly ground
3 teaspoons cumin seed, freshly ground
2-3 tablespoons light sesame oil (gingelly)
6 medium shallots, peeled and sliced
2 -3 cups of water
2-3 generous tablespoons of carob powder
1 teaspoon salt (or to taste)
1 leek (both white and green parts), carefully cleaned and rinsed
6 cloves of garlic, peeled
1 cup of yogurt

Serve over couscous – cooked separately as desired.

Flavor lamb with half of the ground coriander seeds and about 1 teaspoon of ground cumin seeds. Massage the spices around and into the meat as possible. Let stand for several hours or overnight to really flavor the meat.

Heat light sesame oil in a large saucepan and sear the seasoned lamb until opaque and just beginning to color around the edges. Reduce heat, remove meat from pan and set aside. Add sliced shallots and cook over low heat until the start to caramelize. Caramelization will happen more quickly if you don’t stir or otherwise disturb the shallots too much.

When shallots are done to your liking, add the remainder of the ground coriander and cumin seed and cook to warm the spices, 3-5 minutes. When spices are warm and aromatic, add water. (Start with 2 cups and add more if needed or desired after meat is added.) Cook to warm water. When water is hot, add meat and stir. Cover and cook over medium heat for 5-10 minutes to bring meat up to temperature. Add carob powder and salt and stir well. if the carob clumps, break it up. Recover and cook over medium or medium-low heat until lamb is soft, stirring occaisionally. The exact amount of time will depend on how large you cubed the lamb, but should be about 40 minutes or so. Watch the heat so that the lamb doesn’t burn, lower heat if necessary.

Prepare couscous as desired while the lamb is cooking.

When lamb has almost softened, uncover and cook for about 5- 10 minutes. In a food processor, pulse the leek and garlic until a diced vegetable is achieved. Add yogurt and pulse once or twice more to mix. Don’t blend until mush, the crunch of the vegetable is desired.

Add to the stew and stir well. Cook uncovered stirring occaisionally until stew is hot once again. Serve over couscous and garnish with fresh cilantro.


Yale Babylonian Culinary Tablet 25 (4464)

A word or two about my choices. I chose lamb, simply becasue I like it, but almost any meat will work with this recipe. I chose a stew, but many other options are available – a braised dish, a cooked shank, or even a roast that is first boiled. I also flavored the meat with the dry spice rub to increase the impact of the coriander and cumin flavor on the stew. In the first test run of this recipe, I added the spices only to the stew and they were not as prominent as when added to the meat before cooking and in the stew.

For the form of semolina, I chose couscous – simply because it was a form of semolina and would be tasty with the lamb stew. Other options could include a ground and lightly roasted semolina to thicken and add flavor to the stew (much as roasted rice is used in SE Asian dishes today), or coating the meat prior to searing with a semolina and spice mixture – sort of like spiced breadcrumbs might be used today.

I chose to integrate the yogurt, leek and garlic mixture into the stew, much as one would add yogurt to an Indian curry. However, other choices could include as a condiment for diners to add at will to the stew, or even a dip for breads that accompany the meal. Adding the blend into the stew adds great texture with the crunch of the vegetables as well as little blasts of additional flavor when diners bite into them.

Other dishes and combinations are doable and I hope will be done by others. This is only one possibility for the nineteenth “recipe” listed on the Yale Babylonian Tablets – there are many other culinary creations to make, but clearly this is much more than just another meat broth as envisioned by Bottero. (Words and recipe for Lamb and Carob Stew by Laura Kelley.  Photo of Carob Tree by Ivlys; Photo of Lamb and Carob Stew by Laura Kelley; and other photos borrowed from google images.)

Mesopotamian Dining

Lamb and Barley with Mint – by Deana Sidney

I recently guest posted about Mesopotamian Dining at Deana’s Lost Past Remembered site.  The post is entitled, “Onions, Onions Everywhere,” and is about an ancient Assyrian banquet and what might have been served – a la Bottero and a la Laura Kelley.  The dishes are based upon differing translations of the Yale Babylonian Collection of Cuilinary Tablets.  The properly translated flavors are intriguing and offer recipes from soups to pilafs.  Flavors include, Lamb and Carob, Mutton with Wild Licorice and Juniper.  Deana even cooked a version of one of the recipes herself – Lamb with Barley and Mint –  and took the gorgeous photo posted here.  Deana’s site is beautiful and a rich source of information about food history.  Come and take a look!

The Changing Landscape of Mesopotamian Flavors

Mersu Option One – A Date Nut Roll

I’m at it again – questioning the assumptions and conclusions about Mesopotamian flavors that Jean Bottero made when examining the Old Babylonian culinary tablets from Yale University. Is it some manic spirit that grabs me each Spring and forces me back into the ancient Near East or is it just that it is an activity that grabs my attention from time to time? Whatever the cause, those of you who have been following the blog for a while may remember last year about this time a post on Mesopotamian ingredients that were either undefined in Bottero’s work or, in my humble opinion, defined incorrectly or made little sense from a culinary point of view.

Well, I am once again actively engaged in reconstructing ingredients and recipes that I think the good professor erred on. Carob, wheatberries, licorice and pistachio nuts – all are flavors that I think were included in the Mesopotamian diet that Bottero left undefined or defined as other types of ingredients – all too often onions or other plants in the allium family.

Before the Yale tablets, Bottero notes that there were only two recipes. The first one is for “Mersu”, which Bottero defined as a “cake” with dates and pistachio nuts as ingredients. It turns out that the tablet – transcribed in Oldest Cuisine in the World (OCW) – only states that dates and pistachios were received for the making of mersu for the king, not that mersu was a cake or how to make it. The assumption that those were ingredients for a cake was made entirely by Bottero, because mersu/mirsu is simply an Old Babylonian word for a “confection” made of dates. He also makes the entymological link with the verb “marasu” one meaning of which is to stir into a liquid. He neglects to note that a secondary meaning for the verb is to squeeze or crush (although I admit, that this is not generally used in connection with food or offering words.)

Mersu Option Two – Date Balls Covered with Nuts and other Toppings

Could mersu be a cake? Sure. But there are many other types of things that it could be as well. A look at modern Western Asian and Levantine cuisines shows that mersu could easily have been a date-nut roll or a beautiful date “candy” as pictured here. Both sweets are based on pounded dates and chopped nuts or other fruit or nut toppings.

Adding only some type of flour, mersu could be something like the modern Iranian dessert Ranginak which consists of dates stuffed with pistachios enclosed in a thin crust of dough, or it could be like the modern Lebanese Ma’moul which has a pounded date center covered in a layer of semolina that is then covered in a layer of chopped pistachios.

My point, if it is not evident, is that there is no need to use secondary or teritary sources to conjure additional ingredients beyond those listed to have a dish fit for an ancient king and his court. A secondary point is that all too often, I believe, Bottero interpreted the ingredients and dishes on the tablets from a French haute-cuisine perspective, instead of a modern regional one that would perhaps be more illuminating and appropriate for understanding Mesopotamian cuisine.

The second recipe known before the Yale tablets is one that Bottero calls “court boullion”. The ingredients listed are nuhurtu, sahlu, kasu, kamu, cucumber (?), and the meat of a slaughtered animal. Bottero translates these as fennel, watercress, dodder (Cuscuta), cumin and cucumber (all of which he states he is uncertain of). My own research suggests that the ingredients are asafoetida, garden cress (but possibly watercress) wild licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra), and cumin. The characters or transliteration for the ingredient thought to be cucumber is not included in OCW, so I cannot research or comment on it liguistically, but I can say that with a flavor lineup including asafoetida, cress, licorice, and cumin that cucumber makes little culinary sense as it would be overwhelmed in the quantities required (15 grams). (Note:  See additional entry below for a better suggested translation of “cucumber”)

Braised Lamb Shank

The recipe states to boil six liters of water with kasu and cook for a long time – I presume this to be until it is reduced by at least half or two-thirds. Then it reads that the cucumber (?) should be added and cooked until it is reduced to 1 liter. Then the liquid is strained and meat is added and cooked. I assume that the other ingredients are added when the cucumber (?) is added, but no specific instructions are given, they could be added when the meat is added, or even before the broth is strained.

Even a modest amount of meat – a pound or two – added to a liter of water and cooked is not going to produce a boullion (for there are no further instructions to strain the liquid again) but rather a stew. A licorice and lamb stew – what an interesting idea! Of course it could have been a braised cut of meat as well – a licorice braised lamb. The point is, it could be many things other than court boullion.

So, my point here is that many of the ingredients listed by Bottero may not be correct, and many make little or no culinary sense. I’ve been told by a real Assyrian language scholar recently that the whole field of plant name identification is, “diabolically slippery”. What bothers me, however, is that there seem to be a good deal of scholarship about plants and ingredients that existed at the time of his writing that Bottero either ignored or rejected without argument. As I said in the first post on this subject, I may not be right about the ingredients, but I am transparently referenced. (See post on Mesopotamian ingredients for the growing list of terms I have examined and the references I’ve used to inform my point of view).

I’ve adopted this as an ongoing project and am interested to see where it leads, I may even try to reconstruct the licorice and lamb stew and give it a taste, but will have to get my hands on a copy of the original reference for the “court boullion” recipe to check the translation and interpretation of the “cucumber” before I do. If I do, I’ll let you know, so we can breathe new life to an ancient Silk Road dish.

(Words and research by Laura Kelley; Confections and Photographs of Date Nut Roll and Date Balls by Kajal of Aaplemint, where many of Kajal’s recipes for her confections can be found. Photograph of Braised lamb Shank by Becky Luigart-Stayner, borrowed from Google images.)



The missing ingredient has been found!  Ukus-hab, is not cucumber or colocynthe, but rather citron!  At least that’s what I think.  See the lexicon link to see the reasons and reference.

Some Mesopotamian Ingredients Revealed

Following is the lastest update of the Mesopotamian Food Lexicon. I have only included words that have a minimal level of resolution associated with the type of food. Thus I have included words that begin to specify the type of bird (i.e. ostrich, heron, duck etc) but excluded words that have been resolved only to the level of “Type of Bird”, or “Type of Fish”. It is a work in progress and thus very incomplete at this time. Entries for words beginning with “A” and “B” have been updated 11/2012. Words beginning with other letters have not been recently updated and may have errors. As incomplete as it is, the picture of a rich and extremely varied diet is emerging from liguistic sources alone.



Ab = Cow (OAk,OB; Ak. arhu; littu) (ref 2).

Abga = Milk; female sucking calf (OB) (ref 2).

Absuhur = Type of carp (OB) (ref 2).

Abulillum = Boxthorn berries (Lycium europaeum) (S; Ak. bulīlu) (ref 2).

Abzaza = Zebu (OB; Ak. apsasû) (ref 2).

Adkin = Preserved meat (salted?) (S; Ak. kirrētu; muddulu) (Maaijer, R and B. Jagersma, 2003-2004 AfO 50 352).

Agargara = Type of fish (agargara-eshub = carp) (OB, many from Nippur) (ref 2).

Aĝeštinak = Vinegar (OA,OB; Ak. tābātu) (Ak ref. Powell, M, 1995, Origins and Ancient History of Wine 104).

Agud = Ox (OB) (Stol, M, 1995 BSA 8 197-201).

Alim = Bison (OB; Ak. ditānu; kabtu; kusarikku) (Steinkeller, P, 1995, BiOr 52 697; P. Steinkeller, P, 2004, ZA 94; Mittermayer, C, 2005, Tierkopfzeichen 45-49).

Allanum = Oak, acorn (S; Ak. allānu) (Powell, M, 1987, BSA 3 148; Civil, M, 1987, Organization of Power 52 wn7).

Allub = Crab (OB; Ak. alluttu) (ref 2).

Alum = Long-fleeced sheep (S,EOB,OB; Ak. aslu; pasillu) (Ak. refs: Waetzoldt H, 1972, UNT 3-4; 8; Steinkeller, P, 1995, BSA 8 52).

Alusa = Sauce (OB) (ref 2).

Alusa-kud = Fish sauce (OB) (ref 2).

Am = Wild bull (EOB,OB; Ak. rīmu) (ref 2).

Amsikurak = camel (S; Ak. Ibilu; OB. amsiharran) (Ak, OB refs: Maaijer, R, 2003-2004;Jagersma,B, AfO 50 355.).

Andahšum = Wild tulip bulb (OB,Ak; As. andahšu) Multiple references to spring root vegetable and some statements about commonness in the north (Anatolia and Assyria) but uncommonness in the south. Not sure of the species of tulip that this refers to, but many are edible and have a distinct mildly bitter flavor. (Undefined in Textes Culinaire Mesopotamien (TCM) and The Oldest Cuisine in the World (OCW))(Refs 1 2, analysis by LMK).

Anše = donkey (OAk,EOB,OB; Ak. imēru) (Ak. refs: Zarins, J, 1978 JCS 30 3-4; Maekawa, K, 1979, ASJ 1 35-62; Maekawa, K, 1980, ASJ 2 113-114 n1; Sigrist,M, 1992, Drehem 30-31; Cavigneaux, A and F. Alrawi, 1993 Iraq 55 1000; Steinkeller, P, 2004, ZA 94; Mittermayer, C, 2005, Tierkopfzeichen 28-35).

Anše’edenak = Onager, Asiatic wild ass (S;Ak. serrēmu) (Ak refs: Maekawa, K, 1979, ASJ 1 48; 45; 37; Sigrist, M, 1992, Drehem 30-31).

Arabu = Edible waterfowl (OB; Ak. arabû; usābu) (Ak refs: Owen, D 1981, ZA 71 34-35; Veldhuis, N, 2004, Nanše 215-216.)

Arak = Type of bird, stork (OB; Ak. laqlaqqu) (ref 2).

Arkab = Bat (poss. type of bird) (OB; Ak. argabu) Many modern cultures eat bats even though there are taboos against doing so. (ref 2).

Arzana = Groats (wheatberries, ryeberries etc.) (S,OA,EOB,OB; Ak. arsānu) (ref 2).

Arzig = Millet (S; Ak. arsikku) (ref 2).

Ay-alum = Deer or stag (OB) (ref 2).

Az = Bear (S; Ak. asu) (ref 2).

Azugna = Vegetable, poss. saffron (OB; Ak. azupīru) (ref 2).


Babbarhi = Herb, poss purslane or related portulaca species (OB; Ak. parparhû) (ref Hallo, W, 1985, JCS 37 124).

Balgi = Type of turtle or tortoise (EOB; Ak. raqqu)(Owen, D, 1981, ZA 71 43).

Bappir = Ingredient in beer (S; Ak. bappiru) (Civil, M, 1964 Studies Oppenheim 76-78; Stol, M, 1987-1990, RlA 7 325-326; Powell, M, 1994, Drinking in Ancient Societies 94; 96-99; 104, analysis by LMK). There is some agreement amongst scholrs that “bappir” is translated as beer-bread and is an ingredient in beermaking. I think that it is probably a “mother” culture of wild yeast from sourdough breadmaking that was used to introduce yeast into beer to kick off the fermentation process.

Bazbaz = Type of duck; bazbazniga = fattened duck (OB; Ak. paspasu) (Veldhuis, N, 2004, Nanše 223-224).

Bil = To be sour (S; Ak. emşu) (Powell, M, 1987, BSA 3 148).

Bil = To roast or burn (OB; Ak. qalû) (Attinger, P, 2001, ZA 91 136 n10).

Billum = mandrake (S; Ak. pilû) (ref 2).

Binum = tamarisk (S; Ak. bīnu) (ref 2). Tamarisk has many culinary uses. Its bark can be boiled to make tea, or burnt to gather the sulphate of soda in its ashes that is then used to make bread. Additionally, it has small, seasonal bitter fruits.

Bir = locust (OB; Ak. erbu) (ref 2). Although we don’t think of eating locusts in the west today, large grasshoppers and locusts are still enjoyed in many places in eastern Asia. Additionally locusts are depicted as food items in period representational art.

Birgun = cheese (S; (Ak. pinnāru) (Stol, M, 1993-1997, RlA 8 198).

Bizaza = frog (OAk,OB; Ak. muşa’irānu) (ref 2).

bubu’i = wild date palm (S; Ak. alamittu) (ref 2).

Buru = Type of small bird, sparrow (OB; Ak. işşūru) (Cavigneaux, A and F. Alrawi, 1995 ZA 85 32; Cavigneaux, A and F. Alrawi, 2002 ZA 92 44-50; Veldhuis, N, 2004, Nanše 229-231.)

Buruhabrudak = Type of bird, partridge (OB) (Veldhuis, N, 2004, Nanše 231-233).

Butumtu = Pistachio Nuts or Flour. (As; S. budnu) (refs 1, 2 analysis by LMK)  I think that pistachio makes a great deal more culinary sense  in the context that “butumtu” or “bututu” is used.  Also, pistachio is still used in modern Western Asian and Levantine regional cuisines in the same ways as defined in the Mari and Nippur tablets. That said, there is a recent trend amongst some scholars to go back to an archaic definition of this word as meaning ‘terebinth’. (In TCM, Bottero called these green or unripened wheat or barley, in OCW he calls these husked lentils).


Gugu-la = Chickpeas. There seems to be a fair amount of concurrence that this word means chickpeas. However it is often translated as bean, large bean or simply legumes. Molina and Such-Gutiérrez, Neo-Sumerian Administrative Texts 56, 2005; Powell, RlA 10 21-22, 2003; . Maekawa, BSA 2, 1985. Stol, BSA 2 127-130; 133, 1985.

Gugu-tar = Lentils. Sumerian. There seems to be a fair amount of concurrence that this word means lentils. However it is often translated as bean, small bean or simply legumes. Sometimes denoted as Gutur. In Akkadian, the word for lentil seems to be Kakku. Molina and Such-Gutiérrez, Neo-Sumerian Administrative Texts 56, 2005; Powell, RlA 10 21-22, 2003; . Maekawa, BSA 2, 1985. Stol, BSA 2 129-130; 133, 1985.


Halazzu = Carob Seeds.  Halla: Refers to a plant that resembles the dung of birds in Assyrian. Zu or ze refers to the dung, but is also used in a prefix to denote plants or seeds. So, one has: “seeds that look like the dung of birds”.  Looking at the bible, (The word used in most Hebrew Bibles is מּינויירח, chari-yonim) there are several references to eating “dove’s dung” which has long been identified as the seeds of the carob tree Ceratonia siliqua (Robinson, Joseph (1976). The Second Book of Kings. Cambridge University Press. pp. 65–66.).

It turns out that earlier Assyriologists also identify Halazzu as Carob:  This was first recognized by R. Campbell Thompson, Dictionary of Assyrian Botany (London, 1949), 186; and independently by A. L. Oppenheim, JQR 37 (1946-47), 175-76. See also the extensive treatment by M. Held, Studies…Landsberger, AS 16 (1965), 395-98.

Carob is widely enjoyed across Western Asia, Levant and Eastern Mediterranean today and imparts a sweet chocolate-like flavor to dishes. This seems to depart from the commonly used word for carob. (refs 1& as cited).

Hirsu = A cut slice sliver, piece, portion. Akkadian. In TCM Bottero gives no definition for this. He states that it appears before words designating “leg and mutton?” – so it is possible that it refers to the shank. Lamb or sheep shanks, at least in that context. Alternately, as we see with some fowl recipes from the Yale Tablets the cook is told to add some meat. This may be a small portion of meat from a hooved creature to bolster the flavor of the fowl recipe that would be like the equivalent of cooking something in a meat stock instead of water. (ref 2) (LK).

Hisiltu = A coarsely ground flour or a coarsely ground spice mixture. (ref 1)


Kanasu = Emmer Wheat. (Kunasu in Akkadian). Emmer wheat (Triticum dicoccum), also known as farro in Italian. Emmer a proto-wheat or awned-wheat that was one of the first domesticated crops. Emmer is one of the ancestors of spelt (Triticum spelta). The use of it in Mesopotamian recipes probably refers to wheat flour. In TCM Bottero gives no definition for this (ref 1).

Kasu = Wild Licorice (formerly thought to be cinnamon). From Sumerian gazi (kasu) wild licorice (Steinkeller, AOS 68, 92; Heimpel, CUSAS 5, 214). Roots used to flavor many food from soups and stews to cheese and beer with sweet anise-like flavor. Bottero called this “dodder” like the parasitic weed in TCM.

Kisimmu = Sour Cream or Yogurt. Undefined in OCM. Called a sort of cheese in TCM. Clearly defined as a sour milk product in multiple sources in reference 1. Unclear whether it would have been moist like yogurt, drained like Afghan chaka or fully dried like dry kishk. If I had to pick one of the three, I would choose to drain it like chaka becasue of its use in modern regional cuisines in that form.

Kamaamtu(m) = Rhus coriaria or sumac. It is a word borrowed from Sumerian. I think I found this in Meissner but I cannot find my notes – will check.


Laptu = turnip or roasted barley The accepted definition of this word depends on the context at this time.


Mersu = A dish based on dates, raisins or figs with other sweet or savory ingredients added. Mersu is the ultimate ‘Iron Chef’ test. It involves picking one from column A: dates, figs or raisins and combining it with at least one from column B: pistachios, apples, cheese, garlic, “wine” (probably must or pomace), and flour (but the flour could be nut flour). It could be simply a layer of pounded dates rolled into a sheet which is then covered with nuts, then rolled and sliced, or pounded dates rolled into balls and covered with chopped nuts. If one adds flour, it could possibly be something like the modern Iranian Ranginak in which dates stuffed with nuts are enclosed within a thin dough sandwich and sliced, or the Lebanese Ma’moul in which pounded date cores are rolled in a layer of semolina which is then covered with chopped nuts. Bottero called this a cake. Sigrist equated this with ninda-i-de-a (JCS 29, 1977). (LK).



Nuhurtu = Asafoetida. This is one undefined ingredient in Bottero’s work that really will impart a complex onion-like flavor to a dish. The principal reference is Thompson DAB, but his opinion is supported by many references to the medicinal use of the plant’s roots and resin (ref 1). It is also listed in the catalog of “trees” in Assurnasipal II royal garden at Kalhu. Since asafoetida plants grow quite large it is understandable that it was thought to be a tree. (LK)


Qaiiatu = rolled oats or pounded oats or oat flour. Used roasted and added to the stews, soups and pilafs represented in the Yale Babylonian culinary tablets. (ref 1) (LK).


Salahu=Cress or Cress seed.

Samidu = Semolina. Assyrian samidu, Syrian semida “fine meal”, Greek semidalis “the finest flour”. A fine flour called semida in the Talmud (Pesachim 74b, Shabbat 110b, Moed Katan 28a). Semida is the Targum Yonatan translation for solet – also meaning “fine flour”. Probably used in broths, soups and stews to thicken the liquid (much as corn starch is commonly used today), or could be used to denote a form of couscous or other form of small dumpling. (LK)

Sebtu-rolls = Dill Seed. Dill (Anethum graveolens) was called sibetum in Assyrian (ref 1). Bottero states that these were probably grain rolls (small pieces of bread) eaten as a staple with meals. Several recipes state that these are roasted in an oven and scattered about the dish just before presentation. Both the etymology and the use make it unlikely that these were rolls of grain. I believe the confusion comes from the translation of the word “roll” which I take to mean seed (as opposed to dill weed). In Tablet B and C of the Yale collection Bottero mentions using dough to make sebtu rolls and bake them in the oven. My interpretation of this is that roasted dill seed is added to the dough for flavor. (ref 1) (LK)

Sibburattu=Mustard. Bottero calls this rue, which makes a little bit of culinary sense. However, my research shows that this plant is aromatic, both leaves and seeds are used, and it is a common ingredient in medicinal poulstices and for treatment of urinary infections. Mustard is a much better fit for this description than rue. (ref 1) (LK)

Siqqu = Salted Fish or other salted meat. Bottero defines this as garum like the Carthaginian fish sauce often associated with the Romans. There is nothing that I can find that defines Siqqu as a sauce. References only point to fish and salt as the principal ingredients. Additionally, one reference records a person complaining that the siqqu they bought is not moist. How can liquid not be moist? Siqqu may have been eaten with a selection of fruits like dates and date-plums and splashes of fruit vinegar. (ref 1) (LK).

Suhutinnu = A root vegetable. Probably a carrot, possibly a parsnip. Sahutinnu in Assyrian. In the Babylonian tablets translated by Bottero, it is always used “raw”. Ref 1 states that it is an alliaceous plant, but there is no evidence to support that it is anything other than a root vegetable. Tablets simply report that they are “dug up”. (LK)

Suluppu = date Akkadian for fruit of the date palm (Phoenix dactylifera). Old Akkadian is zulum.

Surmenu = Juniper Berries. Bottero calls these cypress cones. While Bottero is close, the Juniper is a type of cypress, and the “berries” are actually fleshy cones, the use of juniper berries – especially in game-based stews and curries – makes culinary sense, while cypress cones do not. (ref 1)


Tiktu = A dairy product. Possibly a type of kashk. In Assyrian – Diktu. Likely to be a product like kashk, because in TCM, it is mixed with beer to create a sauce. In OCW, Bottero does not define this, but uses it to denote a sort of flour. It is possible that the term “tiktu-flour” used by Bottero is a mixture of kashk and cracked wheat as is done in the Levant and Arabian Peninsula. The combination is called Kishk and the dried flour is the base for a traditional Levantine soup or gravy with meat, onions, and garlic. The sauce or gravy is eaten by scooping out with flat bread (ref 1). (LK)

Tuh’hu = Cracked grain, possibly sprouted grain (Ak,As; S,OAk,EOB, OB. duh) Tuh’hu is the accepted word for bran or draff in Assyrian and Akkadian. However, I think that instead of denoting “bran” it might be used for a cracked grain, or even for sprouted grain, as the references for beer and fodder abound. From a culinary point of view, the cracked or sprouted grain makes a heck of a lot more sense than bran (refs 1,2, Analysis by LMK).


Uihur-sag = Saffron.

Ukus-hab = Citron. In the amounts specified (usually small) this probably refers to minced zest of citron. In TCM, Bottero – referencing early German writings on medicine called this colocynthe or cucumber – both of which make little culinary sense. Colocynthe is a powerful laxative, purgative, abortifacient and in larger doses poison, and cucumber would simply be overwhelmed by the other flavors in the culinary recipes they were mentioned with. It is not out of the question that it is colocynth seed which is still a common food item today, but I think that citron is more logical culinary choice of an ingredient with a similar physical description as colocynthe. (LK)


Zamburu = Thyme

Zamzaganu = Field birds. Sumerian, Old Babylonian. A possible compound noun of zamzam (bird) and ganu (field). No definition given by Bottero in TCM (ref 2) (LK).

Zanzar = Date-plum, (fruit of Diospyros lotus, the Caucasian persimmon). Zanzaliqqu is specified as a type of tree bearing fruit (sometimes said to be inedible). When these fruits are unripe they are very bitter and inedible as raw fruits. They change significantly as they ripen and dry and lose their tartness. Same word as Zarzar(u). (LK)

Zibu = Black Onion Seeds (nigella sativa) (Not black cumin (Carum bulbocastanum) which is from India/Himalayas). “Black onion seeds” or kalonji as they are called in many places on the Indian Subcontinent are not really onion seeds at all, but flower seeds that impart a strong flavor reminiscent to onions by some people. These seeds have been used in Mesopotamian and Egyptian food and are still used widely in Indian, Persian and Turkish foods today. (This is one of Bottero’s ”culinary confusions”). (LK)

Zizna = fish roe Sumerian. Akkadian is binitu.

Zurumu = Small intestine or lining thereof. Surumu as small intestine in Akkadian see Hussey [J. Cuneiform Studies Vol. 2, No. 1 (1948), pp. 21-32)]. Moran specifies that Surumu is Akkadian for “lining” of part of the digestive tract (see Moran JCS Vol. 21, Special Volume Honoring Professor Albrecht Goetze (1967). Used like intestines and lining of digestive organs are used today: ubiquitously in soups and stews, stir fries etc. for flavor and texture. Tripe or Chit’lins. Bottero stated that he didn’t have enough information to even venture a guess. (LK)


Non-culinary Words

Anumun = Esparto Grass (OB). Strong grass possibly used as fiber for basketmaking and rope making (ref 2)

Makaltu = Shallow Bowl. Found in dowry lists and in instructions for offerings as well as recipes. Like a pie plate, but usually made of wood (ref 1).

Musukkannu = Sisham Tree (Dalbergia sisso). Stated that it is imported from the east for its wood and used extensively in building. Chosen because it is an “everlasting wood”. Said to reproduce by sending out shoots from the root. Shisham is a good match for this word because its heartwood is known for its durability and hardness. Its current natural range is from Afghanistan to Bhutan but in times past, its range extended west and south into Iran. (ref 1, analysis by LMK)


Reference 1: UC Assyrian Dictionary

Reference 2: UP Online Sumerian Dictionary

(All research and words by Laura Kelley).