Cooking Sikbaj and Blancmange: A Journey Through Cultures

Live from Martina Franca, Italy

Humans have always traveled, migrated, or were simply curious about other, exotic (food) cultures. Culinary traditions were already mixing in ancient times, developing cross-over cuisines and influencing each other. No culture is static. 

We have a number of example dishes throughout history to prove that: the Elamite yoghurt soup Zukanda in Babylonia, Parthian chicken and Egyptian salad in Ancient Rome, and many, many medieval dishes from the Middle East that heavily influenced the cuisine throughout Europe: noodles from North Africa in Sicily, chicken in pomegranate sauce from Andalusia, the famous "white dish" blancmange, or sikbaj, the original ceviche. 

On Sunday January 16th at 12PM EST, VAWAA artist, archeologist and cook, Ursula will be sharing some theory and a fascinating slideshow of dishes, before guiding us to prepare "Sikbaj" and "Blancmange". Our main course, Sikbaj, is a sweet and sour stew that originated in 6th century Persia. While it's the precursor to ceviche, it can be made with eggplant and is still in keeping with its courtly tradition. The dessert that follows, Blancemange, is similar to a panna cotta, and is believed to be the result of the Arab introduction of rice and almonds to Europe in the Middle Ages.

This session will be a fantastic introduction to traditional and sustainable cooking techniques.

All levels are welcome and there is no prior experience required. There will be plenty of time to share, get feedback and meet other participants from around the world.

If you are not in EST time zone, be sure to convert the time.

What you'll need

Ingredients for Sikbaj (fish or eggplant)

  • 1 pound white fish fillet or the same amount of eggplants
  • For the eggplant version: 1-2 egg whites (optional)
  • For the fish version: wheat flour
  • Vegetable oil 
  • 1 onion
  • 1/2 tbsp each of crushed coriander seeds, ground pepper, cardamom and ginger
  • 1 pinch of saffron
  • 1/4 cup of mild wine vinegar or verjuice
  • 2 tsp honey

Ingredients for Blancmange (vegan)

  • 3/4 cup rice
  • 2 cups almond milk 
  • Rose water
  • Cardamom
  • Sugar
  • Cinnamon
  • Almond slices

How to join

We'll be hosting this VAWAA Online on Zoom. We'll send the link and details to join via email 1 day and again 1 hour before it begins.

About Ursula

Ursula is an archaeologist and cook, passionate about sustainability. For years, Ursula worked on excavation projects in Syria, Turkey and Egypt, where she often lived in small, traditional villages where locals would produce much of the food themselves. Inspired by this way of life, Ursula picked up a variety of recipes and traditional food preparation techniques throughout her travels.

Historic methods of producing and cooking food inspire Ursula academically, but also motivate her lifestyle. “Humanity has been able to sustain itself without extreme over-consumption for millennia, without exploiting the planet,” Ursula explains. She believes that looking back to traditional cooking techniques also encourages getting back to a more sustainable way of living. Ursula’s self-sufficient, solar-powered estate in Southern Italy, shared with her husband, harkens back to simpler times. Ursula grows most of her  food, eats fresh ingredients seasonally, raises chickens, makes wine and olive oil, and in her spare time, practices archery!

Visit her artist page to learn more about her in-person VAWAA.


"She is a powerful and kind person with an impressive knowlege of history and great instincts for food and people." - Katie

"What a fun way to cook a delicious meal and ready for lunch time! Ursula had tons of knowledge and somehow guided us to a great pasta. I had never cooked pasta with these ingredients and it was a real discovery. I will be cooking this often!" - Clara

"I particularly enjoyed Ursula’s way of being both rigorous in her explanations, while joking and being thought provocative about the evolution of our habits, tastes and beliefs through the ages." - Fredy

"Her wealth of knowledge on history, archaeology and the culinary traditions of Italy made for an informative and delicious experience." - Cherri

"The experience of interactive cooking at your lush garden was once a life learning yet leisure experience." - Sherry

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