Cooking with Ghada & Sahar Amer

Ghada Amer, Arlequin for Andy (detail), 2003. Acrylic, embroidery and gel medium on canvas, 70" x 72". Courtesy of Gagosian Gallery

Whereas in the medieval West, the domain of the erotic and of sexuality is generally thought to be anti-religious by definition (due to the Judeo-Christian perspective that associates all sexuality with the Fall, women and sin), in the medieval Arab-Islamic tradition, the practice of eroticism and sexuality are thought rather to be the duty of every Muslim. In fact, most treatises on love and sexuality written in Arabic in the Middle Ages insist on the fact that it is the knowledge of sexuality, of sexual pleasure and of courtesy that ultimately distinguishes man from beasts. These works expound the desirability, the necessity rather, to be fully educated in matters of sexual ethics, for only then is one truly a practicing Muslim and only then does one distinguish oneself from animal behavior. The list of aphrodisiac herbs and foods that follows has been compiled from readings on sexuality in medieval Arabic literature; the two recipes that are presented here have been selected for their use of ingredients known to stimulate love and sexual performance.

Aphrodisiac Spices

1. Anemone (used for oil in bath or massage only)
2. Artichoke
3. Barberry
4. Calamus
5. Carline Thistle
6. Celery
7. Clove
8. Coriander
9. European Vervain
10. Fenugreek
11. Galangal
12. Ginger
13. Ginseng
14. Jasmine
15. Johimbe
16. Juniper
17. Lady’s mantle
18. Lovage
19. Maidenhair fern (used for oil in bath or massage only)
20. Matico
21. Mexican Damiana
22. Nasturtium
23. Pansy (used for oil in bath or massage only)
24. Parsley
25. Periwinkle (used for oil in bath or massage only)
26. Prickly asparagus
27. Queen of the meadow
28. Saffron
29. Sarsaparilla
30. Savory
31. Saw Palmetto
32. Valerian

Taken from Dell Richards, Lesbian Lists: A Look at Lesbian Culture, History, and Personalities (Boston: Alyson Publications, 1990), p. 163–64.

Aphrodisiac Foods

1. Chocolate
2. Crabs
3. Eggs
4. Honey
5. Lettuce
6. Mussels
7. Onions
8. Snails

Taken from Dell Richards, Lesbian Lists: A Look at Lesbian Culture, History, and Personalities (Boston: Alyson Publications, 1990), p. 165.

To which I add from Arab sources (from One Thousand and One Nights especially)

1. Almonds
2. Apricot
3. Aubergines (eggplant)
4. Chickpeas
5. Garlic
6. Grenadine
7. Rose flower
8. Sesame seeds


1 can of chickpeas
2 lemons
2 tbs white vinegar
2 garlic cloves
1 tbs ground cumin
4 tbs tahini sauce (puree of sesame seeds)
salt and pepper to taste
paprika (optional)

Drain the chickpeas and wash them in cold water. Place them in the bowl of a food processor to finely grind them. Add a little bit of water if necessary; add the crushed garlic, the juice of both lemons, the white vinegar, the cumin and the tahini sauce. You may add water as needed to adjust the texture (thinner or leave it thick). Add the salt and pepper to adjust the seasoning.

Right before serving, sprinkle the top of the sauce with paprika.

Gazelle Horns

2 cups flour
one pinch of salt
12 tbs softened butter cut in pieces
Cold water, as needed

Almond filling
1 cup lightly toasted almonds, finely ground (measure after grinding)
1 cup sugar
1 egg
4 tbs softened butter
2 pinches cinnamon
3 tbs rosewater
Confectioner sugar

Begin by preparing the dough: Mix the flour with a pinch of salt and the softened butter. Add cold water as needed to obtain a smooth and elastic dough. Let rest dough in a warm spot for about one hour.

In the meantime, prepare the almond filling: mix the ground almonds with the sugar, the egg, the softened butter, cinnamon and one tbs of rosewater till you obtain a soft dough. Shape this dough in thin sausage-like forms.

Roll the flour dough thinly, and cut it into lozenges. Place one almond filling in each lozenge, and roll the dough around it, pinching the edges to enclose the filling completely. Shape each lozenge, giving it the form of a horn (or croissant).

Bake in a medium oven (375 degrees) for about 30 minutes. Sprinkle with confectioner sugar as soon as the horns come out of the oven. Let cool completely before serving.