Egyptian Mythology: Bastet’s Drunken Catfish

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Continuing on Fandom Foodies‘ theme of fictional cats for #Nyanuary (hosted by Katharina of Pretty Cake Machine), today I want to address their nature as the gods of the internet by featuring a recipe inspired by the Egyptian goddess who started it all: Bastet.

Originally the lioness-headed war goddess of Lower Egypt, and parallel to Upper Egypt’s Sekhmet before the unification of the kingdoms, she was often celebrated with wine-saturated festivals to pacify her bloodlust after battles and wars. Yearly festivals of a similar vein were held in her patron city of Bubastis, attracting some 700,000 guests, as Herodotus wrote, where “more wine of the grape was drank in those days than in all the rest of the year.”

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After the unification, Bastet and Sekhmet began to separate in appearance, legend, and responsibility. Bastet took on the appearance of a domestic cat, as well as stepped away from war to embody joy, love, dance, and family. She also became a protector of mothers and children. Her festivals still remained drunken revelries, however, which I believe still speaks as a reminder of where she came from. It seems as if by embodying the spirit that placates wars, she evolved into a protector against the evil that starts them.

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So with this in mind, I wanted to make a dish that recalls this sort of spirit: Drunken Catfish with Onions and Lentils. The clay pot is often a symbol of the hearth and home, so I decided to cook it in a tagine. You might recognize this one from my Zelda-inspired recipe in November. I found it at World Market on sale for about $20 at the time. You will want to season it or soak it if you haven’t done so already. I’ve included instructions on how to do so in the recipe below. If you are unable to find one, or would rather try this dish before investing, a stoneware casserole dish with a lid should work as well.

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To continue the drunken spirit, I marinated catfish fillets overnight in red wine. Yeah, I know, drunken catfish is a terrible pun, but there’s more to it than that. Catfish are common to the Nile. Though I know as bottom feeders, you may not be as keen to use them. Lucky for you, though, tilapia is also very common to the Nile, is similar to size and texture, but lacks that muddy flavor that I know not everyone is fond of. Though cats find both very delicious, I will ask you that you do not feed this recipe to your fuzzy friend as alcohol is not safe for them to consume.

Bastet was also known as the “perfumed protector”, partially because her son Nefertum was the god of perfume. Since perfumes were thought to repel the demons causing diseases, Bastet was also considered a goddess to invoke protection against them. With this in mind, I wanted to include ingredients used in ancient Egyptian perfumes. One of the popular ones, Cyprinum, was a mix of henna, cardamom, cinnamon, myrrh, and southernwood. Since I’d not recommend the rest for human consumption, we’ll be using cardamom and cinnamon in this recipe.

Since cats were revered for protecting the granaries and food stores from rodents, we’ll be cooking up a mix of whole green and split yellow (or red) lentils, and mixing in sesame oil to sweeten it all up. The whole lentils are a great side dish, while the split lentils break down in the wine to turn it into a creamy sauce without curdling like dairy would.

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And as a further testament to the gods, we’ll be adding garlic and onions. Garlic was used in anointing before speaking to the gods. Onions were sacred as their rings were reminiscent of the rings of heaven. Both were considered sacred as the anti-bacterial properties were often a boon to the sick in their recovery from illnesses. This is where I will again stress to you that this recipe is not safe for your cat to eat as both are highly toxic to them.

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So here it is, a dish to placate the evils of hate and war and bring the family together in revelry. For other cat-inspired recipes, check out the #Nyanuary link-up over at Pretty Cake Machine. She is also hosting a giveaway as well as information how you can help our fuzzy gods in need. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy this and stay tuned for next week’s post!

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Drunken Catfish with Onions and Lentils

Serves 4.

Equipment: Oven, tagine or stoneware casserole with lid, stockpot, skillet, stovetop, ziplock bag.

Ingredients

  • 4 catfish or tilapia fillets
  • 1 yellow onion, sliced into rings
  • 1 cup whole green lentils
  • 1/4 cup split yellow or red lentils

Marinade:

  • 1 cup red wine
  • 1/4 cup sesame oil
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cardamom
  • 3 teaspoons minced garlic
  • 1/2 tablespoon kosher salt

Instructions

Season your tagine:

  1. Submerge the tagine in a large stockpot pot of water and let soak for 24 hours.
    Remove tagine from the pot, dry it with a soft towel and brush some olive oil over any unglazed edges or surfaces. Place in a cold oven and set a timer for 2 hours, then turn the oven on to 300° F.
  2. Turn the oven off after 2 hours and let cool completely with the door closed.
  3. Wash the tagine by hand, dry it with a towel, and rub all surfaces of the tagine with olive oil and a paper towel. The tagine should be ready for use now.

The night before cooking:

  1. Make up the marinade in a Ziploc bag or sealable container of wine, sesame oil, cinnamon, cardamom, garlic, and salt. Add the fish to the marinade, seal the bag or container, and refrigerate.
  2. Soak and refrigerate the lentils in another container with 1 cup water and 3 teaspoons kosher salt.
  3. Take this time to season your tagine if you have not already. If it has been awhile since you’ve seasoned it, submerge your tagine in a large stockpot of water and let sit overnight. The following day, dry the tagine and rub it with a paper towel and olive oil.

About an hour and a half before you want to serve:

  1. Heat up some oil in a skillet on the stovetop over medium-high heat. Add the onions in batches and brown on each side. Place a bed of onions in the bowl of the tagine. Reserve four onion rings and set aside.
  2. Drain the lentils and spread them over the onions, pour half of marinade over the lentils. Arrange the catfish fillets over the lentils and top each with an onion ring. Pour the rest of marinade over the fish.
  3. Cover the tagine with the lid and carefully place in a cold oven. Turn on the oven to 325° F. Set a timer to an hour.
  4. When the timer goes off, turn off the oven and let the tagine cool with the oven door open for about 15 minutes. Remove the tagine and set on a towel or cork trivet before lifting the lid and serving.

The Gluttonous Geek

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