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Recipe for Culiculi
(Spring cabbage with cumin)


Apicius III.IX.1 & 3

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Cooking Apicius
AFAIK, this recipe comes from a number of sources, but many cite Sally Grainger I didn't lift this out of her book, but many people on the 'Net have and I thought I would go ahead and put the "buy box" here for her book — she has answered my questions and been very nice and helpful. (I will say again to PLEASE buy these author's books! By doing so, you will help support them — even for books that are older and might not sell as well anymore... These authors do not do this for money, they do it for love. Please support them!)

Spring cabbage with cumin. Remarkably, this recipe for simply-cooked cabbage has no fish sauce but requires salt instead. At 3.9.3 the same recipe (with a few added garnishes) is repeated but this time with fish sauce. From these two variations, we can see how effective the use of fish sauce can be but also see that some Romans clearly didn’t use it as much as we imagine. This is an exceptionally good and simple dish that refutes the accusation that the Romans abused their food with spices.

Original recipe: Cuminum, salem, uinum uetus, oleum. Si uoles, addes piper et ligusticum, mentam, rutam, coriandrum, folia coliculorum, liquamen, uinum, oleum.

[III, IX, 3: Coliculi elixati in patina compositi condiuntur liquamine, oleo, mero, cumino. piper asparges, porrum, cuminum, coriandrum uiridem super concides.]

Translation: Boil the sprouts; season with cumin, salt, wine and oil; if you like add pepper, lovage, mint, rue, coriander; the tender leaves of the stalks stew in broth; wine and oil be the seasoning.

Note: Here is III, IX, 3: The cooked stalks are placed in a baking dish; moisten with stock and pure oil, season with cumin, sprinkle with pepper, leeks, cumin, and green coriander all chopped up. [Sounds like a salad of cooked cabbage... The original leaves us in doubt as to the temperature of the dish.]


  • 1lb. spring cabbage
  • 2 T. olive oil
  • 2 t. roasted and ground cumin seeds
  • 2 T. sweet wine
  • salt to taste or 1–2 T. fish sauce
  • 1 small leek, thinly sliced and briefly steamed or boiled
  • a handful of coriander leaves, chopped
  • freshly ground black pepper


  • Prepare the cabbage by cutting off the thicker stalks and trimming any discoloured leaves.
  • Coarsely shred it and wash in cold water.
  • Put the olive oil in a large, deep lidded pan and heat.
  • Lift the cabbage from the water into a colander and shake off the majority of the water.
  • Place in the hot pan. Cover it and leave for a few minutes to heat and then stir briskly.
  • Cover again and steam the leaves briefly until just cooked. Keep some crispness to the leaves and remove the lid so that any remaining water can evaporate.
  • Add the ground cumin and a splash or two of the wine.
  • Heat through over a hot flame or ring and divide into two portions if required.
  • Flavour one with a little fish sauce, the other with salt. Serve with the hot steamed leek and chopped coriander sprinkled over the top. Finish with freshly ground pepper.
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