Friday 26 August 2011

Iraqi Quest

It's the school holidays.  Every morning begins at 7.30 with "What are we doing today, Mum?"  And it's non-stop from there.  Constant demands and questions and squabbling.  I hardly have the time to think.

Today its the long promised trip to the swimming slides at Guildford Spectrum.  I can hardly wait!  And first I have got to get something for dinner.  Asda or Tesco on the A3?  I don't think I could bare it.  Suddenly I remember Soor Market.  Just off the A3, amongst the suburban sprawl on the outskirts of Kingston is the most fantastically stocked Iraqi supermarket.  It is so unpromising looking from the outside, yet as soon as I am inside, my spirits lift. The wonderful array of sophisticated and exotic flavours, transports me back to a golden age, an ancient civilisation, rich with culture and diversity.

Whilst the children amuse themselves choosing dates and pistachio nuts, I wonder amongst the isles. From the fantastic selection of fruit and vegetables, beautiful baby aubergines, pomegranates and chillies to the massive fresh bunches of dill, mint and coriander, everything is superb.  Aisle after isle of nuts and spices, rice, lentils, dried pulses, flower waters, breads and dried fruits.  There were about ten different types of Bulgur wheat alone and a huge selection of dried limes. 

I am not going to lie to you and tell you how welcoming the staff are.  Instead, I have to admit that they actually look somewhat surly and eyed me suspiciously as I wondered around their shop. But I was very keen to make sure that the rice dish that I was planning to cook was authentically Iraqi, so I questioned the man on the checkout in some depth.  Usually talking about food really opens people up.  Suddenly, someone you have never met is sharing intimate family recipes with you, in great detail.  This chap however, did not warm to my interrogation.  He was a man of few words, yet I could tell by his adamant nodding and shaking of his head to my questions, that he was as passionate about his food as anyone.  "Should there be any fresh herbs" - absolutely not, "Nuts and raisins?" - a definite yes, "Saffron?"- absolutely.  Finally, he warmed to me sufficiently, to suggest without me even asking, a different brand of saffron to the one I had chosen.  There was a choice of at least eight different varieties. 

I have been craving Biryani and Dal for a few days now.  I think the hint of autumn coming and a slight chill in the air has left me yearning for warming spices and filling carbohydrates.  I found a lovely sounding Iraqi lentil soup recipe.  I know lentil soup does not sound that exciting but honestly, with the blend of earthy and aromatic spices, it really hits the spot.   Next I found a really great recipe in a book called the "Iraqi Family Cookbook",  for Saffron Rice with Meat Dressing.  I give you that it doesn't sound that great.  It does however sound better in Iraqi "Timman Z'affaran".  It is in fact a beautiful rice dish perfumed with cardamom, saffron and rosewater. .  Anyway, I made a few adjustments to the recipe and served it with an Arabic Salad.  It was absolutely delicious. 

Now, what are we doing tomorrow?

I bought a spice blend called "Seven Spices Plus" which was really lovely in both recipes. It is a combination of Allspice, Nutmeg, Cumin, Coriander, Cinnamon, Cardamon, Pepper, Ginger and Clove. If you cannot find it you could make your own or try Baharat Spice Blend

Iraqi Lentil Soup

I found this recipe on the most fantastic blog "It's sooo good!™ Moti's Iraqi cuisine. He'll tell you what you can do. And you'll like it! " And I did. Don't forget the lemon. It really lifts this soup.

400 g (14 oz) red lentils
10 cups of water
1 whole onion (peeled and finely chopped)
4 cloves of garlic (peeled and finely chopped)
2 carrots (peeled and finely chopped)
6 sticks celery (chopped)
1 potato (peeled and roughly chopped)
juice from 1 lemon
1/2 cup chopped fresh coriander (optional)
2 teaspoons Seven Spices or Baharat Spice Blend or to taste
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
salt to taste

First fry the onion, carrot and celery in a some oil until soft and just beginning to caramelise. Add the garlic and spices. Fry for a minute more. Add the lentils and the water. Stir well and add the potato. Boil gently over a low heat, uncovered for about 30 - 40 minutes until the lentils and potato is cooked. Using a hand blender, purée the ingredients together with the lemon juice and coriander.Taste the soup and add any necessary salt or more spice if necessary. Serve with a garnish of coriander, yogurt, or just on its own.

Timman Z'affaran

2 cups basmati long grain rice
4 cups water
½ tsp salt
a pinch of saffron threads
4 cardamom pods, seeds removed and ground
¼ cup ghee
1/3 cup sliced almonds or pine nuts

Rinse the rice until clear and soak for 30 minutes. Drain. Pour the ghee in a pot and sauté rice for one minute. Add salt, saffron and cardamom and pour in the water. Bring it to boil. Cover and cook at a slow boil for 15 to 20 minutes. Toast the almonds or pinenuts in the oven until golden brown. Be careful not to burn.

For the lamb
1/2 pound ground lamb
1/2 cup chopped onion
2 cloves garlic
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp Seven Spices or Baharat Spice Blend
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2tbs rose water
1/3 cup currants

Saute meat in a little ghee in a non stick pan. Remove and drain. In the same pan add the onions with a little more ghee. Keep sautéing until the onions are golden brown. Add the garlic, salt and spices. Fry for a few minutes more. Add the currants and the rosewater and remove from the heat. Add a little water if very dry. On a large plate, dish up the rice, spoon over the meat mixture and finally sprinkle over the toasted almonds. Serve with Arabic salad.

Arabic Salad

4 small cucumbers or 2 large, cut lengthways, de-seeded, cut legthways again and chopped
4 medium tomatoes, chopped into bite size chunks
1/2 cup finely chopped parsley
1 small finely diced red onion
1 teaspoon salt
1 medium lemon, juice of
1 tablespoon olive oil
Pomegranate seeds (optional)
Pinch of Sumac (optional)

Place diced cucumber and tomatoes in bowl. Add parsley and onion. Just before serving, add the salt, lemon and olive oil and combine all ingredients. Serve in small bowls to accompany rice dishes.


  1. Love these dishes, I really like these cultural recipes and the combination of pomegranate and lamb is perfect and takes me to those countries in a heart beat!

  2. Yummy, there is something about Arab food that is so comforting to me. :)

  3. Agree with Maya. I like the vision of families sitting around a table sharing food from the same dishes. Although not sure if that happens in Iraq. The pictures are so pretty.
    Shaleen x


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