Lamees Ibrahim‘s The Iraqi Cookbook (Interlink 2009) is a serious book about Iraqi cuisine. It is large and handsome and clear, but it has a serious aim of bringing authentic Iraqi recipes to Iraqis who have grown up outside their country – generations who no longer can read Arabic cookbooks or who have not grown up learning to cook with their mothers and grandmothers.The book opens with a two page spread of a photograph of an Iraqi family at a meal. Lamees is cutting Stuffed Whole Lamb (p. 131), while the rest of the family is laughing and smiling. The photo underscores her aim, since she is serving a child.
For the rest of us non-Iraqis, The Iraqi Cookbook opens up a rich world of Arab regional cuisine that will be somewhat familiar to those who know Turkish, Lebanese and Syrian food. Lamees’ book will also help humanize and illuminate a culture and country that has been wrapped up in war, deprivation, and fanaticism.
What better way to a nation’s heart then through its taste buds?
Kubba is a shell made mainly of either rice flour, boiled rice, mashed potato, or cracked wheat (burghul). It is then stuffed with ground meat and mixed with one or more of the following: chopped onion, chopped parsley, flaked almonds, pine nuts\ and spices. (p. 75)
Lamees includes recipes for Kubbat Mosul (p.76) flat, thin sheets of stuffed kubba and Kubbat Halab (p. 90) a kind of football shaped kubba with a rice shell. There are also sauced versions like Kubba Labaniah (p. 93) stewed in a yogurt mint sauce, and Kubbat Hamidh (p. 94) stewed in a tomato sauce. The recipes include the name in Arabic as well as its transliteration in English and the English name.
Throughout the book there are imaginative recipes using eggplant from Kubbat Bathhinjan (p. 86) in which the kubba is stacked on a fried eggplant slice like a burger bun, and topped with a slice of tomato. Eggplant Turnover (Maqloobat Bathinjan) (p. 164) is a marvelous turnover dish in which the rice is layer on top of meat, peppers and onions with eggplant at the bottom of the pot. After cooking, it is turned over for serving. Margat Bathinjan or Eggplant Stew (p. 199) is a mixture of lamb, tomatoes, eggplant and spices served over rice.
There are chapters on Iraqi pickles, cakes and pastries, sweets, nuts, jams, and drinks. Each chapter starts with a short essay on ingredients, such as a review of the rice available in Iraq:
During the 1980s political turbulence in Iraq had a devastating effect on the marshes and the rice farming in the south, at which point demand for long-grain rice multiplied. (p. 153)
It is aromatic amber rice of the south that most Iraqis will be thinking about. It is too bad that there are no recipe head notes full of Lamees’ more personal memories.
Anyone fascinated by Middle Eastern food will enjoy The Iraqi Cookbook. It illuminates a proud and interesting people.
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