Is Something Burning?!
Saturday, November 22, 2003
This site allows you to purchase spices unavailable in supermarkets: Penzeys Spices.

This site has some fantastic recipes and cooking tips: Special Flavors

I will, eventually, update my links on the right.

Eggplant and Labna
This dish is usually made with something else- not a main course. We like it best with pita bread, cut into large triangular pieces and dried in a warm oven until crispy.


1 large eggplant
1/2 cup corn oil/ sunflower oil
1 cup plain yoghurt
3 cloves garlic

1. Cut the top of the eggplant off (that green thingy) and peel the eggplant in wide stripes lengthwise. Slice the eggplant lengthwise in slices that are about 2 cm thick. Salt the slices of eggplant and set aside.

2. Heat the oil in a frying pan on medium heat. Fry the slices of eggplant until they turn to a light golden-brown. Drain each piece on a napkin or paper-towel to get rid of the excess oil.

3. Mince the garlic and mix it with the plain yoghurt, beating the mixture thoroughly. Add salt to taste.

4. Arrange the eggplant pieces on a platter so that they are layered, pour the 'laban ou thoum' – garlic and yoghurt over the eggplant and serve.

I don't know if it's even available, but the yoghurt can be replaced with a certain pomegranate syrup that is available in Iraq- instead of 1 cup yoghurt, just use 4 tablespoons pomegranate syrup. Another alternative is to sprinkle a little bit sumac over the 'laban ou thoum' after adding it to the eggplant.

Sunday, November 16, 2003
Poisonous Sumac...
A deeply troubled American wrote to me earlier with the following:

Is your "recipe" just an evil trick? A way to poision the Americans?
That could be
inferred. Sumac is highly posionous!

You said: "Sumac is a deep reddish spice that is tangy and grainy."
>From the page you linked: English=Shumac, Sicilian sumac "The closely
New-World genus Toxicodendron contains only plants that (as can be
by the genus name "poisonous tree") are highly toxic."

In Iraq YOU may be eating a safe spice, but in the "New World" (North
America, USA, etc),
the variation of that plant that grows there is posionous!


No, dear, paranoid friend- I'm not trying to POISON *you* or anyone else... I had no idea sumac was deadly in your part of the world and even provided a link to better inform you of the plant. I assume that if you purchase it at a supermarket, it will not be poisonous... but what do I know?

Note: If I give you the recipe to a mushroom soup, I assume you won't use the poisonous mushrooms. Give me a break people.

Date Balls
For this dessert you need packed dates- preferably pitted. The kind we use are known as 'khistawi'. They are soft, brown dates. If the dates are a little bit tough, you will need to pit them, cut them up into small pieces, and sauté them in 2 tablespoons of butter to soften them.

The spices used in this dessert are cardamom (which we use in just about EVERYTHING in Iraq) and anise seeds (which taste somewhat like licorice). In Arabic, cardamom is called 'hayl' (with a soft 'l') and anise seeds are called 'habbet hilwa'.


2 cups large, pitted dates
1 cup white flour
1/2 cup butter or margarine
1 tablespoon anise seeds
1/2 teaspoon cardamom powder

1. Heat the butter in a medium sized pot or pan, but make sure it doesn't get too hot.

2. Add the flour to the heated butter/margarine and allow the flour to turn to a golden color- but don't burn it!

3. Add the pitted, cut dates to the flour and butter and mash them gently, cooking them over low heat. Continue moving the dates and flour around in the pan, until the whole mixture is blended together- do not burn.

4. Take the date mixture off of the burner and add the anise seeds and cardamom. Mix well and allow the mixture to cool somewhat.

5. Pull off little pieces of the date mixture and form them into 1 – 2 inch balls by rolling the date mix around in the palms of your hands. Set each little ball aside.


To make the date balls a little bit more glamorous, you can roll the finished date ball in sesame seeds, crushed walnuts, crushed almonds, or sugar. Or a mix of these. I prefer walnuts… you can also mix any of these into the date mix before making the date balls.

Summag Salad
Summag (sumac) salad is one of my favorite salads. I know it's also popular in Turkey. Sumac is a deep reddish spice that is tangy and grainy. We buy it crushed, in a coarse powder. It gives flavor and color to salads. For people who are unfamiliar with sumac, check out this page.


2 large cucumbers
1 large tomato
1/4 medium onion
1 tablespoon sumac
olive oil

1. Peel the cucumbers in stripes. Slice the cucumbers in half, length-wise. Slice these halves into semi-circles, each no more than 1-2 mm thick. Put the cucumbers in the salad bowl.

2. Chop the tomato into 'salad size' pieces- not too large and not too small. Add to the cucumber.

3. Slice the onion into long, pieces and add to the tomato and cucumber.

4. Drizzle about 1 tablespoon of olive oil over the salad and add the sumac and salt to taste. Mix well. Enjoy.

Salad and Dates...
Today I'll post two recipes. The first is a 'summag salad'. I'm sure the majority of Iraqis are familiar with summag on their kabab (not Kabab Iroog). The second recipe is a date dessert- date balls. It's one of my favorite date recipes but I hope everyone can get the soft brown dates, as opposed to the tougher ones.

Sunday, November 09, 2003
Kabab Iroog
This is a traditional Iraqi form of ‘Kabab’ but instead of being cooked on a ‘sheesh’, it is fried in an ordinary frying pan. The finished product should look like an oval hamburger- but not as smooth.

Depending on the size of the kababs, this mix makes from 15 – 25 kababs.


2 cups ground beef (don’t know how much two cups is in pounds or kilos- we measure by sight)
1 large bell pepper/ green pepper, chopped into small pieces
1 large tomato, chopped
1 medium onion, diced
1 ¾ cup flour
about 1 teaspoon chopped parsley (some like to use coriander)
1 teaspoon salt
black or white pepper (as much as you want)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon beryani spices (probably not available- but also not necessary)
corn oil (or any other vegetable oil- but not olive oil)
curry (optional)

1. Mix the ground beef, bell pepper, tomato, onion, garlic and flour together in a large bowl. Add the black pepper, salt, parsley and other spices to the mix.

2. Mix the whole thing by hand, squishing it around until everything looks more or less ‘together’. Try forming a small ‘patty’ with the mixture, does it hold together? If it’s too wet, add some more flour. If it’s too dry, add some water.

3. Heat about ¾ cup vegetable oil in a non-stick pan. Form the mixture into oval kabab patties that are about 4 inches long, 2 inches across and only half an inch thick. It’s best to have a small bowl of cold water on hand to dunk your fingers in so that the mixture doesn’t stick to them.

4. Carefully place them in the heated oil, like you would a hamburger and give them a couple of minutes to cook on one side. Don’t put more than 5 together in the pan. Before flipping them all to the other side, tentatively check the cooked side- the color should have changed from pinkish to an orange-brown.

5. After each kabab has cooked, place it on some paper towels or napkins to drain the excess oil.

This is best eaten with lentil soup, or other types of soup, and a fresh lettuce salad. Here in Iraq, we sometimes make sandwiches with Kabab Iroog by putting them into some bread (our bread is odd-looking but wonderful- I could write poetry about the bread), with shredded lettuce and sliced tomatoes. They need neither ketchup nor mustard- they have their own flavor.


Some people like to add half a cup shredded squash (I don’t).
Note: About olive oil. People in Iraq love olive oil- but we use it in fresh salads. Very few people actually fry things in it or use it for cooking because the flavor is so strong- we prefer corn oil, or sunflower oil.

Comments on the Lentil Soup...
I'm glad to hear that the lentil soup was such a hit with those who tried it. Some things I didn't mention (thanks to all those who reminded me):

1. Lentils in Iraq are small and orange (I haven't seen them any other color).

2. Cumin is often used in stead of, as well as in addition to, curry.

For those of you who didn't succeed: better luck next time.

Wednesday, November 05, 2003
So this is the first time I post recipes. I'll try to post the simpler foods we make during Ramadhan.

Some things to keep in mind:

- You may not have access to some of the ingredients, I'll try to post alternatives.

- I've never written recipes. Please take that into consideration.

If anyone tries these recipes, please email me telling me whether it is a success/failure or if the recipe was just too vague to try. Any suggestions would come in handy. I'd also love any other recipes people are willing to send.

Lentil Soup

Lentil soup is a staple in Ramadhan cooking. Some people actually have it every day.


1 cup dry lentils
1 medium onion
Black pepper
Curry (optional)
Corn/sunflower oil

- Rinse the lentils, put in a small pot and cover with cold water. Cover the pot and leave the lentils over medium heat, allowing them to cook for about an hour. Check every 15 minutes to make sure the water doesn’t evaporate. At the end of the hour, the lentils should have changed for a bright orange color to a pale yellow and they should be soft. Remove the lentils from heat and let them cool.

- Peel and chop the medium onion. Set aside.

- After the lentils have cooled a bit, empty the lentils and their ‘juice’ into a blender or food processor. Process/blend until the lentils are all mashed into a yellowish mess with the consistency of applesauce. Add 3 additional cups of water and blend. The mashing/blending can be done with a fork or eggbeater if necessary, but the result won’t be as consistent.

- Sautee the onion in 5 tablespoons of vegetable oil until they are golden brown.

- Add the lentil mixture to the onions and set the pot over medium heat.

- Add black pepper and salt to taste and let the soup cook for about an hour. 1 teaspoon of curry can be added to give flavor and color to the soup.

- In the end, the soup should have the consistency of a ‘cream of mushroom’ soup and should be slightly yellowish in color.


*Meatballs. Some cooks prefer adding meatballs to the soup to give it some substance. The meatballs are really easy to make. For every ½ pound of ground beef, use 1 clove of crushed/diced garlic, salt and black pepper. Mix the meat, pepper, salt, and garlic together. Form small meatballs with the mixture and fry them in corn oil or sunflower oil. 15 minutes before the soup is done, add the cooked meatballs.

*Broth. Lentil soup is especially good if you add a chicken/beef Magi cube while the soup is cooking to give it a certain flavor.

Serve with:
Lentil soup is wonderful when served with dried pita bread. At home, we allow the pita bread to dry in a warm oven until it is crunchy, then serve the pieces with the soup.

Lentil soup is great with lemon or lime squeezed into it.

In Iraq, Lentil soup is often served with ‘kabab iroog’ which is nothing like the kabab the rest of the world is familiar with. I’ll post the recipe some day.

Trying to post recipes from Iraq.

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