The Iraqi Table by Raghad Al Safi ~ Exploring the rich Iraqi Cuisine

By Ishita B Saha: ‘The Iraqi Table’, a cookbook by Raghad Al Safi opens our eyes (and our taste buds) to the richness of delicious Iraqi cuisine, by celebrating its traditions, culture and heritage. Like many other cuisines from the Middle East, Iraqi cuisine too has been influenced by cultural mixes and its political history. From the ancient Akkadians, Assyrians and Babylonians through to the Ottoman Empire, Iraqi cuisine has a vast heritage, and that is what Raghad attempts to showcase in this book through delicious recipes and storytelling and achieves that brilliantly.

The Iraqi Table ~ an Iraqi cookbook

The book is divided into different sections – soups, appetisers and salads, street food, afternoon snacks, meat and fish, rice, kubba, stews and tashreeb, desserts and pastries and finally the more traditional variety of dense and gooey Arabic sweets – halawa. While doing so, she not only brings out the essence of Iraqi culture (for example, afternoon snacks underlines the get-togethers with friends and the binding union of people) but also subtly reinforces the need to preserve the heritage of a culinary culture in the face of world homogenisation and multiculturalism.

The recipes have been penned down in a simple way, photographed brilliantly by Murrindie Frew and styled by the renowned Fiona Archibold. Each recipe has a narration that will give the reader a glimpse into the dish, for example, on the Samak Masgouf which is considered Iraq’s National dish:

Those fortunate enough to enjoy a twilight stroll among the outdoor restaurants lining the banks of the Tigris River will be tempted by the many eateries serving this fish dish. Noses are lured by the aroma of burning logs; eyes light up at the sight of dancing flames; ears listen intently at the crackling blaze; mouths salivate and hands gleefully rub together in anticipation of the delicious fish…
In this edition, we take inspiration from the recipes that the author associates with Ramadan and immerse ourselves in its essence through Raghad’s words:

Whenever we celebrate in Iraq – whether birthdays or weddings, Christmas or Eid – you can be sure of one thing: there will be plenty of food. From the beginnings of civilization in what was Mesopotamia (today’s Iraq, the north-east of Syria and parts of Turkey and Iran), people have been cooking and eating delicious recipes…

Mouth-watering menus and feasts fit for a king accompany celebrations in Iraq. During Ramadan, the nightly fast is broken (traditionally) with the yogurt drink, leban and a few dates. The Iftar (after sunset) meal, however, is more substantial and typically includes lentil soup or lamb and herb soup to start, followed by zalata, then a warming bowl of tashreeb, stew and carrot rice. Other Iraqi staples enjoyed during the holy month include kubba. Sweet treats for dessert include burma and datli or zarda, baqlawat foggor and pomegranate jelly.

During Eid, Muslims greet one another by saying ‘Ayamkom Saeeda’ or ‘Eid Mubarak’ (meaning ‘Blessed Eid’). Eid-al-Fitr is a time when many Iraqis return to their breakfast routine of eating gaymer and kahi. The lunchtime spread is likely to resemble the one offered at my grandmother’s and features qouzi and a variety of margas…

The ritual of breaking bread was not just symbolic in my childhood, it was literal. It was at my family’s Iftar meals – where the myriad menu items also included offerings from Turkmen, Christian Iraqis and Jewish Iraqis – that I experienced a microcosm of my country’s diversity. While I can still taste the spicy uroog lamb patties and smell the cardamom and aniseed-infused kleitcha cookies being shared amongst all gathered at the table for Eid, what I remember best is the way that food truly united people – irrespective of ethnicity, religion, region or even social status…

[The Iraqi Table is published by Motivate Publishing and is available in leading bookstores and at booksarabia.com. Motivate Publishing has shared the following recipes from her cookbook for FoodeMag dxb website and e-magazine]



Recipes from The Iraqi Table ~

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