So, what's cooking ?


The other day, several ladies came for an afternoon tea.
You need to understand a cup of tea, Iraqi style, has nothing to do with your ordinary one.
Iraqi style means several hours on end of talking...And it also means Layla's lending a hand, for a whole morning, in the kitchen preparing...
A cup of tea and a couple of biscuits are simply out of the question. Iraqi style has to be elaborate.

Knowing that a supposedly one hour visit will stretch to 4 hours, in time for an early supper or at least an appetizer, one prepares in advance for that inevitable probability.

I am not very much of a social person. I like social gatherings in small doses and when relatives and relatives of relatives gather, I usually disappear. That afternoon, I stuck it out...

On the menu : Dolma, boorak , and klechah. Don't worry will provide you with a culinary translation.

Dolma is basically stuffed wine leaves, aubergines, onions, tomatoes, courgettes and bell peppers. Any or all of these vegetables depending on availability. They are stuffed either vegetarian style with spiced rice and cooked in olive oil then we call it "dolma bel zayt" and served cold or stuffed with spiced minced meat and rice and served hot.

Now some people pretend that Dolma is a Turkish and/or Greek dish. Wrong, dead wrong.
Archeological digs confirm, beyond the shadow of doubt, that the first people to actually write culinary recipes on cuneiform tablets were the Sumerians and guess what the archeologists found as the first cooking recipe ever? Dolma.

So yes, it is indeed a Mesopotamian/Iraqi dish and I don't want to hear about this Turkish/Greek nonsense anymore.

Boorak is puffed pastry filled with grated white cheese mixed with fresh or dried mint and baked gently till melted and golden brown.

Klechah on the other hand is a typical Iraqi sweet. It is like a cookie, stuffed with nuts or dates and covered with a golden hue of saffron.

All the above takes hours to patiently prepare. Iraqi tea is also a whole ceremonious concoction.
Tea bags are a blasphemy. Whole leaves of black tea are gently brewed in a small pot sitting over a kettle of boiling water. That is the only way a tea can brew without giving a bitter taste. And it is usually served in small glasses called "Isteekan."

Everything was ready for this "women only" gathering.
They arrived one by one or two by two and there was over a dozen of them.
Some of them I knew well enough and others I was meeting for the first time.

Now let me see...
There was Uncle Zayd's daughter in law, Sumaya (i.e Tarek's wife).
Also present was Auntie Afaf, Sumaya's mother. Umm Issam a relative of Sumaya's mother. Then two of Uncle Zayd's daughters, Khadija and Bouthaina. Also our neighbor Auntie Amira and her daughter. And Auntie Noora and her daughters and more aunties and more daughters...
A megadose of "Yin" energy for one afternoon. And a tad too late to pull my disappearing act.

After the customary greetings, the subject naturally took the direction it was expected to take...The Occupation.

Different faces, different names but the same stories repeating themselves endlessly, painfully, tediously, sometimes to the the point of banality.

Who got killed, who got tortured, who got kidnapped, who fled, who emigrated, who lost his job, who lost an arm, who lost an eye, who lost a leg, who lost a husband, a son, a daughter...security, electricity, water, the government...
The usual stuff, courtesy of the American occupation.
And of course every single woman present, had a story to tell…

Some I had heard already so I switched off as they were being repeated over and over like an "occupation mantra".

More tea was poured, the food served, and amidst a symphony of tea stirring and stories of brutality mixed with sentences like "pass the dolma", "this klechah is great" and "how do you prepare this puffed pastry?"... Auntie Afaf caught my full attention.

I noticed from the moment she walked in until the minute she left, she was clutching her hand bag tightly against her full abdomen...

You could tell that Auntie Afaf loves food but her love of food was betrayed by a very sober, grave look, marked with a deep perpetual frown.

Auntie Afaf would eat, drink tea, talk, move her hands, stretch her legs, and her handbag would not budge from her lap. I was almost sure there was a story to this handbag. I was just waiting for it to unfold...

Sumaya, her daughter, 5 months pregnant, cleared her throat and said :

"I need to tell you this story. We did not want to "bother" you before, but now I can share it with all of you.
A month ago, "they" came. You know we all live at Uncle's Zayd's house. Tarek and I, my mother, the kids and Tarek's sisters Khadija and Bouthaina, their kids and their husbands and of course Uncle Zayd. We had to move to his house. You know Tarek is a civil engineer and he lost his job and so did Khadija's and Buthaina's husbands. We simply could no longer afford to pay the rent..."

Everyone nodded in sympathy, understanding and recognition.

"And as some of you know, we moved part of our furniture and belongings there, well at least what we could rescue...So when "they" came early in the morning, they barged in and searched the whole house. Then, they got to the kitchen. They opened the fridges - we have two and one freezer - they said :
What is that? Why do you have two fridges and one freezer?
Tarek replied : Can't you see we are 4 families living under one roof ?
But why do you have two fridges and one freezer? Who are you feeding ? Who are you cooking for ?
Tarek tried explaining to them that two of the fridges were unplugged and only one was functional. Besides we have no electricity. But they kept insisting.

You must tell us who you are cooking for ?
Tarek nearly lost his temper. Can't you see the fridge and the freezer are unplugged, can't you see they are empty, can't you see we have no electricity and the generator is down...? Why are you harassing us like that?
They kept pressing with their questions despite the obvious. Then, they took Tarek for interrogation. I swear I felt labor pains and I felt I was about to deliver there and then...
Tarek disappeared for the whole morning and afternoon. I thought I was never going to see him again, ever. But praise to Allah, they released him.
They finally believed we were not cooking for anyone. What is the matter with these people, have they not seen empty fridges before ? What is this curse that has befallen us ?"

Auntie Afaf, still clutching her handbag tightly, said :

"Wallah this is nothing compared to what I had to go through."

Auntie Afaf in her 70's is originally from Hit, the much hated Anbar "soonnee" province. She used to live there with her son, daughter in law and her grandchildren.

"Why, don't you know what they did to us in Hit? Tell them Sumaya, tell them..."

And as Sumaya was about to relate her mother's story, Auntie Afaf interrupted and said:

"No wait. I will tell them..."

As if to regain ownership of something...

She redressed her white scarf hanging loosely on her hair, sat upright and took an even more solemn tone...

" They came...and they did not stop coming.
It started one day at noon just in time for lunch. I had been up all morning.
I baked the bread in the tannoor
(a natural, oven on wood, usually located outside the house), prepared the Ambar rice (a very perfumed and rare kind of rice) and Bamiah stew (okra or ladies fingers - a favorite dish among Iraqis).
Of course, it was a struggle finding the Bamiah and the meat but the rice I had saved for a special occasion. You see, it was my son's 40th birthday. And I wanted it to be a surprise...We wanted to pretend things were normal...and feel a little alive again..."

Everyone nodded in sympathy, understanding and recognition.

"I had prepared everything and we were just about to sit and have our lunch and my son and the grand children were overjoyed with the surprise...it had been a long time...
They came. They did not even knock on the door...They hammered at the door and broke it down...Ya Allah, everytime I remember this day, I feel I am about to die...

There were 8 of them. Two went upstairs to the bedrooms, two in the living room, two in the basement and two in the kitchen...where we were seated just about to eat.
We heard a lot of noise, I thought to myself, this is it, they destroyed everything we own...lots of slamming and banging, upstairs, downstairs and in the living room...

The two American soldiers in the kitchen with their armor and boots kicked the closets, the drawers...everything. I was secretly praying that they do not touch the saucepans on the cooker...Ya Allah...I will never forget that day...

They said : What is that?

My son who is fluent in English explained that I had just prepared lunch for a special occasion...

One of them took the lid off and said : That smells good...
And he removed the other lid...the Ambar rice I had saved all these months...
By then, the others had finished their round of destruction...He called them in the kitchen...Another one said : That smells good...am hungry.

I noticed Auntie Afaf clutching even more tightly on her handbag, her fingers turning into a reddish blue...

He continued...So what's cooking here ? My son trying to avoid problems explained to them the bamiah and rice...Sounds good, the American said.

They shoved us all in the living room, clearing the table for themselves, ordered my son's wife and me to pour the food and they grabbed the fresh bread...
What could we do, they were armed...They sat down, ate everything whilst we were in the next room hearing them eat and talk...
They did not leave one grain of rice, not one slice of bread...Of course forget the bamiah...it was gone... My poor son, it was his birthday and the children were crying from fear and hunger...
Then they opened the fridge. I had saved a few bottles of Pepsi for the children. They opened the bottles, drank it all and burped.
Then, they left saying the food was good and they promised they would be back for more... We stayed without food for over 48 hours after their first visit.


Wallahee, since that day, they took it a habit and came regularly, under the pretext of searching. They would check what was cooking for the day.
And everytime it was the same thing, they would push us all into the living room and they would sit down and eat our lunch and we would stay without food...
In the end I stopped cooking and life had become too unbearable...
One morning we left everything...I took nothing but my handbag.
May Allah's curse fall upon them.


"Ameeeen" was the response in total unanimity.


"By Allah, Afaf, the same thing happened to me...They also came, emptied the little I had in the frigde and ate what I cooked but it was worse, much worse. They took my money and jewelry...What could I do ? I am an old widow alone and my son was not there to protect me... "said Umm Issam.

"May Allah curse them again and again".

"Ameeeeen " again and again in unison.

Auntie Noora who is usually very talkative was conspicuously silent that afternoon.
She coughed signaling it is her turn now.

"You think this is traumatic? Ha!
Suhair's husband (her eldest daughter) was kidnapped 4 weeks ago – Jaysh al Mahdi.
He got beaten up so badly, we did not recognize him when he was found dumped in the street next door...But praise to Allah he is still alive.
They wanted 100'000 dollars...They took his car, we sold Suhair's house and her jewelry...They accepted 75'000 dollars - They gave us a "discount".
What a pity and how sad, her husband has lost all speech since. Suhair tells him eat, eat, look what I cooked for you...He just stares at her.

May Allah, curse them ...over and over again."

"Ameeeeeen" was the choral response.

"So Layla, how did you cook this dolma in olive oil ? You are right, meat is not good for your health...Nuts are too expensive, nothing beats dates in the Klechah.
Anymore tea ? This tea revives the soul..."


And just as we seemed adamant about holding onto our traditional tea gatherings and pretending we are a "little" alive...
And just as Auntie Afaf seemed so adamant about holding onto her empty handbag, the only thing she had left, so are other Iraqis elsewhere...
Iraqis holding on to their dignity whilst clutching on their empty pots.
Waiting for the good will of others, at the doors of churches, mosques, ngo's, neighbors...
Waiting for someone to give them their fill for the day...and wondering what's cooking, if anything.

Maybe Nancy Pelosi, another American "gourmet taster" (like her brave boys in Eye Raq) touring Damascus, visiting other cooks specializing in Persian delicacies, can tell us what's new on the Iraqi menu .
Or should we address the chief gastronomer, Condi Rice and her Iranian counterpart during their next tete a tete meeting ?
Would someone ask them what more and what else can they possibly be cooking for the Iraqis ?

May Allah curse all of them for ever and ever...and you can repeat after me :

"Ameeeeeen"

Painting: Iraqi artist, Sadiq Toma. " The Hurricane", 1996

Comments

Anonymous said…
"Now some people pretend that Dolma is a Turkish and/or Greek dish. Wrong, dead wrong.
Archeological digs confirm, beyond the shadow of doubt, that the first people to actually write culinary recipes on cuneiform tablets were the Sumerians and guess what the archeologists found as the first cooking recipe ever? Dolma."


Sumerians were non-Semitic, the bragging rights are not yours darling. Arabs are not Sumerians, not then, not now, not in-between.
Anonymous said…
layla is jew posing as a arab.
suad | 03.04.07 - 1:00 am | #

From comments on Barabie's Website. It is a childish website giving Arabs a bad name (not that they don't already have one).She is still referring to Paola as Paolo - also she spits at everyone. She is going to run out of saliva.Very bad for dental health. Dolma and Kubba bamia are delicious. Do they still cook them with have a bottle of oil (dihin nabat) for each dish?- ------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Layla Anwar said…
CBH,

Wow and wow...that was most profound. That still leaves Dolma as an Iraqi recipe and not Greek...however much you hate that fact.
Layla Anwar said…
lurk,

I have stopped visiting barabie's blog.
First rumors had it that I am an american posing as an arab, then an indian posing as an arab, then a brit posing as an arab and now a jew posing as an arab...Mind you a jew can be an arab...like a has the enlightened suad ever heard of yemeni, egyptian, lebanese, syrian, iraqi, north african jew?

Now back to more important matters...
Dhin Nabat? not used anymore. I don't.
Anonymous said…
Layla,
When comunicating via the internet like this, be it a blog or an e-mail, a person never really knows "who" they are comunicating with.
All I "know" is that your writings are so very descriptive and moving. They speak of instances that could not possibly be prefabricated. Only told by someone who has experience with the trauma in some way.
That is my opinion at least.

And yes, I will admit to you, that at one time I thought perhaps you could be a temptress. Luring in opinionated Americans so they could be labeled as an enemy combatant, placed on one of several federal lists, and at some later time hauled away to one of the Halliburton holding facilities.
But as I have told you, I am not afraid of the many government agencies who try to monitor American citizens.(I have just recieved a pop up alert informing me that "someone" is attempting to get to me as I write this). And (sigh) again I will say to the Federal jack boot thugs, don't hide from afar. Come closer to me and you can then know me. Surely you have enough information to locate me and fabricate something to charge me with? I anticipate the day, because I KNOW...that day IS coming. So instead of trying to hack my system (which you will never succeed in doing!)just come on to my home and confront me. Pose threat to my family. Do it today....or tomorrow....or even tonight if you belive the veil of darkness is an intimidation to me.
You KNOW where I am. And you know how we live our lives here.
You don't have the ball's to come to my door do you.
When you do begin to police the streets of America, I will have breakfast, lunch, and dinner ALL prepared for you. And I am expecting not just one or two.
Send as many as you can afford to loose.
I will feed you well.
I, and others, will wait for you, and play your foolish game.
Just know that you WILL LOOSE!


On a better note, Layla, I wish I had known of you in October of last year. That was when I had to make my international cuisine presentation to the collage.
Had I known more about Iraqi cuisine I would have certainly used it for my presentation.
I really wanted to do my presentation on Iraq. But at the last moment I found myself short on time and so I settled for Scottland because that is where my surname comes from.

Keep up your good works Layla.

Stay safe.
God bless.
Ike
Anonymous said…
Layla,

The dish of chagrin, is on the plate of true freedom today. As we get spoon feed by the so-called care takers of greed if you please.

My people like yours are just feed up with all their shit. Let them go back where they come from and take the freedom of their own people for we do not need their freedom.

And to all you posters who have not a clue to real life, you can suck your masters nuts dry, because you have no backbone.

Layla, I wrote this song/poem for my people but it fits yours as well, I hope you enjoy our true feeding. Let the others feast on their lies. For we know shit when we see it. God bless their queen of strange,lol.


---------------------

Hopes and Fears

My hopes and fears seem so clear,
everyday my eyes come to open.
I think of times that are far behind,
my joy and laughter they struggle.

Life at times can truely under mind,
and I must remind myself to breathe.
For my spirit now holds the matrix,
of the person that lives in the cold.

I find sometimes it's hard to forgive,
what some mens greed have taken.
Now what become of my life I love,
it was never for sale or was it given.

They did not care it was not theirs,
or that my life they were affecting.
Yes, they appoint themselves rulers,
to be judge, jury, and executioner.

How can they hide from all their lies,
they put me on this mountains edge.
For their cliffs are way to steep,
and life will elude if I should leap.

No, I will not give into their ways,
the eagle will not give in this day.
The blood of my people runs deep,
the warrior inside me this I keep.

Standing with my weapons near,
my spirit bold will not let me fear.
So do as they must and do what they will,
the spirit of my people they can not kill.


by savage american warrior

-------------------------------
Layla, enjoy today and forever. You are what true people are made of, love you my sister.
Savage
Anonymous said…
The stories are tough to stomach, but the food sounds DELICIOUS!

prop
Anonymous said…
"Sumerians were non-Semitic, the bragging rights are not yours darling. Arabs are not Sumerians, not then, not now, not in-between. "

ameeeeeeeeeeeeeeeennnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn
Anonymous said…
...Mind you a jew can be an arab...

I think this is an oxymoron. My wife is an Iraqi Jew.She still maintains the Iraqi tradition,cooks Iraqi food,listens to Iraqi music,sympathises with the plight of the Iraqis now, but also upholds her religion.I don't think Iraqis themselves would consider Iraqi Jews as Arab. Iraqi Jews in Iraq were,at best, tolerated,and at worst, considered an aberration persecuted on an almost daily basis.
Anonymous said…
I thought you and barabie shared same vision. Why don't you look at it anymore anyway?

I wouldn't trade places with you regarding resentment, I have enough of my own. Did not realize it was eating me inside out especially on this x-tian weekend.

Another one I am struggling with is "pain is inevitable, suffering is optional" bunch of hogwash. Suffering is all around, especially in the middle east where there is no end. One cannot NOT suffer in this situation, it is NOT optional.

Good Friday is a big blowout weekend. Drink up, party on... it is the end of lent. Murder, mayhem,rape, pillage, torture, our sins are forgiven before we even sin!! Religion is evil. What do you say to that?
Anonymous said…
The first part of your story made my mouth water anticipating the wonderful taste of the food.
The rest of the story brought tears to my eyes.

Your choice of delectables for tea sounds a helluva lot better than the American counterpart that is called the coffee break.
No one either has or makes the time to actually have one at a home, so they dash into the nearest McDonald's or Dunkin Donuts for some burnt tasting coffee, which needs large amounts of sugar to disguise the taste.
Then you choose either a piece of fried dough that had been swimming in lard and is covered with sugar, again to disguise the taste.
Or a sausage and cheese sandwich that is swimming in grease.

MMmmmm. Anyone hungry?

And scientists spend tons of money trying to figure out why a majority of Americans are fat asses.

greg bacon
Layla Anwar said…
Lurk, I knew when you posted your comment that you had jewish ties...
It was obvious from your comment!
My response to you was deliberately framed the way it was framed...Yes a jew can be an arab and I insist on that. Your description of jews in Iraq is innacurate to say the least...
It is jews who wish to see their religion as a race and not the other way around...
Layla Anwar said…
CBH and JR,

I think a bit of historical linguistics is called for here.
Sumerian, Babylonian, Akkadian, Assyrian, Aramaic, Hebrew, Arabic, Syriac ARE semitic languages. Duh!
Layla Anwar said…
anonymous,
when I asked you to trade places I was not referring to resentment..I was referring to circumstantial situations...
And then I would like to see you preach about non resentment.
Just a clarification!
Layla Anwar said…
SAW,
" No, I will not give into their ways,
the eagle will not give in this day.
The blood of my people runs deep,
the warrior inside me this I keep.

Standing with my weapons near,
my spirit bold will not let me fear.
So do as they must and do what they will,
the spirit of my people they can not kill."

I loved these two last paragraphs...Hats off to you !
Layla Anwar said…
No I do not think religion per se is evil, but I think that people CAN be...
Layla Anwar said…
Ike, did you really think I was a Halliburton temptress? LOOOOOOL
What does a halliburton and bechtel temptress do? Wears a barrel as lingerie?
hahahaha
Happy Easter to you.
God bless
Layla Anwar said…
greg,
Junk food is really what it is junk..Macdonalds tastes like rubber and dunkin donuts like plastic...Which is your favorite?
Anonymous said…
'Lurk, I knew when you posted your comment that you had jewish ties...'

I never attempted to hide my Jewish ties or my Iraqi ones (through my wife) -which is the reason why I read your blog.

' Yes a jew can be an arab and I insist on that. Your description of jews in Iraq is innacurate to say the least...'

How would you know. Were you a Jew living in Iraq (forgive the insult)?

Iraqi Jews have the same characterics as other Iraqis. They were not visible by their racial appearance. They were singled out only by their religion.

Layla - you know what happens. you have already been suspected of being a Jew - the natural progression now will be that you (God forbid) are spying for Israel...
Anonymous said…
Dearest Layla, thank you for telling us more about Iraqi cuisine. It's horrifying but hardly surprising that the barbarians are emptying Iraqi kitchens, in addition to Iraqis' hard earned money and gold. What else would you expect from a race that has not been taught any values from the time they took their first breath on earth? Unfortunately, Iraq and Iraqis have been the ones to bear witness to this scum first-hand - but the world's eyes have also been opened. And all this about being 'Christian' is a mockery and sacrilege - I dare one American soldier(or anyone from the 'coalition of the willing') in Iraq to tell me (and the rest of the world) that he is 'Christian' and then explain what it means. In an article recently, I read that very few Americans know their Ten Commandments, so it's time these frauds shed the banner of Christianity, beginning with their sick leader. Their faith begins in the deepest recesses of Hell. It still boggles the mind, how men and women (if they can be called that) from across the oceans, can go to another's land and commit atrocities on the inhabitants of that land without a twinge of conscience.

That's a lovely and fitting poem, Savage, and I had to laugh, Layla, about your comment on wearing a barrel for lingerie!!!!!

Thank you, wonderful lady, for all that you do. By the way, Layla, with reference to an earlier comment from me - I've just read that the Brits, who have made headlines recently, can now SELL their stories to the media! How accurate my prediction was! Disgusting people with no integrity whatsoever.
Anonymous said…
Neither McDonald's or DD. Only when it is some type of emergency and can't find decent food will i patronize a fast food joint.

And when i do, usually become sick to my stomach a couple of hours later.. Go figure.

Between the junk food for our bodies and the junk food for our souls from FAUX and CNN News, we Americans are a pathetic bunch.

So, we take out our repressed needs out on innocent people by invading or bombing their countries.
Then, sit back and cheer the carnage and mayhem like we were watching some sports spectacle.

All the while stuffing our collective faces with Big Macs and blackening our souls with the MSM propaganda machine news.

We are nation of murderous thieves, descended from some evil being. Perhaps from the "Garden of Evil" not the" Garden of Eden."
Big Macs Ewwwwwwww

TBH I like Cheeseburgers and Quarter Pounders(occasionally) but the flat specimen I actually receive never ever looks like the picture
Anonymous said…
shut up janice.......we've all seen the movie where the burger doesnt look like the one in the picture...........so button it
Anonymous said…
greg bacon u pompous old fool.....ure such a stereotype i want to smack u in the face...........go figure
Anonymous said…
little deer u dipshit.......good 2 see none of the usual self-pitying bullshit.........keep it up
Anonymous said…
lurk do u have a crooked nose??????????
Anonymous said…
layla u decrepit old hag........i though we woz mates??????????????
Layla Anwar said…
jr.

I know who you are. And a piece of advice from this decrepit old hag to you - don't fart higher than your ass and do treat those pimples. Cheers mate.
Layla Anwar said…
lurk,

now,now...Give credit when credit is due.
No am not a jew...but I choose to believe Iraqi jews who still have a bone of honesty left in them and who categorically said that those who attacked the jewish centers in Iraq were zionists pretending to be Iraqi government officials.
I also urge you to check
wafaa al natheema blogspot. She has produced a good video of Iraqi jews.
Anonymous said…
Layla the question is not whether Iraqi Jews consider themselves Arab. Rather whether the Iraqis themselves considered their Jewish population as Arabs first and Jewish second. The answer is a resounding NO. The 5000 Iraqi Jews who chose to stay in Iraq after the big exodus in 1950 were systematically accused of being spies and consequently persecuted day in and day out (except for 4 years under Quassem).
What better way to distract a population than sham trials and public executions of Jews? Everyone would believe that Jews must be spies. My wife's brother was taken and tortured - and only released when the interrogator received his demands of 10,000 dinars which he needed as he was building a new house. My wife's brother was lucky. Others never came back or were publicly executed. We will agree to disagree on this issue.

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