Feasting in Iraqi Kurdistan

IMG_2180Being invited into someone’s home when you’re on the road is always the most memorable meal of the trip.

In Iraqi Kurdistan, on the road from Erbil to Kirkuk, a local leader had us over for lunch – a multi-course feast prepared by his wife and daughters, and laid out on the floormat by his sons. Kurdish — and Iraqi — food is like much of what you’d find in the Middle East: grilled meats, grains and rice, giant fluffy footprints of naan, various stewed and fresh vegetables.

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The highlight of the meal was a Kurdish specialty called burgul, a dish of bulgur wheat (or wheat berries) tossed with sweet raisins, chickpeas, and baked almonds, topped with stewed lamb or grilled chicken. It was salty, sweet, and hearty, with a beautiful nutty flavor and is probably simple to replicate at home. We were also served a small couscous tossed with threads of rice and chicken, and a heaping pile of white rice ringed with small raisins and topped with chicken legs.

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As we sat on the floor, eating with spoons, our fingers, or fistfuls of naan… boys circulated with waters, sodas, and aryan, a fermented yogurt drink that was both salty and smoky.  We supplemented our meat/carb intake with plates of fresh, unadorned salad vegetables and bowls of stewed potato in a tangy tomato sauce (as the one Irish girl who doesn’t love potatoes, I simply dipped the naan in the sauce).

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Once the meal was over, the floor was cleared, we moved up to sit on the couch ringing the room, and ate local fruit: plums, apricots, crabapples and the smallest, sweetest grapes around. And there was tea. Always, in Iraq, there is tea.

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