Sometimes the simplest things are the most difficult. Why does grandma’s toast always have just the right amount of butter? Or why does your co-worker’s chocolate cake always looks and taste perfect? And don’t even think about that holy grail—pie crust.
That’s why the Iraqi Family Cookbook is such a treasure. Kay Karim graciously shares the recipes and expertise of her grandmother, mother, and aunts. These are the recipes she and her sisters cook to feed their families and to mark special occasions. And the recipes are presented in the context of her family life, growing up in Iraq. She describes a garden filled with pomegranate, pear, apple, and apricot trees and the juice and jams that her family made. She recounts simple family traditions of daily meals and everyone helping in the kitchen, whether to prepare holiday cookies or pickling produce.
Karim also shares Iraqi history, from the birth of Mesopotamian culture to current events. But beyond insurgencies and invasions, Karim describes Iraqi culture—the Sumerians and Chaldeans who established agriculture and cities, the trade and foreign dynasties that enriched cultural traditions. She describes the religions and minority groups that further diversify Iraq’s food and culture—from the feasts and fasts of Ramadan to Christian traditions of Lent and Easter. As with holidays, the events of family life—weddings, births, and funerals—are marked with meals, from platters of rice at weddings to bitter tea and coffee at funerals.
Some of Karim’s dishes will seem familiar. There is traditional kibbi made with bulghur, but also kibbis made with rice or potatoes. There are many rice dishes from a simple red rice cooked with tomato sauce and broth to the elegant Rice in a Curtain, a pilaf baked in a crust and reserved for special occasions.
Red Lentil Soup is nothing more than a few simple ingredients, but Karim’s technique makes it extraordinary. The red lentils and rice are cooked together while the onions are sautéed with butter and spices. A quick ten-minute simmer together results in a deeply flavored dish that even the least experienced cook could handle.
Others are intriguiningly exotic. You’re getting real entrée into Karim’s kitchen with recipes for Apricot Soup made with lamb and almonds, Orange marmalade flavored with cardamom and cloves, or Date Wine, Pickled Stuffed Eggplants, or Saj Breads cooked on an upside skillet.
Karim writes in her introduction that through her life in America, feeding her family, she has adapted these recipes to American ingredients and schedules. “In this cookbook, I simplified my cooking processes to save time and energy, and most meals made with these recipes can be prepared in less than one hour.” What could be better—simplicity and authenticity.