Monday, December 20, 2010

Kubbeh helps Iraqi Jews preserve their heritage

Kubbeh dumplings with beetroot

According to the writer Claudia Roden, food is one of the most enduring elements of culture. To the Iraqi Jew, kubbeh is the most enduring - the minced meat dumplings the last link to a homeland to which they can never return. Article by Katherine Martinelli in the Jew and Carrot (with thanks: Kenneth):

Between 1941 and the 1970s the majority of Iraq’s Jewish population faced institutionalized violence and persecution in their homeland, forcing them to flee. Today, only a handful of Jews remain in Iraq, down from an estimated 150,000 in 1948. For the Iraqi Jews who sought refuge in Israel (some sources say up to 90%), their food is their remaining legacy. Dishes like meat stuffed dumplings called kubbeh are their lifeline to a country they cannot return to, and recipes are carefully passed down through the generations to preserve their heritage.

Iraqi food has been incorporated into the Israeli zeitgeist and has become an integral part of the patchwork that is developing into Israeli cuisine. Kubbeh (also spelled kubba and kibba), and in particular the hearty soup known as marak kubbeh, is one of the dishes that is most beloved and recognized by Israelis of all ethnic backgrounds. Sometimes fried and served as an appetizer, they are more commonly simmered in broth and served as a hearty, comforting stew – something of a step-sibling to the lighter, Ashkenazi matzo ball soup, and closely related to fried Syrian kibbe. Although served year round, there’s no better time than the cold months of winter to enjoy a steaming bowl of this robust, tangy soup.

Kubbeh dumplings are made from semolina or bulgur wheat and are typically stuffed with ground lamb or beef, although chicken, fish, and even vegetarian variations exist. They can be served in many broths, but as Recipes by Rachael – a website dedicated to preserving Iraqi Jewish recipes – describes, “Kubba stews come in two categories: those that are slightly tangy from the addition of citrus, and those that are not.”

The sour, tangy soups are given the label hamousta while the so-called sweet stews (really meaning not sour) are called hulou. Within these two categories there are countless variations, which can include okra, eggplant, squash, zucchini, garlic or beets. Marak kubbeh adom, or red kubbeh soup, is a Kurdish specialty that is based on a crimson red broth made from beets and other root vegetables.

The labor and time-intensive dumplings are often made in large quantities so that a number can be frozen and easily enjoyed later. Since the soup can be left to simmer for a long time it is a mainstay of Shabbat meals. Speaking of the customs of the Iraqi Jews in their homeland, Claudia Roden explains in “The Book of Jewish Food” that they “left pots of kubba – meat dumplings in a bamia (okra) stew, which had been prepared on Friday – on the roof terrace, for the Saturday lunch.” In Israel today kubbeh remains a popular dish to make at home or to take away from restaurants to have on hand for Shabbat.

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Nasch said...

Thanks for that interesting post. My father grew up in Iraq and I always loved my grandmother's cooking. Of course, kubbe was my favorite.
I've been looking for her recipe forever and was hoping I would find it here (or on the site you referred to), but no such luck.
I'm almost sure hers was made of red rice, since we also ate it on Pesach (I'm also still in search for that perfect red rice recipe). It was made in some kind of red stew, not soup, and wasn't sour.
I'm slowly starting to give up on the search for it.
Oh well, thank you for letting me relive some fond memories.

Anonymous said...

Nasch - you are correct. It is not a soup - rather a stew. And it wasn't sour - it was sweet and sour. The rice served with the Kibba Shwandar was usually white and became red when mixed with the Kibba. The best recipe (and the easiest to follow) is in a book called AWAFI - published by a group of Sephardi women in Sydney Australia and is available via the Sephardic synagogue in Sydney. A little googling will get you to their homepage or contact details. Good luck and cheers from a fellow Iraqi Jew.

Anonymous said...

You can also try the "Recipes by Rachel" website. It's quite good.