Kurdish Food

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The woman who inspired Ara is seen here serving lunch to her grandchildren.

Many book clubs have fun serving a meal related to the book they are discussing. Why not give it a try? Here are recipes for a typical mid-day meal that Ara would cook on Friday (the Moslem equivalent of Sunday). Remember that the villagers in The Kurdish Book are very poor; these are therefore not “fine dining” recipes, but rather the traditional, delicious foods of simple people.

For a village meal, spread out a large plastic tablecloth on the floor, and give guests cushions to sit on. Serve food family style in large bowls. Give each person a soup bowl and spoon, and let them help themselves from the communal dishes. The meal is served all at once, unless there is a soup course, which comes before everything else. Place piles of flat bread in the center of the mat; many villagers prefer to scoop up food with pieces of bread rather than using a spoon. After dinner, serve sweetened black tea in tiny glasses, and offer fresh fruit such as apples or oranges, which guests can cut and peel for themselves. Walnuts and raisins can also be served for dessert.

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Menu (recipes follow):

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Villagers make their own naan flatbread over a big domed griddle. It is crisp, like a cracker. They sprinkle it with a little water before serving, to soften.
  • Tomato and bean soup
  • Dolmas*
  • Chicken or lamb pilaf*
  • Kurdish salad
  • White rice
  • Flat bread
  • Mast ow (yogurt drink)
  • Kurdish tea
  • Fresh fruit and walnuts
*Ara would typically serve either dolmas or pilaf, not both, since they require meat (which is expensive) and take a lot of time to prepare.
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Tomato and Bean Soup
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 15 oz can white or navy beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 8 oz can tomato sauce

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    Village woman serving tomato and bean soup.
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano or thyme
  • 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
  • 4 cups water or chicken broth
Saute onion in oil. Add all other ingredients. Simmer for 30 minutes. To serve, add a squeeze of fresh lemon juice and garnish with fresh herbs (oregano or thyme). If starting with dried beans instead of canned, soak overnight and cook in water for 30 minutes before continuing with the rest of the recipe.
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Dolmas can be made with a variety of fresh vegetables.

When most Westerners hear the word “dolma”, they think of grape leaves stuffed with rice and sometimes meat. But Kurds love to stuff other vegetables too. Dolmas are a must-have for picnics or other festive occasions.

  • Assortment of fresh vegetables to be stuffed (eggplant, onions, red or bell peppers, zucchini, grape leaves, cabbage leaves)
  • 1 cup uncooked white rice, rinsed
  • 1 cup uncooked meat, cut into 1/2″ pieces (beef, chicken or lamb)
  • 1 onion, chopped (in addition to any onions you’ll be stuffing)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 6 oz can tomato paste
  • Herbs (oregano, thyme, cilantro, etc.)
  • Water or stock (beef, chicken or vegetable)
Wash the vegetables. Pound the onion on the counter so that the layers loosen a little. Cut tops off of vegetables and scoop out the centers. You can use the center pulp to make vegetable soup later.
Mix the rice, meat, chopped onion, salt, oil, tomato paste and herbs in a bowl. Use this mixture to fill the vegetables, pushing it down firmly but not smashing it. For cabbage or grape leaves, place filling in center of leaf and fold sides together to make a little pocket. Place stuffed vegetables tightly together in a large pot. Add just enough hot water or broth to cover the vegetables and place a plate on top to hold the vegetables down. Cover and simmer for 35 minutes (45 – 50 minutes if you are doubling the recipe or using mostly larger vegetables like eggplants). Top with thin slices of fresh lemon and chopped parsley or oregano, and serve on a large platter.
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Kurdish Pilau

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Golden chicken pilau is an aromatic treat much loved by Kurds.
  • 1 – 2 pounds of beef or lamb, cut into 1 inch chunks, washed and patted dry
  • 1 1/2 cup good-quality white rice, washed and patted dry
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 onion, chopped finely
  • 1/2 cup sliced or chopped almonds
  • 1/2 cup raisins or currants
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 3 dried cardamom seeds
  • 3 cups beef stock (if using water instead, add 1 teaspoon salt)
Brown meat pieces on all sides in oil and remove from pan. Saute onion in leftover oil until transparent but not brown. Add rice and almonds cook until rice grains are coated with oil but not browned. Stir in spices and raisins and return meat to pot. Add stock or water, stir briefly, cover, and simmer on low heat until little air holes appear in rice, about 20 minutes. Do not stir while rice is cooking. Toss lightly before serving. Top with fresh cilantro or parsley.
You can make this with chicken parts instead of meat. Cut bone-in chicken into individual pieces and brown. Substitute chicken broth for beef broth.
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Kurdish SaladScreen Shot 2018-05-08 at 3.52.26 PM
  • 5 Persian cucumbers, finely diced
  • 3 medium tomatoes, finely diced
  • 1 sweet onion, finely diced or shredded
  • 1/2 cup fresh mint, parsley, cilantro, sorrel or a mixture of these
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2  – 1 teaspoon salt, to taste
Mix together gently. Let stand 15 minutes before serving so that flavors blend.
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Mast OwScreen Shot 2018-05-08 at 4.07.07 PM
Kurds enjoy a cooling yogurt drink with meals, which helps with digestion. This simple mast ow, which means ‘yogurt water’, is a staple.
  • 2 cups plain yogurt (not flavored or low-fat)
  • 1 1/2 cup cold water
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
Mix together and chill before serving. You can put a sprig of fresh mint on top if you like.
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Kurdish TeaIMG_4865.JPG

Steep 4 – 6 bags of black tea (Lipton or Red Rose are fine) in one quart of boiling water in a large teapot for 3 – 5 minutes. Add 4 – 8 teaspoons of sugar, depending on taste. Serve in little glasses, diluting with a dash hot water if guests prefer. You can also serve unsweetened tea with lumps of sugar, which guests place between their front teeth and sip their tea through. Refill glasses frequently.


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A feast worthy of Nowruz, courtesy of Chiman Salih of Irbil.
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Pilau can also be wrapped in Kurdish wafer bread when the rice is half cooked. Cook on a low heat until the rice is dry. Thanks to Chiman Salih for this photo.










Shifta is a mixture of meat, flour, cilantro, parsley, tomato, pepper, seasonings. Balls of the dough are fried in oil. Photo courtesy of Chiman Salih. Click for YouTube showing how to make shifta.

Kurdish Restaurant Tip

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If you’re in Silicon Valley, check out Urfa Bistro Mediterranean Restaurant. It’s run by a very friendly and talented Turkish Kurd, and has amazing dishes. 
He also caters. It’s located at 233 State Street in Los Altos, CA.
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