Saturday, June 3, 2017

Shukran

About a month ago, my friend Vera (from our, ahem, award-winning WIC challenge team) contacted me about doing a middle eastern cooking class for her cultural exchange program, Oye Palaver Hut. "Sure," I said, "but the person you really want to lead this thing and talk about Iraqi food and Middle Eastern culture is my dad. Can he come, too?" If only Vera knew ahead of time that she'd be meeting her storytelling match....

A couple of weeks ago, dad and I started brainstorming recipes we could make with the group of 6-8 families in an hour or so. Dolma? Too complicated. Baklava? Too stressful. Even though technically the national dish of Iraq is probably bamja (okra stew with meat), shalgham (turnip curry) has always been my favorite traditional Iraqi dish.

Mom and dad came over last night so we could pre-make the shalgham and hummus. Dad also brought along ingredients for a few of my favorite traditional Iraqi veggie dishes -- fassoulia (stewed white beans in tomato sauce) and khedra (stewed green beans) -- and plenty of basmati rice, all of which we would be making during the class itself. My gentleman friend Matt and landlady Jacky were also in attendance, and jumped right in to help with chopping and keeping wine glasses filled -- both key tasks during a Vincent cooking session. Things went pretty smoothly until I sliced by thumb with an impressively sharp knife. No biggie, I put on a band-aid and we kept working. Then after a few glasses of wine, we realized that the fancy halal lamb meant to fill out the shalgham was still sitting in my parents' fridge in Northern Virginia, so there was a little side trip to my local Whole Foods. A little after 9pm, which, incidentally, is not overly late in the Arab dining world, we sat down to a delicious meal, followed by a platter of baked goodies and coffee. Not a bad Friday night.

This morning, dad swung by around 9:45 to whisk me and the ingredients and equipment for our Iraqi feast to Northeast DC, where we'd be teaching. Slowly kiddos and their parents trickled in, beginning around 11:00. By noon, things were in full swing, with dad talking it up to a rapt audience while 4 pots simmered on the gas burners and cameras and microphones captured his every word. The kids, to their credit, jumped right in, eager to help with the chopping and stirring, the adding of spices and tasting of things along the way. At the end, we all enjoyed our feast together, then dad wrote out everyone's name in Arabic calligraphy. I helped to wash up while dad led the group in a little Arabic line dancing. He was in his element, as mom would say.


I think a girl and her dad could get used to this. Well, maybe without the filming -- I get a little shy.

Anyway, it's high time I included my favorite dish of dad's on this blog. Seems fitting just a few weeks before Father's Day. Maybe you can make a pot of this for your dad....

Turnips (shalgham) with Lamb
This recipe makes enough for 10 people. Also delicious made with chicken or pork.

Ingredients
5-6 medium size turnips (tennis ball size)
2 lbs boneless lamb, cubed (leg or shoulder of lamb)
1 small can tomato paste
3-4 tomatoes, chopped (or 1 can stewed tomatoes)
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 medium onion, chopped
3-4 dried red chili peppers (or 1 tsp crushed red pepper)
1 TBSP date syrup (or molasses or maple syrup)
1 TBSP fresh lemon juice
Salt and pepper, to taste

Directions
In a large pot, heat 3 TBS olive oil. Saute garlic and onions 3 or 4 minutes.

Add lamb and cook 5 minutes. Stir occasionally.

Add turnips and cook an additional 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add tomato paste and follow with chopped tomatoes. Add 1 cup water, or more, as needed and stir.

Add syrup and follow with lemon juice and red peppers.

Bring to boil, lower heat to medium and cook for at least 1 hour, stirring occasionally.

After one hour, taste, and if necessary, add any of the ingredients as necessary to get the right balance of sweet, spicy, sour, and bitter. Salt and pepper to round up flavor.