Location: Middle East
Population: 40.2 million
Geography: A mix of rocky desert, marsh, and mountainous regions
Language: Arabic, Kurdish
Signature flavours: Lamb, rice, citrus, dates, tomato, cardamom
This fall, Eric and I moved into a new home. The kitchen was one of our favourite features when we first saw the house — with lots of natural light, a large oven, and plenty of counter space, we could both envisage the dinners that would be made there. This assignment was the first in our new kitchen, and I was eager to break it in with a Wooden Spoon Wanderer feast.
Rasgoul: A butterflied fish in a tomato, onion, garlic, and tamarind sauce, either skewered and cooked over an open fire, or pan cooked and then broiled for the more modern method.
Prep and cooking time: 40 min
Bus Station Kefta: Lamb meatballs (soy in our case) fried with tomato and spices. Shortly before serving, eggs are cracked into the dish and cooked just until setting. This dish is commonly fried up and served to hungry travellers in train and bus stations, hence the name.
Prep and cooking time: 30 min
Salata bil Laban: A yoghurt- and cucumber-based dish flavoured with garlic and parsley, served cold.
Prep and cooking time: 5 min
Simeet: Twisted rings of fluffy bread, dipped in molasses and coated with sesame seeds before baking.
Prep and cooking time: 4 hours
Klecha: Served for holidays, these buttery biscuits are spiced with nigella seed, fennel, and cardamom, and filled with sweet, sticky date paste.
Prep and cooking time: 2 hours
The Shopping List
We moved from a tiny town of 600 people in rural Ontario to an even tinier town of 505. While our new locale is sparsely populated, it is just 15 minutes outside a large town that offers vastly improved ingredients shopping over our previous location. I found everything I needed at two grocery stores and a bulk store.
I was very pleased with my menu, but failed to notice that three of my five dishes required baking in the oven, and all three at different temperatures. As a result, there was a lot of waiting around during this assignment, and we ate about an hour and a half later than planned. I had Eric sit at the table as I brought things over, so he could appreciate the sizzle of the rasgoul that had come straight from broiling, and the bubbling of the steaming hot kefta.
The perfectly cooked fish of the rasgoul fell apart as we started on it. The recipe had it broiling for ten minutes after stovetop cooking, and to me, ten minutes at a broil is a long time. I was worried it would be burned, but instead it was dark and slightly crispy on the outside, but juicy and tender on the inside.
The kefta — related to perhaps better-known Indian kofta — was delicious. The soft eggs drizzled bright yellow yolk across the flavourful meatballs and juicy chunks of tomato. It was the perfect dish to eat alongside the simeet. Those little twisty breads turned out wonderfully — soft but still chewy, and loaded with sesame seeds. I tore off pieces of simeet and dipped it in the salata, which is very much like Greek tzatziki, cooling the mouth and finishing with a garlicky kick.
We ended our meal with tea and klecha, which Eric loved. The dough was soft and flaky, and the date filling was almost like a fruit leather spiralling through the whole thing.
I like to think that today’s WSW assignment is just the first of so many to come in our new home, and that our kitchen will be full of the aromas of dishes from around the world. Sometimes we will be joined in our feasting by friends and family, and other times, it will be like tonight — just Eric and I (and three begging animals) enjoying something new.
Disclaimer: I’m not a professional chef. I’m just a passionate cook with a curiosity for flavours I’ve never tried. For great recipes from gifted local cooks, follow the links above.