19 July 2009

Delights From The Garden of Eden

Delights from the Garden of Eden is an Iraqi cookbook. There are not a lot of Iraqi cookbooks around. This cookbook is filled with history and stories that make you want to embrace this cuisine.

There is always a consideration with unfamiliar cuisines. In any cookbook, I find the best way to get started is to find a recipe that you have made before and see how the author prepares the dish. Another way to garner accessibility into a cuisine you are unfamiliar with is to find a recipe that has an ingredient you are familiar with and examine the way the author cooks that ingredient.

Being a Southerner, I have cooked thousands of pounds of black-eyed peas. There are few things more Southern than black-eyed peas but I had never thought of them as being Iraqi! Nasrallah and I have opposite parents, his mother was light on the chilies while his father was, “a devout lover of hot food.” In my family, it was my mother who loved hot food. Nasrallah said his father’s black-eyed peas were memorable and so hot that smoke came out the ears. So be forewarned.

Curried Black-eyed Peas
(Kari’l Loubya)

1/2 pound (1 1/4 cup dried black-eyed peas, washed, soaked overnight, and drained. Alternatively frozen (you’ll need one pound) or canned variety (you’ll need two 15 ounce cans, drained) can be used
5 to 6 cloves of garlic, unskinned

1 medium onion, coarsely chopped
2 tablespoons oil
1 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 whole aniseed
2 tablespoons flour

1 1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon thyme
1/2 teaspoon chili flakes or powder, or to taste
1 teaspoon prepared noomi Basrah*

1. In a medium pot, cover beans and garlic with cold water by 2 inches. Bring to a quick boil, then lower heat to low, and let simmer, covered, until tender to the touch, about 40 minutes. If canned variety is used skip this step.
2. While beans are simmering, heat oil in a medium skillet, and sauté onion until it is softens, about 5 minutes. Stir in turmeric, aniseeds and flour until fragrant, about 5 minutes. Add 1 cup hot water, and mix well, set aside.
3. When the beans are cooked (if canned beans are used add them in this step with 1 cup hot water), add onion mixture, salt, pepper, cumin, coriander, bay leaf, thyme, chili, and noomi Basrah. Mix well, and bring to a quick boil. Reduce heat to low, and let pot simmer gently for about 15 minutes, or until sauce is nicely thickened and beans are very tender, stirring occasionally to prevent ingredients from sticking to the bottom of the pot.

* noomi Basrah is a dried lime. You can substitute a teaspoon of lime juice and some lime zest.

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