Some history to read while you are sipping your tea


 

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I think one of the absolute coolest parts of Iraq is of course, the marshes. I love how the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers “marry” as my husband says…yet the do not combine. One is salt water and the other is fresh. Truly an amazing miracle from Allah/God. It also amazes me how Iraq Marsh Arabs build those houses that literally float around the marshes the way they do and they love like that!!! I mean yes, there are house boats and yachts….but not there. They are so natural and “earthy” it keeps me in awe when I look at the pictures. Can you imagine that? What if the house floated super far away?? It would terrify me….ahahahaaha! Random thoughts yes, but this is my blog so I am allowed for sure. 

So my in-laws are from the marshes as well, however not “in” the marshes. They have farms, which is very interesting to me because if I or we could live totally off the land, I so would. I really admire his family and everything that they do even with all the technology and “new” ways of life, they are still pretty much old school, so to say. Which is awesome.  So, I wanted to give some of the history of Al-Qurnah, Basrah…….which is exactly where my husband is from. It will not be boring…come and take a journey with me. 

Al-Qurnah, Iraq litterally means “the corner” so it says on wikipedia, and  is a pleasant little place 74 km north west of Basra at the very tip of the point named Shatt El-Arab where the two great rivers Tigris and Euphrates meet; a strategic position that has been the scene of conflicts for centuries. As legends have it, Qurna is the reputed site of the Gardens of Eden. It has been said, it was once a city built by Seleucus Nicator I in honor of his wife Apamea, the general who succeeded Alexander the Great on the latter’s death on the Tigris. From the pictures I have seen, the tree of Adam is still there, and they have built a park around it as well. I can not wait to go and see it. 

The contrast of the lush south of Iraq with the rest of a country which is often too bare can be seen very well, and even better on side-trips up the rivers. Each river has a strongly defined character: the banks of the Euphrates are the more wooded and picturesque, and the Tigris is the busier.

The backwaters, creeks and side channels of both are exceedingly beautiful, and here one can get a glimpse of the fertility that must have belonged to Mesopotamia when it was a network of streams and when the forests abounded.

The region of Basra, the city of Sinbad the Sailorand the starting point of his famous adventurous voyages to the World, is, some would say, the most beautiful part of Iraq, outshining both the Persian miniature scenery of the central Euphrates and the cool, majestic north.

But Basra retains a romantic aura. So does the whole area of the south from Shatt El-Arab (the meeting point of Tigris and Euphrates rivers) up to Amara on the Tigris and Suq Eshiukh on the Euphrates: it is lush, watered, full of trees and gardens and canoes gliding on the mirror-surfaces of calm lagoons. It is an area of countless birds and a variety of animals. You feel that lions, possibly dragons or the Great Roc of A Thousand and One Nights may appear.

Basra is Iraq’s 3rd largest city and main seaport, situated 67 km to the north of the Arabian Gulf and 549 km south east of Baghdad. When you see it today, you will be reminded of the commercial importance it has enjoyed for centuries; endless ships shuttle back and forth on Shatt El-Arab.

Ashar is the heart of the city and the old commercial center; its covered bazaar and mosque mark the end of the creek that links it and the river to Old Basra. Upstream is Margil, the garden suburb fanning out from the forest of cranes at the wharves of the Old Basra port and the railway station; and a little further you cross to the island that faces the Shatt El-Arab Hotel, where Basra’s airport was sited until the 1960s when it was moved to Shuaiba. Here are flowers and palms and that blessed water that is the glory of all Iraq, but particularly of the south

Basra was founded in 637 AD by Utba bin Ghazwan on order from Caliph Omar ibn Al-Khattab (634-644 AD), as soon as the Sassanian capital at Ctesiphon fell to the Muslim armies. It was made into a military base, and a mosque was built there of mud and reeds. Of that and of the original palace nothing can be seen today. 

Basra looms into history once again with the raising there by Zubeir ibn Al-Awwam and Talha bin Ubaidullah of a force to resist the claim of Ali, the Prophet Mohammad’s cousin, to the Caliphate after the murders of Caliphs Omar and Othman. A battle took place outside Basra to the west and it resulted in the deaths of both Zubeir and Talha. Zubeir was buried on the battle-site and that is why the small town that has grown up there is called Azzubeir to this day.

Today the older parts of Ashar are still attractive. The covered bazaars is full of beautiful old-style houses with balconies leaning over into the narrow streets and beautiful wooden facades in the style of old Arab architecture (called Shanasheel). They have character and are worth wandering through. They are quite extensive; the shops are well-stocked; they smell of spice and herbs and coffee; there is an old-world atmosphere there.

Now, to me, I love the old buildings and the history. I like to search in them, and if they allow me to, when we get to Iraq, Insha Allah, I will!!! History by reading can get boring to me, honestly. But actually walking and touching things that are ancient……that is amazing. I can not wait.


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For the Love of Spices!!!


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Spices and presentation are what give each and every single dish in any cooking, it’s personality. This is my opinion. There are indeed many dishes around the world that are similar to one another, from each country, and this is for sure. One of the biggest differences, to me, are the spices. I love them. I hoard them ahahahaha….some women have a love of shoes and clothes, not this one…Mine is spices. I have the messiest spice cabinet ever but I think I have every single spice from here to Iraq and back. I just can not get enough. If a spice becomes missing from over use, I can tell it is not there and it does not feel right. So, these are some of the spices used in Iraqi cooking.

The Iraqi Kebob….no one does it like Iraq


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There honestly isn’t a kabob I have ever had with as much heart and soul as the Iraqi Kabob. It honestly requires a great deal of skill and patience, although it looks easy and fast, it is not. The men, either my husband or our family friend Ahmed, make the kabob. Here where we live, my husband has a life time friend who owns the “halal” (slaughtered accourding to Islamic rules) store ad prepares the special ground mix of meat and fat used to form these mouth watering perfect ground meat rolls that go from the fire to your plate and into your stomach within 5 minutes flat…..only because they are amazing. So, a typical recipe for them would be something like this:

 

3 lbs of an equal mix of ground lamb and ground beef…the fattier the better for kebob

1 onion grated up

1/4 c of bread crumbs

1 tsp or more depending on taste, of salt and black pepper

some people add some allspice, but we do not. the fire gives it the flavor

if you want to be all traditional, get a whole onion and like 3 whole tomatoes to barbecue as well

you will need the long kebob sticks and form the meat around each one making sure your hands stay wet while doing so

and place them on the fire with a fan pointed at the flames to keep a good temp and fire going

line a large plate with a piece of the tanoor bread or parsley (my fav)

each kebob that is done after flipping and cooking, gently set on the bed of bread or parsley and sprinkle with sumac

cover with another layer of bread to keep the heat and flavor.

continue until all the meat is used up

we sever ours with pickle mixes and breads……this is truly an awesome meal.

Fatayer-Meat/Spinach Pies


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Ingredients

Pastry

2 Cups hot water

2 Cups hot milk

4 Tbsp. shortening

4 Tbsp. white sugar

2 Tbsp. salt

2 Packages instant yeast

10-12 Cups flour

Filling

Ground lamb

Ground beef

Minced onion

Salt and pepper

Method

Preheat oven to 400 F.

In a large bowl, place water, milk, shortening and sugar (let melt).

In another large bowl place 6 cups of flour, salt, yeast and mix well.

Add flour mixture into liquid and mix.  Add remaining flour a little at a time until you get the right consistency. (It is best to have the dough a little sticky)

Knead well.

Let rest for 10 minutes then cut the dough as if you were going to make rolls. Knead each piece and let rise until each piece double in size.

Now roll each piece out as thin as you can in a circle and add a small dollop of mixture in the center and spread it.

Pick two sides of the dough together and pinch tight as if you were making a turnover. Shape in a triangle and place on a cookie sheet.

Bake until light brown (Do not over cook as the dough will become tough).

Brush with melted butter once out of the oven and let cool on rack.

Sesame Tea Biscuits


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Sesame Tea Biscuits:

1/2 cup butter, room temperature
1  1/2 cup sugar
3 eggs, lightly beaten
1 tsp vanilla
3 cups flour
1/4 tsp salt
2 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 cup milk
flour for kneading dough
oil for cookie sheets

Mix the flour, salt, and baking powder in a bowl, Cream the butter and sugar together in a large bowl. Add the eggs and vanilla to the sugar-butter and mix well until fluffy. Add the flour 1/2 cup at a time to the egg-butter mixture. Mix well after each addition.

Place the dough on a floured surface and knead until smooth. Take small amounts of dough (about 1 Tbs) and shape into little loaves. Dip each cookie loaf into the milk and then roll in sesame seeds until well coated. Place on oiled cookie sheet and bake at 350F for 15 minutes or until browned. Remove from the tray and allow to cool.

Chocolate chip walnut banana bread…to die for


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2 cups flour

1 tsp baking soda

1/4 tsp salt

1 egg

1  1/8 cup sugar

1/2 cup vegetable oil

2 Tbsp buttermilk (I used regular milk)

1/2 tsp vanilla extract

3 large ripe bananas~mashed

3/4 cup chopped walnuts for inside the bread

1/2 cup chopped walnuts for on top-i always use more

3 big handfuls semi-sweet chocolate chips

Pre heat over to 325*  Grease and flour loaf pan.

Blend flour, baking soda and salt …set aside

Mix egg, sugar and oil until combined…add the flour mixture. When blended add the milk, vanilla and mashed bananas and mix until combined.

Fold in walnuts and chocolate chips.

Pour into loaf pan.

Top batter with remaining walnuts.

Bake 45 – 60 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out pretty clean.

Cool for 10 minutes

Mini cake/cheesecake bites


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This is a recipe that I was searching for but could not find so I put them together to make these delicious little bites…..

cheesecake part

4 (8 ounce) packages cream cheese
1 1/2 cups white sugar
3/4 cup milk
4 eggs
1 cup sour cream
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup all-purpose flour

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C)

In a large bowl, mix cream cheese with sugar until smooth. Blend in milk, and then mix in the eggs one at a time, mixing just enough to incorporate. Mix in sour cream, vanilla and flour until smooth.

set it aside

Cake:
1 cup boiling water
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa, divided
2 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped $
Cooking spray $
1 3/4 cups granulated sugar $
6 tablespoons butter, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla extract $
3 large egg whites $
1/2 cup fat-free sour cream
8 ounces cake flour (about 2 cups)
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda $
1/2 teaspoon salt

To prepare cake, combine 1 cup boiling water and 1/2 cup cocoa. Add 2 ounces bittersweet chocolate; stir until smooth. Cool to room temperature.
Place 1 3/4 cups granulated sugar, 6 tablespoons butter, and 1 teaspoon vanilla in a large bowl; beat with a mixer at medium speed 1 minute. Add egg whites, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Add sour cream; beat at medium speed for 2 minutes. Weigh or lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, and 1/2 teaspoon salt in a bowl, stirring with a whisk. Add flour mixture and cocoa mixture alternately to sugar mixture, beginning and ending with flour mixture; beat just until combined.

set aside

i used the small cupcake wrappers and did about a tsp of cheesecake mix then a teaspoon of cake mix on top for each one.

when you bake them, have a cookie sheet filled with water under them so the steam helps them cook.
after they are done…cherry on top of each one held on by a small amount of chocolate frosting.