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Wednesday, September 3, 2014

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From Baghdad to Bombay – a tapestry of recipes and reminiscences

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Recently, I met Flo Urbach at a friend’s simchah, and as we sat around the table, the conversation turned to food, as it often does. Urbach, who was born in Baghdad and now lives in Toronto, told me that her cousin, Pearl Sofaer, had recently written a cookbook titled Baghdad to Bombay: In the Kitchens of my Cousins.

This book is more than a cookbook – it’s a memoir that is rich with recipes and tales from exotic places, perfect for anyone with a love of family and food. It was inspired by family kitchens in Baghdad, Burma, India, Australia, Israel, London, New York and San Francisco. Baghdad to Bombay offers 50 mouth-watering recipes, family photographs and reminiscences, weaving the threads of a family into a rich tapestry of good food.

As an Iraqi Jew who grew up in India and now lives in California, Pearl Sofaer has a unique perspective on food and its cultural significance. She was born in Bombay, but her family originated in Baghdad and Kirkuk, Iraq, before migrating to Burma and India at the beginning of the 20th century. After the partition of India in 1947, most of her family moved to different parts of the world. Surrounded by Jewish, Middle Eastern and Indian Cuisines, Sofaer became inspired by the vast repertoire of recipes in her kitchen and decided to share this wealth of cultural background with readers.

“My father suggested that our rich heritage had been placed in my hands and we had to do something with this gift,” Sofaer says. “Everything becomes part of a rich tradition of sharing food and stories.”

She travelled four continents to speak with as many of her first and second cousins as possible. “Thanks to their openness, I can now share their passion and stories handed down to us by our forefathers from Babylon, Baghdad and Bombay. I invite you to come into the kitchens of my cousins to share their favourite meals and enjoy a vital tapestry of our history and personal reminiscences.”

Pearl Sofaer will be speaking at the Jewish Book Fair on Nov. 4 at 1:30 p.m. and her book will be available. For more information about Sofaer, visit www.pearlsofaer.com or contact Flo Urbach at 416-449-4966.

Here are some recipes suggested by Urbach that are typical Baghdadi dishes.

PEARL’S MARAG

Baghdadi Jewish chicken soup – a cure-all.
 
1 small chicken, cut up and skinned
1 tsp. turmeric
1/2 tsp. each garlic powder and ginger powder
salt and pepper to taste
2 medium skinned tomatoes parboiled, peeled and mashed
water to cover chicken plus 2 more cups
6 peeled and cut-up carrots
 
In a large pot, brown chicken quickly on medium heat for 15-20 minutes. Add all spices to chicken, add mashed tomatoes and keep stirring. Cook on low for 20 minutes.

Add water to cover chicken plus 2 more cups. Cook, covered, on low to medium for 40 minutes. Add carrots or any other preferred vegetables. Continue to cook for another 30 minutes. Serve with boiled basmati rice. Makes 3 to 4 servings.
 

HAMEEM

 
Also known in Arabic as t’bith, this is usually served with zalatha (tomato garnish) and halbah (a relish). In Bombay, hameem was eaten on Saturday for lunch after we returned from the synagogue.
 
1 whole roasting chicken
1 tsp. ground turmeric
1 tsp. ground cardamom
4 medium tomatoes, parboiled, peeled and mashed
1 cup rice (or more if you wish)
salt and pepper to taste
1 large carrot peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces and parboiled in 2 cups of water (save the water)

Preheat the oven to 350 to 375. Rub the chicken well with turmeric and ground cardamom; brown in a large pot over medium heat without oil. Move the chicken to a plate after browning.

Add mashed tomatoes to drippings and stir quickly. Add rice to the tomatoes, stir quickly, and move rice to the side of the pot. Return chicken to the pot. Sprinkle salt and pepper on the chicken. Stir all together quickly. Gradually add carrot and cooking water to the pot. Add more water depending on amount of rice used (2 cups of water to 1 cup rice).

Cover and cook for 1/2 hour on low to medium heat. Once rice has absorbed all the liquid, place covered pot in the preheated oven for 1 hour.

Reduce oven to 250 and cook for 4 more hours. Chicken can cook from morning to evening at a lower heat if you will be out all day. Dinner will be ready when you return.

Some families add peeled hard-boiled eggs placed in a metal dish on top of the chicken. The eggs absorb the flavour of the chicken and come out in different shades of brown. Serves 8.

 
Zalatha:
Dice 6 to 8 medium tomatoes; add juice of 1/2 lemon and frreshly chopped parsley or cilantro. Enjoy as a garnish on pita bread.
 

Molly’s Halbah

This is great with samosas, curries and hameem.
 
1 large tbsp. fenugreek, ground and soaked in boiled water for 4 hours
1 bunch fresh coriander, stems removed
1 cup fresh parsley
2 cloves garlic
1 or 2 green chilies to taste
juice of 1/2 lemon
salt to taste
 
Mix all ingredients in a blender to form a thick sauce. Add salt while blending; adjust lemon juice and garlic to your taste.

Norene Gilletz is a cookbook author, teacher and food consultant. For information about her cookbooks, cooking classes and culinary services, call 416-226-2466 or visit her website at http://www.gourmania.com.

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