Saturday, April 29, 2023

Sakanjabīl: The Perfect Beverage


Not many people may drink sakanjabeel in Iraq these days, and I suspect the new generation knows anything about it. So here it is! Really worth rediscovering. 

Medieval thirst-quenching drinks

There was a time when sakanjabeel was the drink of choice. It was the thirst quencher in the hot days of summer and during the fasting days of Ramadan. It was the digestive tonic to have after a heavy meal; and when tweaked with herbs and spices, it was used as a remedy for many common illnesses, such adding aniseeds to expel phlegm; cardamom to relieve flatulence, dill seeds to relieve colic pain, and so on.

What's in a name?  

Sakanjabeel or sakanjabīn is a beverage with impressively ancient roots. Etymologically the name itself is a combination of two Persian words sarka-anjabīn, a combination of the words for vinegar and honey. But names aside, this culinary practice of yoking the sweet with the sour predates the era of the Sassanian Persian Empire (third to seventh centuries). Incorporating honey and vinegar into drinks and dishes is well attested in the world of antiquity. In the book of Apicius, for instance, sauces served with grilled meats and fish included honey and vinegar. Interestingly, in the surviving Babylonian recipes from 1700 BC in ancient Mesopotamia, modern Iraq, we also get a sense of similar practices.

Ibn Sīnā (Latin Avicenna, d.1037) describes in his encyclopedic Canon of Medicine how sakanjabīn is made:
Sugar is put in a pot and leveled with a spoon. Strong vinegar is gently poured until bubbles are seen on the surface. The sugar is cooked until it melts and its froth is removed. Next, plain water is added until the mix looks like a thin solution, and then it is boiled until it has the consistency of a medium syrup.
Ibn Sīnā recommends tweaking it for colder weather by preparing it with honey instead of sugar. Though both sugar and honey were said to have hot properties, sugar was said to lean more towards moderation.   

Sakanjabīl, as it is called today in countries like Iran and Iraq, is still prepared more or less the same way and it is bestowed the same health benefits as in the days of yore, mostly as a refreshing and cooling drink in the summer and as an aid to digestion. To make a small batch of it, put in a pot 2 cups vinegar and 2 cups sugar, and bring them to the boil, skimming any froth that might come up to the surface. Add ½ cup water, 2 tablespoons rosewater, and a sprig of fresh mint. Let the pot boil until a syrup of medium consistency forms (total about 15 minutes). Discard the mint sprig. After it cools to room temperature store it in a jar and use it diluted with plain or sparkling water, amount to taste.


Tuesday, October 26, 2021

It's Soup Time!

Kubbat Hamud Shalgham

كبة حامض شلغم

Stuffed Rice Dough
Simmered in Cream of Turnip and Swiss Chard Soup

This is the mother of all kubbas. I am using the expression in the medieval sense, which is ‘the best of.’ I imagine, had 10th-century al-Warraq, author of Kitab al-Tabeekh (كتاب الطبيخ), known this dish, he would have called it ‘um al-kubab.’ Actually, one of the recipes in his book came that close to creating such a dish. In a shaljamiyya recipe (white stew with turnips), turnips were cooked in white sauce thickened with crushed chickpeas, ground almonds, milk, and rice. Lean meat was pounded into paste with spices, formed into kubab ‘meatballs’ and thrown into the simmering stew (Chapter 54).

This kubba is different from kubbat Halab in that dough is made from ground uncooked rice, pounded with meat. There is only one way to serve it and that is as kubbat hamu shalgham. After shaping the kubba, it is simmered in delicious turnip and Swiss chard soup. The soup in this case is served as a main dish

Kubbat hamu shalgham is everybody's favorite. As children, we had to beg our mothers to make it, since it wasn't an easy thing to do-- what with all the pounding and grinding needed. It was definitely not the kind of food to be cooked as often as we would have desired. However, in the age of food processors, making it is no big deal. Nowadays, rice flour can be purchased ready-made, and dough can be pulsed in the food processor in a few minutes. This might explain why in the Arab countries, a food processor is called sit il-bet (lady of the house).

In Iraq, this dish is a winter treat since turnips and Swiss chard are available in that season only. Still, some people do make it in the summer, using summer squash and mint. Incidentally, al-Warraq, in the same turnip stew recipe I mentioned above, also gave gourd (qar') as a substitute when turnip was not in season. The traditional Jewish Iraqi version of this dish is prepared with beets instead of turnips, which is also a very ancient vegetable used in stews as shown in one of the Babylonian recipes.   

    Both turnips and chard have been used in cooking in the region ever since antiquity. In one of the Babylonian stews, turnips were the principal ingredient. In Akkadian, it was called ‘laptu,’ from which the Arabic lift was derived (its other name saljam/shaljam/shalgham is a Persian loan word). During the medieval times, turnips were made into delicious white stews, sometimes adorned with spicy meatballs, as mentioned above.

A turnip, Kitab al-Diryaq 

Turnip, a winter vegetable in Iraq, is believed to have the power to relieve cold symptoms. The sight of vendors selling turnips simmered in water and date syrup is quite common in wintertime. The aroma emitting from those steaming huge pots of turnips is unforgettable. 

Sketch is by Iraqi artist Suad Salim, see my post on Recipes from Baghdad 

Chard, Dioscorides, Fi Hayula al-Tibb, translation by Hunayn b. Ishaq

Like turnips, chard is an ancient vegetable. Its Arabic name silq was derived from the Akkadian ‘silki.’ Also like turnips, it was valued as an effective cure for cold-related ailments. In the opinion of the medieval Arab physicians and botanists, it was also believed to increase blood and semen, and was said to work as an aphrodisiac and euphoriant. 

Hamuḍ Shalgham: What’s in a Name?

ما معنى حامض شلغم؟ 

The Iraqi name for this soup hamudh shalgham literally translates to ‘sour turnips,’ and to make it sour we add lemon juice or tamarind. It turned out, hamud shalgham, after all, is what it means -- soured turnips:

Originally, fermented soured turnips and their liquid were added to stews and soups for sourness and flavor. I discovered this while reading an entry on turnips in 10th-century Al-Filaha al-Nabatiyya (farming practices of the Nabateans/indigenous Iraqis) by Ibn Wahshiyya, a Chaldean himself, who in his introduction to the book claimed that it was an Arabic translation of ancient Babylonian sources dealing with their advanced knowledge on farming, originally written in Suryaniyya qadeema (Syriac). His comments on turnips included a recipe for ma’ al-saljam al-hamidh (sour turnip juice). The recipe uses peeled and diced turnips, turnip juice, and baked sour bread. While the bread is still hot, it is whipped into the turnip mix until it dissolves completely, with the addition of herbs like rue, mint, and parsley. The mix is left to ferment until it matures and sours. Ibn Wahshiyya says it is eaten with bread and its juice is made into a digestive drink. He also says the sour turnip juice is used in meat dishes to make the sauce deliciously sour.

So we make the soup, call it hamud shalgham, and we are completely oblivious to the long history of the indigenous ancient culinary practices involved in making it. 

For the Love of Kubba

Sketch by Iraqi artist Suad Salim, see my post on Recipes from Baghdad 

 وكت دك الكبّة ‘  وعّو قَرندل

وكت أكل الكبّة ‘ نايم قرندل

When it’s time for pounding kubba, “Wake up Qarandal!”

When it’s time to eat the kubba, “Let poor Qarandal sleep.” 

An Iraqi proverb said when people feel used. They would be called when their help is needed, but none would think of calling them back when the time comes to share the fruits of their deed. And what dish to choose better than the elaborate kubba

Here is how to make Kubbat Hamud Shalgham:

With some planning you can enjoy this kubba fuss free. Prepare stuffing the day before perhaps. Make the kubba dough, and start making the turnip soup. While the soup is cooking, stuff and shape the kubba into balls, and have them ready to drop into the soup pot when the time comes.

Making the kubba balls (about 16 balls):

12 ounces lean beef, ground

2 cups (12 ounces) rice flour

1 teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon black pepper

About 4 tablespoons cold water, depending on how moist the meat is

1 recipe kubba filling, see my previous post on kubbat Halab


Prepare the dough: mix together ground beef, rice flour, salt, and pepper. In three batches process the mix in a food processor, adding cold water in tablespoons through the spout. A ball of dough will start forming and revolving within 2 to 3 minutes. Repeat until all is done. The final dough will be pinkish in hue, pliable, and of medium consistency. 

Make the kubba balls by taking a piece of the dough, size of a golf ball, flatten it into a thin concave disc (a wok-like disc)-- you need to make it as thin as you possibly can to avoid ending up with tough kubbas -- and put about one tablespoon of the filling in the middle. Gather the ends to close it, and roll it into a ball between the palms. Remember to handle the dough with slightly moistened fingers. It sometimes happens that while shaping the dough tears at places, especially when you are trying to make it as thin as possible. The way to fix this is to take a small piece of dough, flatten it between your fingers, slightly wet the torn area, and patch it. Put the finished pieces on a tray, in one layer. And use when the soup is ready. 

Preparing the soup:

1 medium onion, chopped

2 tablespoons oil

3 medium turnips, (about 1 pound) peeled and cut into 1 inch-cubes

4 to 5 big leaves Swiss chard (about 3 cups chopped), chopped with the stalks

1 teaspoon crushed coriander seeds

½ teaspoon turmeric

2 heaping tablespoons tomato paste, optional, if you want the soup to be red 

½ cup rice soaked in water for 30 minutes and pulsed with the water in a food processor

1½ teaspoons salt

½ teaspoon black pepper

Juice of 1 lemon (¼ cup or to taste), plus ½ teaspoon sugar


1. In a large pot, sauté onion in oil until it starts to soften. Add the turnip pieces and fold together, about 5 minutes. Toss in the Swiss chard, and fold. Fold in coriander, turmeric, and tomato paste if used. Pour in hot water or broth to cover them by about 5 inches, and mix well. Add the pulsed rice, stir well; also add salt, black pepper, lemon juice, and sugar. Bring the pot to a boil, and then reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, covered, until turnip is tender and soup starts to slightly thicken. Stir occasionally to prevent the soup from sticking to the bottom of the pot, about 20 minutes. 

2. Drop in the prepared balls of kubba, stir the pot carefully, and let it boil gently for 20 minutes to allow the kubbas to cook.   

And enjoy this hearty delicious soup. My children nicknamed this soup, Shorbat Kuluhu, (Eat It Soup) after I told them how the prophet Muhammad recommended eating turnips to his followers saying, "Eat it, and do not tell your enemies about it." It is that good! So next time you catch a cold or something, you know what to do.

The Story of Joha and Turnips

قصة جحا والشلغم

17th-century miniature of Joha, whom the Ottomans called Mulla Nasreddin

Joha is a popular comic character in Islamic folkloric literature. While at times he is shrewd and funny enough to play practical jokes on people, he is also presented as a naïve person who easily becomes the butt of numerous jokes. The following is my favorite:

Once Joha went to pay homage to the Caliph, and as the custom required, he took with him a present. It was a basketful of nabq/nabug نبق, which is fruit of the lote tree (sidr tree), which are the size of small cherries. Nabq was, and still is, by common consent, a very humble fruit.     

Nabq, fruit of the lote tree 

Naturally, the Caliph was offended, and gave a command that Joha was to be stoned with every single fruit he brought with him. Every time he was hit by one, Juha would say, "Alhamdu lil-lah wal-shukr (may God be praised and thanked). The Caliph was surprised and asked for an explanation. Joha told him that he was thanking God for listening to his wife who suggested this fruit as opposed to his initial choice, turnips.

Friday, June 11, 2021

Medieval Arabs Ate Sandwiches Too!?

Keep on reading to get to the bottom of it while making this millennium old pinwheel sandwich made for the Abbasid Caliph al-Mutawakkil (d.861), and surprise yourself with how exotic and yet so familiar it is. Enjoy!

We all bought into the theory that the inventor of the sandwich was John Montagu, the fourth Earl of Sandwich of England (1718 – 1792). The story goes that he was the one who started the trend when he asked for his meal to be served between two layers of bread. John Montagu was an avid gambler, or a workaholic, according to another account, who chose to forgo the traditional proper table-dinners that would have interrupted whatever it was he was doing and, more importantly, to keep a hand free. 

Fourth Earl of Sandwich

The speculation is that soon enough people around him started to imitate him, to have that same 'thing' that Sandwich had, and that was how food consumed this way acquired the name ‘sandwich,’ with the first documented English sandwich recipe appearing in the 1773 English cookbook The Lady’s Assistant for Regulating and Supplying her Table by Charlotte Mason:

Mason, Lady's Assistant,  p. 427

Well, as far as naming goes, this is all plausible, but the fourth Earl of Sandwich was  definitely not the first one to have his meal this way. Food must have conveniently been eaten this way from ancient times in the Near East, where bread was baked in a variety of ways: flat ones and risen and spongy ones. They were variously made leavened and unleavened, large and small, and many more. Depending on how they were made, there was the clay oven tannūr for the leavened flat bread, the larger communal brick oven for baking puffed and spongy bread, and the metal plates (saj) for the large and thin bread varieties.

Baking Khubz in the tannūr

Excavated remains of a brick oven furn in ancient Mesopotamia Tell Brak

A baking thin sheet of flat bread, called marquq, shrak, lawash/lavash, etc.

In Mesopotamia alone more than 300 varieties of bread were known. Interestingly, we see in an ancient Mesopotamian cylinder seal, for instance, an Assyrian officer having a meal on the go-- the way sandwiches are always meant to be eaten. He is depicted as holding what looks like a roll of bread (a sandwich!) while standing, with his attendant fanning the flies away 

Iraqi Museum
(Reproduction in 
Tharwat Ukāsha, Al-Fann al-‘Irāqī, 1980: 517)

From scenes depicted on the ancient Egyptian temple walls we can see that fillings were added between two layers of bread resembling sandwiches, and cylindrical breads were made that looked like pinwheels.

An ancient Egyptian baking scene

As for ancient Greece and Rome, it was to the Near East that they looked for the well-made bread. In his “Life of Luxury,” Sicilian-Greek gourmet Archestratus (fourth century BCE) recommended the Phoenicians and Lydian bakers (in western Asia Minor) for their expertise in baking.

            A medieval cook kneading bread dough

Thus it follows that in a region so impressively rich and varied in making bread, it should come as no surprise to learn that the documented history of the sandwich and its culture in the Near East began much earlier than the eighteenth century in Europe. While the first English sandwich recipe appeared in the1773 Lady's Assistant, in the surviving medieval Arabic cookbooks many sandwich recipes were included as early as the tenth century. In fact, based on the references and descriptions of sandwiches in medieval Arabic literature, their origin can be pushed even further back to the eighth or ninth century, which was the beginning of the golden age of the Baghdadi cuisine. For instance, in al-Masʿūdī’s tenth-century Murūj al-Dhahab, a poem by the famous Abbasid poet of Baghdad Ibn al-Rūmī (d. 896) describes how to construct a sandwich, which he calls wasṭ (وسط), in which the stuffing is put between two layers of bread. Here is how he describes it: 

    You, seeker of delicious food, take a couple of fine breads, round and thick,
    The likes of which no one has seen, Slice off the top crusts, 
    so that you make them thin.
    Spread on one, finely minced grilled chicken, delectable and delicate, 
    which a mere puff would melt.
    On this arrange lines of almond intersected with lines of walnut.
    Let its dots be cheese and olive, and its vowels mint and tarragon,
    Now take boiled eggs, and with their dirhams [egg white] 
    and dinars [egg yolk] the wasṭ adorn.
    Give it a dusting of salt, but not much; just what it needs.
    And inspect it with your eyes for a second or two, 
    for the eyes have a share in it, too.
    Look at it appreciatively until your eyes have their fill, 
    then cover it with the other bread, and eat it with joy.

AS for recipes, the earliest ones occur in Ibn Sayyār al-Warrāq’s 10th-century cookbook, Kitāb al-Ṭabīkh, chapter 23 (my English translation, Annals of the Caliphs' Kitchens). In this chapter, five recipes are given with a bonus food poem. In these five recipes, sandwiches are made in three different ways:

1. A thin flat bread similar to today's marquq (lavash) is spread with layers of finely chopped ingredients (meat, vegetables, herbs, etc.), and then seasoned and tightly rolled. The sandwich is served sliced into pinwheels, called bazmaward, a name of Persian origin. It was also called muyassar wa muhanni ميسر ومهني (i.e. delightful and easy to eat).   

2. Another type of sandwich is called wast (pl. aswat اوساط); it is similar to the one described in Ibn al-Rimi's verses.

3. The third type is called wast mashtour (وسط مشطور), which is an open-faced sandwich. This one, al-Warraq tells us, was made by no less than the Abbasid gourmet Prince Ibrahim b. al-Mahdi himself (d. 839), who was half-brother of Hārūn al-Rashīd. The recipe describes how the crusty edges and top of a brick-oven bread are first sliced off, and the face is spread with a fermented condiment, called binn, and then slathered with walnut oil. It is toasted on a grill set on a brazier, and after smearing it with yolk of soft-cooked eggs, and grated cheese if wished, it is good to eat. Here is the recipe as it occurs in al-Warraq's Arabic edition:

What is even more exciting is the fact that Ibn al-Mahdī supplemented his recipe with a short poem describing it, which in effect is an artistic representation of the dish itself -- second best to today's camera images. Here is his poem:  

What a delicious sandwich on the brazier I made, 

        slathered with binn and walnut oil!

Fragrant and shining, as if the binn I used 

       with ambergris and musk was embalmed.

Of nigella seeds I put what it needed, 

        as for fennel, I did sprinkle some. 

Olive oil I made sure to add, 

        for it gives a luscious coating and a saffron-glow.

Smeared with egg yolks, with cheese sprinkled, 

        looking like speckled embroidered silk.  

As colorful as striped silk it looks, 

        exuding musk and camphor.

The taste, luscious as pure honey, 

        for the best of aromatic spices I did use.

Here is a recipe for you to try: 

It is a recipe for making the pinwheel sandwiches, bazmāward, from tenth-century Kitāb al-Ṭabīkh by Ibn Sayyār al-Warrāq, chapter 23. It was specially made for the Abbasid Caliph al-Mutawakkil, d. 861:

Use cold [cooked] meat of two legs and shoulders of a kid or lamb. Finely shred the meat into thread-like pieces. Choose whatever you like of leaf vegetables, excluding watercress (jirjīr) and endives (hindibāʾ). Finely chop them until they resemble sesame seeds and mix [part of] them with the shredded meat. Set the mixture aside.

Now choose good quality sharp cheese, scrape it with a knife, and collect the scraped cheese. Coarsely grind walnuts and add them [with the cheese] to the [set-aside meatless] chopped vegetables. Also add some chopped herbs and rue. A portion of the chopped vegetables should have been set aside unmixed with the meat. Next, peel and chop some olives and add them to the [meatless] chopped vegetable mixture.

Spread a soft and large ruqāqa [similar to lavash/markook bread], cover it with some of the meatless vegetable mixture and sprinkle it with seasoned salt. Next, spread the meat and vegetable mixture [to which you should have added] some spices. Then arrange a layer of eggs sliced lengthwise. Next, spread another layer of the meat and vegetable mixture followed by a layer of the meatless vegetable mixture. Sprinkle them with fine-tasting salt and drizzle them with sweet vinegar and rose water.

Tightly roll the bread with the filling and slice it crosswise into discs. Arrange the [pinwheels] on a platter and pass them around, God willing.


I am not giving exact amounts of ingredients here, but a good rule of thumb is to decide how much to use of the main ingredient, which is the cooked meat here, and build around it. The layering is kind of elaborate; the following steps will help you keep track of the layers. 

On a lavash bread spread the ingredients in this order:


1. vegetable mix

2. vegetable + meat mix

3. sliced eggs

4. vegetable + meat mix

5. vegetable mix

Roll it up and slice it into pinwheels.

The full article is published in ArabLit Quarterly: Summer 2021: The Kitchen

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Baked Falafel: Light and Delicious

الفلافل الفرنية لذيذة وخفيفة

Have your falafel and eat them, fry-free! Here is a way to make sure the chickpeas you are devouring are fully cooked and hence easier on the digestive system. 

Falafel is a Middle-Eastern snack food well known and loved in most parts of the world. Basically, it is ground chickpeas mixed with herbs and spices, shaped into balls or small patties, and deep-fried. The variety made with fava beans is called ta'miyya (طعمية). It is the favorite snack food in Egypt. Some people, though, prefer to make falafel with a combination of chickpeas and fava beans. Interestingly, falafel in Yemen is called bajiyya باجية,  made with a combination of chickpeas and black-eyed peas (cowpeas), which is lubya in Arabic, and dejer دجر in the Yemeni vernacular (here is a link for how it is made in Yemen).     

Whether from chickpeas, fava beans, cowpeas, or whatever beans, this type of fried snack food has always been a very popular food in the Middle East from olden times: a cheap alternative to meat -- it is  also known as kebab al-fuqara' (كباب الفقراء) 'kebab of the poor;'  and it conveniently replaces meat for Lent meals consumed by fasting Christians. That is how such fried delights -- made with fava beans-- came into being, according to one of the stories, which attributes its beginnings to the ancient Egyptian Copts.                      

In fact, that chickpeas were used to replace meat and eggs during Lent is evident from recipes that survived from medieval times. In the tenth-century Baghdadi cookbook كتاب الطبيخ by Ibn Sayyar al-Warraq (p. 236), a fried disk is made with mashed chickpeas. The same recipe is repeated in fourteenth-century Egyptian cookbook كنز الفوائد (p. 172). Likewise, in the thirteenth-century Andalusian cookbook Anwa' al-Saydala fi Alwan al-At'ima (انواع الصيدلة في الوان الاطعمة), where a similar disc, called isfiriyya اسفرية, is made basically from chickpea flour (p.4). Such meatless dishes were collectively called muzawwarat مزورات, 'false' or 'counterfeit' dishes made to simulate comparable dishes with meat.

The medieval physicians were also of the opinion that such false dishes were fit for the sick because they were believed to be easier to digest than the meat ones.        

Falafel in Iraq was first popularized by the Palestinians who were expelled from their homeland in 1948, and now it has become a favorite street food. However, unlike the rest of the Middle Eastern countries where the falafel sandwich is served rolled in pita bread, the Iraqis usually use sammoun bread (صمون) to stuff the fried balls in it. In my recipe below I used pita bread for convenience, but feel free to use any bread comparable to sammoun in texture such as ciabatta.  


Falafel is usually deep fried. To give it a lighter touch, you may bake it and save yourself the trouble of frying. More importantly, you will be quite sure that the chickpeas will be fully cooked, and they will not be as hard on the digestive system. Here is the recipe:     

Baked Falafel
 (Makes about 18 pieces)

3 1/2 cups of boiled chickpeas, or use two 15.5-oz canned chickpeas, rinsed and drained well 
1 cup parsley, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup fresh cilantro, coarsely chopped
1/4 cup fresh mint, coarsely chopped, optional
2 garlic cloves, grated
1/4 cup grated onion
3 tablespoons flour, preferably whole wheat
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon crushed coriander seeds
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper
½ teaspoon chili powder, or to taste

Sesame seeds for coating
Olive oil for brushing
Sumac for sprinkling 

1. Combine and mix all the ingredients (except for the sesame seeds, olive oil, and sumac) in a large bowl. Process the mixture in a food processor, in batches (depending on its size), until smooth. 

2. Form falafel mixture into rounded patties (handle with slightly wetted hands), roll each piece in the sesame seeds, and place it in an oiled cookie sheet.

3. Brush the pieces with olive oil and bake in a preheated oven (400°F), middle shelf, for about 25 minutes, until they nicely crisp and brown. Handle them with care for they will be a bit brittle.     

4. Make falafel sandwiches by arranging three pieces of falafel on a warmed up round of pita bread. Scatter some diced salad vegetables (such as tomatoes and cucumber, or whatever you prefer). Drizzle all with some tahini sauce, made by whipping tahini with lemon juice and water, and season with some salt and grated garlic (if sauce turns out to be thick, add some more water and whip). Sprinkle all lightly with some sumac, and roll up the bread, and enjoy.

You may also serve the falafel without bread: simply arrange the pieces on a platter and serve them with tahini sauce. Also lovely with a dip of pepper jam. 

Monday, January 8, 2018

My Book of Delights is Out!

Delights from the Garden of Eden is now out with 25% discount from the publisher. Follow the link given in Equinox Publishing  tweet. 

Also available (ON SALE!),, and  Book Depository 

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Stuffed Potato Dough

Kubbat Puteta Chap

بتيتة جاب
It is the best guise that potatoes can ever take. The stuffed fried discs are a delight to look at and to eat.

The meaning of chap in this otherwise very Iraqi modern dish eludes me. In all probability, it is a corruption of some sort of an English or Indian word which might have filtered into the dialect during the time of the British colonization.

However, the art of making kubba, of stuffing food with food, is certainly not new to the Iraqi cooks. Indeed, it can be traced all the way back the ancient times, as manifested in the Babylonians' bird pies, prepared by enclosing birds cooked in white sauce between two layers of seasoned dough. Detailed recipes for making such an ancient stuffed food are found in a Babylonian culinary tablet written in Akkadian cuneiform in 1700 BC:

Babylonian culinary tablet 8958, Yale Babylonian Collection  
 Even the term kubba itself, used to designate this kind of stuffed food, might well have originally derived from the Akkadian ‘kubbusu,’ which designates a cake (think a meat patty or a fish cake). See also my previous post on Kubbat Halab.
Using the New World potatoes for making kubba is a relatively new development in the art of making kubba, which is more traditionally made with bulgur and rice.    

Here is how to make it:

(Makes 18 to 20 pieces)

For the shell:
2 pounds potatoes (all-purpose will do), boiled whole and unpeeled
½ cup cornstarch (use a bit less with starchy potatoes)
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon black pepper
For the filling, see my previous post on kubbat Halab
About 1 cup breadcrumbs for coating
Oil for frying

1. Peel the boiled potatoes when cool enough to handle. Cut them into smaller pieces. Put them in a big bowl, and add cornstarch, salt, and pepper. Then mash them with a potato masher, or run them through a potato ricer. A blender or a food processor is not recommended because it will cause the potatoes to develop a gummy texture. With a moistened hand, knead mixture the way you knead pastry dough until well blended, about 5 minutes. If the mixture is too dry to form into dough (sometimes this happens when potatoes are too starchy), sprinkle it with a small amount of water. 

2. Divide dough into 18 to 20 pieces, size of a small lemon, each. With moistened hands, flatten a piece into a thin wok-like disk. Put about 2 tablespoons of the filling in the middle, gather edges, and close the piece into a ball. Flatten it into a disc by putting it between the palms of the hands and gently pressing the edges so that it is full in the middle and thinner around the edges. Always remember to handle dough with slightly moistened hands. Put finished discs in one layer on a tray or a flat dish.

3. Put breadcrumbs in a dish, and coat discs before frying. Shake off excess crumbs.

4. Put about an inch of oil in a skillet. When hot, fry discs turning once to brown on both sides, 3 to 4 minutes for each side. If they brown quickly, turn heat down a little. 

5. Put the fried discs in a large colander lined with white paper towels, and let them cool off a little before serving. Alternatively, you may spread the paper towels on a rack and put the fried discs in one layer to cool off. This way you will prevent them from getting soggy.

Serve warm with lots of salad, and bread. They also make an exciting filling for a sandwich (too much starch! But really delicious). Fill a sandwich bread (such as Italian ciabatta) with a piece or two of puteta chap along with lots of sliced salad vegetables.

Baked Puteta Chap
(Makes 18 to 20 squares)

Most of the Iraqi traditional dishes are fried, because up until the late 1950s, ovens were not available in every kitchen as they are today. Nowadays there is no reason why some of the fried dishes should not be baked. The following is a lighter version of the traditional puteta chap.

1. Use the same ingredients given above. Make dough as directed in the first step, and prepare filling as directed above.

2. Preheat oven to 380°F. Grease a 12x7x2-inch baking pan (or approximate size). Coat its bottom and sides generously with breadcrumbs. Shake off excess crumbs

3. Divide dough into 2 parts. Cover the bottom of the prepared pan with one part, and spread the filling all over it. Next, cover this filling with the other half of the dough by taking small portions, and flattening and putting them on the filling until the entire surface is covered. With wet fingers, lightly press the top layer closing any gaps on the surface. Brush with a beaten egg and sprinkle lightly with breadcrumbs. Decorate surface with a fork, if you like, and drizzle it with a little oil.

4. Bake it in the preheated oven for about 40 minutes, or until surface is golden brown. Let it cool for 10 minutes, and divide it into 18 to 20 squares.