Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Iraqi Burgers, 'Uroog   
Veggie-Meat Patties with Onion-Sumac Relish

For those of you accustomed to eating the regular all-meat hamburgers, this will be an exciting new take on this staple food. These are lusciously aromatic meat patties; lighter in texture than the all-meat ones, and are not as greasy despite the fact that they are fried. This is because the meat-veggie mix is moist and will not allow fat to penetrate, as you will see. You can tell this by the amount of fat left after frying. And if you hate frying for the mess and spatter it creates, rest assured 'uroog is 'user friendly'.

In Iraq, 'uroog is very popular, served as sandwiches for breakfast, along with hot sweet tea, and for the evening meal, which is usually lighter than lunch, the main meal of the day, when the staples rice and stew and other elaborate stuffed dishes like dolma and kubba are eaten. The perfect 'uroog meal would include along with it some scrumptious slices of fried eggplant and potatoes, with pickles, and lots of fresh herbs and salad vegetables, and of course the feathered onion with sumac (recipe below).

Eking out meat with vegetables and grains is a common Middle-Eastern cooking technique, done partly to lighten up the dishes and partly for economical necessities. With big families to feed, the expensive meat can really go a long way by creating nourishing and delicious dishes, such as 'uroog.

'Uroog is definitely not a new invention. Middle Eastern cooks have been fixing such dishes for centuries, albeit under different names such as tardeen and isfeeriyya, for which we have recipes preserved in medieval Arabic cookbooks. One of the tardeen recipes, for instance, calls for pounding lean red meat, and mixing it with pounded nuts, onion, a bit of honey, eggs, cinnamon, ginger, mastic, aniseed, black pepper, and white wheat flour. all this is to be moistened with some water, and then formed into discs and fried. Similarly, an isfeeriyya recipe requires pounding lean red meat, and mixing it with some water, bread dough , eggs, and ground black pepper, saffron, cumin, and coriander seeds. This mix was supposed to be rather thin in consistency, It was taken in ladlefuls and poured into hot oil, and fried into thin discs, and hence the name isfeeriyya (looking like a thin disc).        


'Uroog is traditionally made with fermented dough. Some cooks, including myself, more conveniently use flour and a small amount of dried yeast or baking powder, instead. Although parsley is the traditional herb used, feel free to add other herbs like mint, basil, dill, or chives. Nowadays, the majority of cooks prefer to shape them as oblongs, but some prefer make them round.       

Here is how to make 'uroog:

1 pound lean ground meat
1½ medium onions (about 1 cup/6 ounce), chopped into small pieces
¾ cup (1½ ounce) chopped parsley (other herbs may be added such as chives, basil, or mint)
1 egg
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon curry powder
1 teaspoon crushed coriander seeds
½ teaspoon baking powder or dry yeast
1 cup water, room temperature
1 cup flour (all-purpose or whole wheat)

Oil for frying
For garnish: onion relish (recipe below), chopped parsley, pickles, salad vegetables

1. In a big bowl, mix meat, onion, parsley, other herbs if used, salt, pepper, egg, curry powder, and coriander.     

2. Dissolve baking powder or yeast in water. Add water to the meat mix, and fold well. Add the flour, and knead lightly with one hand for a few minutes until well combined. The final mix will be a little soft but it should hold its shape when formed into patties (see photo below). Add a small amount of flour if needed. This dough is easier to handle with wet hands.

3. Heat ½ inch-deep oil in a medium-size frying pan. With wet hands, take a piece of the dough, size of a golf ball. Put it on the palm of one hand, and with the other, form it into an oblong patty, about 3 inches long and ⅓ inch thick. Carefully (don’t fry your fingers!) put the piece in the hot oil the moment you finish shaping it, and repeat until you fill the frying pan comfortably. 

Let patties fry until golden brown, turning only once to fry on both sides. Remember to wet your hands while handling this dough to prevent it from sticking to your fingers. Drain fried pieces on white paper towels put in a colander (this will prevent them from getting soggy). Repeat the process with the rest of dough. These patties cook very fast. Frying them will not take more than 15 minutes.

For presentation: Line a platter with onion relish, arrange ‘uroog patties all over, and sprinkle with chopped parsley. Or serve them already stuffed into bread, along with sliced tomatoes, onion relish, and chopped parsley.

(Makes about 26 patties)

Onion-Sumac Relish
Feathered Onion

بصل مريّش

Onion cut into thin slices and separated, as done here, is called busal mrayyash (feathered onion), in the Iraqi culinary lingo. This relish is so simple and yet so delicious, and goes very well with all kinds of grilled and fried meat. The sumac, with its fruity and pleasantly tart taste, transforms onion into a delicacy, which is believed to excite the appetite and aid digestion.          

Here is how to prepare it:

Cut a medium onion in half lengthwise, then thinly slice it crosswise. Put it in a small bowl, add 1 teaspoon vinegar and a very generous sprinkle of sumac, then fluff the onion and set aside, covered, for about 10 minutes and use.