In Sinbad Grocery, 2896 Delaware Ave., Kenmore, I noticed jars of fist-sized eggplant that had been stuffed with whole spices and pickled, and wrinkled, greenish-black spheres that turned out to be dried limes. It turned out the proprietors are Iraqi, and I wandered away with a bin of kebab spice, a salty yogurt drink and vague plans to figure out what Iraqi cuisine is like.
Help arrived with "The Iraqi Family Cookbook" by Kay Karim.
Born in Mosul, Iraq, Karim emigrated to the United States as an adult. She is a librarian, but also teaches Iraqi cooking classes in the Washington, D.C., area. In her spare time, in her own kitchen, she whipped up a cookbook. It is an earnest, informative, obviously heartfelt book about how Karim's Iraqi family cooks, from everyday meals, like pickled stuffed eggplant, to exotic holiday treats like "Lady's Arm," a New Year's Eve appetizer – all adapted to American sources and sensibilities.
The recipes are accessible and concise. Karim starts with the basics and building blocks, like Arabian spice blend, or bahar, also known as "Syrian spice" or "seven spices." It's a spice blend characteristic to the region, but adjusted by each family, like Indian garam masalas, usually including black pepper, cardamom, cinnamon, allspice, cloves, ginger, nutmeg. Her family's recipe includes rose petals.
The book surveys appetizers and pickles, beverages, breakfast foods like candied fruit, omelets, soups and salads. Rice and breads get their own chapters. Vegetables, meat stewed with vegetables, and meats as centerpiece – especially lamb and chicken – are each explored in depth.
Then there are desserts – myriad baklavas and puddings, cookies and cakes.
The book is not a polished effort. Some of the photographs are blurry, or strangely lit. But those quibbles fail to spoil a fascinating glimpse inside one of the world's oldest cuisines – one that is more relevant in Western New York with each passing day.
(For those interested in eating more than cooking, there are more opportunities for Buffalonians to learn about the members of the growing Iraqi community. There are a couple of Iraqi restaurants – Newroz Grill and Shish Kabab Express – and even more Iraqi groceries on Hertel Avenue.)
The Iraqi Family Cookbook
By Kay Karim
Hippocrene Books291 pages, $19.95