This project didn’t go as planned.
You see, it was spring break so I had a little extra time that was normally spent shuttling refugee women to English class and herding elementary kids who think they can’t read and so don’t want to try. But I’d been wanting to put together a cooking blog post focusing on some displaced Christian women we’re supporting in Iraq. They are working to get the machinery and supplies to restart their food factory where they make a bulgur and meat pie called kubba (koo-bah) or kibbeh (kih-bah).
Look, isn’t it beautiful! (Just wait until you see the ones I made!)
So I conscripted my roommate and we went shopping. Finding a spice blend similar to the family recipes passed down through generations and hand ground was a challenge, but we found this one and added cinnamon and ginger.
I had borrowed an Iraqi cookbook from a friend and we attempted to follow the occasionally vague instructions.
The recipe said to use a food processor for the “dough”. We don’t have one, but we figured that most Iraqi women we know don’t have one either, so that didn’t really matter, did it? But we’d try to put the bulgar through the blender. We cleaned it up before the picture, so that no one would know how messy we are.
That didn’t seem to do anything so we just used the mixer and then continued mixing by hand. Looking back, this was our first mistake in a long line mistakes resulting from having no idea what we were really doing.
Then we made the filling. My roommate says I have good onion chopping skills, so I guess that’s a win, right? We mixed in the spices and let it sit to “wilt”. Before this, I didn’t know that onions could wilt.
After it sat for a while we added more meat. Now, this is supposed to be lamb according to the recipe. But we know people make it with whatever meat is available… lamb, goat, cow. (Note: Never chicken, because, in Iraq, chicken isn’t meat. I’ve met vegetarians in Iraq who eat chicken.)
Then my roommate made the dough into balls the size of an orange. (Or smaller since we didn’t have a giant pot to boil them in.)
Then came the adventure of pouring water on plastic wrap and trying to roll out the “dough”. (This is weird dough because it’s 1/3 meat.) Also, who pours water on plastic wrap? Also, this is when we first began having real doubts about this “cooking blog post” adventure.
Let’s just say it took some practice. The dough is super stiff and we found it actually worked better if instead of pouring water on the plastic wrap we just dropped the ball of dough into the cup of water first. This was our only useful “innovation”.
Then we cut out a pretty circle with a medium sized plate. It had to be small enough to fit in our pot of water. It was at this point that I read the instructions that said each one would need to boil for maybe 20 minutes and I put on another 2 pots to boil. There was no way we could sit around cooking one at a time!
Then we spread on some filling and put another circle on top!
Glue together with water and pressure and voila! We began to think that this was going to be a success. Look at that pretty kubba! There’s often a high point right before everything falls apart… the calm before the storm, right?
Then it went into the pot to boil. I found it fascinating that it sank and then would theoretically rise to the top of the water when it was done. Like giant ravioli.
It rose to the top all right! Yay! … But wait! What!? …. What is that thing?
We pulled it out and discovered that our kubba looked like… this! And it was soggy. (Ok, yes, we know it’s supposed to be wet, it was boiled after all. But the kubba we’ve had in the past has not been soggy.)
So we put it in the oven for a bit to crisp the outside.
It’s still really ugly kubba.
On the pro side, it tasted good and very much like we remembered from our days in Iraq.
So, after over 5 hours of hard work, we had a dozen or so of the ugliest kubba we’ve ever seen. No self-respecting Iraqi woman would ever set this before the world.
The women who are making this to feed their families and make an income are incredible and talented. Starting over after ISIS destroyed your business has got to be so hard, way harder than making this kubba, and this kubba is hard!