In Iraqi Kurdistan, on the road from Erbil to Kirkuk, a local leader had us over for lunch – a multi-course feast prepared by his wife and daughters, and laid out on the floormat by his sons. Kurdish — and Iraqi — food is like much of what you’d find in the Middle East: grilled meats, grains and rice, giant fluffy footprints of naan, various stewed and fresh vegetables.
The highlight of the meal was a Kurdish specialty called burgul, a dish of bulgur wheat (or wheat berries) tossed with sweet raisins, chickpeas, and baked almonds, topped with stewed lamb or grilled chicken. It was salty, sweet, and hearty, with a beautiful nutty flavor and is probably simple to replicate at home. We were also served a small couscous tossed with threads of rice and chicken, and a heaping pile of white rice ringed with small raisins and topped with chicken legs.
As we sat on the floor, eating with spoons, our fingers, or fistfuls of naan… boys circulated with waters, sodas, and aryan, a fermented yogurt drink that was both salty and smoky. We supplemented our meat/carb intake with plates of fresh, unadorned salad vegetables and bowls of stewed potato in a tangy tomato sauce (as the one Irish girl who doesn’t love potatoes, I simply dipped the naan in the sauce).
Once the meal was over, the floor was cleared, we moved up to sit on the couch ringing the room, and ate local fruit: plums, apricots, crabapples and the smallest, sweetest grapes around. And there was tea. Always, in Iraq, there is tea.