Supperclub host and chef Philip Juma says it's time to spread the love of the spiced, sweet and super-shareable dishes of his childhood. Trust us – they're good
A whole, slow-cooked lamb; blossom-infused cream cheese; barbecue fish; sticky date pastries; heaps of dried lime and saffron-addled biryani – these are just some of Iraq's hidden culinary delights that supperclub supremo and uber-foodie Philip Juma wants us to get to grips with.
The City worker-turned pro of Juma Kitchen wants to make a mark with his updated spin of traditional Iraqi cuisine. "My dad is from Iraq, and the culture's food is what I grew up loving," he tells us.
"It's a country packed with amazing recipes and a wonderful heritage. All the similar cuisines – Indian, Persian, Lebanese – are already popular, so it's time it got some attention."
So let's get started with that. Here's Juma's fast-track, quick-fire rundown of everything you need to know and what you should be tantalising your tastebuds with.
1. It's somewhere between Indian and the food of the Levant
"You've got a lot of spices like cardamon, cumin, cloves, cinnamon and saffron alongside fragrant ingredients like rose petals, orange blossom water and pomegranate molasses. Sliced almonds, cashews, pine nuts, sultanas, vine leaves, flat-leaf parsley and dill are all important too."
2. My signature dish is dolma
"That's a big sharing platter of stuffed vine leaves and onions, filled with basmati rice and lamb mince that's jazzed up with pomegranate molasses, cloves, cardamom and coriander. I remember my aunties spending hours making these in the kitchen on special occasions. Granted, they're a labour of love, but they're worth the wait."
3. As a cuisine, Iraqi food is red-meat heavy
"There's a big focus on lamb, but it's cooked in so many different ways and worked into such a multitude of recipes, it never feels repetitive. Other than that, there's a lot of beautiful, light food. I'm not saying it's super-healthy all the time, but there's a good balance. One of my favourite salads combines cos lettuce with radishes, cucumber, pepper, tomato and spring onion, with a dressing of pomegranate molasses, malt vinegar and olive oil. You top it with fried croutons made from pitta and plenty of fresh mint and parsley – gorgeous."
4. The quintessential taste is dried limes
"You couldn't make them here, as the climate isn't right. But they're left out to dry in the baking sun, until they take on a dark brown colour, and they're hollow inside. The aroma they give is incredible – there's an almost spicy depth to them. You can grate them for an intense shot of flavour, and use them as a dried spice, or do bigger chunks and work them through a dish for a milder effect. They're so intense and unique."
5. Iraqi bread is something special
"There's samoon, which are moulded into diamond shapes, and are baked in stone ovens, like pizzas. Then there's khobz, which is similar to naan but a bit more doughy and elastic. When you tear into that, it's so soft – it's beautiful."
Feeling inspired? Try these sumptuous Iraqi recipes:
These are sharing, feasting bites of vine-leaf wrapped joy. They're a labour of love, as each one is hand-rolled, but the end result is worth it.
This is a decadent Levantine dessert, layered with shredded buttery filo pastry and oozing with a soft cheese and blossom water-infused cream filling. Sprinkled with pistachios and rose petals, it's quick to make – but not for the faint-hearted.