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So we head back West and a little North some 8820 miles (14194 km) to Iraq, officially the Republic of Iraq and is located in South Western Asia, in the centre of the Middle East and its land area is equivalent in size to that of California. Iraq is between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers and was called Mespootamia until the end of WW1 in 1918. In ancient Greek, Mesopotamia translates to “land between rivers.” The first human civilization  believed to be called Sumer, is thought to have lived around 4000.B.C.

Iraq boarders with many countries, Jordan to the South West, Syria to the West, Turkey to the North, Kuwait to the South East, Iran to the East and Saudi Arabia to the South. Baghdad is in the middle of the country and is  the capital and also the largest city.
Kurds and Arabs are part of the ethnic groups, incidentally they are the largest groups. Other groups include Turkmen, Yazidis, Assyrians, Armenians, Shabakis, Kawliya, Mandeans and Circassians. There are approximately 36,000,000 – equates to around 95% –  of the inhabitants Muslim, along with Yarsan, Mandeanism, Yezidism and Christianity.

In Iraq the climate is very varied like the different areas. In the East it can be tropical, whereas the West can be desert like. The North of the country can be freezing cold in the Winter and pleasant and warm during the summer months.  Averaged out Iraq is quite a dry country, this goes for the fertile land that sits between the rivers. Iraq does experience a Mistral type wind, called a “Shamal”. The wind is dusty and dry and blows through the country with dusty storms that can last for many days at a time…
Because the country is dry, there are not many plants, except for the date palm. I love dates and more than half of the world’s date supply comes from Iraq. The soil in the areas around the rivers fertilise many crops. The rich soil is referred to as “Fertile Crescent,”can produce crops such as onions, leeks, lentils, wheat, barley and also grapes have grown in plenty and have been used for wine – not sure Ian and I have ever tasted Iranian wine….
Stone tablets dating back to 2500.B.C. have recorded that figs were used as sweetener in place of sugar and Olive trees were grown and both the oil and fruit was used.
Food from Iraq is swayed by its neighbours, Iran and Turkey, it is one of the few nations in that part of the world to lack a sole cuisine.  Like their neighbours, Iraqis like to eat a lot of lamb with rice and yoghurt and to also stuff vegetables like pepper etc. They tend to also cook fruits with beef and poultry, which incidentally I love but my family, particularly my middle son – home from Multiversity –  despise…….He spun the globe and landed us here on Iraq, so my mission was to find a dinner that he would eat without any fruit or flavours of fruit added to the starter and main course.
See Iraqi Cuisine   for more information.

We had already decided it would be fun to do a whole meal from the country picked, so again had to find a starter without a hint of fruit or added fruit…. When is he going back to University???  I came across a great website that gave me lots of information about Iran, the area and the foods eaten and came across the following recipe… Red Lentil Soup – Yes the recipe does say lemon juice, but this was optional so for my beloved son – we added the lemon after his was served.

Celery, Onions and carrots sweating in preparation…

Add onion, celery, and carrot and stir until soft. Add the lentils, water or stock, and salt.

Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium. Stir.

The finished result was superb and this/these pictures do not do the soup justice

The flavours for something so simple were fantastic and the cumin could definitely be tasted.

I then began to trawl to find a dish that we can all eat and doesn’t contain fruit. I immediately fell upon another blog. The Iraqi Family Cookbook and I quote “This is blog introduces you to the authentic Iraqi Family cookbook that includes over 150 recipes.These recipes have been handed down through many generations,from grandmothers to mothers to daughters”. Searching for Lamb – as this was the requested meat this evening found the recipe for Lamb Shanks with Potatoes – not an ounce of fruit in sight, result!!

Lamb shanks seasoned and browned..
Onion and garlic prepared to add to the pan before the lamb is put back…

Stock added and cooked for around 2 hours…

The recipe has suggested that this is served with saffron rice and and Iraqi salad – Iraqi ‘Summag’ salad – sumac salad . Saffron rice is saffron rice at the end of the day The salad is basically an onion and tomato salad but with the added ingredient of Sumac, spelt in various ways and the packet I bought today was Somaq…

Beautiful and colourful and very easy to make.  The Somaq is sprinkled on the top…

Desert??   Mmmmm, hubby not a big dessert maker and normally leaves this to me.  Looking at what would be served we had a lot of choices. However, I am sucker for sweet and sticky, when I am not on a diet, but am on a diet every day of the week, so tonight had to be an exception as I found out that Baklawa was eaten in Iraq, as most of the countries around….How could I not finish our meal without this delectable dessert? Baklawa is to die for, in my opinion, and is a rich pastry made up of layers of filo pastry filled with chopped nuts and naturally sweetened with honey or syrup. Iraqi Baklawa is a less juicy version of those I have had previously, it is also cooked and presented in smaller diamond shape cuts and flavoured with rose water.
Tonight I cheated…..Forgive me, I bought the Baklawa…I know, I know I should have attempted to make it, but we have a shop locally that sells all the spices, herb, dishes etc that you could possibly want from the East, so as I popped in to buy the Sumac for the salad….saw the Baklawa and thought why not?

Take time enough for your meals, and eat them in company whenever you can. There is no need for hurry in life—least of all when we are eating.

Edward Everett Hale, “How to Get the Best of It,” c.1892

Family Verdict: The soup could possibly take more lemon, from hubby, but Will, who doesn’t like fruit and savoury mixed together didn’t think it needed any,  but very tasty anyway. The lamb shanks were delicious and tender, the meat fell off the bone and the sumac salad was a great compliment. The whole dinner was easy to prepare and cook. This would be something that we would cook again, but then we have got the rest of the world to get through yet…..

Tomorrow – Sunday, Japan….could be interesting.