Dishing up flavour of an Iraqi childhood


Linda Dangoor's family left Baghdad when she was just 10. But she took the tastes of her childhood with her.

More than a half-century after going into exile, the London-based ceramicist has published Flavours of Babylon, a cookbook fondly recording the culinary traditions of one of the world's oldest Jewish communities.

Food writer Claudia Roden, who was born in Egypt, said the recipes represented "the secret cuisine of a vanished world" and were not ones that could be found in a restaurant. "You have to be invited to someone's home to taste them," she said. "Now you'll be able to cook them yourself."

Chicken kebabs with saffron and pepper and sambousak - half-moon pastries filled with chickpea paté - were some of the examples served to guests at the launch reception at London's Jewish Museum last week.

A more elaborate feast, sponsored by the Jewish Music Institute's Dining and Music Club, followed, where the delicacies included tbeet - the slow-cooked chicken and rice dish which is the Iraqi equivalent of cholent - and kufta bamia, a sweet and sour tomato stew with meatballs and okra.

After leaving Iraq, the Dangoors spent two years in Beirut prior to arriving in London 50 years ago. Ms Dangoor worked in France for 14 years before returning to England in 1994.

As she recalled in the book, she had always retained "a sensual connection to the land of my ancestors".

As a child, she helped her mother Claire, now 84, in the kitchen, although trying to recreate the dishes of their homeland in '60s London was not so easy. "For one thing we couldn't buy Middle Eastern ingredients in those days," she wrote.

She began collecting recipes for her nephews to ensure that the community's food traditions continued for another generation. But as the collection grew, the book idea dawned on her. As well as testing and photographing the dishes, she took "umpteen computer courses" to help with the layout.

Iraqi Jewish dishes are aromatic, using spices such as cumin and paprika, but are not hot and have a Persian influence. One of the recipes is for kichri, a rice and lentil dish that was traditionally eaten on Thursdays.

She said at the launch that the book was "a personal collection of a few of my favourite recipes handed down from generations which my mother and many of my relatives still cook today".

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