The Jew And The Carrot

Preserving Iraqi Jewish Heritage, One Kubbeh at a Time

By Katherine Martinelli

  • Print
  • Share Share

Between 1941 and the 1970s the majority of Iraq’s Jewish population faced institutionalized violence and persecution in their homeland, forcing them to flee. Today, only a handful of Jews remain in Iraq, down from an estimated 150,000 in 1948. For the Iraqi Jews who sought refuge in Israel (some sources say up to 90%), their food is their remaining legacy. Dishes like meat stuffed dumplings called kubbeh are their lifeline to a country they cannot return to, and recipes are carefully passed down through the generations to preserve their heritage.

Iraqi food has been incorporated into the Israeli zeitgeist and has become an integral part of the patchwork that is developing into Israeli cuisine. Kubbeh (also spelled kubba and kibba), and in particular the hearty soup known as marak kubbeh, is one of the dishes that is most beloved and recognized by Israelis of all ethnic backgrounds. Sometimes fried and served as an appetizer, they are more commonly simmered in broth and served as a hearty, comforting stew – something of a step-sibling to the lighter, Ashkenazi matzo ball soup, and closely related to fried Syrian kibbe. Although served year round, there’s no better time than the cold months of winter to enjoy a steaming bowl of this robust, tangy soup.

Kubbeh dumplings are made from semolina or bulgur wheat and are typically stuffed with ground lamb or beef, although chicken, fish, and even vegetarian variations exist. They can be served in many broths, but as Recipes by Rachael – a website dedicated to preserving Iraqi Jewish recipes – describes, “Kubba stews come in two categories: those that are slightly tangy from the addition of citrus, and those that are not.”

The sour, tangy soups are given the label hamousta while the so-called sweet stews (really meaning not sour) are called hulou. Within these two categories there are countless variations, which can include okra, eggplant, squash, zucchini, garlic or beets. Marak kubbeh adom, or red kubbeh soup, is a Kurdish specialty that is based on a crimson red broth made from beets and other root vegetables.

The labor and time-intensive dumplings are often made in large quantities so that a number can be frozen and easily enjoyed later. Since the soup can be left to simmer for a long time it is a mainstay of Shabbat meals. Speaking of the customs of the Iraqi Jews in their homeland, Claudia Roden explains in “The Book of Jewish Food” that they “left pots of kubba – meat dumplings in a bamia (okra) stew, which had been prepared on Friday – on the roof terrace, for the Saturday lunch.” In Israel today kubbeh remains a popular dish to make at home or to take away from restaurants to have on hand for Shabbat.

One of the best places to sample authentic kubbeh is Jerusalem’s bustling Mechane Yehuda market, where there is a thriving Kurdish and Iraqi Jewish community. The market houses an Iraqi section (established in 1931) and any number of Iraqi restaurants that hawk their specialties. Among the many options, favorites include Rochmo, an institution since the 1930s, Mordoch, whose motto is “At Mordoch, we roll kubbeh,” Ima which means “mother” in Hebrew, and the Ima Kubbeh Bar (which serves only kubbeh). And if a bowl of soup doesn’t merit a quick trip to Israel (some would say it did), Ima recently opened a branch in Teaneck, NJ where you can get genuine, hand-rolled kubbeh stateside.

Or, for those feeling like a culinary challenge, try making the soup at home. Recipes for kubbeh can be found in many of the first generation of Israeli cookbooks that were published in the 1960s, indicating how early Iraqi Jewish cuisine was absorbed into Israeli cuisine. In the recipe below, from the now out-of-print 1964 “The Israeli Cookbook,” author Molly Lyons Bar-David combines elements of various kubbeh traditions, including the addition of pine nuts and use of bulgur, both of which are more often associated with Syrian kibbeh. While the dumplings may seem a tad unmanageable at first, you’ll find them to be highly forgiving and the end result will be more than worth the effort.

Iraqi Soup with Kubeh Dumplings

Makes 10 Servings

The Soup:
2 pounds meat, cubed
12 cups water
3 large onions
1 clove garlic
4 stalks celery
2 tablespoons oil
2 tablespoons lemon juice
Pinch of basil

The Dumplings:
½ cup fine cracked wheat (burghul/bulgur) or semolina flour
1 onion, chopped
4 tablespoons oil
½ pound minced or chopped beef or lamb
2 tablespoons pine nuts
Dash of allspice
Salt and pepper

1) For the soup, put the meat into the water and simmer about 1 hour. Pound the remaining soup ingredients in a mortar (or put through a mincer or blender) and add to the soup when the meat is done.

2) For the dumplings, soak the cracked wheat in water long enough to make it paste-like (about 1 hour). It is traditionally then pounded in a mortar with salt but, you can omit this process.

3) Make small balls of wheat, insert a finger, and work the wheat around and around to make jackets.

4) Fry the chopped onion in oil, add the chopped meat, and fry until it loses its red color.

5) Add the pine nuts, all-spice, salt, and pepper and mix well.

6) Put the filling into the kubbeh and smooth the coating over to close them. Flatten them somewhat and cook in the boiling soup for 20 minutes.

Adapted from “The Israeli Cookbook: What’s Cooking in Israel’s Melting Pot” by Molly Lyons Bar-David (Crown Publishers, 1964; out of print)

Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Machaneh Yehudah, Kubbeh, Kibbe, Israel

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.

Find us on Facebook!
  • We try to show things that get less exposed to the public here. We don’t look to document things that are nice or that people would like. We don’t try to show this place as a beautiful place.”
  • A new Gallup poll shows that only 25% of Americans under 35 support the war in #Gaza. Does this statistic worry you?
  • “You will stomp us into the dirt,” is how her mother responded to Anya Ulinich’s new tragicomic graphic novel. Paul Berger has a more open view of ‘Lena Finkle’s Magic Barrel." What do you think?
  • PHOTOS: Hundreds of protesters marched through lower Manhattan yesterday demanding an end to American support for Israel’s operation in #Gaza.
  • Does #Hamas have to lose for there to be peace? Read the latest analysis by J.J. Goldberg.
  • This is what the rockets over Israel and Gaza look like from space:
  • "Israel should not let captives languish or corpses rot. It should do everything in its power to recover people and bodies. Jewish law places a premium on pidyon shvuyim, “the redemption of captives,” and proper burial. But not when the price will lead to more death and more kidnappings." Do you agree?
  •'s Allison Benedikt wrote that Taglit-Birthright Israel is partly to blame for the death of American IDF volunteer Max Steinberg. This is why she's wrong:
  • Israeli soldiers want you to buy them socks. And snacks. And backpacks. And underwear. And pizza. So claim dozens of fundraising campaigns launched by American Jewish and Israeli charities since the start of the current wave of crisis and conflict in Israel and Gaza.
  • The sign reads: “Dogs are allowed in this establishment but Zionists are not under any circumstances.”
  • Is Twitter Israel's new worst enemy?
  • More than 50 former Israeli soldiers have refused to serve in the current ground operation in #Gaza.
  • "My wife and I are both half-Jewish. Both of us very much felt and feel American first and Jewish second. We are currently debating whether we should send our daughter to a Jewish pre-K and kindergarten program or to a public one. Pros? Give her a Jewish community and identity that she could build on throughout her life. Cons? Costs a lot of money; She will enter school with the idea that being Jewish makes her different somehow instead of something that you do after or in addition to regular school. Maybe a Shabbat sing-along would be enough?"
  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • "It pains and shocks me to say this, but here goes: My father was right all along. He always told me, as I spouted liberal talking points at the Shabbos table and challenged his hawkish views on Israel and the Palestinians to his unending chagrin, that I would one day change my tune." Have you had a similar experience?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?

We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.