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Examples of the Foods of Kirkuk

Ziyat Akkoyunlu*

Before moving onto our main subject, a folkloric introduction to the foods of Kirkuk (known in Turkish as Kerkük), I believe it would be useful to provide a short background of the region where the Iraqi Turks live, and of their origins.

Today it is well known that Turkic peoples are found scattered throughout Asia and many parts of Europe. One of these groups are those who continue to survive in Iraq, to the southeast of Turkey proper. Though commonly known as “Kerkük Turks,” the Turks of Iraq do not reside only in Iraq’s fourth-largest city of Kirkuk, but also scattered throughout the regions of Musul, Erbil, Altunköprü, Tuz, Dakuk, Kızılırbat and Hanekin. Many scholars believe these societies’ origins extend back to the 9th century. When the Abbsid caliphate ruled the region that is present-day Iraq, the Jelb and Hassa army was brought from Central Asia with the Turks who came with the Mongols in 1258. The army came to an end when this caliphate was abolished. After conquering Baghdad, Murat IV also left Turks behind to protect the route. The present-day Iraqi Turks are descended from these two groups.

Living under various states over the centuries, the Turks of Iraq have put forth an extraordinary effort to preserve their identity. After his own conquest of Baghdad, Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent gave very special status to this region. Although from 1918 on these people found themselves outside of Ottoman borders and later the Turkish Republic, and subjected to intense Arab cultural and political oppression, they have not lost their Turkish consciousness and today, continue to practice Turkish customs and traditions that even many of today’s Turks have forgotten. Although a minority, they have even had some influence, if slight, on Arab culture. We witness one of the clearest examples of this in the subject at hand, food culture: When we examine any Arab cookbook, we find dishes such as imambayıldı, puf böreği, tatar kulağı, su böreği, mıhlama, burma, dondurma, perde pilav, türlü, paşa, işkembe, bastırma, külbastı, kavurma, taskebap, tavukgöğsü, sütlaç and dolma, listed with their original Turkish names.

Such dishes, a few of which we mentioned above, are presently known in Arab cuisine by their Turkish names. But in time, just as other nations, one can be sure that the Arabs will lay claim to these dishes. Consequently when these recipes are given, their Turkish names are now included in parentheses after made-up Arab names. That is, after these names have become established in people’s minds, the Arabs will discard the Turkish names and claim the dishes as their own. To give an example, “dolma,” a dish which is Turkish in name and in every other way, was listed as “Türk dolması” or “Kerkük dolması.” Later it became known as “dolma Baghdadı,” (“Baghdad dolma”). Most recently, the word “dolma” (filled/stuffed) has been replaced with the Arabic equivalent, “mahshi,” and referring to it as “mahshi Baghdadi,” the Arabs have attempted to lay claim to this dish. One can give many other examples.

Let us now move on to our main subject, the cuisine of Kirkuk. As it is not possible to include here all the dishes in this cuisine, I will classify them into groups and then focus on some of the different dishes within each group. The groups are as follows:

  1. Yarpağ, dolma
  2. Pilaf
  3. Doğrama, teşrib, tirit
  4. Grilled dishes and kebab
  5. Filled kifte (köfte)
  6. Duru (meat and vegetable dishes)
  7. Practical dishes
  8. Breads
  9. Pickles
  10. Sweets
  11. Ceremonial foods

Before moving onto detailed descriptions, let me begin by describing a spice mixture which is very commonly used in these dishes.

Kirkuk spice: This combination, which contains ten different spices, is used in every Kirkuk dish which requires spicing. In the descriptions of the dishes below, this mixture will be referred to as “Kirkuk spice.”

The spices which make up Kirkuk spice are as follows:

50 grams each of:
Nutmeg
Black pepper
Allspice
Cinnamon
Galangal

And 20 grams each of:
Ginger
Cardamom
Long Pepper (Piper longum & P. retrofractum)
Clove
Dried rose petals

Yarpağ/Yarpakh, Dolma
Stuffed Vegetables

The common name for dolma in Kirkuk is “yarpağ” or “yarpakh.” (Standard Turkish: yaprak-leaf). The various types are:

  • Mixed dolma, Kerkük yarpağı, Kerkük dolması
  • Mev (sarma) yarpağı, mev dolma, yarpağ dolması
  • Sulu dolma (dolma with water)
  • Pencer (mallow) dolma
  • Rehen (red basil) dolma
  • Mumbar (intestine) dolma
  • Zılk (chard) dolma
  • Lahana (cabbage) dolma

[Translator’s note: These are not “recipes” in the classical sense but rather descriptions of the foods. I have translated them in more or less “recipe format” to make them more readable, but have not tried to guess amounts of ingredients, which are not provided.]

Karışık Dolma
Mixed Dolma

Prepare a filling of hand-chopped meat and a small mount of tail fat, washed rice, finely chopped garlic and dill, Kirkuk spice and curry powder. Carefully cut off the tops/ends of zucchini, eggplant, small bell peppers and a few well-shaped, firm tomatoes, and hollow out the insides. Also cut off the leaf end of a few onions, and half them as far as the root without cutting completely in half; then remove the insides of these onions, layer by layer. Before beginning to fill the vegetables, melt the fat and mix half of it with the dolma filling, pouring the remainder into the pot in which the dolma will cook. Fill the zucchinis, eggplants, peppers, tomatoes and onion layers with the filling, and arrange evenly in the pot. Above these, arrange a layer of stuffed vine leaves as well. Then place a “yarpağ daşı” (yaprak taşı – a “dolma stone”) over the top to keep the dolma from falling apart during cooking. (A plate which fits the diameter of the pot may be used as well.) Add water to the same level as the top of the dolma, and place on high heat. When the water comes to a full boil, add a bit of citric acid (known in Turkish as limon tuzu or “lemon salt”), reduce heat to low and let cook until all the water is absorbed.

Sulu Dolma
Watery Dolma

Before stuffing, lightly sauté hollowed out zucchini. The filling is the same as that for mixed dolma, above, but instead of herbs (dill and garlic), it contains a generous amount of tomato and/or pepper paste. Fill the zucchini and arrange in the pot, place the “dolma stone” over them and add a generous amount of water, more than enough to cover them. Five minutes before serving, add a few cloves of garlic to the cooking water.

This dolma may be made from eggplant instead of zucchini.

The same filling as for mixed dolma is also used for “mev yaprağı.” This dolma is made from vine leaves, sometimes with a few stuffed zucchini added between layers of leaves. Mev yaprağı is eaten with garlic-infused yogurt. During the seasons when vine leaves are unavailable, “pencer” (mallow) or “rehen” (red basil) dolma are made instead. “Mumbar dolması” (stuffed intestines) are made with the same filling; if desired they may be fried in oil after cooking.

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