An Iraqi Quozi in Honor of Al-Amiriyah

Today marks the 25 year anniversary of the Al-Amiriyah shelter massacre in Baghdad. Two 2,000 ton bombs were dropped on a civilian shelter during the first Gulf War, during the U.S. air raid. 408 people were killed. Mostly women, children, and the elderly. They thought they would be safe in a designated safe zone. They weren’t. As for many of the people of Iraq, safety does not exist. And it definitely did not exist that night in Al-Amiriyah.

When I look at the list of victim names and their birth years, I am overwhelmed. A few were born in my year, my brothers’ years, my parents’ years. I was five years old that day, almost six.

And yet,
this event,
this tragedy, that is so cruelly intertwined with American militaristic history,
goes completely unnoticed each year.

I heard that when Thom Yorke of Radiohead found out about the Al-Amiriyah massacre, he was uneasy, in a dark place. That’s why he wrote “I Will” on the Hail to the Thief album. It was about this event. And at the time, he described it as the angriest piece he had ever written.

There is this musical piece, Happened at Al-Amiriyah, by Iraqi oud player Naseer Shamma, that just breaks my heart. Promise you’ll listen to it tonight? He wrote it in 1992, one year after the massacre. He wrote it and performed it inside the shelter.

And there is also Kadhem al Saher’s song Ay ya ‘Arab, where he keeps wailing “The blood of Iraqi children is in the Amiriyah shrine.”

Iraq has suffered and still suffers.

It's unfair. 

I’ve been working with my friends in the Iraqi Transnational Collective to commemorate this tragedy, to not let it go unnoticed on this, the 25th, year. We have been tweeting the names and birth years of all the victims lost. We made this toolkit for those who don’t know about the massacre. And did interviews and wrote articles.

And I did what I know best.

I cooked. 

I made an elaborate Iraqi Quozi and sweet Cardamom Date Halawa, the way they do at funerals, and then opened my doors to whomever would come eat.

Quozi is a stuffed lamb on a bed of spiced rice and traditionally served for significant events from weddings to funerals. I didn’t stuff a whole lamb. Instead, I roasted a leg of lamb, stuffed with garlic, a Fukhudh Ghanam Mashwi.

The offering of a lamb in Islam is incredibly symbolic. Abraham on the mountain, proving his faith, nearly sacrificing his son in faith. Sacrifice. Surrender. Sacrifice. Surrender.

“We don’t need sugar, flour or rice or anything else. We just want to see our dear ones.” – Hafiz

When my bibi passed away less than two years ago, Allah yarhamha, now buried in Najaf, my mother made Tammar Halawa to honor her. To give sweets to the soul of those who passed, may they forever taste sweetness. Tammar is the Arabic word for dates. Tamarind in Arabic, for example, is tammar-Hind, the dates of India. Halawa (or halva) means sweets. This halawa is fried dates with cardamom and walnuts. When it’s on the stove, the scent of cardamom fills the air.  

The Iraqi Leg of Lamb Quozi

Serves 10

Ingredients:

Lamb:

  • About 5 lb leg of lamb, preferably New Zealand
  • 2 heads of garlic, peeled
  • Bundle of Rosemary
  • Bundle of Thyme
  • Baharat, 7 spice mix (Allspice, Black Pepper, Coriander, Cumin, Cloves, Cinnamon, & Nutmeg)
  • 2 Cinnamon Sticks
  • a few whole Cardamom pods
  • Sea Salt
  • Deep, heavy cooking pan
  • Foil

Rice:

  • 3 cups long grain white basmati rice
  • 1 cup Vermicelli noodles
  • Baharat, 7 spice mix
  • Turmeric
  • Sea Salt
  • evoo
  • 1 onion, thinly sliced half moons
  • 1 cup diced carrots
  • 1 cup peas
  • 1 cup golden raisins
  • 1 cup shaved or slivered almonds
  • 5 eggs

Directions:

The lamb. Do that first, because it takes 4 hours to cook. This is my mother’s recipe, and it is perfect every time, don’t make too many adjustments.

1.  Preheat the oven to 500 degrees.
2. Wash the lamb.
3. Rub it down with 1 -2 T baharat and 1 T sea salt
4. In a deep, heavy baking pan: arrange half the garlic on the bottom, along with a few sprigs of rosemary and thyme, a couple cinnamon sticks, and a few whole cardamom pods slightly cracked. 
5. Place the lamb on top of this.
6. Proceed to stuff various parts of the lamb with garlic cloves. Top it with garlic. Garlic everywhere.
7. Top it with a few sprigs of rosemary and thyme.
8. Wrap the whole thing in foil. In fact, double wrap it. Tightly.
9. Place it in the oven, then immediately turn down the temp to 315 degrees.
10. Set a cooking timer to 4 hours. No more, no less.
11. Let it cool on the stove, uncovered.
12. Find a way to save the fat juices to make into a gravy. 

The rice. Do this while the lamb is cooking. And towards the end, maybe the last hour and a half.

1. Wash and scrub that rice, don’t be lazy, tembal.
2. Soak in water for at least 20 minutes. Dump the water at the end.
3. Sautee the Vermicelli noodles with some baharat, turmeric, and salt for a few minutes. I like to add a lot of the spices. (It’s awkward for me to call them Vermicelli noodles, as I can really only call them by their Arabic name, shahariyya, which means hair because the noodles look like hair).
4. Add the rice. Sautee a few more minutes. Then add enough water to cover the rice by only 1 cm! Only one centimeter. My mama will repeat it twice because you are stubborn.
5. Let it sit, uncovered, on medium heat. It will boil enough, and since you soaked the rice for 20 minutes it’s already pretty done. This shouldn’t take too long. When the water is absorbed, fluff it with a fork. My mama will repeat it twice. Fluff it. Don’t forget.
6. Add the peas. Mix in a fluffing sort of way.
7. Sautee onions and carrots in baharat.
8. Then add the onions and carrots to the rice. Mix. Fluff.
9. Keep on low heat, covered, until you serve.
10. While you’re waiting on the lamb, sauté the golden raisins in olive oil in a frying pan. Careful not to burn it. Keep stirring. This should only take a few minutes. Set aside in bowl.
11. Then sauté the almonds in olive oil. Same. Burns very fast. Then add to the raisins bowl. Mix it when it cools down a bit. This will be the topping to your rice once it’s served.

The eggs. Medium soft boil. Wait until serving time. I know you can boil an egg. Here’s how I do it.
1. Place the eggs in a pan, covered with water.
2. Add baking powder. This helps with the peeling later. Especially if you have fresh eggs, which I am told are more difficult to peel.
3. Bring to a boil. 
4. Once it’s boiling immediately bring heat to low. Let sit for 4 minutes.
5. Immediately run under cold water to stop the cooking.
6. Peel. Don't slice them until it's on the serving plate. 

The platter. 
1. Put the rice on the platter first. Make it pretty.
2. Top it with the lamb.
3. Pour the lamb gravy and the rest of the garlic over the lamb and rice.
4. Add the sautéed golden raisins and almonds.
5. Then arrange the eggs on the platter. Make it pretty. Then slice them so that the yolk may run a little.

Enjoy. Fiimanallah.

from The Iraqi Nights
by Dunya Mikhail

In Iraq,

after a thousand and one nights,

someone will talk to someone else.

Markets will open

for regular customers.

Small feet will tickle

the giant feet of the Tigris.

Gulls will spread their wings

and no one will fire at them.

Women will walk the streets

without looking back in fear.

Men will give their real names

without putting their lives at risk.

Children will go to school

and come home again.

Chickens in the villages

won’t peck at human flesh

on the grass.

Disputes will take place

without any explosives.

A cloud will pass over cars

heading to work as usual.

A hand will wave

to someone leaving

or returning.

The sunrise will be the same

for those who wake

and those who never will.

And every moment

something ordinary

will happen

under the sun.


We remember. #AlAmiriyah25 #RememberingAlAmiriyah