A Little Piece of Inspiration

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A few months ago I designed an Iraqi-inspired meal-kit delivery box with Out of the Box Collective that delivered within and beyond the greater Los Angeles area. The goal was to introduce people to Iraqi food in the hopes that they might think about Iraq in a new context and what that might mean. I wondered if people would actually take my message into consideration when making the meals or if they would simply eat the food and go on with their lives. 

And then I received this incredible letter, which I'll leave you with. 

Apologies that this email took so long. I wanted you to know that our “Add a Little Lemon” Iraqi box was extra special. During each night of cooking and eating we talked about how the food was from a far away country named Iraq. We loved every bite of it, and especially fun was the drama of sizzling turmeric oil and serving on giant platters and the funny instructions like “don’t be lazy, tembal”Anyway, my 3 year old has recently taken a keen interest in maps and finding countries/states/etc. He showed me a doodle of a map he had drawn declaring, “This is Iraq!” So I just love love love that his first associations with Iraq - just as Sara was hoping - will not be violent or terrible, but delicious and wonderful instead.



Add a Little Lemon + Out of the Box: Meal Kit Delivery Collaboration!

Out of the Box is the single most original meal kit delivery service based in Los Angeles that delivers across Southern California from San Diego to Santa Barbara. It is the brain child founder Jennifer Piette who focuses on locally-sourced and sustainable, farm-to-table ingredients. This month Out of the Box teamed up with Add a Little Lemon to create a curated box full of Iraqi-inspired recipes. Each box contains the ingredients and recipes selected from five of my recipes, with Vegetarian ordering options. Be sure to order this box and support independent creators!  

About the Box

IRAQ is: Mesopotamia, the Cradle of Civilization, the Fertile Crescent, the land of the Tigris and Euphrates, the birthplace of Abraham, the site of the Garden of Eden, the supposed burial ground of Noah’s Ark, home to Gilgamesh. It has deep and powerful roots. And those roots are reflected in the cuisine.

The very first cookbook ever written was from Mesopotamia, on stone tablets.

Iraq’s rich history and glorious ethnic and cultural diversity means its food is complex. Iraqi cuisine is influenced by Levantine, Iranian, Turkish, Kurdish, Armenian, Jewish, and Indian cuisine, among others, creating something wholly original and beautiful.

Alas Americans seem to know very little about Iraq other than war, destruction, and violence. It’s all we get to see. This limited view of such a beautiful country, which up until the sixties was known as “The Jewel of the Middle East,” continues an Orientalist tradition of pigeonholing the entire region as violent and destructive. We learn that the violence is somehow inherent and so we choose to ignore it, without considering the consequences.

Recently, more and more Iraqis are using social media to show us a different view of Iraq than the one portrayed in media. They are moving the camera lens an inch, to the parts we don’t usually see, the beauty and life that exists despite the violence, corrupt policies, and foreign meddling, the curses of such rich land and soil.

Snapchat recently featured a Day in the Life of Baghdad, in which Iraqi snaps of daily life were selected, surprising millions. We don’t think about carnivals, delicious food, beautiful landscapes, people laughing and enjoying life when we think about Iraq. And sadly unless we look for it we won’t see it.

The popular Instagram account @EveryDayIraq features a collection of photographs that depict daily life among its people, beyond the scope of violence. Only recent iPhone photographs are selected so that we get a more honest view of the country.

Yes, there is corruption and violence in Iraq – as there is here and anywhere. But there is so much more to Iraq. And given our active participation in the region, it is at the very least our responsibility to attempt to understand our shared humanities.

As it always is, food is a powerful cultural bridge. This box is more than just recipes and ingredients: it’s a positive social force! Enjoy!

Bil Afya | Bon Appetit

With love,

photo by  @ahmadmousa

photo by @ahmadmousa

Add a Little Lemon is Saveur Awards Finalist: Best New Voice 2017!

photo by  Zeb Smith

photo by Zeb Smith


When I started this blog it ended up being more of a vulnerability challenge than anything else really. I had been notoriously shy with my writing, afraid of revealing anything personal about myself and those close to me. Godfather status. Everything in my life was somehow a secret, always. And then that changed for me. I began learning how to be unapologetic about my own opinions and thoughts, something I labored over in a sort of self directed self-compassion training. I would practice saying what I believed in even if it often times upset others; and in a surprising effort to refrain from keeping the peace, I found that it wasn't actually so scary, after all. I was showing up for myself. Telling myself that it was okay, that I was safe, that I would take care of myself. 

That's when I started opening up here. 

It was uncomfortable, certainly. For a recovering people-pleaser most everything is uncomfortable. Yet being uncomfortable isn't so terrifying; and in fact, proves to be vital in the development of both integrity and authenticity. 

Whenever I posted, I would call my brother and my oldest friend in a panic, afraid that I did something too bold, too opinionated, too unpleasant. And each time they assured me that my fears didn't actually come across in my writing, that what comes across is my integrity, not the trouble maker I imagined myself to be. It's uneasy for recovering people-pleasers.

And then something happened. One day I stopped worrying. I stopped making those late night panicked calls. I felt stronger, bolder, and more self-assured. The practice of coming here and writing for all of you has changed me incredibly and given me not only an opportunity to be more authentic and confident, but has also taught me how to recognize the bravery of being, as Brene Brown says, face down in the arena.

You have all been so kind and generous and brave. I've received so many messages letting me know that you identify with and appreciate my stories, recipes, and photos. It's been especially moving to hear from other Iraqis in diaspora, like myself, who have been wanting a space like this. Something that speaks to those growing up in the diaspora and who have struggled with identity, like myself. Many have sent me messages telling me how this space has inspired them to share their own Iraqi recipes and stories, too. When I first started here there were no other Iraqi food blogs in English. I, like others my age, worshiped Nawal Nasrallah and her cookbook because she gave me the gift of something comprehensive that I could actually read; she gave me a way to connect to Iraq that I desperately needed. Add a Little Lemon was something I was hungry for; and so I thought I'd just do it myself, for myself, showing up for myself with self-compassion. And I am so grateful for what it has given me. My voice feels new if only because this space has allowed me to grow into it. 

Thank you all for your continued support! 

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Bil Afya | Bon Appetit

Iraqi Shorbat Addas / Borders Are Not Real

1. The Womb / The Labor

I’ve been writing poetry these days.

It’s helping me process. 

I was a teenager when the War on Terror began in full force. That illusive rhetoric that consciously and unconsciously puts me on edge. Each and every day. Sometimes I forget that my body is so acutely aware of its surroundings, accustomed to its hyper-vigilance. Anxiety is just the socially acceptable term used since so few want to hear how your experience is different than their own.

These last few months have been triggering, to say the least. Even though the Muslim Ban – Muslim as a racializing term -- has been well underway for a very long time, that immigrants and children of immigrants are still made to feel somehow alien in this country, that it is not surprising to see such a ban:  it still shocks me; It is still shocking to me. When those who are new to the conversation, who are just seeing this fear-based prejudice for the first time, say But look how many people are marching in the streets!, [this, too, a tool of silencing], I think back to how many people marched in the streets to protest the invasion of Iraq fourteen years ago, and I think of all the youth today who have no idea there was ever such an invasion. That is: I have feelings about it.

And then today I hear this incredible speech by Sikh-American civil rights advocate Valarie Kaur. In it she says:

“What if this darkness is not the darkness of the tomb, but the darkness of the womb? What if our America is not dead but a country that is waiting to be born? What if the story of America is one long labor?… What if this is our nation’s great transition?” – Valarie Kaur

And this shift
in thinking,
This feels right.

2. Borders Are Not Real

Iraq is Mesopotamia, the Cradle of Civilization, the Fertile Crescent, the land of the Tigris and Euphrates, the birthplace of Abraham, the site of the Garden of Eden, the supposed burial ground of Noah’s Ark, home to Gilgamesh. It has deep and powerful roots. And those roots are reflected in the cuisine.

The very first cookbook ever written was from Mesopotamia, on stone tablets.

Iraq’s rich history and glorious ethnic and cultural diversity means its food is complex. Iraqi cuisine is influenced by Levantine, Iranian, Turkish, Kurdish, Armenian, Jewish, and Indian cuisine, among others, creating something wholly original and beautiful.

Genocide is real. Invasion is real. Colonialism is real. Oppression is real. But borders? Borders are not real.

Photo: I forgot to top the Shorbat Addas with Fried Shallots for the photoshoot! Don't forget it when following the recipe! 

Photo: I forgot to top the Shorbat Addas with Fried Shallots for the photoshoot! Don't forget it when following the recipe! 

My Mother’s Very Comforting
& Very Nourishing
Shorbat Addas

serves 6-8

Shorbat Addas, literally lentil soup, is an Iraqi speciality often served during Ramadhan to break the fast. It reflects its history: lentils, turmeric, Vermicelli noodles. There are variations of this soup in Palestine, Turkey, Iran, India. Iraqis seems to be the only ones who use Vermicelli in the soup.  

There are so many takes on this soup, and every region and family makes it differently; but I am, of course, partial to my mother’s recipe. This is the recipe I grew up with, the one that makes me think of home. The one that connects me to my roots, both lived and imagined.


Olive oil
Shallots, 2 medium, quartered & sliced
Celery, 1 head finely chopped
Red lentils, 1 cup
Salt | Pepper, to taste
Turmeric powder, about a tablespoon
Water, about 3 cups
Parsley, 2 bunches finely chopped
Lemons, about 4, juiced
Vermicelli noodles, 1/2 cup (Sha'riyya in Arabic) 


1.    Brown the shallots in olive oil. To avoid burning, watch carefully. Add salt when done. Set aside to dry on a paper towel.
2.   In a large stock pot, sweat the chopped celery with some olive oil. Add salt and pepper to taste. About 5 minutes.
3.   Add the lentils. Coat with turmeric. Stir and let cook together about 2 minutes.
4.   Add enough water to cover an inch over the lentils. Add more salt for good measure. Feel it out. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. About 20 minutes until lentils are cooked down. The soup should look a bit yellow at this point.
5.    At this point I blend the soup with either a handheld or standing blender. No need to be a perfectionist about it.
6.   Taste the soup. Does it need more salt? Pepper? Add and stir.
7.   Add the lemon. I use a lot of lemon in this soup, more than 4 lemons, but if you prefer less then taste along the way. The lemon brings out the flavor of the soup.
8.   Add the finely chopped parsley, half the shallots, stir.
9.   Add the Vermicelli/ Sha’riyya. This cooks very fast.
10. Ladle the soup into bowls and top with more shallots. 

Bil 'Afya | Bon Appetit

Iraqi Breakfast 101: Kahi & Geymar

Kahi is the ultimate Iraqi breakfast indulgence. Layers of fluffy, flaky pastry soaked in simple syrup and topped with a thick clotted cream called geymar. My mother used to make this for us as a special treat when she was feeling nostalgic. Kahi with geymer is a strong part of my own personal history, as I imagine it is for most Iraqis, both in Iraq and in diaspora.

Growing up, my parents would constantly reminisce about geymar, that unparalleled clotted cream, that dream served with kahi or with honey and bread, the one made from water buffalo milk, and always with stars in their eyes.

Unfortunately, it is nearly impossible to find water buffalo milk in most cities. There are many reasons for this. In Iraq, Saddam Hussein inhumanly targeted and drained the Iraqi Marshes, home to the water buffalos of Iraq, in a gruesome attempt to forcibly relocate and afflict the people living there. Today, amid restoration efforts, Iraq faces a water shortage in large part due to corruption. Luckily, as of this year, the Iraqi Marshes are now protected as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Water buffalos are also moody creatures and raising them is an art, something almost poetic. These animals seem to produce milk only for those farmers with an almost familial relationship, developed over years of trust. It's not something you can mass produce. This is why water buffalo farms are rare. So in diaspora we mostly make due with cow’s milk.

[Note: Since French puff pastry dough is easily accessible and very similar to kahi pastry I more often choose to use it over making the dough. Geymer can actually be found in many Middle Eastern grocery stores depending on where you live. In cities with large Iraqi populations, geymer is very easy to acquire. In some cities, similar Iranian and Turkish variations are also available, but they differ in texture. Since geymar is far more difficult to find, the recipe is below.]

Quick Kahi & Geymar

serves 4


4 squares of puff pastry dough, 4” x 4”, thawed if frozen
1 cup sugar
1 cup water
8 Tablespoons geymar, see below (variations: sarshir in Farsi, kaymak in Turkish)


1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

2. To make the simple syrup: bring the sugar and water to boil, stirring, then reduce to a low simmer until the sugar has completely dissolved. About 10 minutes. Let cool. Simple syrup can be made well in advance, and has a long shelf life if kept in a container in the fridge.

3. Lay the individual puff pastry slices on a baking sheet with room. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until golden.

4. When ready, pour the simple syrup evenly over the puff pastry, making sure to soak the pastry.

5. Top each with quite a bit of geymer. Serve with Iraqi tea.

Geymar Recipe

adapted from Nawal Nasrallah's Delights from the Garden of Eden

serves 4


2 cups heavy whipping cream
2 cups whole milk, ideally from water buffalo


1. In a heavy pot, gently combine the cream and milk. Place on low heat, no longer stirring.

2. Patiently wait to reach a gentle boil, but be very careful not to boil over. Allow to rise a bit, about 30-40 minutes. Remove from heat.

3. To prevent condensation, place a large upturned colander on top of the saucepan. Cover very tightly with towels. Let sit at room temperature for at least 6 hours.

4. Remove towels and colander. Place lid on the pot and refrigerate for one full day.

5. The geymar is now the thick solid layer of cream that has developed on top of the excess milk. Carefully skim that layer off, transfer to a plate, folding over multiple times, and pour just a little of the extra milk on top.

Bil 'Afya | Bon Appetit

A version of this is also published on Yalla Iraq, an online Iraqi lifestyle magazine.