My son came home with a writing assignment this week that also required cooking. He was to plan and cook a meal for his family and use that experience to write an expository text. We started at the beginning: What did he want to cook? We ran though some of our family favorites and old stand-byes until we came to Timman Queemah- Ground meat with chickpeas and rice. He didn't even hesitate before choosing it.
I've written about food often here on Polliwog, so long-time readers will not be surprised that my American kid chose an Iraqi dish. We tend to cook and eat a variety of foods from a variety of cultures as a matter of course in our house. We found this one several years ago in The Iraqi Cookbook by Lamees Ibrahim. It became an instant favorite that's eaten often, especially in the winter months.
Our family has taken to calling this dish “Iraqi Chop Suey,” because, like American Chop Suey, it is a one pot family meal that seems to be bottomless. It's also made with ground meat and tomatoes, just like American Chop Suey. The main difference is the inclusion of chick peas and the use of different seasonings. To us, it also feels like comfort food, just like American Chop Suey. We hope no Iraqi's will be insulted by our term of endearment for this well-loved meal.
My son brought the recipe to school, as directed, and we gathered the needed ingredients. He cooked the meal on Wednesday night with my assistance. While he cooked, he paused occasionally to record his observations and sensory details.
Taken from The Iraqi Cookbook:
"This is a popular dish in Iraq, cooked for religious Islamic celebrations and shared by the whole neighborhood. A few families (usually Shi’ite) will cook very large quantities and distribute individual dishes to every house on the street.
Sometimes, two large cauldrons are set up in the front garden of a wealthy house, one for sauce and one for rice. Men from the family, their friends, and neighbors will cook. The meal is then shared. Any person who brings an empty plate or two will be served. Sharing the cooking and eating is of great enjoyment to everyone."
Preparation: 10 minutes Cooking time: about 2 hours (45 min. if you used canned chick peas)
1 lb ground lamb (or other ground meat such as beef or turkey)
1 lb dry chickpeas/garbanzo beans (or one 29 oz can chick peas)
1-2 onions, chopped (I use 2)
1 small can tomato paste
1 lb chopped tomatoes (in the winter we use one 15 1/2 oz can chopped tomotoes)
2 tsp turmeric
2 tsp mixed spices (garam masala- find it in the international/Asian aisle of your grocery store)
Salt and black pepper to taste
(Cooked rice. We use 1 1/2 cups brown basmati cooked in 3 cups water)
- Soak the chick peas overnight in plenty of cold water. (If using canned chickpeas, skip to step 3).
- Change the water and boil in a saucepan for about one hour.
- Brown the ground lamb in a large skillet over medium heat.*
- Add salt, spices, and black pepper, stirring frequently. (Don’t skip the salt- it really intensifies the flavors.)
- Add chopped onion and cook until onion is soft.
- Add tomato paste and chopped tomatoes. Cook for about 10 minutes.
- Season with salt and black pepper. Add meat mixture to boiling chick peas, cover the pan, turn the heat down, and simmer for about 1 hour, until chickpeas are soft. (If using canned chickpeas, drain them and add them directly to the meat mixture).
- Add more water if needed. The sauce should be thick enough to eat with rice. Cook with the lid off to reduce water if needed.
*Prepare the rice to be done around the same time.
As we all sat down to eat, we helped brainstorm sensory details about the food. Now he'll use his notes to compose a piece while at school. I never gave an assignment like this to my students, so I'm looking forward to seeing the results.
Have you combined cooking and writing with your kids or students? How did it go?
We hope you'll try the recipe and let us know your thoughts. The Iraqi Cookbook also has lots of other great recipes, so check it out!