Joys of Spring: Iraqi Vegetables Salad

11.jpgWe visited the Chaldean American Ladies of Charity and came back with memories of generous people, exquisite dishes and one delicious and easy spring recipe.
By Warda Bouguettaya

About 700 people attended Wednesday’s Chaldean American Ladies of Charity (CALC) Cookbook Ma Baseema launch party at the Shenandoah Country Club in West Bloomfield.

The idea of making a cookbook, as explained by Jane Shallal, came after a community cook-off eight years ago, during which several hundred recipes were sampled and became the testing kitchen for the recipes in this book. Shallal helped bring together cooks to contribute their time and effort in building this collection of culture and cuisine, translated in English as “How good it is!”

Shallal is the treasurer of CALC, a nonprofit organization that helps assist Chaldean families moving from the Middle East to the United States. She said the group started as a piece of cultural preservation for present and future generations and evolved into a good way to raise money for charities and programs.

“Some of these recipes are signature dishes for some of these people,” Shallal said. “They are known in the community. We wanted to make sure it was all written down so people can understand and are able to recreate these recipes at home.”

Ma Bassema offers 200 recipes ranging from soups, appetizers, salads, main-course dishes, spice blends, breads and desserts. About 100 dishes from the cookbook were offered to the public at the launch party to sample, including cheese with chives (gupta ‘d Gilla); twisted bread rings (Kakatha), similar to challah bread; hummus and garden medley eggplant salad (Zalata ‘d Benjani); chicken meat pies (Takhratha ‘d Kathata); eggplant casserole (Moussaka ‘d Benjani); and Turkish taffy delight (Halawa d’ Min ‘d Semma), which literally means “sweet from heaven” (it sure was!). Blue Cross Blue Shield, the health care insurance organization, sponsored the event and chose 20 recipes in the cookbook as being super healthy.

Every dish was exceptional. The tables displayed Middle Eastern décor at its best, with copper vessels, hookahs, potteries, books and even vintage family photos and traditional costumes.

“Chaldean cooking is different from Lebanese cooking,” Shallal said of a very popular Detroit-area cuisine, who residency is higher than any other Chaldean population outside of the Middle East. “Our spices are different. You will see similar dishes, but they might taste different. You will find here dishes that are not in the Lebanese community.”

Sure enough, it was an extraordinary journey to the senses. After the event, I left still having the taste in my mouth and saying to myself: Ma baseema!

The cookbook may be purchased through the CALC website for $35. All proceeds go to helping families in need in the Chaldean community.

From the cookbook, I am sharing with you this fresh Iraqi salad, hoping it will bring warmer weather to Michigan.

Iraqi salad (Zalata ‘d Iraqia)
By Edward Korkis (from Ma Baseema Cookbook)
Serves 12-14:

•3 lbs. curly cucumber (about five), peeled and diced (if not found, use English cucumber)
•2 lbs. Roma tomatoes, chopped
•¼ c. flat-leaf parsley, chopped
•1 tsp. dry spearmint
•5 green onions, chopped (both white and green part)
•1 white onion, chopped
•1 can (16 oz.) beets, chopped
•1 can (16 oz.) chickpeas (washed and drained)
•Pita bread to serve
For the dressing:

•½ tsp. lemon salt
•2 tsp. salt
•Juice of 2 lemons
•4 oz. extra virgin olive oil
•2 oz. (or ¼ cup) red wine vinegar
Mix together the cucumbers, tomatoes, parsley, mint and onions. Mix salad dressing ingredients together in bottle. Shake well. Pour over vegetables and mix. Add chickpeas, beets and toss together. Chill before serving for at least an hour.

Serve with regular or toasted pita bread.

Local shopping spots
Curly cucumber (can be either dark or light green color) and dry spearmint can be found at Babylon, a small local grocery store that specializes in Middle Eastern foods not easily found in mainstream grocery stores. It also carries awesome Iraqi bread (diamond shaped) and freshly made pita bread. Whole Foods has a good selection of sliced and julienned canned beets.