Sephardic Recipes With A Modern Twist

Sephardic Spice Girls

Kubbah is the crowning glory of Iraqi cuisine and there are many different kinds.

There were days when she’d take my brother Rafi and I for a swim in the crystalline blue waves of Bondi Beach. Afterwards, she would buy us Heart ice creams, crispy chocolate coated vanilla ice cream popsicles in the shape of, you guessed it, a heart.

There were days when we would take the bus to Bondi Junction to shop at her favorite department store, Grace Brothers. Sometimes she would buy her signature red lipstick or pajamas for her brother Nuri or a gift for a friend. After making her purchases, we would sit in a vinyl booth in the cafeteria. She would order Earl Grey tea with lots of milk. Rafi would order a strawberry milkshake or a caramel milkshake or a vanilla milkshake. I always had a chocolate milkshake—light and fluffy, creamy and not too sweet.

Some days we would walk down the hill to the neighborhood shops on Old South Head Road and we’d pick up fruits and vegetables. She would buy us a packet of Arnott’s thin sliced potato chips or a Kit Kat chocolate bar.

Then there were the cooking days. Marathon cooking sessions in the kitchen spent preparing massive amounts of Iraqi delicacies for her family and friends. Some of the food would be frozen for later and some would be devoured immediately. Some days it would be “khibbez” (Arabic for baked goods). She would bake hundreds of “baba ta’mar” delicious date cookies; cardamom and cinnamon spiced walnut “sambusak”; and “j’radak” crispy thin crackers specked with shiny black nigella seeds.

Very often there would be Kubbah days. Kubbah is the crowning glory of Iraqi cuisine and there are many different kinds. Kubbah bur’al, a cracked wheat bulgur casing a meat filling and Kubbah b’ruz, a rice casing filled with meat or chicken breast or fish.

Kubbah solet, is a semolina casing filled with meat or chicken that is then served in a sweet beetroot soup or a sweet and sour tomato-based okra stew.

My happiest days were when my grandmother Nana Aziza would make Kubbah patata because they are my favorite.

In Iraq, three and four generations—grandparents, grandchildren, aunts and uncles and cousins—would all live under one roof. All the women of the household would gather in the kitchen to bake, cook, pickle and preserve together.

My grandmother and I would sit in her pale blue kitchen, alone together, with Lucille Ball reruns playing on the television. She would sit at the table with mounds of mashed potato and a huge bowl of meat filling in front of her, patiently forming balls of potato, stuffing them with meat, dunking them in egg wash, coating them with breadcrumbs. Like magic, the potato Kubbah would be lined up on trays ready to be fried to crispy perfection.

Recently, Esther Avrahamy, Jazmin Duek (caterer extraordinaire) and I gathered to make kubbah patata for the first time. We boiled and peeled and mashed the potatoes. We sautéed the onions, then lightly sautéed the meat with baharat spice. We added pine nuts, Italian parsley and golden raisins. The amazingly patient and very talented Jazmin shaped the mashed potato into uniform balls and lovingly stuffed them.

Our families couldn’t get enough of the finished product.

Rachel and I hope that you and a few friends have a Potato Kubbah cooking day soon!

Potato Kubbah Recipe

The Shell

2 pounds russet potatoes

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

Salt and pepper, to taste


1 egg, beaten with a little water

1/2 cup oil, for frying

The Filling

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

1 onion, finely chopped

1 tablespoon baharat spice (equal parts cinnamon, clove, allspice, cumin and cardamom)

2 tablespoons golden raisins, finely chopped

1 pound ground beef

Salt and pepper, to taste

1/4 cup Italian parsley, finely chopped

1/4 cup pine nuts

Boil the potatoes until fork tender.

Mash while hot and leave to cool.

Add the olive oil and salt and pepper.

Knead well, until the mixture is a stiff consistency.

In a large frying pan, heat the oil and sauté the chopped onions until soft.

Stir in the baharat and the raisins.

Add the meat, salt and pepper and sauté until the meat is cooked.

Remove from heat and add parsley and pine nuts.

Mix well, then set aside.

Wet hands and take a tennis ball-sized portion of the mashed potato.

Roll it and flatten it into the palm of the hand.

Place a tablespoon of meat filling in the center, then bring the sides up over the stuffing and seal.

Roll into a ball, brush with egg and coat with breadcrumbs, then lightly flatten.

Arrange Kubbah on a tray, cover with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes.

In a large frying pan, heat a little oil and fry the Kubbah until golden on both sides.

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Potato Kubbah Days