Culture Tuesday: an Exploration of Kurdish Cuisine

Culture Tuesday is a weekly column in which Best of Vegan Editor Samantha Onyemenam explores different cultures’ cuisines across the globe through a plant-based and vegan lens. Before you start exploring vegan Kurdish cuisine with her today, you might want to click here to read her column about Singaporean cuisine, here to read her column about Vietnamese cuisine, and here to read her column about Japanese cuisine.

Culture Tuesday – Vegan Kurdish Cuisine

The Kurdish cuisine is the cuisine of the Iranic people native to Kurdistan – a mountainous region in western Asia. It is made up of regions of north-western Iran northern Iraq, northern Syria, and south-eastern Turkey. Therefore, despite the unique aspects of the cuisine, influences from, and similarities to, the cuisines of these four nations can be found within the Kurdish cuisine as well as Indian and Armenian influences.

The cuisine features a wide range of fresh fruits, vegetables, bulgur, rice, legumes, and bread. Bulgur wheat, rice, and/or fresh flatbreads are staples served at every meal along with a fresh salad including cucumbers, tomatoes, fresh green vegetables indigenous to Kurdistan, cabbage, and a host of other vegetables.

vegan kurdish cuisine
Lahmacun. Image credit: @vegetarianworldd. Click on the photo to see the full post on Instagram.

A Range of Breads

In Kurdistan, bread can be found in various forms. Their ingredients differ as well as their shapes, densities, and textures. Some of these breads found within the region include:

Kalāneh, a semicircular flatbread filled with pīchak, a wild plant in the onion family that is indigenous to Kurdistan, prior to being cooked on a sāj – a convex metal griddle. Kurdish people in the diaspora make fresh kalāneh using chives, garlic chives, or spring onions (green onions/scallions) in place of pīchak in order to make a somewhat similarly tasting dish.

Lahmacun is a round thin flatbread that is topped with minced vegetables, tomatoes, red bell peppers, onions, garlic, herbs, and spices prior to baking. It is often used as a wrap for vegetables such as aubergines (eggplant), lettuce, bell peppers, tomatoes, and pickles. Lahmacun is usually not vegan although it is easy to make it vegan. For a more traditional-appearing lahmacun, a vegan mince/minced meat substitute can be added as part of the toppings.

Nanê Kulêrê, a yeasted sesame-encrusted bread shaped similarly to a bagel, but with a wider diameter of negative space at its center. It is sometimes shaped like a bun. However, the closer one is to Turkish parts of Kurdistan, the more likely it is to be bagel-like as it is extremely similar to (if not the same as) the Turkish bread known as simit.

Nanê Sêlê. Image credit: @kurdisch.kochen. Click on the photo to see the full post on Instagram.

Nanê Sêle is a very thin and large round flatbread cooked on a sāj. Some Kurdish cooks stretch some dough to about a quarter of their desired thinness and size, sprinkle herbs on the dough then place dough stretched to the same dimensions over it before stretching the bread out further to a large, circular, and thin shape then cooking it.

Nanê Tenûrê, a flatbread fire-baked in a tandoor oven – a rounded clay or metal vessel heated by burning wood or charcoal within it. The bread dough is stuck to the walls of the oven where they bake till they reach the desired level of doneness.

Nanê Tendurê. Image credit: @kurdisch.kochen. Click on the photo to see the full post on Instagram.

Nanê Tîrî, a thin flatbread that dried and softened by moistening it to be eaten. It is usually made in bulk and stored until needed.

Nawasaji is a lightly fried flatbread that is somewhat a cross between naan bread (which is of Indian origin but commonly eaten in Kurdistan) and a doughnut. It is a relatively sweet bread. However, it is also aromatic due to the use of nigella seeds which perfume the bread as it cooks. 

Samoon is a diamond-shaped yeasted flatbread baked in a stone oven similar to that used for baking pizza. It is encrusted with sesame seeds giving it a subtle nutty flavor.

Nanê Tîrî. Image credit: @kurdishbestfood. Click on the photo to see the full post on Instagram.

Grain Dishes: Rice

The most common grain present at Kurdish meals is rice. This rice is usually basmati – an aromatic slender long-grained rice of Indian and Pakistani origin but domestically grown in other countries too. The rice is used to cook dishes such as biryani, brinji sor (red rice), pilaff, and kubba.

Biryani is a dish with Indian origins although it is part of Kurdish cuisine. It’s Iraqi Kurdistan, consists of rice, aromatic spices, saffron, vegetables, dried fruits, almonds, onions, garlic and, sometimes, vermicelli, potatoes, and/or a meat substitute of choice too (to keep it plant-based). Occasionally, a sour and/or spicy maraq (tomato sauce) is served alongside the biryani.

Brinji sor, also known as ‘red rice,’ is a rice dish made by cooking basmati rice in a broth consisting of water, a tomato sauce (which can be made from onions, tomatoes, and tomato paste), and stock. It is rather similar to the West African Jollof Rice dishes although not as heavily seasoned or spicy.

vegan kurdish cuisine
Biryani. Image credit: @kurdishbestfood. Click on the photo to see the full post on Instagram.

Pilaf is made by cooking rice in a stock or broth with spices, vegetables, and dried fruit. Depending on the region in Kurdistan, pilaf can be cooked differently. In Turkish Kurdistan, pilaf is more likely to be made by frying uncooked rice before adding water, stock, or broth to it. However, in Iranian Kurdistan, pilaf is made by soaking, parboiling, and draining the rice then layering the rice with vegetables, spices, and dried fruits before steaming it. Regardless of the region of Kurdistan that pilaf is made in, one important thing to the people is that the rice is separated and not sticky. This is why the rice is fried or soaked, parboiled, and drained during the process of making pilaf.

Kubba is a dish common to Iraqi Kurdistan. Traditionally, it is not vegan. However, with the growing population of vegan Kurds, kubba recipes can now be found in which mushrooms, vegan minced meat, soy mince, or seitan mince are used to replace meat, making it a great addition to vegan Kurdish cuisine. It is made by filling balls of mashed/pulverized potatoes and basmati rice with a mixture containing the minced meat substitute of choice, dried fruits, spices, and aromatics of choice such as onions and garlic. The filled kubba are shaped into a somewhat oblong shape and fried.

Bulgur with angel hair pasta. Image credit: @kurdisch.kochen. Click on the photo to see the full post on Instagram.

Grain Dishes: Bulgur

Bulgur, also known as, ‘bulgur wheat,’ is a grain made from cracked parboiled wheat. It is often used as a rice substitute due to its somewhat similar shape, texture, and cooking processes. However, often, bulgur just needs to be soaked (usually is warm or freshly boiled water) to get it to the right texture to eat it. In Kurdish cuisine, bulgur is used to make dishes such as kutilk, bulgur pilaf, and sawer.

Bulgur pilaf is made very similarly to the more conventional pilaf made with rice. However, the process of cooking the bulgur wheat can differ amongst cooks. Some cooks make bulgur pilaf exactly the same as they would make rice pilaf, but others would add boiling water or stock after combining all other ingredients then simply cover the pot (without a constant heat supply) giving the bulgur enough time to absorb the liquid and reach the desired texture and consistency.

Sawer, which is also the Kurdish term used for ‘bulgur wheat,’ is made similarly to brinji sor (red rice). It is also made by cooking the grain in a mixture of water, tomato sauce, and stock. However, likewise to bulgur pilaf, upon adding the liquid ingredients, the dish is either let to simmer at a low temperature or the heat supply is completely cut off and the bulgur wheat is left to soak up the hot liquid mixture until it reaches the desired texture.

Kutilk is similar to icli kofte but cooked in boiling water or stock as opposed to being deep-fried. Its dough/shell/outer layer is made from a mixture containing bulgur wheat and durum wheat semolina. For a vegan version, it can either be made in the plant-based traditional version filled with just sauteed vegetables, or it can be made less traditional by using a ground meat substitute in place of the meat found in the more conventional traditional version of kutilk.

vegan kurdish cuisine
Dolma (stuffed grape leaves). Image credit: @kurdisch.kochen. Click on the photo to see the full post on Instagram.

Other Common Dishes

Kurdistan houses a host of other delicious dishes. This includes dolma, aşûre, shlai kolaka, and fasolia.

Dolma, also known as yaprakh in Kurdistan, is a stuffed dish. In the Middle East, dolma is almost predominantly made by stuffing, filling grapevine leaves with a mixture containing rice, tomatoes, and a range of other ingredients. Meat substitutes are also occasionally used by vegans making dolma. However, in vegan Kurdish cuisine, other vegetables are commonly stuffed. These include cabbage, courgettes (zucchinis), tomatoes, bell peppers (capsicum), aubergines (eggplant), and onions. The vegetables are hollowed prior to being filled/stuffed and cooked/steamed with some boiling water.

Aşûre, also known as Noah’s Pudding, is a dish common to Turkish Kurdistan. It is mostly found as a vegan-friendly dessert. Aşûre is traditionally made with at least seven ingredients. However, as aşûre, or ashure, means ‘tenth,’ some Kurds insist that it must contain at least ten ingredients. These ingredients include wheat, rice, barley, chickpeas, white beans, dates, beets, nuts, pomegranates, and dried fruits. Additional ingredients that are commonly used include sugar/sweetener, orange peel, lemon peel, rose water, seeds, cardamom, cinnamon, nutmeg, and allspice.

vegan kurdish cuisine
Aşûre. Image credit: @kurdisch.kochen. Click on the photo to see the full post on Instagram.

Shlai kolaka is a thick squash soup containing vegetables. It is often accompanied by rice or flatbread. Shlai kolaka is made by sautéing onions with garlic and tomato puree then stirring in chopped pieces of squash, any vegetables of choice, spices, seasonings, and water or stock. The mixture is cooked down until the liquid thickens and the squash becomes tender.

Recipe – Fasolia

Fasolia is a white bean stew that is a beloved staple meal amongst Kurds. It is made by cooking soaked dried beans in a broth made from sauteed onions, garlic, tomatoes (and/or tomato puree), and water or stock until the beans are tender. It can be eaten on its own or served rice, salad, or a flatbread for a healthy meal. Traditionally, fasolia is not vegan. However, vegan versions are often made and can be found due to growing interests in plant-based meals.

Below is a fasolia recipe by Cooking My Roots. This is a simple, yet delicious recipe from vegan Kurdish cuisine, which one can alter with additional ingredients or using vegetable stock instead of water (as Cooking My Roots suggested) to make it more filling, even more nutritious, or more flavourful.

Vegan Afika Fasûlîya (White Bean Stew) by Cooking My Roots

vegan kurdish cuisine
Afika fasûlîya (white bean stew). Image credit: @cookingmyroots. Click on the photo to see the full post on Instagram.

Watch the video recipe here:

Author: Samantha Onyemenam.

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Comments

  1. I always say our brinj e sor is similar to jollof rice. It tastes pretty similar although not the same of course. The first time I ate jollof rice many years ago, it really reminded me of my mon’s brinj e sor. Love how you appreciate our Kurdish culture. Ps Kurds are from Kurdistan. Kolonizers divide us in turkey iran etc and that’s how they strip is from our culture 😞 we are the native people to our land. We are the indigenous people to our lands. Maybe you could consider changing it to Kurdistan as it’s our identity ❤️

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