JUMA Kitchen is a food pop-up concept in London, celebrating the best of Iraqi cuisne. Founder and chef Philip Juma developed contemporary adaptations of traditional Iraqi dishes, often using family recipes, and hosts regular supper clubs and fundraising events in London. “Through food, JUMA Kitchen aims to break down stereotypes of Iraq, and connect people with a country that is rich in culture and heritage,” he explains. JUMA Kitchen recently collaborated with the London-based cocktail bar TT Liquor on a series of dinners, which paired Iraqi dishes with cocktails. Juma writes a regular column on Iraqi food for the London’s Evening Standard newspaper. He speaks to Ruya about one of his favourite Iraqi treats, date and cardamom cookies known as kleicha.
Kleicha: Date and Cardamom Cookies
In our house in London, kleicha was prepared at Easter and Christmas and served with Iraqi tea (chai) after dinner. Once made, these date or walnut-filled cookies never stayed around for too long. The smell of buttery pastry and cardamom was enough to send anyone to food-heaven! Because kleicha is made in large quantities, I often took left over pieces to school and eventually to the office when I worked in finance in the city.
I badgered my family, who are Maslawis (from Mosul) living in London, for the recipe and my aunt gave me hers. While I love the sweet date and cardamom filling of kleicha, I often find the dough a bit dry. I tweaked my aunt’s recipe to give it more moisture. Just before baking, I sprinkle Maldon rock salt on top of the egg washed kleicha, which gives it an extra crunch and cuts through the sweetness of the dates. I love mine with a cup of English breakfast tea.
Kleicha come in two variations: date-filled lozenges or walnut-filled crescents. Both are equally delicious, and I’ve discovered new adaptations with alternative fillings like coconut. The crescents are believed to be descendants of older Mesopotamian circular pastries known as qullupu.
Makes 40 pieces
– 600g plain ‘OO’ flour
– 200g melted Stork butter
– 7g dry yeast (1 sachet)
– 1 tbsp sugar
– ½ tbsp salt
– 200ml water
– 2 tbsp nigella seeds
– 600g packet of date paste
– 3 tbsp sunflower oil
– 1 tbsp ground cardamom seeds
– 2 large sandwich bags (cut open)
– 1 egg
The date paste can be found in most Middle Eastern supermarkets and is usually packaged in 1kg blocks.
In a food mixer, add the flour, melted butter, yeast and sugar. Add the salt, but place it far away from the yeast, as they cancel each other out.
Mix the ingredients on a low setting. The final desired texture is similar to a pizza dough. Add water gradually and keep adding if you feel the mix needs more. When you feel it is close, add the nigella seeds.
Once blended, push the dough with your hand, there should be a spring in the dough and it should feel moist.
Place the dough in a bowl and cover with a towel. Leave it to rest for 40 minutes to allow the yeast to activate.
Heat the sunflower oil in a large saucepan. Add 150g of date paste. The paste will seem hard at first, but it will soften once heated. Add the ground cardamom.
Keep stirring and folding the date and cardamom mix. You are looking for a soft texture that can be easily rolled.
Place a ball of the date mix (the size of a small apple) on top of a sandwich bag, and place another sandwich bag on top of the date mix. Roll the date paste out into a rectangle, it should be easy to shape/mould. Set aside.
After the pastry has risen, separate it into 4 pieces.
On a floured surface roll the pastry out into a rectangle shape. The long edges should be vertical to you.
Peel away the top sandwich bag and place the date paste face down on top of the pastry. Remove the second sandwich bag. Fill any gaps in the pastry with the extra date and cardamom mix.
Next, shape your cookies. Begin from the vertical side and roll from right to left. You are looking for a tight roll. Start from the top and work your way down.
Cut the rolled pastry horizontally into kleichas. Traditionally, they are 2-3 inches long.
Brush with beaten egg and bake in the oven for 20 minutes at 180°C. The kleichas should be a golden colour and the smells should be wonderful.
Repeat the process for the 3 other batches.
Once all baked, make yourself a cuppa and enjoy!!!