Some might say that the thought of Kleicha being a quietly consistent thread fostering social cohesion and connection to Iraqi culture and identity is a little over-romanticised.
Yet when I think of food that is quintessentially Iraqi, I think of Kleicha – a date-filled dish infused with a poetry that illustrates the rich and complex tapestry of the region. With its existence said to date back to Ancient Sumerian times, this gastronomic heirloom has a near ubiquitous presence in Iraq, cutting across multiple faiths, ethnic groups and districts.
Not only is this biscuit deliciously crumbly and uniquely sweet, it also evokes a well of memories and a whole lot of profound, often hard to express emotions. For the past four to five decades, you could say the Iraqi experience has been complicated. The country has faced one of the largest diasporas in modern times, with the effects of these hardships continuing to be felt by many communities today. The generational effects of having little choice but to lead a life of rootlessness and little to no time to process the residual grief are commonly brushed to the side in order to make room for the energy required to adapt to perpetual change. Despite all of this, one of the few constants it seemed, was a tray of cardamom spiked Kleicha on our coffee tables, no matter where our worn-out roots landed.
Having a never-ending supply of them summons both the physical and metaphorical presence of grandmothers, aunts and cousins. When we celebrated the end of Ramadan, there were twice as many baked and shared. When we started losing our own sense of where we came from in order to ‘fit in’, that tray was always sitting there. Reminding us.
So here’s to my incredibly resilient Mother’s Kleicha – a symbol of our capacity to keep our memories, history and a path to reconciliation alive.
- 3 cups plain flour
- 3 tsp baking powder
- A pinch of salt
- 1 1/2 tsp ground cardamom
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- 1 1/2 tsp nigella seeds
- 3/4 cup melted ghee
- 1/4 cup vegetable oil
- 1/3 cup warm water
- Date paste (can be found at specialty Middle Eastern stores. Make sure you are not buying date syrup - they are different)!
- 1 egg
Mix together flour, salt, baking powder and spices in a large mixing bowl.
With a food processor, electric beater or paddle attachment, start to combine the vegetable oil and ghee with the flour mixture until fully incorporated and starts to resemble loose breadcrumbs.
Add the warm water and nigella seeds and continue to mix until a dough forms. You may need to use your hands at this point to bring all the ingredients together so that the dough can take its shape. Continue to knead the dough either manually or with a machine for a couple more minutes.
Shape the dough into a ball, cover in cling wrap and rest at room temperature for 1.5-2 hours.
After resting, cut the dough into two equal parts. Roll each serving into a rectangular shape (roughly 16 inches in length and 12 inches in width). Cut through the date paste with a knife, taking pieces, gently flattening it before transferring it to the dough. The date paste on the dough should look a bit like a leopard spot pattern.
Place cling wrap over the whole rectangle and with a rolling pin, roll the date paste into the dough to flatten it completely, then remove the cling wrap.
Preheat oven to 180C and begin to roll the dough lengthwise until it resembles a log and pinch the flap into the dough to close it up (pictured below). Flatten the log slightly with a rolling pin and begin to carefully cut the roll into slices (should make about 20-22 slices). Transfer to a baking tray lined with baking paper and pierce each slice with a fork.
Whisk the egg and brush each slice with a good amount of eggwash. Place the tray in the oven and cook for approx. 20 minutes, or until the kleicha looks golden brown in colour.
About the Writer
Hind is a third-culture kid born to Iraqi parents and currently resides in Melbourne/Narrm, Australia. Aside from milling around her kitchen and trialling myriad recipes to yield a mouth-watering baked good, she is a high school educator and local tour guide who is obsessed with languages. She firmly believes that a path to creating meaningful change as educators is limited if we don’t critically reflect on and collectively engage with pedagogical practices that work to decolonise and diversify the school curriculum.