To Wake Our Sisters

The wake is as important a part of Iraqi culture as it is of Irish, if you wish to wake our sisters in  Baghdad permit me to provide a recipe.

We did not know them so we have to celebrate their short lives generically.

First music, because this is a vital part of an Iraqi wake. I cannot be certain without my (long ago)ex to translate (I do not think his wife would like it), but, in the past Iraqi music had a curious quirk, whereby the music that sounded fast and joyful was terribly sad, and the mournful music tended to actually be quite rude and funny (Habibby = “my beloved” to give a clue)

It is ok to dance to the music. Iraqi women dance for each other, as do men. It is respectful.

Then there is booze. Alcohol was not forbidden by the Prophet, he simply pointed out that it probably was not usually a great idea…so Iraq has a national drink (and industry)…Arak…

Pernod or Ricard will do, Arak does not have the yellow tinge, but it is otherwise very similar…

…and DILUTE IT…please…

…and you must drink it with nuts…pistachios are a favourite…and kileshei (I doubt if anyone has ever spelled that in English), take sweet mincemeat, add dates, figs and cinnamon until you are sure you have improved it then fold into little short pastry parcels.

If you do not drink, black coffee so strong the spoon stand upright is fine…or sweet, strong black tea with a cardamom seed (she who puts a cardamom seed in her tea NEVER goes back to milk).

There must be food. Put your favourite meat to roast in the oven then, put a large saucepan on standby and choose a second meat, cubed to fry with a vegetable.

Lamb with Aubergine (no you will not have a big enough pan, no such thing exists, you will have to fry it in shifts – this will not matter in the end).

Beef with okra (in Iraq they are called “ladies fingers”) .

When you are satisfied it is all thoroughly fried, peel cloves of garlic and put them in your large pan whole, add the meat and the vegetable. Add tomato puree in the quantity you would for spaghetti Bolognese (hey, I learned this from a male physicist, you expect exact quantifies in vain) .

Boil then simmer for an hour.

Now, the vital part is to recognise that tomato puree will never work without lemon juice, add to taste…along with salt, and ordinary curry power, used, not as in a curry, but as a condiment. It helps tomato sauces to thicken and adds a distinctive flavour. When what you taste is heaven, you have added enough.

When the cloves of garlic melt in your mouth it is cooked.

Prepare your rice, by rinsing it with water until the water runs clear and all excess starch is gone. Blanch the dry rice in oil, then add salted water until it is 150% of the volume of rice. Boil then simmer until all water is gone, if the rice is still too hard add a very little water at a time until the rice is tender.

Cube very fresh tomato and cucumber into a large bowl, add lemon juice, salt and powdered garlic and turn to taste.

Put your best table cloth on the floor, and place each pot and bowl upon it (your roast should be ready by now) give everyone a plate and place a little of each kind of food upon it and tell them to sit around the cloth and help themselves to seconds…

While you eat, talk about your favourite sex workers, particularly remember the dead, like Jasmine and Dora, (I am personally thinking of Aline and Rose too, I visited Rose’s grave this week). It is good to tell funny heart warming stories, to remember their talents, abilities and even failings. We did not know our sisters in Baghdad…but trust me, they were similar.

It is ok to dance.

It is ok to get drunk.

It is ok to cry.

I will do all three.

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