I haven't written much here at all lately. Life seems to have picked me up on it's back and carried me running this year. I have been writing, but none of it here.
One of my many projects is a book on gluten free Middle Eastern cookery. Anyone who has been following long enough will remember khoreshts, cardamom cakes, saffron infused desserts, stuffed quinces and rose scented ice-creams scattered among the other dishes I have shared over the years. Middle eastern flavours particularly tickle my palate, subtle and complex, fragrant and warming.
So it was with delight that I heard my bother-in-law had fallen head first in love with an Iraqi woman called Lubna. A photo of her on his Facebook page said all I wanted to know, a million watt smile and crinkles round the eyes that showed she laughed a lot. I couldn't wait to talk food with her.
When we did finally meet her, that smile was like a five bar radiator. I could have curled up in front of it and purred. Nick's brother looked like a new man. Lucky Simon, we thought happily.
Unluckily, this story is a tragedy, not a comedy. Not long afterwards Lubna found that she was dying of cancer. They didn't know how long. Simon and Lubna started their comet trail, doing things that should not be put off. Carpe Diem.
Simon proposed and Lubna accepted. Although the wedding was a small family gathering (small by Iraqi standards), the feast table groaned. Bowls of grapes, cut pineapple and fat dates jostled with cake stands strewn with shiny sweets. Two large cakes sat patiently waiting for the end of the ceremony, whilst the children's eyes shone like silver paper. Nestled amongst it all were pastries; syrupy, spiral zoolbia, baklava and kleicha - the national pastry of Iraq - filled with dates, figs, pistachios and rosewater.
I urged Nick to taste everything he could and describe it to me in detail. "Mmm! Nice!", he enthused. Not quite the detailed description I was hoping for...
Lubna changed from her wedding dress into a cape sleeved, chiffon confection that made her look like an exotic butterfly. Her cheeks must have ached that night from grinning. Finley declared it the best wedding ever as he patted his tummy, still full of slow cooked lamb and fragrant rice.
A few short weeks later we were back at the same table, tears coursing down our cheeks. The day was bitterly cold and we no longer had Lubna's smile to warm us.
This weekend was six months since the wedding. My heart aches for what should have been and never will be.
I give you a recipe for kleicha filled with fresh raspberries. Not traditional, but then Lubna wasn't a traditional sort of girl. You can use any seasonal fruit you have for these, or fill them with dates and rosewater. You will need to start making the pastry 4 - 24 hours before you want to bake them and they are best still warm from the oven.
Mix together the following and set aside for 3-6 hours or up to 24 hours in the fridge.
60g sorghum flour
60g rice flour
40g buckwheat flour
10g fresh yeast or 4g dried
140g warm bottled or filtered water
Then beat in:
60g soft, salted butter
60g ground almonds
40g tapioca starch
20g fine maize flour (the yellow kind)
20g light muscovado sugar
10g ground flax seed
4g fine sea salt
Set the mixture in the fridge to chill for 30 mins to an hour and then make your kleicha below.
about 35 fresh raspberries
light muscovado sugar
Make these as sweet or tart as you like. I just added a pinch of sugar to my kleicha, but you could add up to a teaspoonful for something more authentically sweet.
Making the Kleicha
For satsuma sized kleicha, pinch off about a dessertspoon of the pastry, roll gently into a ball and roll briefly in some tapioca starch or cornflour.
Place the ball in your palm and start to flatten it with the fingers of your other hand until it is the size of your palm. Work quickly, or the pastry will become oily.
Place three raspberries onto the pastry, add some sugar and a few drops of rosewater and gently bring up the sides around the filling. Use your fingers to pinch and stroke the pastry until it comes around the top and pinch gently closed. Roll gently into a ball shape and place seam side down on a baking tray. Pierce a little hole in the top with a sharp knife.
Continue until all the mixture is used up.
To make mini kleicha, just use a teaspoonful of pastry and fill with one raspberry, a drop of rosewater and a pinch of sugar. Pierce with a skewer. You will make between 24-30 this way.
Leave the kleicha to rise for an hour and then bake for 18-20 minutes at 190ºC until they are golden brown and crisp. Watch that they don’t burn, as the sugar in the pastry will caramelise easily. If in doubt, turn your oven down 10ºC.
Cool on a rack and eat within 24 hours, or freeze and crisp up again for a few minutes in a hot oven after defrosting.