Iraqi burger recipe

BH&T Iraq Burger RecipeBaharat Seasoned Lamb Burger with Rice Kibbe and Yogurt Mint Sauce
When I started on my goal of creating a burger recipe based on the cuisine of each country in the world, I assumed that each country would have a unique cuisine.  Of course now that I’m 79 recipes/countries into this I realize that there are no “unique” cuisines.  The fact is that people have traveled, ever since there were people, they’ve traveled, and they bring their favorite foods with them.  So as I started researching Iraqi food, I was shocked to read on several sites that “Iraq is one of the few countries that doesn’t have a unique cuisine”.  I think I’m going to have to chalk this comment up to ignorance at best or prejudice at worst.  The reality is that Iraq is an old country and people have been traveling in and out and around the area for a really long time, and as we discussed, they’ve taken their food with them.

By jamesdale10, via Wikimedia Commons

By jamesdale10, via Wikimedia Commons

The Republic of Iraq is located in the heart of the Middle East bordered by Iran, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria and Turkey with a small coastline on the Persian Gulf.  It was once part of the Ottoman Empire and before that was part of Mesopotamia.  Now Iraq is now home to almost 32 million people.  And yes, the cuisine is pretty classically Middle Eastern but anyone who says that dismissively clearly doesn’t understand the thousands of years of history and culture and folks traveling that have brought us to the modern Middle East.  This is one of the oldest civilizations in the world; which gives us more to talk about than we have time on this particular journey.

By James (Jim) Gordon, via Wikimedia Commons

By James (Jim) Gordon, via Wikimedia Commons

Through these thousands of years and billions of travelers food and flavors have developed that somehow reach into your heart and soul and bring you home in a visceral way.  Middle Eastern food has a richness and complexity that seems exotic to those of us raised in the New World and weaned on fast food and processed foods.  Iraqis love spices and their food balances flavors that Westerners consider dessert tastes with classically savory spices.  Cumin mixes with cinnamon, nutmeg compliments saffron and suddenly your kitchen is filed with a glorious fragrance that lingers and brings your family and friends to the table ready to feast.

Which is a somewhat clumsy lead in to my next point about hospitality.  Iraqi culture, in keeping with Muslim culture more generally, has a strong emphasis on hospitality.  There’s a tradition that any guest/stranger/traveler is welcome to stay for 3 days in your house and it is rude for you to ask him his intentions or how long he plans to stay until the third day.  I’ve read stories of men who travel for business and stop at strangers houses along the way – the strangers become friends and start anticipating the visits, the travelers’ favorite foods are served when he arrives unexpectedly.  Now I come from a part of the US that is particularly know for it’s hospitality, but I wouldn’t recommend just showing up at a stranger’s door in the American Midwest and expecting to get your favorite dish cooked.

That being said, welcome to my “home” – let’s see what I’ve cooked for you!  In a similar fashion to Iran, we’re going to start with the ever-important rice.  I am increasingly impressed with the variety and creativity of cooking methods and recipes for rice around the world.  In an effort to try another new rice dish, I found inspiration in kibbe.  Iraqi kibbe recipes are varied, but one of the popular ways to make kibbe is cook the rice until it’s soft, add some dried fruit and some beef and grind it all together then wrap it around some spiced ground lamb and deep fry.  To me this sounds like the perfect inspiration for a burger.  So I made saffron rice, mixed in some meat, raisins (I only ad black raisins, golden would be more authentic) and some onion and made a super tasty kibbe cake for the starch.

Next came the meat, and here lamb was the obvious choice – especially since goat is so hard to find in Brookline J Add some baharat (another spice mixture with millions of versions throughout the Middle East) and we’ve got a fragrant and delicious patty.  Just to add a little coolness I made a yogurt sauce with a big helping of fresh mint, some lemon juice and dates for a little bit of sweetness.  By the way, Iraq produces about 80% of the world’s dates.

The final burger is rich and layered, fragrant and tasty, and it is easily one of my favorites.  The fried rice cake is a little heavy, but is balanced well with the yogurt sauce; make sure you portion the sauce generously.

If you enjoy these flavors, you’ll also love the Egypt burger.  Both of these burgers embrace the flavors of the Middle East as I hope you will too (as you can tell, I’m a huge fan)!

Iraqi Burger
1 pound ground lamb
Baharat Spice Mixture (recipe below) reserve ½ teaspoon for rice cake
4 Kibbe Rice Cakes (recipe below)
Yogurt Sauce (recipe below)

Combine the lamb and baharat and form into 4 patties.  Cook to desired temperature.

Baharat Spice Mixture
1 teaspoon ground cumin
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground cardamom
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon salt

Combine spices in a dry pan over low heat until fragrant.  Reserve ½ teaspoon of spice mixture for rice cake and use the rest for the meat.

Kibbe Rice Cake
1 cup basmati rice
¼ cup hot water
Pinch saffron
¼ cup chopped onion
¼ lb ground beef
¼ cup raisin (preferably golden)
½ teaspoon baharat spice mixture
Peanut oil

Cook rice per package directions.  While rice is cooking add the saffron to the hot water and let it sit until rice is done.  Put cooked rice, saffron and water, beef, raisins and spices into a food processor and pulse until well mixed.

BH&T Iraq Kibbe Cake Prep

Form 4 balls out of the mixture and flatten into discs.  Heat about an inch of peanut oil in a pan.  Fry the discs in the oil then drain on paper towels.

BH&T Iraq Kibbe Rice Cake

Yogurt Sauce
1 cup 2% Greek yogurt
½ cup chopped fresh mint
4 dates chopped
Juice of ½ lemon
Salt to taste

Mix all ingredients, cover and refrigerate until ready to use.

BH&T Iraq Yogurt Sauce


©Copyright 2013 Linda Monach

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10 Responses to Iraqi burger recipe

  1. Carl says:

    The city I live in has almost 10 000 people hailing from Iraq with plenty of Iraqi restaurants and stores around in some neighbourhoods.

    Based on this I wouldn’t agree that there isn’t a unique Iraqi cuisine, it just that it’s a quite diverse variation of middle eastern food with influences from here to there, still there are some things that has a more Iraqi touch.. Like grilled fish, bean soups, biriyanis, Iraqi bbg, the extensive use of tamarind and turmeric. etc

    The most typical thing for Iraq I would say is the very sour Mango pickle sauce: amba. Found in other countries, but not as cherished as among Iraqis. Typically it’s eaten with Falafel in a big round somun bread, I think it’s a source of national pride for some. If you befriend an Iraqi Falafel store owner in my city he will probably make you try this combination (it’s often off the regular menu).

    Also I thought kibbeh was made with bulgur, or that’s just a variaton?

    • linda says:

      Thanks as always for your comments Carl – I love hearing your perspective on things.

      I think I kind of talked in circles on this one, but I was offended at the idea of calling out Iraq as not having a unique cuisine. In part, this offense comes from my belief that there are no countries with “unique” cuisines (and by unique, I’m being quite literal and meaning “totally different”), but I do believe that each country has a flavor and character to the food that you can capture – that’s been my goal all along.

      As for the question on kibbe – from what I’ve read (and as you know, I’m not claiming to be an expert), kibbe can and is made from a variety of grains. Bulgur is the most common, but is more common in Turkey, while Iraqis seem to favor the rice version. There is another cooking method that involves taking the dry rice and grinding it in a food processor/blender then frying it, but I preferred the texture achieved by cooking it first then adding all the goodies and frying it.

      I didn’t come across the amba sauce that you mention, but it sounds wonderful – I’m a big fan of sour flavors. I did see that pickled items were popular, but chose to leave them out as I’m not sure I could duplicate the pickle flavor and I didn’t think my readers would want to take the time that would be involved. Luckily the greek yogurt has such a nice tang, I think it gives you the sour over-notes that you need to balance the fatty sweetness of the lamb.


  2. Janet says:

    This one looks amazing. I really want to try out the rice cake.

  3. Lucy Jamgotchian Burany says:

    I was born in Iraq raised in California,I was looking for this recipe for a long time to how to make this Iraqi burger,my sister she remembers that our father took her to places in Iraq where they made burgers she told me the burger is #1 for her ,I was little then and I didn’t know what she was talking about.Now that I’m older I found this recipe and I’m going to make it and invite my family to my house for a surprise.

    • linda says:

      I’m glad you think the recipe looks good, but please note, I’m not claiming it’s an authentic Iraqi burger, it is a burger that is inspired by the flavors of Iraq. Please give it a try and let me know how the family enjoys it.

  4. Pingback: Israeli burger recipe | burgers here and there

  5. Tone Deffman says:

    Of course , any Persian based burger should be served on an “open sesame” seed bun. >XoD .
    OPEN SESAME! .. .. seed ..bun. ??
    Ah, please yourselves.

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