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JUMA Kitchen: Iraqi Supperclub with the AMAR Foundation

There’s a pretty limited menu when Iraq comes up in conversation these days. Perceptions of the country and its people are marred by the headlines, so much so that I now expect a routinely curious reaction when I reveal that I myself am Iraqi. Thankfully, London-based Iraqi chef Philip Juma has arrived on the scene to start shaking that all up, armed (sorry) with a refreshingly positive newsflash: there is so much more to Iraq than war.

Eager to attend one of his supper clubs, I jumped on board as soon as I heard he was collaborating with the AMAR foundation at the London Cooking Project recently to raise money for Iraq through their Escaping Darkness appeal. He has also joined forces with them again this month for their 'My Baghdad Kitchen' campaign, providing recipes for you to host your very own Iraqi Supper Club. 

 

I first heard about Juma last summer, and got a chance to try out his delicious food at ‘An Arm And A Leg’, an incredible evening of food, cocktails, and music organized by the Hands Up Foundation in aid of Syria. Juma has been heading up pop-up events like this all over London since 2012, when he traded in a career in the City for a life of foodie goodness by setting up JUMA Kitchen. He’s now on a mission to introduce Londoners to the wonderful and often forgotten world of Iraqi cuisine. 

Here's a little taster of what he had in store for us at his AMAR Supper Club.

With an open-plan kitchen and dining area, and Juma cooking his dolma as the guests arrived, the warm, friendly, and communal atmosphere was there from the start – just the right setting for a very homely cuisine that hasn’t often been exposed to the restaurant sphere.

We were in for an entire five course meal, so portion sizes were fitting. In traditional Arab style, we started off with mezza: smokey aubergine Moutabal dip (or babaganouj), a staple Falafel with a drizzle of tahini, and Juma’s take on Lamb Sambousek (pastry filled with spiced minced lamb).

For those of you who know me, you’ll be aware that lamb is my foodie downfall. I just don’t like the stuff, hence why Iraqi food has never been my first choice (Iraqis seriously love their lamb). Nevertheless, I went in with an open mind and gave Juma a chance to win me over - and the Sambousek managed to do just that. Not greasy at all, and with just the right amount of tender spiced meat enveloped in crumbly pastry, I could’ve had another.

Next up, we had Djaj Bilnarinj, crispy chicken thigh on a bed of potato served with a rich saffron sauce and caramelised onions, perhaps the less traditional but most beautiful dish of the night. This was followed by Kubbat Hamouth, an Iraqi household favourite: homemade dumplings filled with minced lamb, served in a rich tomato soup. If I showed you what this looks like at home, you would understand when I say that kubbat hamouth never looked this good.

Then came Juma’s star of the show, the Dolma – vegetables stuffed with spiced and marinated lamb mince and rice, which he served alongside a lamb chop and a more traditionally Lebanese Fattoush salad. An Iraqi dinner party would just not be complete without Dolma. It's also notoriously labour intensive to make, so hats off to Phil.

Of course, I was most looking forward to dessert, which could be none other than Knafa, a dessert popular all over the Middle East and usually made in one giant cake-like portion. Juma made his with shredded filo to top the traditional melted cheese filling, drenched it in blossom water syrup and topped it with pistachios. He also went for individual servings, which were right on trend - the Iraqi cupcake, perhaps?

Clearly, Juma is aiming to use his experience of working in Michelin-starred restaurants to refine Iraqi food and rightfully bring it into the twenty-first century. It’s without doubt a great way to ease those unfamiliar with the cuisine into it. For the Iraqi audience, however, who will forever compare it to mama and bibi’s home cooking, stepping into Juma’s kitchen requires being open to something new. For me, he gives these traditional dishes the modern kick that they need to appeal to the outside world, with impeccable contemporary presentation and without straying too far from the original taste.

Whilst it’s easy to get caught up in all of the food, it’s also important not to forget why we were really there: to raise money for the AMAR Foundation. AMAR is a charity working out in the Middle East, particularly at the moment with those affected by ISIS violence. Their Escaping Darkness Appeal, which Juma’s supper club was raising money for, aims to provide women in Northern Iraq with the psychological support they desperately need after fleeing ISIS. A leaflet at our table revealed the shocking facts they are working to change: there are only 17 psychiatrists in Northern Iraq, 80% of clinics are no longer functioning, and Daesh’s sex slaves can be as young as 9 years old.

Having grown up in London, and having never been to Iraq, it’s surreal to say that these statistics apply to the country my parents grew up in. It’s hard not to feel so far removed from the situation and so helpless, which is why it’s important that we recognise our responsibility to give back. By sharing Iraqi culture through food, we are raising awareness of and humanizing a nation and a people that have been reduced to statistics and stereotypes.

Juma’s food comes with a message, a reminder that Iraq was once a great nation, the home of civilization itself. Whilst our country might now be in ruins, our culture, our heritage, our warmth, and perhaps what best sums up all of the above, our food, will endure that greatness for generations.

To learn more about Juma and his delicious supper clubs, click here: www.jumakitchen.com

To find out more about the AMAR Foundation and how you can help, click here: www.amarfoundation.org 

To host your own 'Baghdad Kitchen' and raise money using Juma's delicious recipes, click here: http://www.amarfoundation.org/my-baghdad-kitchen/

Dinerama: Shoreditch's Summer Street Food Circus

Alright so we need to have a serious conversation about Dinerama. It's outdoor street food heaven, with neon lights for added awesomeness. So if you're stuck on how to spend your summer weekend evenings...look no further.

Dinerama is the third addition to Street Feast's crazy collection of street food markets around London. This one is based in the heart of Shoreditch on Great Eastern Street, whilst Model Market is in Lewisham and the original Street Feast is in Dalston Yard. 

Every Thursday - Saturday from 12pm to 12am, and Sundays from 12pm to 9pm, Dinerama hosts 6 street diners, 5 street food shacks, 6 bars, and several street food trucks - so you're sure to find something to tantalise your taste buds. It looks super busy in these photos, but because of the nature of the food, people are up and moving around all the time and we actually found a place to sit each time we wanted to. 

We arrived just before 7pm, so managed to catch free entry. It's only £3 entry after 7pm, but you'll probably want to arrive earlier anyway so you can soak it all up and try as much stuff as possible (obviously). It's also not just the food but it's the atmosphere that's great. There's a DJ playing music all night so you could easily spend your whole evening there!

These bad boys were so good, and still my favourite dish at the market. I would happily go back and eat 10. Most dishes on the stalls were £4 for one, two for £7, or three for £9 - so it's fun and more cost effective to share with your pals. Or just eat more for yourself, because why not?

You also can't miss the Chuck Burger truck as soon as you walk in. They do some great burgers, and actually have their own restaurant up in Hatch End.

 Yum Bun was another favourite of mine, and not just because of their super cool neon sign. We went for the crispy shrimp bun, which was awesome. But be warned, if you're not a fan of spicy food, ask for it without the green chilli - it will burn your mouth alive. 

There were so many stalls left that we didn't try, like a great looking Indian which had poppadom nachos...or 'pachos' as they called them. We also completely forgot to try the lobster rolls...so are definitely going back for those!! 

There were also so many bars in the market so you could just go in for a drink. We chose to go upstairs to the 'rooftop' section and hunt down the rum bar, obviously because they were the ones with the cool stripy cups. They had a great selection of crazy cocktails that were actually really good, which you can then enjoy on the grass up there. It's practically a picnic!

Whilst upstairs, we stopped off at Baja Grill which was offering coal-grilled sweet potato with chipotle butter for a beautiful £2. The salad on the side also made us feel a little bit less guilty for chomping on all those fried goods...

And for our final dish we were lured to Bird Box by the incredible smell and sight of the fresh rotisserie chicken. It was covered in some amazing chutney sauce and came with roasted garlic & thyme potatoes...dream. I should probably mention we did share everything...we aren't that bad!

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Okay so by this point, as you can guess from the amount of food we had, we were dying. But nothing was going to stop us heading to You Doughut! for dessert (separate stomach, right?) There were two flavours to choose from: salted caramel, and indulgent chocolate. We are suckers for cinnamon, but also couldn't not have marshmallows...so we just asked for the salted caramel but with marshmallows instead of pecans. I'm not even exaggerating when I say they are the most incredible doughnuts I have probably had ever.

We then ended up sitting and chatting for hours on end, right up until the market closed for the night. The weather was perfect, the people were lovely, and the music was just right, so there was no reason for us to leave! It was one of the best nights I've had so far this summer, of course with my forever foodie buddy Em. I'd definitely recommend you grab some friends and head on down there too.

If you fancy trying out Street Feast's other markets, you can view a list of all of the stalls available here.

Happy Street Feasting!

Daylesford Summer Festival 2015

“I believe in simple, good food, which is the result of organic farming; it is better for us, our animals and the environment.” - Carole Bamford, founder of Daylesford Farm

A few weeks ago I spent my Saturday eating copious amounts of great food (nothing new there, but keep reading), in the midst of endless beautiful scenery (almost there...), soaking up that oh-so-rare British sunshine (there we go!) at the Daylesford Summer Festival 2015.

Daylesford is a farm up in the Cotswolds that has been growing produce organically for over 30 years. They're committed to good quality, sustainability and they are all about real food. It's also one hell of a beautiful farm. After the success of their first summer festival last year, they opened up their doors again this May to give food and farming lovers alike an inside look into their organic farming methods and a great summer's day out - which it sure was!

At the festival, there were so many great food stalls selling their products and offering free samples, both from within and outside Daylesford. We tried some delicious artisan cheeses - there was one herb and goats cheese mix that was incredible. There were also pies, pastries, cakes, jams, chutneys, breads, healthy breakfast mixes and so much more. The event was so beautifully styled and typically British, and those of you who know me will guess that I was in bunting heaven!

As well as being able to have a more hearty lunch at the Daylesford farmshop on the day, there were several trucks selling hot food around the grounds. There was also a big barbecue going on with some amazing looking burgers. We made the tough decision of passing up the incredible smell of those to go for one of the Dayleford trucks, which were serving some tasty Beef Brisket Wraps. Eating those, whilst enjoying our first glass of Pimm's of the year and listening to the live jazz band on the grass was the perfect way to kick start our British summer - and look how pretty the trucks were!

Daylesford isn't really your average farm. It's like its own little Cotswoldian world hidden away in the countryside. There is the market garden, the animals, the bakery, the creamery, and the kitchens, but there is also so much more. Daylesford's onsite farm shop, for example, sells all their organic produce to the public. Alongside it, they've got their café, where you can eat fresh and delicious food made using everything they grow. There's even a spa and boutique.

There is also the most beautiful cookery school holding courses all year around about how to "eat to be healthy". At the festival there were several demonstrations and events in the kitchen, including a special appearance from Madeleine Shaw who was signing her new book "Get The Glow".

BUT I've saved my favourite part until last... which is the fact that Daylesford rent out their own dreamy Cotswolds cottages. My jaw dropped walking into one of the show-cottages on the day of the festival - and yes, those idyllic photos down there show you what I'm talking about! There are several beautifully designed and cosy cottages of different sizes, sleeping from 2 to 8 people, that you can stay in for a mid-week or weekend country getaway. Some of them are on site next to the farm itself, and some are just down the road further into Kingham. I can't think of a better weekend than staying up there, booking in a few spa treatments, cooking up some food using Daylesford ingredients, and just switching off!

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Aside from the festival, Daylesford is a great place to just go spend the day this summer. It's easy to get the train up from London Paddington, or drive through the beautiful British countryside if you fancy it. You could just go have a wander around the grounds, maybe try out the spa or a cookery course, have a bite to eat in the café, and breathe in some fresh country air. They also offer farm tours three times a year, and farm walks that you can just do yourself by picking up a map from the shop and following the signs.

If you'd rather stay a bit closer to home though, you can always try out one of the many Daylesford café's and farm shops around London. They've in fact just opened up a brand new one in Marylebone! The cafés serve delicious organic food using ingredients from back up at the Cotswolds for a nutritious breakfast, lunch, dinner, or simply afternoon tea and cake.

Whatever way you try it, make sure you have some sort of Daylesford experience this summer, and be sure to head to the Daylesford Summer Festival next year!