Evelyn's Iraqi Kubbeh
Updated: May 18
By Danny Elisha and Debbie Elisha
Photograph: Evelyn and young Danny
Danny: My grandfather Haim, z"l (Jiddo) was born in Urfa, an area south of Turkey that borders with the Kurds. My grandfather also considered himself Turkish. As a young Zionist, he joined the Ottoman army in order to be transferred to Palestine with the Ottoman army. Once he arrived in Palestine, he defected from the army and changed his last name from Levy to Elisha because he was a fugitive, and the punishment for defection from the army was death. (Levy is certainly a Jewish name, and he felt that Elisha was less Jewish sounding, and would be less obvious to anyone looking for a Jewish deserter).
My father Zion z"l, was born in Israel. During the British mandate. He joined the British police because he spoke Hebrew, English and Arabic fluently. At one point, he left the British police and joined the Haganah and then the Israeli police after the State of Israel was established. Around that time when he was in the Hagana, he was wounded. He never talked about it, though I did notice some scars on his chest.
On my mother's side--my grandparents lived in Baghdad and were apparently quite wealthy with servants and a big house. My grandfather was the director of the school system 'Alliance D'Francaise'. According to my aunt, my grandfather traveled frequently because of his position, and he and my grandmother spent time in Iran. And that is how my mother was born in Iran. I'm not really sure which city--probably Tehran.
They returned to Baghdad, where my mother grew up with her siblings. According to my mother, the situation in Iraq became really bad for the Jews after the State of Israel was established in 1948. The Iraqi government made the Jews leave all their property and belongings in Iraq -EVERYTHING - and even went as far as strip-searching some to make sure they had not sewn money or jewelry into their clothing when they left Iraq. So the entire family literally had only the clothes on their backs when they left. All their wealth and possessions were left behind.
According to my mother, the children left first and afterwards the parents. My mother arrived in Israel by air through Operation Ezra and Nehemiah that brought the Iraqi Jews to Israel. They left Iraq, went to Cyprus and then came to Israel, where they were all put into tents in Yad HaMaaveer (also called Ma-a-barot). This whole area later became Ramat Gan.
In Israel, my aunt Juliette met a dashing police officer named Yaakov. Juliette’s boyfriend told her sister Evelyn that Yaakov had a friend who was also in the Police, spoke Arabic and Hebrew,
and was quite the catch. Evelyn met Tzion in 1950; they were married the same year, and I was born in 1951.
Evelyn, Yaakov and Danny
As a side note to the story, my mother does not know, her exact birth date. She knows that it was approximately around Passover, and when she applied for Social Security benefits, her application was denied because she had no proof of her birthdate. She had to sue the Israeli government and to bring her sister, Juliette to court to testify and verify her birth year. Apparently, that was a problem with all Iraqi Jews and later on, the Israel Knesset (Parliament) passed a law that you don't have to sue in order to get Social Security benefits if you were born in Iraq, and all you now need is an affidavit and a witness to verify it.
I must say my parents never talked about their backgrounds, and I only got sketchy pieces of information here and there.
I think my mother was born in 1933, making her about 87 now. She arrived in Israel in 1949-50 (we don't know exactly) and got married in 1950, when she was about 17 years-old. My father was a lot older than her. Her maiden name in Iraq it was EL-YATEEM. The translation in Hebrew would be G-d's orphan. When they arrived in Israel, they changed their names to EL-YAKEEM, which would be loosely translated to "G-d will rise". This was, of course, very common that Jews moved to Israel from foreign countries and Hebraicized their names.
Growing up in the shuk in Jerusalem was okay as a child, even though it was considered a poor neighborhood, I had a lot of friends there. We played in the neighborhood; there was no crime. My mother was constantly busy raising six children. My father was always at work. My mother cooked all the time, but not elaborate meals. The kitchen was very small, about 3 feet by 6 feet. When we went to school, we brought our lunch, which was a sandwich of pita bread with za'atar, and that was a delicacy.
The family was not well off, but we managed. I don't remember fights between the siblings, but I also don't remember my mother having to keep us in line.
She would go to parent-teacher conferences; she sewed costumes for us on Purim. My mother would do all the food shopping for the family, which might be considered easy, living right in the shuk. But living on the 4th floor, and carrying bags of groceries up those rickety steps was not easy.
My mother was a very strong person. She had a lot of energy, and, when we were in school, not only did she take care of the cooking and cleaning, laundry for 8 people without a washer or dryer--the regular things expected—but she also was into doing home repairs, and I remember her painting and plastering the walls of the house in the shuk many times.
My paternal grandfather (Jiddo) lived to be over 100 years old, and he lived about 1/2 a mile from our family in the neighborhood of Nachlaot. My mother not only prepared food and took care of our family, but also made food and took it over to Jiddo when we children were very little. When we were older, we helped out by taking the food to him. She was a good daughter-in-law to him.
My mother was friends with the neighbor women, though her closer contacts were with her sisters and other family members. Because my father was in the Police Department, we were able to get a telephone much earlier than other people. My aunt, Juliette, whose husband Yaakov z"l, was also a police officer, also had a telephone and 6 children, and my mother was very close to her. They would come to visit us in Jerusalem occasionally, which was great to play with cousins who were about the same age. Most of her family lived in Holon, but as my father was really a Jerusalemite, she remained there.
My mother's main expertise in the kitchen was her marak kubbeh. It came in different flavors according to season or holiday. We loved it and fought over it.
It was a lot of work to fix it, but whenever we came to Jerusalem for Shabbat, and later on, after we moved to the States and came to visit, she always had a big pot of it on the stove waiting for us.
One interesting thing about living in the shuk was that in later years (1978-79) when company came over—if there wasn't food already fixed—my mom would send my brothers Gabi and Rafi with several dinner plates downstairs to the restaurant Rachmo , where they would fill the plates with hummus and chickpeas, meatballs, rice and vegetables--instant lunch or dinner.
Photograph: Mehaneh Yehudah, Jerusalem, 2019
Debbie: Evelyn made dinner early in the day before running her errands. The children couldn't wait for dinnertime and often raided her kubbeh when she was gone. She learned to hide a separate pot of kubbeh so that they would have enough for dinner. Her sisters told me that there are 17 types of kubbeh, sometimes served with basmati rice and regular meatballs.
Doda Juliette's Red Kubbeh
2 T tomato paste
4 T chicken soup powder
pinch of lemon salt
2 Ibs beets (roasted and peeled)
1 onion sliced
dash of sugar
Water to fill 2/3 of pot (7 cups)
1 lb ground meat or turkey
I large onion diced
pinch of parsley
pinch of salt
pinch of pepper
1 T of Pereg Koobah spice, or saffron, cumin and cinnamon to taste
1 Ib semolina
1 1/2 c water
Mix well, but don't kneed, and put in refrigerator for 15 min.
Fry onion in oil
In a large pot, add soup ingredients and bring to boil
Form the kubbeh, make a shell the size of a golf ball, add a T of filling and close. Drop in the boiling water. Boil about 1/2 hour and remove gently with a spoon to keep intact.
Evelyn's Iraqi Kubbeh Soup
Soup: mix the following in a large pot and bring to boil
2 T tomato paste
4 T chicken soup powder
3 C cup up butternut squash
pinch lemon salt
2 small onions peeled
7 C of water
2 C semolina
1.5 C water
mix together, cover and let rest for 1/2 hour
Filling: Mix well
1 lb ground beef
1 large onion diced
1 T kibbeh spice
Take a golf ball size of semolina mixture. Use your thumb to make a big dent in it and insert a smaller ball of stuffing. Wet your hands to avoid sticking to the mixture. Close the semolina mixture over stuffing to form an egg-shaped dumpling. Drop each in boiling soup and cook for 30 min.
Kubbeh recipe for a novice:
Farideh: I decided to make kubbeh after reading the story. Mine became a combination of all recipes above and a few I read online. The most challenging part was shaping the kubbeh itself, making the shell thin enough without breaking it, making the well large enough for a good amount of filling, and closing the shell over the stuffing.
Here is my recipe:
1 lb semolina
1 large onion dices and fried in 2 T oil
3 cloves garlic
1T ras al-hanut spice (my new favorite spice)
1 T spicy harissa
2 C crushed tomatoes
9 C water
1 lb ground beef or chicken
3 beets, baked, peeled and cubed
Beet leaves, cut
2 lbs butternut squash, cubed and roasted
2 zucchini, cubed
Mix semolina, 1 t salt, and 1 1/2 cup water in a bowl. Mix gently until it is wet. Don't kneed. You may add a few more drops of water (not much more) if it is too dry. Put the bowl in the refrigerator as you prepare the rest of ingredients.
Bring 7-8 cups of water to boil in a large pot. Add harissa, crushed tomatoes, garlic, salt, pepper, ras al-hanut and simmer for 15 min.
Sauté beet stems, cook for 5 min. Remove. Add chopped beet greens and stir till wilted.
When the garlic cloves are soft, crush them against the side of the pot and stir.
Add zucchini, beets, beet stems and squash to the soup mixture and simmer for another 15 min--keep the leaves aside
Sauté the rest of onions with ground beef or chicken, add a pinch of salt, pepper and 1 t ras al-hanut. Cook until meat is almost cooked.
Alternatively, you may make small meatballs, to insert inside the dumpling, adding the leftover meatballs to the soup along with the dumplings.
Take a walnut-sized portion of the mixture, flatten it in the palm of your hand and make a small well for the filling. Try to make it as thin as possible.
The dumpling in this picture is not thin enough yet.
Dampen your hands slightly, fill the kubbeh with the stuffing or meatballs and close by bringing the edges together.
Strain the liquid, saving all ingredients. Add the leaves to this mixture and set aside.
This is to make space for the kubbeh to cook.
Add kubbeh one at the time to the simmering liquid. If you have made meatballs, add them now. Cook for 30 min.
Add leftover stuffing and the vegetables at this point and simmer for 5-10 min. It is ready to serve.