Mustafa’s Iraqi Turshana (Dried Fruit Compote)
This recipe always transports me to a wonderful place and time in my life, that I truly miss.
I was born in Baghdad, the capital of Iraq, and grew up there for the first 11 years of my life, experiencing both the good years and the war before my parents, my older brother and I sought refuge in Jordan.
My mother is from Northern Iraq and has a Turkish grandmother, so my mother’s family traditions were very different to my father’s side. I remember driving up into the hills towards my grandparents’ home – the air just feels different. Northern Iraq is filled with mountains, rivers and beautiful nature. We used to refuel our water supply from a cold, clean river near my mother’s old house. The language is also different. My mother’s family could speak and understand Turkish very well, and most of their slang is influenced from Turkey.
This means I experienced foods from both ends of the country. Traditional Baghdadi food is beautiful, but the cuisine from Northern Iraq is unique – for instance, ‘Turshana’, which is my grandmother’s favourite dish, and mine too.
‘Turshana’ is a dried fruit stew, or perhaps a dried fruit compote. During the 2003 invasion, the weather was cold and supplies were low. Meaning there were no sweets or chocolate. But there was one item that an Iraqi house would never run low on: dried fruits. Hence the unanimous love that all Iraqis, across generations, have for this dish. It is so easy to make and has special and historical memories.
I believe the 11 years I spent in Iraq have played the greatest role in shaping who I am today. They were some incredible years, filled with laughter, joy, and family. My extended family would spend our days in each other’s houses, learning from all my uncles and aunties, growing up with all my cousins. They’re the sweetest memories I can recall.
Some people think the war years must have been traumatic and damaging to my childhood, and in some ways, there absolutely were horrible moments. Imagine being a child who attends school and has a best friend, visits his family quite often, lives a normal life, then one day everything just stops. You find yourself stuck in a bunker with the rest of your family, in a darkly lit room, wearing a gas mask and listening to old Arabic songs as your mother tries to hold headsets over your ears, so you don’t hear all the bombings.
That was the life we lived for six months: not knowing what might have happened to my best friend; losing an uncle during the bombing; seeing the emotional suffering of my parents as they desperately tried to communicate with their families, only to be welcomed with the sound of a dead telephone line. It was the toughest period in our lives. But there was also a significant silver lining beneath it all.
My family decided to flee illegally by car to seek refuge in Jordan. Jordan at the time, and to this day, is one of the most accepting countries in the Arabic realm. At the end of 2019, the number of refugees registered in Jordan stood at 744,795 persons (UNHCR figures), among them are refugees from Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Sudan and more.
We settled there for five years, and adapted to a different way of living, with the UNHCR providing us with education, health and cash assistance to help us with our re-settlement. Then an opportunity came up to migrate to Australia and live with our uncle, who has been here for over two decades, so we moved to Sydney.
When I make ‘Turshana’, my heart goes back to the cold lockdown days in Baghdad and to childhood holidays spent with my mother’s parents in Northern Iraq. In both places, we’d all gather to have this dish at night for dessert, and eat the leftovers in the morning, because why not?
It’s a marvellous dish and a taste of Northern Iraq. Do give it a try and I promise your family will bond over it too, and you will have your own love story.
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In a medium saucepan, place 1 cup of dried prunes, 1 cup dried apricots, and 1 cup golden raisins. Add water just to cover the fruits. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Add 1/2 cup sugar, 1 strip of lemon rind, 2 whole cloves and 1/4 teaspoon allspice. Stir and add a little water if necessary.
Return heat, reduce heat and simmer gently, uncovered, for 10 to 15 minutes or until fruit has softened and syrup is thick.
Remove lemon rind and cloves.
Cook some rice on the side.
Chill several hours before serving with rice on the side, garnished with roasted almonds if desired.