Mustafa’s Iraqi Turshana (Dried Fruit Compote)
Given you are exploring this website, I imagine you probably agree with the idea that ‘food transports you to a different place’ – and if you haven’t already experienced it, hopefully these recipes and stories will help you do just that. I believe that food really can transport you, and for me, this recipe especially 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 towards the end before my family (my parents, older brother and I) sought refuge in Jordan. My childhood in Iraq was spent predominantly at our large home, living with my family, grandparents and other uncles and their families.
Growing up I began to learn more about my family. My mother is from Northern Iraq and has a Turkish grandmother, so my mother’s family’s traditions were very different to my father’s side. I remember driving uphill into the hills towards my grandparents in Northern Iraq and the air just feels different, it almost has no live city and it’s filled with mountains, rivers and beautiful nature. We used to refuel our water supply from a cold and 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.
Which leads me to the point of experiencing the food from both ends, traditional ‘Baghdadi’ food is beautiful but Northen Iraq was a lot more unique, in such case this recipe itself, my grandmothers favourite dish.
I believe the 11 years I spent in Iraq have played the greatest role in sharing me to be the person I am today. They were some incredible years, filled with laughter and joy, and family. My father’s whole family was centred in an area, close to everyone, and we 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 period/years must have been traumatic and damaging to my childhood, and in some ways, there absolutely were some horrible moments. The American invasion into Iraq in 2003 lead to the deaths of more than 170,000 Iraqi casualties. We lost a lot during the war: people? buildings? Jobs? Can you detail what was lost?
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, and 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 going on close to our house. And that was that, that was the life we lived for 6 months, not knowing what might have happened to my friend, losing an uncle during the bombing, seeing the emotional suffering my parents had as they desperately tried to communicate with their extended family to see if they were ok, 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.
Soon after, 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 last year (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.
As we settled in Jordan for 5 years, we adapted to a different way of living, and under the UNHCR, they continue to provide 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’s been here for over 2 decades. And we moved to Sydney.
My favourite dish, and the one I associate most with my childhood and my extended family in Iraq, is ‘turshana’. It’s a dried fruit stew or perhaps a dried fruit compote. During the 2003 invasion, the weather was cold and supplies were low. Meaning no sweets or chocolate. But if there was one item that an Iraqi house would never run low on, it would be 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 to Iraqi families.
So when I make this dish, my heart goes back to the cold lockdown days in Baghdad where we’d all gather to have this dish at night for dessert, and then once again, eating the leftovers in the morning (because why not!).
It’s a marvellous and quite unique dish. Do give it a try and I promise your family will bond over it too and you will have your own love story with this dish.
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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.