People who attended SSI’s Community Kitchen on October 7, might be surprised to learn of the mixed heritage of the delicious biryani they enjoyed. The traditional Indian dish has a Farsi name and it was cooked on the day by a volunteer Iraqi chef.
But for Khalid, the cook who arrived in Australia seeking asylum one and a half years ago, this mix of cultures and food is not something new.
Khalid's dish of vegetarian biryani, fried noodles and salad.
“I grew up in a multicultural household and I got to try very different cuisines from a young age,” Khalid said. “My father was Arab, my mum was Kurdish and my grandmother Iranian, so I have a blend of cultures and love for variety in my blood.”
Cooking is one of the many hobbies of this former children’s playwright, who finds in the kitchen a way to explore his creativity as he used to do in the arts industry in Iraq.
“I am attracted to the creative side of things. Doesn’t matter if it is writing, cooking or another activity, I will always try to go beyond and do it in my own way,” Khalid said.
This approach did not go unnoticed when cooking for SSI’s Community Kitchen, where Khalid went his own way and prepared his own version of vegetarian Biryani.
“The good thing about Biryani is that it can be prepared it countless different ways. I can cook around eight different varieties of Biryani, and this is just one of them,” he said.
When asked about the reason behind choosing this dish, Khalid replied that it was not a difficult choice, as contrary to what people think in Australia, Biryani is not only Indian but one of the most famous Iraqi dishes.
“When Daniel, my case manager, asked me if I wanted to volunteer at Community Kitchen with a vegetarian option, he suggested that I cooked Biryani as the other time,” Khalid said.
The “other time”was when Khalid cooked for a big audience at Community Migrant Resource Centre in Parramatta. Following the Shia Muslim tradition, Khalid commemorated the 40th day of mourning after his mother’s passing with a celebration where he served food to the guests. Daniel, his SSI case manager, attended the event and was impressed with Khalid’s cooking skills, so he nominated him for Community Kitchen.
“I agreed to volunteer at Community Kitchen because I had experience cooking for over a hundred guests and I knew I could do it,” Khalid said. “Whenever I cook for people and I see them enjoying my food, it makes me very happy.”
Iraqi Vegetarian Biryani
The chef, Khalid and his dish.
Serves 8-10 people (Khalid warns that these are Middle Eastern measures, but that in Australia the below recipe can be used to feed an entire army!)
1 kg Basmati rice
1 packet Vermicelli egg noodle
500gm potatoes (diced to fine squares)
250gm carrots (diced finely)
2 packets of of peas
1tbsp of ghee/butter
1 cup raisins
Almonds to taste
25gm black pepper
50gm of Biryani seasoning (found in Arabic grocery shops)
Salt to taste
(And Khalid’s secret ingredient that he resisted unveiling!)
Prep and cooking time: 2 hours
- In a frypan, fry the vermicelli egg noodles with a splash of canola oil until browned.
- Place peeled and chopped potatoes in a frypan and sauté them until slightly golden.
- Chop the carrots into little squares and put them in a pot to boil. After a couple of minutes, add the peas.
- Once the vegetables are cooked, place the diced carrots and peas on a frypan and toss them in oil. Add the fried, diced potatoes.
- After the noodles have been fried, add enough water to simmer them and cook until al dente.
- Mix the vegies with the almonds and the raisins, and stir with canola oil until all ingredients are completely mixed with the noodles.
- Meanwhile, bring 8 cups of water and the salt to boil in a large pot. Add the rice and stir. Then add the rest of spices until the rice has cooked and absorbed their flavour.
- Serve the rice separated from the noodles. Add a side of salad.