Story and photos by Eleni Christou/Community Kouzina.
*This is the fifth post in a special series dedicated to SSI’s collaboration with the Community Kouzina project in the lead up to the New Beginnings Festival for Refugee Week 2017.
“I did a test to receive my Food Health and Safety certificate. I made okra soup with lamb, as well as fish and rice. The officers told me I made too much. I told them when they eat they will not tell me it’s too much. They ended up finishing everything”.
A woman of diverse skills, Aghadeer’s past careers have spanned various industries from finance to beauty. In Iraq, Aghadeer was an accountant for 14 years, where she also worked as a chef in an Iraqi restaurant, before moving to Syria and becoming a chef in a Syrian restaurant. After also experimenting with hairdressing and jewellery design, Aghadeer considers food her true passion; cooking, sharing and creating. Currently in the process of starting a catering business in Sydney, Aghadeer is mainly inspired by the cuisine of her country of birth; Iraq “I can make any kind of food. Tell me what you want and I will make it. But for me it is important to make food from my culture so I can continue it”. Among her current clients, the most popular catering orders for functions and birthdays include; Kibbeh, Burek and chicken nuggets, a reflection of both her diverse clientele in Sydney and environmental culinary influences.
“Today it is a festival for him. This is one of my husband's favourite dishes”. Aghadeer’s Marak Samak (fish soup) was originally taught to her by her mother; however she has made it her own by blending 7 different herbs and spices. To protect the integrity of her secrets and business, she shared three of the 7 spices; ginger, cardamon and black pepper. The rest, Aghadeer suggests, are up to the taste of the person cooking the recipe. While Aghadeer may keep the finer details of her cuisine private, she is incredibly generous with the end result. Well known among her friends and family for her plentiful servings, a visit to Aghadeer’s house for a morning coffee can quickly escalate into a full meal. “When my friends see me, they say they are already feeling hungry! When someone comes to us in the morning and the time for lunch is near. It is shame on us for not offering them lunch”.
Marak Samak - Fish Soup
1/2 onion chopped
Handful of coriander, chopped
2 dried lemons - coarsely broken in quarters
2 cups of mixed dried apricots and dried plums (washed first in hot water and soaked in cool water for 15 minutes)
400g Salmon (can also use Carp)
Black pepper - to taste
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon of turmeric
5-6 garlic cloves roughly chopped
200g Tomato Paste
*Mixed spices: 1/2 teaspoon of Cardamon, dry ginger and black pepper
Rinse the dried lemon and salmon separately and leave to the side
Heat sunflower oil in a shallow frypan
Sprinkle flour, turmeric and salt on a board
Coat the salmon in the flour and spice mixture and lightly fry until golden
Place in the bottom of a saucepan
Separately, fry the onion before adding the dried fruits
Add to the fish, with the dried lemon, garlic, pepper, 4 cups of hot water and tomato paste
Cover and boil for 30 minutes and serve the soup on top of rice