CWS special: Iraqi refugee chef Zina's biryani recipe

Zina Alkubaisy, a refugee from Iraq, has been in the United States only since May, but she already is getting to be known as "Chef Zina."

Zina Alkubaisy, a refugee from Iraq, has been in the United States only since May, but she already is getting to be known as "Chef Zina."  She is the premiere chef in the new "Recipes with Refugees" cooking class series launched by her sponsor, the Church World Service Refugee Resettlement Program in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

Alkubaisy already has demonstrated how to make biryani and other traditional Iraqi dishes at "Recipes with Refugees" events in York and Harrisburg, Pa., with more such events to come.  Attendees receive recipes and a shopping list for the ingredients. 

Attendees also learn about Church World Service and about Iraqi culture, and hear Alkubaisys story of escape from Iraq with her husband and their two young children after her husband was kidnapped.  He got away from his captors after a day, but was warned to leave Iraq with his family. 

They fled the country, spending time in Jordan and in an African refugee camp before being accepted for U.S. resettlement by the U.S. refugee program.  Zina and her husband worked for U.S. contractors rebuilding post-invasion Iraq.

Chef Zina’s Biryani Recipe

Serves 8 (PDF icon download recipe only)

Contents of the rice

  • 3 cups of long grain rice
  • One medium onion
  • 3 cloves crushed or shredded garlic
  • ½ teaspoon black pepper
  • ½ teaspoon ginger
  • 2-3 sticks cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • ½ teaspoon ground cumin
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cloves (or whole 4 to be cracked)
  • ½-1 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 1-2 tablespoons Biryani spices*
  • 2 dried lemons
  • 4-5 tablespoons corn oil or butter
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 4 cups water
  • 2 cups chicken stock/beef bouillon (or 1 chicken, 1 beef if using beef & chicken)

Contents of topping of biryani

  • 2 potatoes
  • 100 grams of slivered almonds or other nuts (approximately 2 cups)
  • 100 grams of golden raisins (approximately 2 cups)
  • 3 hard boiled eggs
  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 1 chicken
  • 1 medium can of peas
  • 1 medium can of mushrooms

Way of cooking the rice

  1. Heat the oil
  2. Cut the onion into cubes, cook it until it’s brown, shred or crush the garlic and fry it in the oil
  3. Add the water to the fried garlic and onions
  4. Add the spices, lemon, salt and the chicken/beef stock
  5. Wait for the water to boil then wash the rice very well and add it to the water on high heat until the water boils
  6. Then lower the heat to low until the rice is well done

Way of making the topping of the biryani

  1. Boil the chicken until it is cooked and take out the bones
  2. Fry the meat until it is cooked and add spices (a pinch of black pepper, cinnamon, ground nutmeg, ground cloves, biryani spices* and salt)
  3. Mix the chicken, meat, raisins, almonds, mushrooms and peas
  4. Boil the potatoes and cut into cubes
  5. Boil the eggs and cut into rings and put all of the above on top of the rice

* A biryani spice mix is available in Middle Eastern groceries.  If you cannot find it locally, you can leave it out of the recipe, search the web for “biryani spice mix” for the ingredients to make your own, or just adjust the spices to your own taste.

Read more about "Chef Zina" and the "Recipes with Refugees" series 


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