A Kurdish Shabbat Experience!

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A Kurdish Shabbat Experience!

On Friday, July 13th, my organization Sephardic Jews in DC, in partnership with OneTable and JIMENA (Jews Indigenous to the Middle East and North Africa), will be hosting a traditional Shabbat dinner featuring delicious homemade kosher Kurdish food and a panel of phenomenal speakers.

This panel is composed of those who have lived and worked in Kurdistan, and a Jew whose family lived in Iranian Kurdistan for many generations. Together, they will discuss the Jewish history of the Kurdish land, their struggle for independence, and why we as American Jews should care about the future of the Kurdish people.kurdish food

My first experience with the Kurdish Jewish people happened very serendipitously. Many years ago, a friend of mine suggested going to the Azura restaurant in Jerusalem’s Mahane Yehuda market to try their delicious Turkish food. As a Sephardic Jew of Turkish and Greek descent, I was excited to try out the food and practice my Ladino. Upon entering the homey restaurant, I spotted several very unique dishes. Some of these foods looked familiar to me, but other dishes looked like nothing I had ever seen before. My friend introduced me to the owner of the restaurant and told him I was a fellow Turkish Jew. I said hello to the owner with a Ladino greeting, and he replied back in a Kurdish dialect, which is a version of Judeo-Aramaic. My intrigue at the language he spoke led to a captivating conversation about his Kurdish heritage. From that moment on, I became deeply fascinated with the history of the Kurdish Jews.

Who are the Kurds? How did Jews get to Kurdistan? Where are they now? I had so many questions, and turned to the internet to help me get the answers I craved.

I learned that the Kurds are recognized as the largest stateless national group in the world. Although the vast majority of the 30 million Kurds in the world are Sunni Muslims, the Kurdish people also include many other faiths and religions due to the large area they inhabit.

kurdistan map

According to The Kurdish Project,

“After losing the opportunity for statehood post-WWI, the Kurds now exist as an ethnic minority spread out between Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran, and strive to maintain a culture that has been rapidly absorbed by their host countries. Borne from a long history of strife, Kurdish culture places value on individual freedoms. Whether it be overt religious tolerance, strides towards equality in the status of women, or democratic government, Kurdish culture values individual life and has fiercely defended its ability to live free from external rule.”

The Kurdish Project goes on to explain that over the years, Kurds have been targeted by various governments, for reasons ranging from lack of religiosity, to living on land with natural resources, and other border disputes.

Does this story and history sound familiar? Parallels between the Jews and Kurds have been drawn as early as the Ottoman Empire. Their struggle for independence mirrors one another in many ways.

The history of the Kurdish Jews can be traced back to the Israelites of the tribe of Benjamin. This tribe first arrived in the area of modern Kurdistan after the Assyrian conquest of the Kingdom of Israel during the 8th century BC. During this time, many Jews settled in rural and remote mountainous areas. Unlike the Jews in Europe and parts of the Middle East, many Kurdish Jews worked in agrarian occupations such as farming and trading. Kurdish Jewish society was mostly traditional and observant, but occasionally communicated with outside Jewish populations, such as Israel.

In many cases, Kurdish Jews merged Jewish customs with local tradition. This can be seen in Kurdish food, which reflects local food of their region that is cooked in accordance with the laws of kashrut. The majority of Kurdish Jews, who were concentrated in northern Iraq, left Kurdistan during Operation Ezra and Nehemiah (a mass emigration of Iraqi Jews to Israel) of 1950-52. This brought almost all Iraqi Jews to Israel, and meant the end of a long Jewish history in places once known as Assyria and Babylon.

kurdish food

Despite facing many challenges after arriving in Israel, the Kurdish immigrants started assimilating into mainstream Israeli culture within a single generation. Israel, in turn, began to absorb some of the Kurdish culture and cuisine. For example, the popular Kurdish dumpling soup called Kubbeh, is now a national Israeli dish. Today, Kurdish Jewry is deeply zionist and settled mainly in Jerusalem.

However, The Yale Israeli Journal explains that even after living much of their lives in Israel, many Israeli Kurds deeply connect with their native Kurdistan, and strive for an independent Kurdish state.

Next Friday, we will come together for a Shabbat dinner to learn more about the Kurds’ compelling history and enjoy their traditional foods. This dinner is open to everyone!

Please register here ASAP as space is limited.

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Parve Mexican Elote Corn salad

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I love Mexican style street corn. The mixture of salty, to creamy, to spicy, to sweet and savory, hits every taste bud on my tongue. I really wanted to make it for a recent Shabbat dinner I hosted but struggled with how to replace the creamy taste for a meat meal.

 

I didn’t want to use a dairy free cheese 32512010_10113328793333131_4764545412025548800_n.jpgsubstitute (too rubbery) and while I love nut based “cheeses” I knew aesthetically it wouldn’t look appealing. So I experimented around until I came up with this recipe, and finally found something that hit all of the notes of a traditional corn elote salad but was still parve/dairy free. This salad is perfect for a summer bbq or dinner party since it’s super light but very flavorful.

As always this is super easy to make and still fairly healthy, but unfortunately it’s not paleo or low carb.

Ingredients:

  • 5 ears of fresh corn (substitute 2 bags of sweet white corn)
  • 1 jalapeno finely diced
  • 1.5 tablespoon mayonaise
  • 1.5 teaspoon of nutritional yeast
  • 1/2 cup of cilantro
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 tablespoon of sriracha (another squirt for garnish)

Recipe:

  1. Strip the corn from it’s husk and place on grill or bbq until lightly charred on all sides. If you don’t have a grill or are short on time just microwave 2 bags of frozen corn. Cut the corn off the cob once done and let it cool.
  2. Once the corn has cooled off and reached room temperature add the mayonnaise, nutritional yeast, garlic powder, cilantro, sriracha, salt, and jalapeno. Mix very well. Feel free to taste at this point and add more nutritional yeast or mayonnaise depending on how creamy/cheesy you want it.
  3. Let sit for 10 minutes and then serve. I garnished it with some cilantro leaves and a squirt of sriracha on top.

Mango salad

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32647398_10113328793472851_7279313338666844160_nLet me start by saying I can’t claim this recipe at all. I had this amazing dish at the home of a friend of mine and was blown away by the taste.

It is so simple and yet so flavorful, and perfect for a summer BBQ. The most important part is to have ripe and fresh mangoes on hand for this one otherwise it won’t work.

 

Ingredients:

  • 4 ripe mangos – ripe meaning soft and bright yellow – chopped into bite size 1 inch pieces
  • 1 jalapeno (deseeded) chopped finely
  • 1.5 teaspoon of sea salt
  • 1/4 cup of parsley diced finely
  • 1/4 cup of fresh mint diced finely
  • 2 tablespoons of lime juice
  • 6 radishes chopped up into small bite size pieces (same as the mango)
  • 1 tablespoon of olive oil

Steps (really only one):

  1. Combine ingredients into a large salad bowl and mix thoroughly. Let sit for 20 minutes. Serve and enjoy. The salad can store well for 24 hours but I wouldn’t recommend keeping it much longer than that.

Mexican Gefilte Fish with a Sephardi Twist

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The chef at work

So I made something last week that I never thought I would make (at least not with a straight face), that’s right Mexican style gefilte fish. Now before you start dry heaving at the thought (which was my initial reaction) let me assure you that this tastes nothing like jarred or frozen gefilte fish. It is light and fluffy, not super fishy, and full of flavor.

I had the pleasure to sample some Mexican style gefilte fish

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The final result 🙂

many years ago while on a cooking program sponsored by TENT NYC. The lovely ladies who made the dish sparked my interest in it (despite my initial trepidation) but I never had the occasion to remake the dish until recently when I cohosted a Latin Shabbat dinner with Chabad of Washington DC (shout out to the Rebbetzin who encouraged me to make it).

Initially I followed Patti Jinich’s recipe, but to be honest I didn’t love it.  It was missing something. So then I started to experiment and my creative juices flowed. When I first made the mixture I worried because the mixture didn’t seem like it was going to hold together, sure enough some didn’t, so I added more matzoh meal to bind it together. Then the sauce just didn’t seem right, not flavorful at all and didn’t pair super well with the fish (which was super bland as well). So I changed that too.

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All of the appetizers

At the end I was left with a recipe and dish that I could proudly stand behind and call my own.

Also as always this dish is relatively easy to make and super healthy and not super high in carbs (minus the matzoh meal). This is a perfect dish for Shavuot, especially for those doing a Mexican themed meal.

 

 

 

Ingredients (Makes 30 patties):

For the fish patties:

  • pounds fresh salmon fillets – no skin or bones
  • 1/2 white onion quartered, about 1/2 pound
  • 2 carrots peeled and roughly chopped, about 1/4 pound
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 cup matzo meal
  • 2 teaspoons kosher or sea salt or to taste
  • 1 tablespoon of brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper or to taste
  • 1 jalapeno finely chopped (seeds removed)
  • 5 cloves of garlic
  • 1/2 cup of fresh cilantro
  • 1 tablespoon of cumin

 

  • For the red sauce:
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 cup white onion chopped
  • 1 cup of premade salsa (I used the one from Trader Joes)
  • 5 cloves of garlic finely chopped
  • 1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
  • 3 cups water
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons sriracha
  • 1 teaspoon kosher or sea salt or to taste
  • teaspoon ground white pepper or to taste
  • 1 cup of diced cilantro
  • 1 tablespoon cumin
  • 1 tablespoon paprika
  • 1/2 cup green olives with no pits (optional)
  • 2 tablespoons capers (optional)

To Prepare

  1. To prepare the fish patty mixture: Rinse the salmon fillets under a thin stream of cool water. Slice into smaller pieces and place in the food processor. Pulse for 5-10 seconds until fish is finely chopped but hasn’t turned into a paste. Turn fish mixture into a large mixing bowl.
  2. Place the onion, carrots, jalapeno, garlic, cilantro into a food processor and blend until it’s finely chopped (don’t liquify turn this into a paste). 
  3. Add the chopped vegetables to the fish in the bowl. And then add the eggs, matzo meal, salt, sugar, cumin and white pepper into same bowl. Blend well. Let sit for 15 minutes at room temp.
  4. To prepare the red sauce: Heat the oil in a large cooking pot over medium-high heat. Add the chopped onion and garlic, jalapeno and let it cook for 5-6 minutes, stirring, until soft and translucent. Pour the crushed tomatoes and salsa into the pot, stir, and let the mix season and thicken for about 6 minutes. Add the spices and 3 cups water, 2 tablespoons sriracha, salt and white pepper. Stir and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and bring sauce to a gentle simmer. Continue to simmer while you roll the gefilte fish patties.
  5. Place a small bowl with lukewarm water to the side of the simmering tomato broth. Start making the patties. I  followed Patti’s advice and made them 3” long, 2” wide and 1” high, in oval shapes. Keep in mind these will increase in size as you cook and double. Wet your hands as necessary, so the fish mixture will not stick to your hands. If it does stick to your hands add a bit more matzoh meal. As you make them, gently slide each patty into the simmering broth. Make sure it is simmering and raise the heat to medium if necessary to keep a steady simmer.
  6. Once you finish making the patties, cover the pot and bring the heat to low. Cook them covered for 25 minutes. Take off the lid, incorporate the olives  and capers. Give it a gentle stir and simmer uncovered for 30 more minutes, so the gefilte fish will be thoroughly cooked and the broth will have seasoned and thickened nicely.
  7. Serve hot or warm. This dish reheats nicely so it’s fine to make in advance 1-3 days before. It should stay fresh for 1-2 days. 

Smashed Garlic and Za’atar Potatoes

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Okay so this recipe isn’t low carb, but it is still fairly healthy. More importantly it’s SUPER EASY. No really, I mean like ridiculously easy to make and your guests will love it. Totally delicious as a side dish for Shabbat dinner or a weekday meal.

If you’re on a low carb diet, either use small potatoes or substitute the potatoes for Jerusalem artichokes which are lower in carbs.

Ingredients:

  • 10-15 small golden potatoes, well washed (keep skins on)
  • 4 tablespoons of za’atar spice mixture (aim for one that’s made with olive oil)
  • 6 tablespoons of high quality olive oil
  • 1 tablespoons of garlic salt
  • Pam spray
  • 4 cups of water
  • 1 teaspoon pepper

Instructions:

  1. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Place water in a small pot and heat until water is simmering. Gently lower in the potatoes and let cook for about 7-10 minutes until potatoes are slightly tender. Meaning not fully cooked but also not super hard. Remove potatoes from the water using tongs or a slotted spoon and set aside.
  3. Spray a flat baking sheet with Pam spray, then place the potatoes on top. Using either a sturdy spoon or potato masher lightly press down on the potato. The goal is to “smash” it but not to smithereens, you want to preserve the basic shape of the potato and not make it into a million pieces.
  4. Liberally pour the olive oil onto the potatoes coating them very well. Then sprinkle the za’atar, pepper, and garlic salt on top.
  5. Place tray in the oven and bake for 15-20 mins, or until potatoes are golden brown.

 

Tabouli Salad with Cauliflower rice

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Hope everyone is having a fantastic summer! Sorry for the delay in posts, I’ve been super busy with work and hosting Sephardic events. But I just made the most delicious salad and knew I had to share the recipe with you all (plus I promised my friends I would)! It’s seriously perfect for the summer and Shabbat dinner since it’s so refreshing and light. The best part is that it perfectly recreates the taste of a classic tabouli salad with far fewer calories and carbs and is SUPER easy to make. Ideal for Keto, Low Carb or Paleo diets!

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb bag of cauliflower rice – I use the Trader Joes brand (or if you’re making your own about 6 cups worth)
  • 20 grape tomatoes, finely diced
  • 2 small persian cucumbers, finely diced
  • 3 stalks of green onions (half cup), finely diced
  • 1 large bunch of parsley, very finely diced (about 3/4 of a cup)
  • 2 sprigs of mint, very finely diced (about 1/4 of a cup worth)
  • 1 small red onion, finely diced
  • 3 garlic cloves, very finely diced (please be careful to dice this very finely because the garlic will be raw)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 2 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon of pomegrante molasses or tamarind paste/molasses
  • 1 teaspoon of Sumac (optional -replace with an additional tablespoon of lemon)
  • 1/2 cup of ground walnuts (optional)
  • 2 tablespoons of water

Directions:

  1. Empty the bag of cauliflower rice into a small microwaveable container along with the 2 tablespoons of water – microwave your cauliflower rice for 2 minutes until it is slightly tender and soft. You can also steam it for a few minutes – just don’t let it get soggy. The goal is slightly tender.
  2. Set aside and let cool, once cooled off add to a larger salad bowl.
  3. Add in the rest of the ingredients listed above to the bowl and mix very well. Let sit in the fridge for about 15-20 minutes to let the flavors combine. Then garnish with parsley leaves and sumac powder and serve.

Sephardic Mimouna and Recipe for Easy to Make Mufleta

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Sharing this  article on the recent Mimouna I co-hosted along with Moishe House DC and Israeli House DC. Writing is by the lovely and talented Alyssa Silva:

CELEBRATING MIMOUNA AT MOISHE HOUSE

WRITTEN BY ALYSSA SILVA ON 04 MAY 2017. POSTED IN COMMUNITY NEWS

A three-century-old North African Sephardic celebration known as Mimouna is now celebrated around the world with parties to mark the return to eating chametz after Pesach. On April 20, Moishe House Columbia Heights teamed up with The Israeli House and Sephardic Jews in DC to bring the tradition of Mimouna to the Greater Washington area.

18033580_10110777679186331_2761898665015672060_n“Sephardic Jews in DC was thrilled for the ability to co-host and cater a Mimouna party alongside Moishe House and Israeli House,” said Sephardic Jews in DC Founder and Director Jackie Feldman. “Our Mimouna is a new spin on an ancient custom, complete with a mix of traditional tunes and popular Israeli music, lots of delicious freshly made pastries (both home made and catered from Yekta Market), an amazing henna artist, and lots of young professionals from across the DC metro area.”

Moishe House is an international organization whose mission is to provide a vibrant Jewish community for young adults by supporting leaders in their 20s as they create meaningful home-based Jewish experiences for themselves and their peers. With 100 houses (and more on the way!) all over the world, they have reached out to 625,000 young Jewish adults in 10 years.

Members of DC’s diverse Jewish community come from different backgrounds. “I grew up in a Sephardic and Ashkenazi household, and my parents gave me the opportunity to experience so many wonderful traditions,” said Sam Itin, a Moishe House Columbia Heights Resident. “Mimouna was always a chance to come together with new friends and family, something I was able to continue to be a part of tonight!”

Moishe House Columbia Heights engages over 1,200 young Jewish adults between the ages of 22 and 32 through seven programs a month, ranging from Jewish learning, Jewish culture and holiday celebration, tikkun olam programming, and social events. Our events are public and open to the Greater Washington area’s entire young Jewish adult community and their friends. Check out Moishe House DC’s Facebook page for a calendar of events and sign up for our monthly newsletter, and visit www.moishehouse.org for more information about our and other Moishe Houses in the area and around the world.

 

Recipe below for Mufleta [Moroccan Crepes] (courtesy of my Moroccan friend Miriam) – makes approximately 40 small crepes

Ingredients:

  • 6 eggs
  • 1 tablespoon of sugar
  • 1 teaspoon of salt
  • 4 and 1/4 cups of sifted flour
  • 6 and 1/4 cups of almond milk (you can also make this with normal milk)
  • Spray oil (Pam)
  • Toppings
    • 1 tablespoon margarine or butter melted
    • 2 tablespoons of honey
    • 1 tablespoon cinnamon

Instructions:

  1. Mix the eggs, sugar, flour and almond milk together very thoroughly in a large bowl until there are no lumps.
  2. Heat a non-stick frying pan to Med/Hot and spray a little bit of Pam on it – goal is to  lightly coat the pan.
  3. Once hot, use a ladle and pour about a 1/4 cup of the mixture onto the pan letting it coat the entire bottom of the pan. Let cook for a minute.
  4. Using a thin spatula flip the crepe once it’s golden brown and let cook for another minute.
  5. Place crepe on a plate on the side and begin to stack them on top of each other. Once you’re done with them all drizzle honey and melted butter (or margarine) on top and sprinkle with cinnamon.

Sephardic Seder

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Just wrote this post for Gather DC: http://gatherdc.org/2017/04/05/save-your-seat-at-a-sephardic-seder/

Save your Seat at a Sephardic Seder!

by Jackie N

Passover is a very special time for Sephardic Jews and many communities have different practices, customs and rituals on the holiday.

Most of you already know that most Sephardic communities (but not all) eat kitniyot; such as rice, corn, millet, dried beans and lentils, peas, green beans, soybeans, peanuts, sesame seeds, poppy seeds, and mustard. But did you also know that many Sephardic communities have developed various customs and practices for the Seder itself?

Some of these customs include:

  • Beginning the Seder by passing the Seder plate over the heads of all the guests, to demonstrate that we were once slaves in Egypt and carried heavy burdens on our heads.
  • Lightly whipping fellow dinner guests with a scallion during the singing of Dayenu to remind us that it was a miracle that we were freed from the lash of oppression.
  • Eating a soft matzoh that more closely resembles the matzoh eaten by the Israelites leaving Egypt.
  • Making a date-based charoset paste or chutney.

You can experience some of these unique customs in DC this year. For the first time, Sephardic Jews in DC will be hosting our first Sephardic Seder. At this Seder you will learn more about these customs, as well as sample the many traditional Passover dishes from various Sephardic and Mizrahi communities across the world.

To reserve your place at our seder please purchase them on our EventBrite page. Please note that the Seder is primarily geared towards Young Professionals in the DC Metro area (20’s and 30’s).

Sephardic Jews in DC will also be co sponsoring a fun Mimouna happy hour and dance party along with the Israeli House, Moishe House, EntryPointDC, and JScreen. A Mimouna is a traditional festival event celebrating the end of Pesach. The custom was brought over to Israel by Sephardic refugees from Northern Africa and has been adopted as a National Holiday in Israel. Join us to celebrate the end of Passover with traditional Moroccan and Israeli sweets, great Happy Hour specials, henna artists, dancing, and awesome music! Buy your tickets here.

To learn more about Sephardic Passover customs please consult the following links:

Kurdish Rice (Parve)

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Food is culture. It tells a story. Jewish food tells the story and history of an exiled people; who despite many hardships never forgot their roots and biblical teachings/commandments.

Like many community organizers, I cook not just to feed people (which honestly could be more easily accomplished with ordering lots of pizza) but rather to teach people about different Jewish cultures, cuisines, and Judaism itself.

Hosting events is not always the easiest thing to do. Sometimes in life you think you’re prepared to handle it all and then you get slammed with lots of problems you didn’t anticipate. I’ve mentioned this before in other posts, but sadly cooking is often times a thankless and unappreciated job.

Recently I hosted a massive Shabbat dinner event for close to a hundred people, the amount of people was originally planned at 50, but when you partner with less competent/experienced organizations you sometimes wind up with these kinds of issues. As they say in French, c’est la vie.

Despite the hardships, I soldiered on and perservered. I also learned some valuable lessons with regard to working with people and also how to cook multi17342678_10110568412902641_8920911846493067822_nple dishes for a hundred people in a tiny kitchen and under a strict budget through the process.

There’s no way I could have pulled off a dinner for 100 and stayed under budget without some key recipes that are filling, easy, and cheap to make. If you’re curious my other dishes and normal go-tos are Israeli salad, roasted string beans with garlic, kale salad, turkey meatballs, chicken sofrito, and Turkish roasted potatoes.

This recipe is definitely one of those easy to make dishes that everyone will love. It was the first thing I ran out of at the dinner, and even people who don’t like rice dishes (cough, cough…me) will love it.

It’s light, filling, full of flavor, and as noted before very easy and cheap to make. Vegatarians and meat eaters alike will enjoy it. It’s lightly based off a recipe from Jerusalem the cookbook and is heavily influenced by spices found along the Silk Road (likely making it Kurdish in origin) but this is a much easier version then the original recipe.

Even better, it’s highly versatile. Don’t like rice? Replace it with quinoa or cauliflower rice, or add chicken or tofu, sour cherries instead of cranberries (or maybe both?), add chili powder to make it spicy, or ras el hanout spice, etc. This recipe is flexible and delicious, so feel free to play around with it.

And for those hosting this Passover best of luck! Just know your hard work is appreciated and needed. Keep on keeping on! And try this with quinoa!

Cooking time: 1 hour / Serves: 6-8

Ingredients:

  • 1 sweet onion very thinly sliced
  • 1 cup of wild rice (optional – you can use only white rice)
  • 1 cup of white basmati rice
  • 1/4 cup of golden raisins
  • 1/4 cup of cranberries
  • 1 cup of chickpeas
  • 3 tablespoons of curry powder
  • 2 teaspoons salt and pepper
  • 2.5 cups of vegetable or chicken stock (feel free to adjust based on rice used)
  • 1/4 cup of olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon of honey
  • 1 teaspoon tumeric
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder

Instructions:

  1. Begin cooking the rice following the instructions on packaging using a vegetable or chicken stock as your liquid base. Once you’re about 10 minutes into cooking time (whether stove top or rice cooker) add the raisins and cranberries  into the rice and mix well. Finish cooking until the rice is fully cooked.
  2. In a seperate frying pan heat your oil. Once hot, add the onions, salt, pepper, honey, garlic powder, chickpeas, curry powder, and tumeric and reduce the heat to low. Caramelize the onions by cooking them for 5-10 minutes, make sure to move the onion mixture carefully,  being careful not to burn the onions.
  3. Remove the onions/chickpeas with a tong or slotted spoon once the onions have softened and turned a caramel brown color. Place in a large bowl.
  4. Remove the rice/berry mixture from the pot and add to the bowl. Combine the rice and caramelized onions until mixed thoroughly. Serve warm.