On a cold Monday night, a sprawling line formed outside of a small bakery in New York City's East Village. People sipped tea, shivered and waited to be beckoned inside a narrow space for a bowl of kubbeh.
Kubbeh, a Jewish-Iraqi soup featuring a semolina dumpling with meat inside, offers everything that comfort food seekers crave. Namely, it tastes like something your grandmother would make.
The "Kubbeh Project" is open from 6:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. daily, and it will run until March 21 inside Zucker Bakery in Manhattan. Why kubbeh? Naama Shefi, the curator of the project, told WNYC that she had a particular interest in preserving the tradition of cooking kubbeh. "Today, with assimilation and massive cultural changes, many recipes that require intensive time and labor, may soon be lost. There is tremendous urgency in preserving these flavors, a vital part of Jewish identity," the Kubbeh Project's Facebook page reads.
In a society that is fueled by quick meals, there is something refreshing about having a taste of tradition. At least, the people standing outside on Monday in the freezing cold seemed to think so.
Shefi did not merely conjure up a recipe and unveil the concept for the Kubbeh Project overnight. She sent chef Itamar Lewensohn to various Israeli homes to master kubbeh, The New York Times reported. And nothing in the space is an accident -- even the images on the menu were based on historical documents.
Comfort food is often attached to the idea of the familiar -- people's favorite comfort foods are usually the ones that remind them of childhood (mac 'n cheese), or one that their parents or grandparents used to make (Sunday sauce). But the main goal of comfort food is for it to be soothing. One doesn't need to have a personal attachment to a dish in order for it to be comforting. And that's where kubbeh comes in.
The history of the Iraqi Jews is a complicated one; tasting a bowl of kubbeh is a tiny fraction of a step toward understanding such traditions. But it's one simple way to make sure that it's not forgotten.
Learn about some of the dishes from The Kubbeh Project below. All photos by Katherine Needles.
While those familiar with borscht might expect a similar result to this beet-based soup, beet kubbeh and beet borscht have little in common beyond the beets. The kubbeh sweet-and-sour broth is not quite as purple as borsht, and has a lot going on besides the beets. The Kubbeh Project uses coconut shreds, which are an unexpected and welcomed addition, both for texture and taste. Try a <a href="http://food52.com/recipes/10997-marak-kubbeh-adom">recipe</a> at home.
Who doesn't like pumpkin soup? The correct answer to that is "no one." Now, imagine pumpkin soup with dumplings (with a vegetarian option). That's like comfort food times two. The dried apricots, sage and pumpkin seeds don't hurt, either.
Throughout the Middle East, there are many iterations of pastry with greens and cheese. This version boasts swiss chard and feta. It's a great combo -- slightly bitter greens with slightly tangy cheese.
Before the meal, The Kubbeh Project serves various pickles. They're quite good, and not too heavily pickled, for those that balk at the astringency.
Rolling Out Pastry