Kleicha: Traditional Iraqi Holiday Cookies
BY: Nisreen Eadeh/Staff Writer
Since the time of the Babylonians, kleicha has been a special treat in Iraq. Today, kleicha is often referred to as the national cookie of Iraq, where it is beloved by all Iraqi groups, including Christians, Muslims, Chaldeans, Assyrians, and Kurds.
Kleicha is commonly made for Christmas celebrations in Iraq, and many Arab Americans continue the tradition of their ancestors by making the date-filled cookies every year during the holidays. The simple cookie resembles ma’amoul of the Levantine countries, but this flaky variation has a distinct texture and shape that is specific to Iraq.
Ingredients for kleicha include dates, walnuts, rosewater, and cardamom – all of which can be found in most grocery stores. Traditionally, kleicha is served with hot tea or Arab coffee to pair bitterness with the sweet dessert. This Christmas, indulge in this Iraqi Christmas cookie for a new take on date-filled pastries.
Recipe for Kleicha
Makes 3 dozen cookies
4 cups all purpose flour
½ cup butter or one stick of butter, melted
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 1/4 cup warm water
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon yeast
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
1 teaspoon ground fennel
1 teaspoon nigella seeds
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Oil baking pans and set aside.
In a small bowl, put the yeast in warm water and cover to rise. Combine flour, nigella seeds, cardamom, ground fennel, salt, oil and butter, and rub it with your hands.
Add yeast and water. Knead the dough and add more water if needed. It depends on the flour absorbtion of liquids. Place in a large oiled bowl, cover, and let rise in a warm place for an hour.
1 cup walnuts, chopped
3 tablespoons sugar
½ teaspoon ground cardamom
In a bowl, mix walnuts, sugar, and cardamom and set aside.
Take some of the dough and spread it on the work surface with a rolling pin. Cut circles using a cookie cutter or a glass. Put 1 teaspoon of the filling in the middle of the circle. Fold circle in half-moon shape. Crimp the edges. Arrange on a pan. Brush with egg wash, and bake for 30-35 minutes.
Use 8-onces soft baking dates or Majdool dates. Cook dates with ¼ stick of butter. Add ground cardamom and cinnamon. Let the mixture cool before using. Cover a cutting board with plastic wrap, and spread the dates on the board using a rolling pin to make a thin sheet.
Roll out a piece of dough on a cutting board. Cover the top with a very thin layer of date mixture. Roll the dough like a jelly roll. Cut 1-inch wide, and arrange in the pan. Brush top with egg wash, and bake for 30 minutes. Put the cookies on cooling rack. Store them in a cookie container.
Recipe source: Iraqi Family Cookbook