Kleicha: Iraqi Date Cookies

Kleicha is a well known Iraqi cookie, made typically on occasions such as Eid. It is considered to be the national cookie of Iraq and no feast, religious or otherwise, is complete without it. It is loved by all Iraqi groups, including Muslims, Christians, Chaldeans, Assyrians, and Kurds. These cookies are called “kileche” in Assyrian, while they are known as “kleicha” in Arabic.

Kleicha is stuffed with a fragrant nut-sugar mixture or with dates. It may  be  individually  shaped  into  half  moons  and  crescents  with  delicately twisted edges, or made round and decorated using carved wooden  moulds. Ingredients for kleicha include dates, walnuts, rosewater, and cardamom. The cookies are baked traditionally in the domed clay wood-burning bread-oven — tannour (tandoor), or more conveniently sent to the neighborhood bakery, nowadays. Kleicha is moderately sweet and not so greasy. It is rather dry but pleasantly brittle to the bite.

Historically, kleicha may be traced back to the ancient Mesopotamian ‘qullupu’. According to the narratives of Nawal Nasrallah in celebration of the Mesopotamian goddess Ishtar, New Year and Spring festivals of the Sumerian goddess Inanna (Queen of Heaven), special pastries were baked as offerings to them. Generally, making pastries and confections was a flourishing business in ancient Mesopotamia. They were made at the palace and temple kitchens, as well as in bazaars by professional confectioners. There was a cookie called qullupu, a name that suggests it was shaped round like the moon. The  term was derived from the Semitic kull meaning whole. The qullupu cookies were prepared by filling with raisins or dates portions of dough made with fine wheat flour and sesame oil, and then baking them in the tannour. Many pottery molds were discovered in the palace at Mari (in present-day Syria near the Iraqi border) dating to around 1780 BCE. They are believed to have been used for forming breads into various decorative shapes, the initial versions of kleicha.

Since the time of the Babylonians, kleicha has been a special treat in Iraq. It is undeniably the essence of an Iraqi household. Kleicha is served with hot tea or coffee to pair bitterness with the sweet dessert.

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