Garden to table: Lemon Tree Trust’s 2023 cooking competitions

Our cooking competitions returned this year with 450 talented cooks whipping up mouth-watering meals in their home kitchens across the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. 

The competitions showcased all the delicious produce being grown in home and community gardens and the many nutritious dishes that can be made when combined with ingredients sourced locally. Despite limited resources, amazing food was created which was not only enjoyed by all those involved but also helped bring communities together. 

Pictured, top left to bottom right: Bersive 2 camp – sfeehas (a simple dough recipe filled with spiced ground beef and onions mixture); Khanki camp – chicken biryani with pomegranate; Bersive 2 camo – a variety of breads with sesame seeds; Kabartu 2 camp – Syrian falafel.

The competitions are a popular addition to our garden competitions with many more people wanting to enter this year than we could accommodate. In nine refugee and IDP (internally displaced people) camps, we welcomed 50 entrants – with 30 of those entering our savoury category and 20 in our sweet category.  

1st, 2nd and 3rd places were awarded in each camp, with each winner receiving a useful prize for their kitchen, home and family – food blenders, spice storage containers, irons and electric heaters. 

Aveen Ibrahem, our operations manager in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, together with our gardening team, were thrilled to run the competitions again this year.

Aveen says:

“It’s been wonderful to see such a range of traditional and modern recipes, and the authenticity of the Iraqi and Syrian Kurdish recipes. Each dish we sampled was unique and made with love. We enjoyed seeing the names of the dishes and the many various flavours differ from one country to another – this added great beauty and depth to the competition, reflecting people coming together as a community. 

“Through our cooking competitions – and our work as a whole – we place emphasis on honouring, motivating and supporting women especially. Of course, our competitions are open to both women and men and we were pleased to welcome a few men across our competitions again this year. Food brings us together from different cultures and backgrounds, and often in the most surprising and unexpected ways.”

New for this year’s competitions, were Lemon Tree Trust branded aprons, to help facilitate the judging evaluation process (a difficult job…) – each competition participant was invited to wear an apron embroidered with a serial number of 1 to 50. This worked well and we can reuse the aprons in competitions in years to come.

Special thanks  

Our judging panel in each camp included the camp director and advisor – we thank each team member for helping us to judge the winning dishes.  

We also thank the Barzani Charity Foundation who helped us to obtain a venue for the competitions.  

We were delighted to be filmed by Al-Iraqiya and Syria TV who covered the competitions on their news channels and are helping to spread awareness about our work.  

Finally, we want to thank our central gardening team and garden coordinators in each camp. We simply could not have run the competitions without your valued contributions.

Pictured: Aveen, Hamid and the team judge dishes and present awards to the winners in Bersive 2 camp and Essian camp.

What we hope to do differently next year  

Next year we plan to hold the competitions much earlier in the year when the weather is better. Because our competitions are largely held outside, we want to avoid rainy days wherever possible.  

The feedback and comments we received were all incredibly positive in terms of prizes, participation, and our organisation, but people wished that the number of participants in each camp had not been capped at 50. So many people wanted to take part, so we hope to have the resources to facilitate bigger competitions in 2024 where we welcome more people and run additional competitions in more camps across the Kurdistan Region.  

Pictured, left to right: Khanki camp – beehive sweet buns; Bersive 1 camp – baklava.

Pictured, left to right: Khanki camp – Kurdish kotalak made from bulgur powder and contains minced lamb or chicken with onions; Bersive 1 camp – mixed fruit and vegetable salad with carrot, apple, cucumber, pomegranate, lemon and parsley; Kabartu 2 – oven-baked kibbeh.

Help us run future cooking competitions!   

With your generous support, we can bring our cooking competitions to more people and in more camps in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq in 2024, bringing community, joy and wellbeing to forcibly displaced people.  

Pictured: Iraqi dolma (vegetables stuffed with meat and rice) and rice in the colours of the Kurdistan flag, Kabartu 2 camp.

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