Iraqi Purdah Pilau
Iraqi Purdah Pilau

This version of Purdah Pilau, Iraqi Rice and Chicken in a Pie, is a recipe is from Claudia Roden’s The Book of Jewish Food, an essential in any cook’s library. Claudia is equal parts food writer and anthropologist, and this book is a treasure.

Claudia has written extensively on various Sephardic, Mediterranean, and Middle-Eastern communities, including A Book of Middle Eastern Food, The New Book of Middle Eastern Food, and Arabesque—Sumptuous Food from Morocco, Turkey, and Lebanon, and The Food of Spain. Born in Cairo in 1936 to Syrian-Jewish parents Claudia lives in London. Get her books, the recipes are amazing, but her contextualizing the recipes in the communities traditions and home life is spellbinding.

Iraqi Purdah Pilau
Iraqi Jewish wedding 1960s – part of Jewish Iraq treasure trove

Claudia Roden's Iraqi Purdah Pileau

  • Servings: 10
  • Difficulty: depends almost entirely on how good you are with filo pastry
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This is the party dish of the Iraqi Jews. Purdah means veiled and implies that the rice is “hidden” by the pastry. It is a complex dish, with pieces of chicken, vermicelli, and almonds mixed in with the rice. The spicing is delicate and it looks good. People used to make their own very thin pie crust but these days fill pastry is used.


  • 1 chicken
  • 2 onions, quartered
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon allspice
  • 1/4 teaspoon cardamom powder
  • salt and pepper
  • juice of 1/2 lemon
  • 50 g (2 oz) vermicelli, broken up in your hand
  • 350 g (12 oz) Aerican long-grain rice or Patna rice
  • 50 g (2 oz) blanched almonds
  • sunflower or light vegetable oil
  • 50 g (2 oz) pine nuts
  • 7 large sheets fill pastry
  • 1 egg yolk

Purdah Pilau Recipe Directions


Put the chicken in the pot with about 2 liters (3 1/2 pints) of water to cover. Bring to the boil, remove the scum, then add the onion, cinnamon, allspice, cardamom, salt, and pepper. Simmer, covered for 45 minutes. Lift out the chicken and, when it is cool enough to handle, skin and bone it and cut into small pieces. Strain the stock and boil down to reduce to about 800ml (26fl oz), then add the lemon juice.

Break the vermicelli into small pieces with your hands and toast them under the grill for a few minutes, until browned, stirring so that they brown evenly. (Watch them, for they brown very quickly.) Pour the rice and vermicelli into the boiling stock, add a little stock, and cook, covered, for about 15 minutes, or until little holes appear on the surface of the rice. Remove from the heat before all the stock has been absorbed.

Fry the almonds in 2 tablespoons of oil, stirring, until golden. Add the pine nuts and stir till they are slightly browned. Mix the nuts and the chicken pieces with the rice and let the mixture cool.

Line a round baking dish or a large springform cake tin about 28 cm (11 inches) with greaseproof paper, and brush with oil. Fit 4 sheets of filo into the dish or cake tin to cover the bottom and sides, brushing each with oil, and letting them overlap and hang over the rim. Fill with the rice and chicken mixture.

Bring the hanging pastry edges up and fold them over the rice. Cover with three more sheets of overlapping pastry, brushing the first 2 with oil. Trim the corners with scissors and tuck the edges down into the sides of the pan to close the pie. Brush the top with the egg yolk mixed with 1 teaspoon of water and bake in a 350 degree F / 180 degree C / gas 4 oven for about 30 minutes, or until the top is golden. Lift the pie out carefully and serve hot.

Iranian Jewish Postcard from Claudia Roden’s cookbook The Book of Jewish Food