In a food scene peppered with ethnic cuisine, Church World Service now offers people an opportunity to learn how to cook directly from natives, while giving refugee cooks a chance to share their culture in Durham.

Recipe with Refugees launches Thursday with an Iraqi cooking class led by Donia Khalas, a wife and mother of two who fled Baghdad less than two years ago. The class is hosted by Church World Service, a nonprofit aiding immigrants and refugees, and Durham Spirits Co., a food and beverage company that regularly hosts cooking classes.

Khalas will make biryani (a traditional Iraqi dish with chicken and rice), fattoush salad, mahalbiya milk pudding and Iraqi tea. The cost is $40, with proceeds going to Khalas to pay for the space and materials and the rest as a donation to Church World Service. The entire fee is tax-deductible.

“I love cooking. I’m always cooking for my family, for my friends and if anybody has any celebration, I’m cooking for them,” says Khalas, who used to host weekly garden parties in Baghdad.

She says she finds much of what she needs, like authentic cardamom and other spices, at local Indian and Arabic stores and markets. While she traditionally cooks Iraqi meals for her family, Khalas enjoys exploring American food like homemade burgers. When she does dine out with her family, she opts for Chinese food and then re-creates dishes such as shrimp and pineapple at home.

She chose to make biryani for the class, she says, because she can quickly teach people how to prepare it in the two hours allotted.

Recipe With Refugees began at a Church World Service office in Pennsylvania. Durham intern Becca Troxler decided to start the event here. CWS hopes to make it a monthly event, with other Iraqi and Burmese refugees participating as chef-teachers.

“There are many refugees in Durham that have a lot to offer in terms of their culture and teaching us about what they’ve been through and what they’ve learned. I thought it’d be a great way [for the community] to meet really neat refugees and hear stories that they’d otherwise only read in a book. And they’d get to make ethnic recipes directly from a cook and not just from a recipe online.”

Khalas says she hopes to open a restaurant, so she immediately accepted the offer to host the first class.

“Donia has great skills, she’s great with people, and I think this will give her only more confidence in teaching people and learn how the food industry works a little bit,” Troxler says.

The class runs from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at Durham Spirits Company’s kitchen facility at 311 E. Trinity Ave. To sign up for Thursday’s class, visit For more information contact Becca at 919-680-4310 or at