Yogurt in Syria is used in a total different way to that of England. We use yogurt in its unprocessed form. We don't eat it as a desert or a snack and never sweet or mixed with fruits. Yogurt for Syrians is a savory ingredient that is served next to food or used as a base ingredient of many dishes. We use yogurt by the bucket load quite literally! Traditionally Damascenes bought their yogurt from local shops in small plastic buckets. These were reusable. You eat the yogurt, you take them back and get yourself a new one. Of course this way of buying yogurt is almost extinct these days and you now buy it in small plastic pots like the rest of the world.
Tahini is another essential ingredient in the Syrian kitchen. Actually it is one of my all time favourite ingredients. It adds a unique earthy note to food and marries beautifully with lamb and white fish.
Both tahini and yogurt are used to create a variety of sauces served on the side of Syrian dishes. This post aims to explore all the different combinations created from these two ingredients and the different ways to use them.
Tahini Sauce: (theneh طحينة)
This is a classic sauce served next to kebab, lamb shawerma and falafel. it works perfectly well with fried aubergine and fried cauliflowers.
Juice of half a lemon
Add the tahini, lemon juice to a bowl and start mixing with a spoon. The mixture will become stiff and light in colour. Add a little water and mix again. Add the water small amount at a time until the mixture loosens to the consistency you want. It needs to be fairly loose but not water-runny. Add salt to taste.
You can add some crushed garlic if you are serving it with shawerma or similar type recipes.
Yogurt and Tahini sauce: (Laban wa theneh لبن و طحينة)
This combination is mainly used as a base of many Syrian dishes; Mutabal, Ful bi Laban, Fatteh to name a few.
I occasionally use this combination as a side sauce instead of the pure tahini sauce described above. It is easier to eat as yogurt adds a nice tangy flavour that balance the heaviness of the tahini. I always serve this version with Lahmeh bil saniyeh.
Greek style yogurt 300g
To make the sauce whisk together the yogurt and tahini. Add salt and lemon to taste. If the sauce is too thick, loosen with some water.
This sauce is the ideal complement to white fish cooked deep fried, grilled or roasted. One of my best childhood food memories was in a sea front restaurant in Tartous with a big plate of fried fish, Arabic bread and a bowel of Taratour, a perfect lunch.
To make taratour all you need is tahini sauce slightly thinner than usual and loads of chopped parsley.
Yogurt and cucumber: (Laban wa khiyar لبن و خيار)
Every country of the Levant and all the neighboring territories have their own version of the famous Tzatziki. This is the Syrian one. In its native countries Tzatziki is usually used as an accompaniment unlike the Western interpretation of serving it as a dip.
In Syria we serve Laban wa Khiyar as a side sauce for "dry" rice and Bulgar pilaf. By dry I mean dishes with the grains as the main ingredient without a vegetable stew on the side. Riz bi Bazalia (Peas rice pilaf) Riz bi Ful (Broad bean rice pilf) and Burgul bi Ful (Broad bean Bulgar pilaf) are some delicious examples.
Garlic one clove
Dry mint 1tsp
Peel and finely chop the cucumber. Add the yogurt, dry mint and crushed garlic. Mix well and add salt and lemon to taste. Thin the mixture with some water if required to get the right consistency.
Yogurt: (Laban لبن)
Yogurt can be served in its plain unprocessed form as an alternative to Tzatziki. It goes well with the same type of dishes but it work especially well with Mujadara and Maqluba (literally translated, Upside-down) an upside down rice aubergine and meat pilaf.
Yogurt and garlic sauce: (Laban wa toum لبن و توم)
This one is for the garlic lovers. We Syrians (and Lebanese) are not only used to the taste of raw garlic, we absolutely love it!
This sauce is served next to Mnazaleh bi aswad and couple of similar dishes made with fried minced lamb and pumpkin or courgettes.
Finally, yogurt and garlic can be used to make the classic Syrian pasta with yogurt.
Garlic 2-3 cloves
Crush the garlic and mix in the yogurt with salt to taste.