Halloween special: Tahini Pumpkin

Halloween is here and pumpkins are everywhere, in supermarkets, on TV, and all over the blogosphere!

I am one of the people who gets irritated by Halloween for some reason, I don't know. May be the commercial nature to Halloween celebrations. May be I feel Americans are ramming their Halloween down our throats. May be ... I don't know. It just irritates me!

So the last thing I expected myself to do is to post a Halloween special, but all these nice recipes (here, here and here) got me inspired. I haven't cooked pumpkin in years and I really fancied some. So I decided to cook Tahini Pumpkin (yaqteen bi thineh يقطين بطحينة in Arabic)

Pumpkin in Syria is traditionally cooked in tahini sauce. A nice hearty stew perfect for a cold winter night. The tahini in this dish is added towards the end and cooked with the meat and pumpkin. Although the flavours are great, tahini curdles in high temperature and the dish doesn't look that great. I prefer to make a loose tahini sauce and pour it on the dish just before serving. It looks much nicer!

A much lighter variation on this dish omit tahini all together and replace it with garlic yoghurt sauce. This is my favourite way to cook pumpkin and I will post the recipe soon.

Here is my Tahini Pumpkin recipe:

Lamb cubes 400g
Small pumpkin
Chicken stock 250mls (or a stock cube)
Walnut 75g
Tahini 5tbsp
Garlic one clove
Allspice 1/2tsp
Ghee clarified butter 1tbsp (alternatively use olive or vegetable oil)

In a heavy bottom pot, brown the meat in the Ghee butter and remove from the pot. Add the sliced onion and cook on medium heat till soft. Peel and de-seed the pumpkin and cut into chunky pieces. Add to the pot and fry for few minutes. Add the browned meat, allspice, chicken stock, salt and pepper to taste. Crush the walnuts in a pestle and mortar and add. Stir the ingredients and add hot water if necessary to cover. Bring to boil then reduce the heat to a simmer. Cover and cook for one and half hour or till the meat is tender. Try not to stir during cooking to avoid breaking the pumpkin.

In a bowl, wisk the tahini, salt, juice of half a lemon and very little water. The mixture will become light in colour and very stiff. Add more water and wisk. Keep adding water till the mixture start to soften and you reach a nice smooth consistency. The sauce need to be runny but not too watery.

When the pumpkin stew is cooked transfer to a deep dish and pour the tahini sauce. Decorate with some walnuts.

Serve with vermicelli rice.

One Hundred and One Mezze: 12. Pomegranate Molasses Hummus

As I mentioned on this blog before, Pomegranate molasses is really fashionable these days. Not only here in England but in Syria as well. People are discovering more ways to use it and they are adding it to more and more dishes. The molasses add a nice sweet and sour flavours to dishes and adds an extra depth and warmth of flavours.

Pomegranate Molasses Hummus was introduced, as far as I know, into the culinary scene of Syria few years ago. A small humus shop in Jisr Al-Abyad area of Damascus lays claim to the invention. As always, it is impossible to verify such claims but I thought I should mention it. The trend caught on and more hummus shops around the city are selling it these days.

I tried this version of hummus on my last holiday in Syria. At first I thought it was a gimmick and I wasn't too keen on the flavours. Few bites later and I discovered how addictive it is. I will have to say this is no replacement of hummus but it makes a nice change every once in a while.

Hummus traditionally is served with pickles and raw white onions on the side. Pomegranate molasses version on the other hand, works very well with fresh mint leaves.

Here is my recipe: (the recipe is my wife's hummus with an added molasses)

Chickpeas 1 can
Tahini 75mls
Garlic one clove
Pomegranate molasses 1-2 tbsp (to taste)
Olive oil
Mint leaves
Toasted pine nuts

In a food processor put the drained chickpeas, tahini, molasses, crushed garlic and a squeeze of lemon. Process on high speed for about five minutes till you get smooth texture. Add salt to taste and if the hummus is too thick you can loosen with some water.

Leave the hummus in the fridge over night if you can for the flavours to develop.

Spread in a plate. Decorate with mint and pine nuts and drizzle with olive oil.

Dawood Basha

I couldn't find a credible story of the origin of the name of this dish but I can come up with story and I am sure I will not be that far from the truth. Dawood is Arabic for David and Basha is a Turkish Ottman class title equivalent to Lord (the actual word is Pasha but we don't have "P" in Arabic). This title was given to high ranking personnel in the Ottman political system like governors and army generals. From here on the story is a no-brainer. Dawood Basaha was a nobleman somewhere in the Levant and he either liked this dish or the dish was invented in his kitchen.

Of note, there was a Dawood Pasha governor of Lebanon in the late Nineteenth century but I could not find any source to relate this dish to him.

Dawood Basha (or Daoud Pasha, as it is spelled some times) is meatballs cooked in tomato sauce and served with rice or Bulgar wheat pilaf. Chickpeas is an optional ingredients some people in Damascus like to add. The dish is a simple comfort food. The flavours are as good as the tomatoes you have so if you don't have good tomatoes you can use good quality tin tomatoes.

Similar versions of the dish are eaten across the Levant and in Egypt.

Here is my Dawood Basha recipe:

Minced lamb 500g
For large ripe tomatoes
One large onion
Tomato paste 1tbsp (adjust to taste)
Chickpeas 1 can
A slice of white bread
Allspice 1tsp
Olive oil
Chicken stock 2cups (water instead)

Start by making the meat balls. Soak the bread slice in milk and add to the meat. Add salt and allspice and mix well. Check the seasoning by frying a small amount of meat and taste. When happy, form the meat into one inch balls.

Peel your tomatoes. Cross the bottom of the tomato with a knife then drop in a boiling water for few second. The skin should come off easy. Check this video to see how. Finely chop the tomatoes or put them in a food processor.

In a heavy bottom pan heat some olive oil and fry the meat balls on all sides to brown. You don't need to cook them at this stage you just need to give them nice colour. To avoid breaking the meat balls, fry in small patches and turn around carefully. Remove the meat balls to a plate.

Thinly slice the onion and fry in the same pan on medium heat till the onions are soft. Add the tomatoes and cook for few minutes. Add the chicken stock, tomato paste, salt, pepper and some water if necessary. Cook for twenty minutes till the sauce thickens.

Add the meat balls and cook for another twenty minutes. Five minutes from the end drain and add the chickpeas.

Serve next to vermicelli rice or cooked Bulgar wheat.

Making My Peace With Allspice

Allspice is an integral part of Syrian cuisine. You can hardly read a recipe of a Levantine dish that doesn't include allspice. It could be used on its own or more commonly side by side with black pepper.

With me it was a complete different story...

People in Damascus are not fans of hot spicy food to say the least. The majority of my fellow Damascene can't tolerate heat in their food even black pepper could prove a challenge to some. Me on the other hand grew up in Saudi Arabia. Food there was way more spicy and eating very hot chilli sauce next to food was the norm.

Allspice didn't feature in our food as a family. My mum didn't like it and we never had it in our kitchen. My mum cooked exclusively with salt and black pepper.

So a 12 years old me, smug and proud of the amount of hot chilli I can handle, I developed this firm belief that allspice is a lame spice for lame people who can't even handle black pepper. I carried this belief with me for most of my life. I never cooked with allspice. I never bought allspice. I never even mentioned allspice. This got to the degree my wife didn't even know that allspice exists in Syrian cooking.

Now I am older and wiser, I decided to give allspice a fair chance and I actually loved the results. It has a nice flavour and a beautiful aroma. It is not the naff brother of black pepper I always imagined, it is a nice spice in its own right!

Now I made my peace with allspice, I wonder what is next for me. May be the lamest of all spices Bharat Mshakaleh (that is mixed spice for those of you who don't speak Arabic).

A New Syrian Food Blog

fatayer bel sabanekh

An exciting new addition to the blogosphere, a new blog dedicated to Syrian food but this time in French.

The blog is called Paris-Alep, Flavours of Syria, France and elsewhere. It is mainly dedicated to Aleppian cuisine but will also feature some French pastries and North African recipes.

The blog is brand new with only four recipes so far but they all look great. The writer has a great eye for photography and all the recipes are presented in a beautiful photographic step by step. I hope they keep the blog going.

Go take a look, it certainly worth a visit:

English translation of the blog using Google Translate

One Hundred and One Mezze: 11. Pastirma

This is the last of my Armenian themed posts.

Pastirma is a spicy air-dried beef eaten in Syria mainly as part of a mezze spread. I am not sure if it is originally Turkish or Armenian as both nations lay claim to it, but it was brought to Syria and Lebanon through the Armenian community.

I am not going to give you a recipe as I don't make my own and no body else does. It is made by salting and hanging the meat for few days. The meat then get washed and dried. The next step will be covering the meat in a layer of spice paste made from paprika, cumin, fenugreek and chilli then hung again to dry.

In Syria we mainly eat pastirma as a mezze dish. We slice it very thinly and eat it uncooked although some people would grill it lightly. Alternatively we use it in sandwiches or fried with eggs as a supper dish. In Turkey they use pastirma in some types of bean stews.

Allegedly the best pastirma is made from camel meat. Years ago, I tasted what was sold to me as camel pastirma but it didn't taste any different. I genuinely belief he was laying and I just tasted an over-priced piece of beef.

In London, Maroush Deli on Edgware Road used to make their own pastirma and it was quite good. Unfortunately the deli has now closed and the shop turned into another Maroush fast food outlet. Since then, I buy packed sliced pastirma from a Middle Eastern supermarket in West Ealing. Not as good but it does the trick!


If you were intrigued with my sujuk recipe, but didn't know what to do with it, I will tell you my favourite way to use it.

Toshka is originally an Aleppian recipe. It is made with Arabic flat bread stuffed with kebab meat and de-salted white cheese. These loafs are then baked over the charcoal grill or on a flat griddle.

In Damascus, as with sujuk, we took the name and a broad outline of the dish and re-created it. Toshka in Damascus is a type of sandwiches made with sujuk meat and Kashkawan cheese (Kashkaval as it is more widely known) then grilled in a sandwich maker for the cheese to melt.

In my version of this recipe I use Pita bread. This is the only recipe that I think Pita bread works better than Arabic flat bread (khobez). If you don't have Kashkawan cheese (it is not always easy to find in London) you can use mild Gouda.

Here is my recipe:

Pita bread
Sujuk meat (Damascene style)
Kashkawan cheese sliced
Cucumber pickle

Open the Pita bread into a pocket shape. Fill with a layer of sujuk and a slice of cheese. Grill in a sandwich maker or on flat griddle.

You can brush the bread with melted butter if you want it to crisp like in my second photo.

Serve with cucumber pickle on the side.

Simple as that!

Technical problems on the blog

As you noticed over the last week I have been updating the blog. New template, new layout and a colour theme through out. I hope you like the new look. Some old posts need updating still but I am working on it when I have free time. Very very slow process.

I also added the recipe list and the 101 Mezze series recipes in the right side column.

For some reason there was a technical problem so some people were not able to comment. I fixed it now (I hope I did!). So if you tried to leave a comment in the last week and you couldn't, I am sorry about that.

Hope to see all back and commenting again.

Sujuk, Damascene take on an Armenian sausage

Sujuk is another type of sausage introduced to the Syrian cuisine through the Armenian community. It is a strong tasting spicy sausage made usually from fatty beef mince or mixed beef and lamb. Similar versions with similar names are common in Turkey, Greece, Balkans, Bulgaria, Romania and all the way to Russia.

Sujuk is usually a cooking sausage used in different types of stews and dishes. One of the most classic ways to eat it is fried with eggs for a hearty breakfast. I personally like to use it in a similar manner to Chorizo to make pasta or even paella. I find it works very well with sea food and white fish especially monkfish.

In the Levant this Armenian version of Sujuk is widely available in Lebanon and in Aleppo in northern Syria where a large Armenian community lives.

In Damascus we use the word Sujuk to refer to a completely different type of spicy semi-cured meat. The spices used are similar to the ones used in the original Armenian sujuk but instead of making the meat into a sausage, "Damascene sujuk" is mince fried in its own fat till all the water evaporate and the meat starts to crisp. This process will allow the meat to last much longer. In fact, the flavours will develop nicely and the sujuk will taste much better after a couple of days in the fridge.

This Sujuk meat is used in a variety of ways. The most common of these is sujuk fatayer, the most flavoursome and one of the most popular fatayer (Fatayer is an oven baked pastries with different stuffing sold in communal ovens all around Damascus, check my post to know more).

The other very popular use is a sandwich filling with few slices of cucumber pickle. Although it is one of the most delicious yet it is one of the cheapest sandwiches you can eat, hence it sells around university, student halls of residents and in bus depot.

Finally before the recipe, in Narenj restaurant they serve sujuk as a hummus topping as in my photo above.

Here is my "Damascene Sujuk" recipe:

Mince lamb 500g (or half beef, half lamb)
Ghee clarified butter 1tbsp
Paprika 2tsp
Dry chilli flakes 2tsp
Allspice 1tsp
Garlic powder 1tsp
Fenugreek 1tsp
Salt 1tsp

Start by frying the mince in the ghee in a heavy bottom pan till it start to brown. Add the salt and all the spices and keep cooking till all the water evaporates. Turn the heat down and cook for about 30 minutes. Stir the meat every few minutes so it doesn't catch. The sujuk is ready when all the fat has melted and the meat is starting to crisp.

Transfer to a bowl and let cool down. Cover in cling film tightly and leave in the fridge for a day or two for the flavours to develop.

You have a very versatile "sausage". Use in sandwiches, pastries, pasta sauce, pizza or as a hummus topping. You can keep the sujuk in the fridge for over a week as it is almost cured with the salt and spices or you can even freeze it for a couple of months.