Pomegranate molasses gone mainstream!

If you are of the foodie types you will know pomegranate molasses has been in vouge for quite a while. You see it every where nowadays; in cooking shows, newspaper reviews and food blogs. Despite that I thought this interest is confined to foodies and TV chefs until I saw it on a high street supermarket shelf in deepest whitest Essex. The last place on Earth to sell pomegranate molasses!

How much I miss Damascus!

For those who read my Kammun post, it is snowing in Damascus today.

Shanklish, Blue Cheese of The Levant

Shanklish is the only "blue" cheese of Syria and Lebanon. I say blue because the cheese is left to age and develop mould layer on the surface. I used quotation marks because the mould is then rinsed away then the cheese balls are dried and rolled in a herb crust.

Proper Shanklish making is a complicated lengthy process. It starts by turning milk into yoghurt. The yoghurt is placed in a large container and shaken continuously for a good period of time to separate the butter that is then skimmed away. This creates a thin skimmed yoghurt called Shenineh. The next step is to slow heat shenineh until it curdles. These curds are then drained in a cheese cloth for few hours to create Arisheh, a delicately flavoured crumbly white cheese. Arisheh is then salted generously and rolled into tennis-ball sized cheese balls. These are then dried in the sun for a week. Once dried shanklish balls are placed in airtight jars and left in the dark to mature. They will develop a mouldy layer on the surface. Once the desired aging time is reached the cheese balls are rinsed and dried to remove the mould. Shanklish balls are finished by rolling them in dried zaatar or thyme layer.

Each of these by-products mentioned above is an ingredient in its own right. Shenineh makes a light refreshing drink similar but lighter than Ayran (yoghurt drink for those of you who haven't tried it). Arisheh makes a wonderful breakfast dish drizzled with honey or cherry jam and served with warm bread.

Shanklish varies a lot in taste, texture and flavour depending on the length of the aging process. Fresh white shanklish needs only a week of aging. The longer shanklish is matured the darker and smellier it gets. Eating properly aged shanklish is a hard core sport for an elite group of hard core fans.

A common variation of the original is made by adding paprika and Aleppo peppers to Arisheh before it get rolled this will give shanklish orange pink colour. Flavoured shanklish is commonly rolled in Aleppo peppers rather than thyme.

Shanklish is not a native cheese to Damascus. It is very popular in coastal and mountainous areas especially around
Tartous and Homs. Up til recent year, and by recent I mean when I was a child, it was not eaten in Damascus at all. The strong smell and the idea of aged mouldy cheese was off putting to most people. I vaguely remember as a child somebody giving us home made shanklish as a gift. It stayed in the fridge for a week or so before my mum chucked it in the bin untouched. Now getting older and wiser I grew to love shanklish. It has a wonderful unique flavour that I absolutely love.

Like I did people of Damascus grew to like shanklish. You can find it in most grocery shops around the city. It is not uncommon to see a man pushing a cart full of the stuff around the city narrow lanes or even farmer women selling their home made shanklish in the city streets.

Shanklish could be eaten as it is with nice piece of bread and some olive oil with tomato, cucumber and mint leaves on the side. I like to make it into a sandwich with some soft boiled eggs. I heard of some people frying it with eggs to make a flavoursome omelet, I never tried it this way. Finally the most common and best way to eat shanklish is to make it into a salad. This will be my next post.

In London you can buy shanklish from Green Valley on Edgware road or Damas Gate in Shepherds Bush.

If you want to read an excellent article on Shanklish go to
Abu Fares blog. Abu Fares is a great writer, thinker, humanist and a champion of Tartous and everything related to Tartous including Shanklish.


This post is a few days late but the winter hasn't even started properly and I am sure we will have many more cold days to come to enjoy this drink. For those outside the UK and don't know what I am talking about, we spent last week in knee-deep snow.

To many people, Syria is this Middle Eastern extremely hot place. While true at the height of summer winter is a complete different story. It comes sometimes as a great surprise when I tell people that we have snow in Syria, a fair bit of it on occasions. I think we get more snow in Damascus than we do in London. There is a difference though, we enjoy it a lot more back home.

Snow days in Damascus have their own great tradition. No sound minded child will go to school on a snow day. Children, teenagers and even university students will get their heavy jackets and gloves and head straight for snow fights. Syrian TV will stop its scheduled programs and broadcast live pictures from the city. Talj Talj (snow snow) song from Damascus favourite singer, Fairuz, playing repeatedly on TV to accompany pictures of snow covered streets and children posing with dodgy looking snowmen.

Winter season has of course its food tradition. In our household after a day of snow fight we always returned to hot warming bowel of Keshkeh. Other winter classics includes Tahini Pumpkin and Kebbeh Labnyeh. Few drinks do qualify for a winter drink category but Damascenes warm to one drink more than others, Kammun.

Kammun is the Arabic origin of the word cumin. It is the name of the spice and the name of the drink made with cumin. The drink is a favourite in a cold winter night. Although people make the drink at home it is most commonly consumed in cafes.

Here is hot to make a nice warm cup of Kammun:

Water 200mls
Ground Cumin 1tbsp
Salt 1/2 tsp (add more or less according to taste)

In a pot, add the water, cumin and salt. Bring to boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for few minutes. Serve hot with a squeeze of lemon.

One Hundred and One Mezze: 28. Cheese Borak

Today's recipe is a must in any Damascene restaurant meal. It is an essential part of any meal you almost get served these by default, sometimes without even ordering them. To start your meal you will get served one of these and one Kibbeh Me'lyieh (Fried Kibbeh) along with the usual suspects of hummus, mutabal and fatoush.

For this recipe I used my mum super fast borak dough recipe. This dough recipe is only good to be fried as it will come out crisp and flaky. If you want oven baked borak you will be better of using puff pastry but you need to roll it really thin so you don't end up with cheese puffs.

I made my borak in the traditional rectangular shape. Not the most aesthetic but diffidently the most traditional.

Here is my Cheese Borak recipe:

Flour 2 cups
Boiling water 3/4 cup
Vegetable oil 1/4 cup
Salt 1 tsp

For the filling:
White cheese 200g
Chopped Parsley 30g
Sesame seeds (optional)
Black sesame seeds (optional)
Black pepper

Start by preparing the filling. Crumble your white cheese and mix with the rest of the ingredients. You can use any type of Arabic white cheese. I usually use Nabulsi cheese. It has a great subtle flavour. If you don't have access to Arabic white cheese then you can try my alternative mix of Feta and Mozzarella.

In a mixing bowl add all the dough ingredients and start mixing with a spoon. Be careful not to burn your fingers with the boiling water. Using hot water allows all the ingredients to come together surprisingly easy. Once mixed into a dough start working it with your hands. The dough is ready to work with almost immediately.

Roll the dough very thinly and cut into rectangles. Spoon some of the cheese mix, fold the dough and press the edges to seal it. You can use a pizza or a ravioli cutter to make the edges pretty (unlike mine!).

Deep fry in vegetable oil, drain on a kitchen towel and serve warm.

Signature dish: Sea bass with Syrian style warm lentil salad

I can't believe a whole month has passed without me writing a word on my blog. To my defence (I keep telling myself) I moved house, I moved job, I moved city (Syrian Foodie in Essex nowadays), I have a three months old baby, I am organising an international medical conference and I have a couple of research projects that I am so far behind on. I think I have a very valid excuse!

To start me writing again I decided to write about my "signature dish" but which one? I thought long and hard about that one. I wanted my signature dish to be something I created. I wanted something modern and elegant. And finally a dish with a true Syrian flavour to it. (speaking of elegant, I am not happy with the pictures I have. when I cook this dish again I will take new photos and re-post).

Us Damascene are not big fish eaters. Many house holds in Damascus would eat fish less than once in a year. And when we decide to eat it we use the most an imaginative way of cooking fish, deep fried. Don't get me wrong, I love deep fried fish with Arabic bread and nice taratour sauce on the side but I love fish cooked with a bit more imagination. I love combining fish with interesting salads, I love fish curries and I love fish with vegetables or beans on the side. So when I wanted to create an interesting fish dish and give it a Syrian flavour was particularly challenging.

Lentil and fish is a classic combination. From experience I believe the less you do to a nice piece of fish the better so I decided to leave the fish as simple as I can and turn my attention to the lentils to Syrianise it. What I did in essence was to take a simple classic Ful bi Ziet (broad beans in olive oil) and replace the broad beans with lentils. Add a piece of nice fish and the result works a treat and unmistakably Syrian.

Here is my Sea bass with warm lentil salad:

Sea bass fillet skins on 1-2 per person
Dry green lentils 100g
One large tomato
One onion
Chopped parsley 30g
Lemon juice
Olive oil
Garlic two cloves
Black pepper

Wash the lentil and cook in plenty of salted water until nice and tender. This might take 20 - 30 minutes depending on the lentil. Drain and keep warm.

Chop the tomato and onion as fine as you can. Crush the two cloves of garlic and add with the lemon juice and parsley to the tomato and onion.

Heat a heavy-bottom large pan. Season the fish with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Add a little oil to the pan and cook the fish fillets skin side first. You need to press the fish fillet down with your hand to prevent the skin curling. Once started cooking you can add the next fillet and repeat the same process. Once the skin is gold and crispy turn the fillet to cook the other side. The whole cooking process should not take more than few minutes.

Add the warm lentils to the salad. Season with salt and a generous amount of olive oil. Spoon some of the lentil salad and arrange the fish on top. Drizzle with olive oil.

Green Nuts

We Damascenes have a special love relation with green, sour and unripe nuts and fruits. Come April, hundreds of street vendors walk around the city pushing carts piled with Ouja (عوجة). Ouja are sour green almonds picked way before the flesh turns into the familiar wooden shell of almonds. The fruit is sour, crunchy with a furry skin. They are usually eaten dipped in salt. Sour and salty, perfect representation of Damascene taste.

Green pistachios are another firm favourite of people of Damascus. They come into season in last August, early September. Once again the city streets are full of sellers. In contrast to Ouja, green pistachios are not sold on carts. Instead sellers usually make temporary bases mainly around the roads leading to Al-Rabwa. The nuts come in a red soft shell once peeled a more familiar pistachio nut emerges. These are not sour but a rather soft and delicate version of the dried variety. If you decided to try these be warned they are extremely addictive. And after a long evening with a huge bowl of green pistachios you finger tips and nails will have a deep dark stain that might stay for a couple of days.

One Hundred and One Mezze: 27. Musakhan

Palestinian food shares most of its dishes with the surrounding Levantine countries. Few "national" dishes of Palestine like Maqluba (upside down rice dish) and Mahashi (stuffed vegetables) are common all through the Levant with, sometimes very distinct, local variations. Today's dish, Musakhan is on the contrary a true uniquely Palestinian dish. Musakhan in it is original format is a very rustic dish of layered bread, sumac and onion mixture and roasted chicken.

In Syria, Musakhan is fairly well known and frequently eaten dish although the Syrian version varies a lot from the Palestinian ancestor. The flavours remained the same but the cooking, ingredients and presentation has been refined in keeping with Syrian fondness with food finesse. Here goes thick Taboon bread and comes in paper-thin Saj bread. Chicken is shredded and Musakhan is served in individual portions.

Musakhan is hardly ever eaten as a main dish in Syria. It is usually served as a side dish or part of a large spread in dinner parties and big family occasions. In coffee shops and restaurants Musakhan is usually served as a small snack dish you can munch on in the few hours you spending there smoking Argeeleh. Another very popular version of Musakhan is tiny small pastries stuffed with the chicken and sumac mixture and served as part of finger food buffet in parties.

For this recipe I use Saj bread, a very thin Syrian bread that can be bought from large Middle Eastern supermarkets. Alternatively you can use Lavash bread which is a similar bread native to Iran, Armenia and Turkey. If you live in an area where you can have access to Turkish shops then you can use Yufka pastry. Finally if you are getting desperate use filo pastry.

Here is my Syrian style Musakhan recipe:

Cooked chicken 500g (boiled or roasted)
Three onions
Olive oil 1/2 cup
Sumac 4 tbsp
Pomegranate Molasses 1 tbsp (my own addition, optional)
Pine nuts 30g
Saj bread

Heat the oven to 200 degrees.

Start by frying the pine nuts until golden in the olive oil. Be very careful as pine nuts burn very quickly. Remove from the oil when ready.

Slice the onions thinly and fry on medium heat until they go translucent. Shred the chicken and add with the sumac, pomegranate molasses and the rest of the olive oil (keep some to brush the bread with at the end) to the pot. Taste and add salt as required. Remove from the heat.

Cut the saj bread into 20cm (8inch) squares. Spoon 3-4spoonfuls of the chicken mixture into the centre of the bread. Fold three corners in and roll the bread into a spring roll shaped pies (see below).

Arrange the rolls in a roasting tin. Brush generously with olive oil and back until golden brown.

Ramadan Special: Oven Cheese Fatayer

Few weeks ago I discovered a new ingredient, Lavash bread. I have always seen it on Middle Eastern grocery shops in West Ealing but I never thought about trying it until recently, and what a discovery! Lavash is a type of very thin bread native to Turkey, Iran, Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan. The bread is a beautifully versatile ingredient that can be used to make pastries, borak and even oven samosa. For those of you familiar with Syrian breads, lavash is somewhat a cross between Saj bread and Tanoor Bread.

In Ramadan pastries has an essential role on the Iftar table. It adds a nice variety to the meal and nice side to a warm bowl of soup. Cheese, meat and spinach are the classic fillings.

For today's recipe I tried to create a cheese filling that doesn't require a trip to a Middle Eastern shop. I wanted to make a cheese filling that resembles the taste of that used in cheese borak in Syria but without the use of any "specialty" cheeses. I will have to say, the experiment was a great success. Even better than I expected!

Of course using Lavash bread defies the purpose of this whole exercise. So if you want to keep "high street supermarket only" tag to your dish you can use filo pastry or even puff pastry although the latter will produce a completely different dish.

Here is my Oven Baked Cheese Fatayer recipe:

Lavash bread 400 g
Feta 250g
Grated mozzarella 250g
Parsley 50g
Butter 50g
Black pepper
one Egg

Heat the oven to 200 degrees.

Mash the feta cheese with a fork and mix it with Mozzarella, chopped parsley, egg, salt and freshly ground black pepper. If your mix is too thick you can add a splash of milk. Be careful not to add too much other wise you will end up with a soggy pastry base.

Butter the bottom of a small baking tin. Add two layers of the bread brushing each layer with melted butter. Spread halt the cheese mixture then another bread layer, more cheese then the top bread layer. Brush the top generously with butter to get a crispy finish.

Bake in the oven for twenty minutes until the top is golden. Let cool for few minutes, cut to individual portions and serve.

Ramadan Special: Vermicelli Chicken Soup

Another year passed very quickly and Ramadan is here again. Although I am not particularly the religious type, I can't ignore the presence of the holy month. The culinary tradition of Ramadan is incomparable to any time of the year. The whole month is a celebration of food, drinks and sweets.

Today's dish is chicken vermicelli soup, a firm childhood favourite. Nice and strongly flavoured tangy soup, a perfect start for a Ramadan Iftar evening meal. Outside Ramadan the soup would make an excellent homely starter especially if you have some left over chicken stock and breast meat. Above all, this is the perfect meal if you are not feeling well. If chicken soup is the "Jewish Penicillin" this is definitely its Syrian counterpart.

There are many variations to the recipe. I cook mine with tomato paste and shredded chicken. Some people use meat balls or no meat at all, just nice stock. You can omit the tomato paste if you wish or even fry the vermicelli in a little oil to give them colour and a different flavour before cooking them.

Here is my Vermicelli Soup recipe:

Chicken stock 500mls
Shredded chicken meat, a handful
Vermicelli pasta, a handful
Tomato paste 1tbs

To see the Syrian way of cooking chicken and making a delicious stock check my Chicken Fatteh recipe.

Bring the stock to boil. Dissolve the tomato paste. Add the chicken meat and the vermicelli. Cook for 15 minutes until the pasta is fully cooked. Add salt and pepper to taste. The soup will thicken slightly because of the tomato paste but the consistancy should remain fairly runny.


Spinach Stew

I haven't cooked spinach since I met my wife few years ago. Although it was one of my favourite vegetables to eat as a child, Nada didn't like it so I didn't bothered cooking it. I never questioned what about spinach she didn't like. Then it all came clear. I had the misfortune of trying Sabzi!

Sabzi for those who don't know it is a Persian way of cooking spinach along with few other green herbs. The dish is also popular in Iraq especially in the south of the country. Sabzi was by far the worst thing I ever tasted in my life, and trust me I don't make such statement lightly. Everything was wrong about Sabzi. The combination of the herb, spices and the overpowering dried lime didn't work for me at all. Apologies to my Iranian and Iraqi readers who like the dish.

No wonder my wife didn't like spinach if this is the only version she tried. You can't taste the spinach among all these overpowering flavours.

Spinach is one of these delicate flavoured vegetable and to make the most of it you need to use with similarly gentle flavoured ingredients. Italians got it absolutely spot on using spinach with the equally delicate Ricotta cheese. Persians (Sabzi) and Indians (Sag Aloo) got it wrong in my book.

Last week I went on the mission of setting the record straight and introducing my wife to the way Syrians cook spinach.

I cook my spinach stew-style with braised lamb cubes but you can make an easier and much quicker version using minced meat. The latter is the more common version in Syria.

Here is my Spinach Stew with Braised Lamb recipe:

Lamb cubes 400g
Spinach 600g
One medium onion
Chopped green coriander
Garlic 2 cloves
Pepper 1/2 tsp
Allspice 1/2 tsp
Two pods of Cardamom (optional)
Two cloves (optional)
Olive oil

Start by browning the lamb cubes in olive oil in a heavy-bottom pot. Once brown on all sides roughly cut the onion and add to the pot. Season with salt, pepper, allspice cardamom and cloves. Cover with boiling water. Bring back to boil then turn the heat to medium and let the meat simmer until fully cooked and falling away with gentle pressure. It usually takes between one and two hours depending on the quality of the lamb and the size of the cubes.

Braising lamb and the using the resulting gravy is a very popular method in Syrian cooking. This is usually the base for most stew dishes. Chicken is usually prepared in a similar manner before the meat is taken of the bone and used in the different dishes. I like to add the cloves and cardamom to take the fatty edge of lamb meat and to add an "Arabic" flavour to my dishes. They serve a similar purpose of Bouquet Garni in French cooking.

Back to the spinach stew, remove the cardamom and cloves and some of the stock if you made a large amount. You will need almost 250mls of stock for that amount of spinach. Add more or less according to your taste and how you like your stew.

Add the spinach to the pot, cover and cook for five minutes. Add a handful of chopped coriander and crushed garlic. Cover and cook for another five minutes.

Serve with a wedge of lemon, nice crusty bread and vermicelli rice.


Most of my memories, happy and sad, are related to my teen years and early university. It was the best time of my life. I spent my childhood in Saudi Arabia with my family. I didn't like that place and the whole fifteen years I spent there are like a giant memory black hole. I hardly remember the place. I never speak about it and it doesn't feature in any way in my life. Moving back to Syria was the best thing that ever happened to me. New friends, new school and a huge sense of belonging to the place.

Now-a-days, part of every holiday I spend in Damascus is a visit to my teen years food haunts. The sights, smells and flavours bring back so many happy memories. The food occasionally doesn't live up to the memories but that might just prove how much our taste change as we grow older.

One place in particular is an exception. My memories of that shop dates back to my childhood. It was part of our summer holiday tradition to go with my mum to eat Sujuk sandwich in Sirop my favourite Armenian place on Al-Salehiyeh pedestrian street.

Sirop is a little gem of a shop. The place has not changed an inch since opened in 1963. The bright outside exterior takes you into this tiny shop. The smell of sujuk and pastirma spices fills the place and force into ordering couple of their tiny but absolutely delicious sandwiches. They serve a very small menu of sujuk, pastirma, Kashkaval cheese and Halloumi all served in small soft bread rolls pressed flat in a sandwich maker.

Apart from the great food the place is worth a visit just for the retro feel it offers. Their original cashier machine is worthy of a place in a museum. Next time you are in Damascus make the effort to go grab a sandwich. You will not regret it.

Syrian Fajitas(ish)

I was never a fan of fusion cuisine. I am still to try a fusion dish that tastes better or even comparable to its ancestors. Usually it is the flavour combinations that ruins the experience for me.

Personally I always found that fusion between two geographically close cuisines works better than two wide apart. May be because neighboring countries use similar ingredients so when you fuse the two cuisine, flavours don't come out of place.

So for somebody with such views to post a fusion recipe is a bit hypocritical, but I really love this dish and felt obliged to share it with you.

The recipe is definitely more Syrian than it is Mexican. The flavours and ingredients combinations is Syrian while the style and cooking methods is Mexican. I am not sure if that qualifies as fusion cuisine strictly speaking. See and judge by yourself.

Here is my Syrian Fajitas recipe:
Beef steak 500g (I use Sirloin steak)
One red pepper
One yellow pepper
Large onion
Pepper 1/2tsp
Paprika 1tsp
Chilli powder 1/2tsp
Allspice 1/2tsp
Dijon mustard 1tsp
Vegetable oil

Parsley and Onion Salad
One red onion
Parsley 70g
Juice of half a lemon

Tahini Sauce
Tahini 4tbsp
Juice of half a lemon

Two large tomatoes

8 Tortillas

Start by slicing the steak into this strips. Marinade for an hour if you have time in all the spices, salt and a little olive oil. Slice the onion and peppers into similar size strips. Heat a large frying pan or wok until very hot. Start by frying the onion in a small amount of vegetable oil for a couple of minutes. Don't over cook as the vegetables need to be a bit crunchy. Add the meat and continue to cook then add the peppers and cook for another couple of minutes.

While waiting for the meat to marinade prepare the sides.

Chop the parsley and slice the red onion very thinly. Mix together with the lemon juice.

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.

Thinly slice the tomatoes. Warm the tortillas.

Serve the meat and all the side dishes and the warm tortillas. Guests can make their own wraps on the table. This recipe is enough for four people.

Mufarakat Ful, A Quick Mid-week Supper

When I posted a recipe of my take on the Syrian classic Mufaraket Batata, my friends Rania and Tammam ended up "hotly debating" what makes dish Mufarakeh. Rania objected to me using the name for my version. At the time I thought the dishes with the generic name "Mufarakeh" have very little in common.

This discussion remained in my mind ever since. After some soul searching and some extensive research (I gave my mum a call), I came to the conclusion that all these dishes are essentially the same thing. The only difference is the main ingredient. The other differences are simply variations of the recipe.

Rania, you were right!

Mufarakeh is a dish made with chopped onion, minced meat and the chopped main ingredient. Cooked in that order. The main variation is the addition of eggs towards the end. The only vegetarian version I know is Mufaraket Kousa (Courgettes Mufarakeh) although many people cook it with meat.

Mufaraket Ful (Broad Bean Mufarakeh) is a perfect quick dish for a late dinner after a long day at work. Hearty, healthy and quick to make.

Here is my Broad Bean Mufarakeh recipe:

Broad Beans 500g frozen or fresh
Minced lamb 200g
One large onion
Two eggs (optional)
Ghee clarified butter 1tbs

Broad beans could have tough skin that some people find off-putting. Feel free to peel them before using them. I usually buy frozen baby broad beans with lovely soft skin so I don't.These are available from Tesco's own brand.

Finely chop the onions and fry on a medium heat in the ghee butter. Once soft add the minced meat and cook. fully. Season with a generous amount of salt and pepper Add the frozen beans and very little water to help the cooking. Cover and cook from 10 to 15 minutes until the beans cooked the way you like them.

Uncover the pot and let most of the water evaporate on high heat. Break the two eggs and stir quickly to cook in a scrambled egg fashion.

Serve with Arabic flat bread and a nice salad or Greek style yoghurt on the side.

One Hundred and One Mezze: 26. Meat Borak

Borak, or as commonly known by the Turkish variation of the name Borek, is an umbrella term describing a huge variety of filled pastries eaten in all ex-Ottoman Empire countries. Serbia, Greece, Armenia, Turkey and The Levant have some version or another of the dish. The common feature of these pastries is a crispy flaky crust and a generous filling. Meat or cheese are by far the most common but potato, sausage, spinach or leeks can be used. Borak can be deep fried or oven baked after being brushed with oil or butter to give it some extra crispness.

In Syria the two main varieties, cheese and meat, are an integral part of the mezze spread. The taste, type of pastry and filling extras varies a lot from restaurant to restaurant.

Today's version is a combination of my mother's pastry recipe and my version of the meat filling. The pastry recipe is very simple and easy to work with. It is good for deep frying as it comes out nice and crispy. I haven't tried to bake it in the oven but feel free to do and let me knows how it goes.

For the filling I used traditional flavouring I really enjoy but again feel free to make changes as you fancy. Like most mezze dishes there is no right or wrong, just the way you like it!

Here is my Meat Borak recipe:
Flour 2 cups
Boiling water 3/4 cup
Vegetable oil 1/4 cup
Salt 1 tsp

For the filling:
Mince lamb 250g
Pomegranate molasses 1 tbsp
Pine nuts

Start by frying the meat in vegetable oil or Ghee butter. Season with salt, pepper and allspice. Once all the water evaporated, add the chopped nuts and the pomegranate molasses. Let the stuffing cool down while making the dough.

In a mixing bowl add all the dough ingredients and start mixing with a spoon. Be careful not to burn your fingers with the boiling water. Using hot water allows all the ingredients to come together surprisingly easy. Once mixed into a dough start working it with your hands. The dough is ready to work with almost immediately.

Roll the dough into a thin layer with a rolling pin. Fold and roll again. Repeat a couple of times to give the dough extra flakiness. The dough is quite oily and it doesn't usually need any extra sprinkling of flour or oil.

Once the dough is ready cut into circles. Spoon some of the meat mixture. Fold and seal the edge by making small firm folds.

Deep fry in hot vegetable oil and dry on kitchen towel.

Serve warm.

Best Egg Sandwich

I love egg sandwiches in every way shape or form. Mayo, cress, boiled, fried, red sauce, brown sauce... anything with eggs really. The one I love the most is a Syrian one I make. I borrowed a classic Syrian salad usually accompanies Kebab and I tweaked it a little. Add that to some soft boiled eggs and you have a great fresh tasting sandwich.

The word Kebab in Syria refer to the ground meat variety of kebab mixed with onions and parsley. Outside Syria this is more widely known with the Lebanese name "Kofta" or as the Lebanese pronounce it "Kafta". Back to Syria, this kebab is always served with an onion and parsley salad.

In my recipe I used tortilla wraps but it works equally well with other types of bread especially Arabic flat bread or the very thin Saj bread.

Here is my egg sandwich recipe:

Three eggs
Two tortilla wraps
One red onion
Olive oil

Thinly slice the red onion and chop the parsley. Add a squeeze of lemon and a drizzle of olive oil. Your salad is ready.

Soft boil the eggs for 3 to 4 minutes. Cut into quarters and split between the tortilla wraps. season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Add the salad and wrap your sandwiches.


Broad Bean Bulgur

Bulgur is a stable ingredient of the East Mediterranean diet for centuries. Romans and Egyptian used to eat it since 1000BC. There is even reference in The Old Testament to the wheat grain. Bulgur is made from durum wheat. The grains are bar-boiled, dried again in the sun, partially de-branned then ground to the desired grain size. Traditionally it comes in two varieties, fine used in Tabouleh and Kibbeh and coarse used in pilafs.

In the UK, Bulgur became very fashionable in the last few years partially due to its good nutritional value and partially due to few celebrity chefs incorporating it in their dishes and introducing it to the nation. It is now sold in most high street supermarket but unfortunately only the fine variety is widely available, You still needs to make the effort to go to the nearest Middle Eastern shop to buy course Bulgur for pilafs. If not please don't let that put you off use the fine variety even for cooking.

In Syria, Bulgur is an important part of the diet and an essential ingredient in many dishes, Tabouleh and Kibbeh being the most famous. Bulgur was traditionally the main grain in Syrian cuisine. It used to be served next to stew type dishes almost on daily basis. This role was slowly taken by rice over the second half of the last century. As expected Bulgur is making a come back to that role due to , like in the UK, increased awareness to its nutritional value.

Apart from a being a delicious side Bulgur could be a full dish in its own right. Bulgur pilaf dishes have an wonderful texture and beautiful nutty flavour. There are tens of these dishes depending to the main ingredient added to Bulgur. Mujadara is the most popular of these dishes and it is made from lentils and bulgur. Other classic ingredients to add to these pilafs includes tomatoes, courgettes and aubergines.

Today's dish is a quick one-pot Bulgur broad bean pilaf (Burghul bi Ful as we call it in Syria). It takes no more than 30 minutes to make this hearty delicious dish. The dish can be easily adapted to a vegetarian one by simply not using meat.

Here is my Broad Bean Bulgur recipe:

Coarse Bulgur 400g
Mince lamb 400g
Fresh or frozen broad beans 400g
Clarified ghee butter 1tbsp (Olive oil if you opted for the vegetarian version)

Wash and soak the Bulgur in plenty of cold water for 15 minutes.

Start by frying the mince meat in the ghee butter. Season with salt and pepper. Add the broad beans and cook for few minutes. Drain the Bulgur and add to the pot. Add boiling water till you cover all the ingredients and roughly an extra inch of water on the top. Bring back to quick boil, stir well then turn the heat to medium and cook for around 15 to 20 minutes. Turn off the heat and let set for another 10 minutes.

Fluff with a fork and serve with Greek style yoghurt.

Lemon and Mint, Damascus favourite drink.

It is so bloody hot in London. I just came back from work on the underground. I swear the temperature in that train was in the high thirties, low forties. It is been like this for the last three days and it is getting too much for me. My functioning temperature is below twenty and if it gets any higher my brain starts to melt away. People are usually amazed how a person from the Middle East can not tolerate the milder heat on the English summer. My wife theory is that my hypothalamus (medical term for thermostat) is defunct.

To celebrate the early summer, and survive the weekend, I made my drink of choice when I am in Damascus. This is the single most requested recipe of all Syrian food on my blog. It seems this drink left its mark on every person who passed through Damascus. Many people have mentioned to me that they tried to look for a recipe since they came back without success. Others have attempted their own versions without much luck. I find that really surprising considering the simplicity of this drink. It is lemonade and mint leaves mixed together in a juicer, simple as that!

One last thing to mention, this drink is now called Polo! Yes, as in Polo the white round mints with a hole. I have no idea how this name came common knowledge but we in Syria have this annoying habit of giving things annoying unrepresentative silly names. Why do we do that I have no idea. When this drink first showed up on restaurant and cafe menus ten years ago everybody called it Lemon and Mint as it should be called. Now it is Polo!

I, as a person who refuses to use silly names, still call it Lemon and Mint. During my last Holiday I can't count the number of times a waiter corrected me after I ordered, insisting that this thing is called Polo. Every time I felt like shouting "It is not a bloody Polo. It has nothing to do with bloody Polo. Why give a great drink such a silly name". Instead I nod quietly with an awkward smile. I give up!

Her is my "POLO" recipe:

Water 1L
Juice of five lemons
Caster sugar 70g
Mint 50g
Orange blossom water 1tsp (optional)

Pick the mint leaves. Make sure you get rid of all the stalks otherwise you end up with loads of bits in your straw. In a juicer, add all the ingredients and buzz for few minutes.

Add a splash of Rum for a Syrian Mojito.

Is Bigger Always Better?

On my last trip to Damascus I went to my favourite Arabic Sweets shop, Alfaisal, to bring back few boxes of sweets to give away to friends and family in London. A couple of boxes in the shop brought back childhood memories and put a big smile on my face. I thought I should share with you.

Back in the early eighties Syrian sweet makers used to make sweets an the exact same way their parents and grand parents used to, in a "manly" large proportions. As years went by sweet makers became more sophisticated and the size of their product shrank gradually. This obsession of miniaturisation between Damascene sweet makers rivals that of their Japanese counterparts! Tiny sweets became synonym with better quality.

Like every thing else, food fashion runs in cycles and seventies and eighties styles are making a come back. As you can see in the picture the front row of boxes are the modern versions of three traditional Damascene sweets Barazek, Ghraybeh and Dates Ma'amoul. The back row is their traditional ancestor.

Large sweets are cool again!

One Hundred and One Mezze: 25. Nakanek

Nakanek, or Makanek as known in Lebanon and most Levantine restaurants around the world (maqaniq is an alternative spelling) is a small thin lamb sausage. It uses sweet fragrant spices as opposed to the hot spices used in Sujuk. Pine nuts is an essential ingredient in these sausages and adds a nice crunch and a subtle sweet flavour.

You can buy them in most Middle Eastern butchers and large supermarkets in London. I tried many different Nakanek from many different shops but my favourite remain the ones I buy from The Green Valley supermarket on Edgware Road.

You can prepare Nakanek in few different ways. I love them simply fried in a little bit of butter and served with a squeeze of lemon and a slice of tomato.

Here is a simple Nakanek recipe:

Nakanek 400g
Butter (or Ghee clarified butter) 1tbsp
Rocket leaves

Fry the Nakanek sausages in butter till they get a nice brown colour. Cover the pan and continue cooking for few minutes until cooked through. Don't over cook them, they dry up quickly.

Serve with lemon, sliced tomato and rocket leaves.

Alternatively you can grill the sausages on a hot griddle pan.

One Hundred and One Mezze: 24. Okra in Olive Oil

The British concept of meat and two veg meals doesn't exist in Syrian, and the rest of the Middle East, cuisine. We don't use vegetable boiled or steamed as a side to the meat. Traditional Levantine cooking uses meat and vegetables cooked together in a stew type dishes served with rice or Bulgar.

For every meat based dish there is an "Oil" counter part. These dishes are usually served as side dishes at room temperature or part of a mezze. They are called "Oil" dishes as they cooked in olive. Almost every kind of vegetable can be cooked this way; runner beans, broad beans, spinach and today's vegetable Okra.

Okra or Bamyeh as it is know in Syria is a very popular vegetable in Middle Eastern and East Mediterranean cooking. Traditionally it is cooked with lamb cubes in a tomato-based stew and served with rice. Today's recipe is Bamyeh Bi Zeit or Okra in Olive Oil a meatless counterpart. It is not as frequently cooked but as delicious if not better. I find bamyeh bi zeit at its best if cooked and left in the fridge overnight for the flavour to develop. Next day take out of the fridge let it get back to room temperature and enjoy it with Arabic bread.
Here is my Bamyeh Bi Zeit recipe:

Okra 250g
Tomato 2-3
Chopped coriander leaves 1 tbsp
Garlic 2 cloves
Olive oil 2 tbsp

Heat the olive oil on medium heat in a heavy bottom pot. Chop the tomatoes roughly and add to the oil. Chop the okra and very thinly slice the garlic. Add to the pot. Season with salt and add a little hot water to cover the bottom of the pot. Cover and cook for 10 minutes.

Once the vegetables are cooked and most of water has evaporated add the chopped coriander. Mix and cover for another 5 minutes.

Serve with Arabic flat bread.

One Hundred and One Mezze: 23. Moussaka

Like stuffed vine leaves, Moussaka is another ex-Ottoman Empire dish. While most of the people outside the region know the Greek version of the dish, other versions of Moussaka exists in many countries from Egypt, The Levant, Turkey and all the way to the Balkans. While I conceded stuffed vine leaves to the Turks due to etymology I can comfortably claim Moussaka to us Levantines for the exact same reasons. Moussaka is a word of Arabic origin. It comes from the Arabic musaqqa'a مسقعة which translates roughly to "Chilled" as the dish is served at room temperature.

The common theme between all the different versions of Moussaka around the world is the two main ingredients aubergines and tomatoes. In Damascus Moussaka is served as a side dish or as part of mezze and strictly vegetarian. In some other parts of Syria ground meat is added and the dish is served as a main. In Lebanon chickpeas is a common extra. The Turkish and Egyptian versions call for ground meat and the Greek one you all know with the traditional layers and white sauce topping.

Here is my Mousska Damascene style:

One large aubergine
Two tomatoes
One onion
One red pepper
Garlic 3-4 cloves
Coriander leaves chopped 1tbsp (optional)
Vegetable oil
Olive oil 3tbsp

Heat the vegetable oil to fry the Aubergine.

Peel the aubergine in stripes (as above, I just like the way it looks!) and cut into 1.5 cm thick slices. Fry till fully cooked and golden brown in colour.

Slice the onions and the peppers, roughly chop the tomatoes and try to slice the garlic as thin as you can. In a pan, heat the olive oil and fry the onion on medium heat till soft. Add the garlic, tomato and red peppers and cook for 10 minutes or till fully cooked. Add the chopped coriander leaves and season with salt.

Add the fried aubergines and mix gently so you don't break the aubergine slices. Cook for further 5 minutes.

Let cool down and serve with flat Arabic bread.

One Hundred and One Mezze: 22. Tabbouleh

I don't know how did I manage to go over a year of blogging without a recipe for Tabbouleh. After Hummus and the inaccurately named Baba Ghanoush, Tabbouleh is The Levant's third biggest culinary export to the world.
Like all other dishes that moved from local to international status, the tangy parsley-based salad has been bastardised and adapted in endless ways. My friend Tammam has had a "tabbouleh" dish from a supermarket in Geneva withe the ingredients: couscous, raisins, onion, chicken and basil!
Admittedly, not all adapted version are as bad. In most cases of "supermarket tabbouleh" the main ingredients of the original dish are the same but the balance is completely skewed towards Bulgar. Authentic Tabbouleh should be three quarters parsley and one quarter everything else.
In my recipe I tried to use as accurate quantities as I could, so any body trying the recipe can get a taste and feel of what an authentic tabbouleh is. To give tabbouleh its characteristic spicy edge I like to use finely ground black pepper. You can use allspice, mixed spice (baharat) or as they do in Aleppo, Aleppo peppers! 

Edit 29/09/2014
In my recipe I use fine Bulgur wheat which you need to buy from Middle Eastern shops. The grain is very small so you don't need to cook it. Just soak in water for 30 minutes will do. However Bulgur bought from high street supermarket has medium size grain and will not be soft enough just soaked. You will need to boil it for 10 minutes then drain and let cool.

Here is my tabbouleh recipe:
Flat leaf parsley 250g (before trimming the stalks) Mint leaves 30g Fine Bulgar wheat 50g Small red onion One tomato Sumac 1tsp Black pepper 1/2tsp Lemon 1-2 according to taste Salt Olive oil 4-5 tbsp
Start by washing and soaking the Bulgar wheat in cold water for 30 minutes.
The secret to nice crisp tabbouleh is a very sharp knife to chop the parsley without bruising the leafs. Chop the parsley, mint, onion and tomato finely. Drain the Bulgar and squeeze the extra water. Squeeze the lemons.
Mix all the ingredients. And leave for around 30 minutes before serving.
We like to serve tabbouleh with lettuce in Syria. We use lettuce leaves to make small wraps full of the tangy salad.


One Hundred and One Mezze: 21. Stuffed Vine Leaves

The love of stuffed vine leaves extends way beyond the borders of the Levant. People from The Balkans, Greece, Turkey, Iraq, Iran and all the way to Middle Asia enjoys the tiny tangy wraps. I tried to do some research into the dish origin but I found it difficult to accurately identify where it was first cooked. Many different nations make a claim but without a doubt the Turkish voice remains the loudest. The name most commonly used in all of these countries "Dolma" or a variation of it. Dolma is Turkish for "stuffed".

The dish is most likely invented or at least developed into its current form in the Ottoman Empire. At one point it was one huge country extending from Central Europe to Central Asia and including most of North Africa. Food, ingredients, recipes and even chefs moved freely around the empire. No wonder there are so many similarities and common dishes in all these countries cuisines.

In Syria we use Turkish names to call stuffed vine leaves but interestingly it is not Dolma. We cooked vine leaves in two ways one with meat and rice stuffing, served hot and eaten as a main dish. This dish is called
Yaprak, Turkish for "leaf". The other is the vegetarian variant most people know, served cold as a starter or part of a Mezze spread. This version is called Yalangi, Turkish for "fake". Fake because it doesn't contain any meat of course!

Here is my Yalangi recipe:

Vine leaves, preserved 300g
Short grain rice 200g (paella rice works very well, or the more authentic Egyptian rice)
One large tomato
One small onion
One lemon
Chopped parsley 2-3 tbsp
Dried mint 1tsp
Allspice 1/2 tsp
Olive oil 3-4 tbsp

Wash the rice and soak in cold water for around 30 minutes.

Finely chop the onion and tomato. Sweat the onions in olive oil on medium heat till soft and translucent. Drain the rice and add to the pot. Stir well till the rice grain are heated and coated with the oil. Add the chopped tomato, parsley, mint, allspice. Season with salt and add the juice of half a lemon. Mix well and remove from the heat. Taste the rice mixture for seasoning.

Spoon a small amount of the mixture into the centre of the leaf. Fold the edges and roll as in the picture. If this is your first time, it will start slowly but don't get disheartened. You will soon be much quicker and the roles will look neater.

Cover the bottom of the pot with the left over leaves or sliced potatoes to prevent the wraps sticking to the bottom of the pot. Arrange the rolled leaves in layers. They need to be fairly compact to prevent them opening or breaking. Once you arranged all the wrapped leaves put a small plate on the top preferably with a small weight to keep the vine leaves compact.

Add the juice of the other lemon half and cover with water. Start cooking on a high heat. Once started boiling turn down the heat to medium and cook for another 20-30 minutes. Cooking time will depend on how soft the leaves are. Keep an eye on them.

Once cooked transfer carefully to a plate and let cool down before serving.

There are countless variations to stuffed vine leaves recipe. You can replace the lemon juice with pomegranate molasses. Greeks use dill instead of parsley. Turks add currents or raisins sometimes. Iraqis cook their dolma with tamarind. Feel free to adapt the recipe the way you like it.