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.