The Mediterranean countries include France, Spain, Italy, Greece and Portugal along the north; Turkey, Syria, Lebanon and Israel on the east; and the African countries of Egypt, Libya, Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia on the south. The Mediterranean countries utilize many of the same ingredients but each country has a unique way of creating recipes with those same ingredients. So far in this series, I have written about Mediterranean cuisine in general and about the countries of Portugal, Spain, France, Italy, Greece and Turkey. This series continues with the country of Syria.
Think Mediterranean diet and Italian and Greek food comes to mind. But the Mediterranean coastline spans thousands more miles throughout the Middle Eastern countries like Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, and Israel. The Middle Eastern Mediterranean diet emphasizes healthy fats, lean proteins, whole grains, fruits and red wine. However, it also offers delicious and different flavors not found in southern European food, such as unique spices, tangy fruits and healthy seeds, some of which include pomegranate juice, mint, sesame and yogurt.
Syrian cuisine mainly uses eggplant, zucchini, onion, garlic, meat (mostly from lamb, mutton and poultry), dairy products, bulgur, sesame seeds, rice, chickpeas, wheat flour, pine nuts, fava beans, lentils, cabbage, cauliflower, grape leaves, pickled turnips or cucumbers, tomatoes, spinach, olive oil, lemon juice, parsley, mint, a spice mixture called “baharat mushakkaleh” (Arabic: بهارات مشكّلة), hazelnuts, pistachios, honey and fruits.
One of the many highlights of Syrian food is mezza, the tapas of the Middle East. Mezza refers to a generous spread of small dishes, mostly eaten without cutlery, using flat bread, lettuce or grape leaves to scoop up dips or to wrap portions of salad. Baba ghanouj and hummus, both well-known in the West, are key elements of a traditional mezza. Another favorite in Syria is muhammara, a spicy pepper and walnut dip made with pomegranate molasses. Salads include tabbouleh, a parsley and bulgur mix; fattoush, a crunchy cucumber, radish, tomato and herb salad topped with toasted pita; and fateh, a salad with chickpeas, yogurt, tahini and garlic. Other finger foods include baked pastries filled with meat and spices called sambusic or spinach and baked lamb pies called sfeeha. Kibbeh is the national dish and comes in many varieties with the core element being cracked wheat and fresh ground lamb or beef that is seasoned with spices.
For Syrians, presentation is everything. Making the food look appetizing and setting the table appropriately are very important. Everything, even the simplest dishes, are garnished with fresh herbs.
Syrian Recipes To Make At Home
Syrian Stuffed Grape Leaves
Adapted from a recipe from Mary Sanom
2 lbs. ground lamb or beef
1 lb. long grain white rice, uncooked
1 small onion (finely diced)
1 small green pepper (finely diced)
1 clove minced garlic
8 oz can tomato sauce
8 oz of tomato paste
10 cups water
2 teaspoons salt, divided
1/2 teaspoon black pepper to taste
Grape leaves (16 oz jar hold about 60 leaves)
Place the rice in a large bowl, pour boiling water over to cover it and let soak for 1 hour.Drain well.
Mix ground meat, soaked rice, onion, green pepper, garlic, 1 teaspoon salt, pepper and tomato sauce in large bowl.
Place enough grape leaves in the bottom of a large pot to cover the bottom of the pot.
This will keep the filled grape leaves from sticking to the pot and burning.
To fill the grape leaves:
Lay out a grape leaf with the vein side up.
Place a small amount of the meat and rice at the bottom 1/3 of the leaf, tuck in the sides of the leaves over the meat and to roll up like a cigar.
Continue rolling the grape leaves and laying them in the bottom row in the prepared pot,
When the first layer of grape leaves has lined the bottom of the pot, start the new layer in the opposite direction, so that the rows criss-cross each other. This will allow the liquid to get to all the leaves.
Keep rolling up all the leaves and stacking the layers, until there are no more leaves/or no more filling/or the pot is ¾ full.
Place a plate upside down over the leaves. This will keep the rolls from floating during cooking and coming unrolled.
Mix together the tomato paste and water. Pour the tomato/water mixture over leaves until they are just covered.
If the leaves are not covered, add additional water until they are covered.
Add a teaspoon of salt and a squeeze of half a lemon into the pot
Cover the pot with a lid and bring the leaves and liquid to a boil, then reduce heat to medium, and cook for about 30 – 45 minutes or until the meat is cooked and the leaves are tender.
Take out a roll from the top of the pot and test it. Place the grape leaves on a platter to serve.
Retain some of the cooking liquid to reheat the leftover rolls.
Aubergine Fetteh (Fetteh Beitinjaan)
Layering food on toasted bread with a yogurt sauce is a Syrian speciality.
Olive oil, for roasting and drizzling
2 flatbreads or pitas
500g plain yogurt
2 small garlic cloves, crushed
2 tbsp lemon juice
Handful of parsley, roughly chopped
Handful of pomegranate seeds
50g pine nuts, toasted
Salt, to taste
Heat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas mark 4.
Cut the eggplants into quarters lengthwise, slice them into 1 inch chunks and place in a baking pan.
Pour over a generous helping of olive oil and a sprinkle with salt.
Roast in the oven for approximately 40 minutes or until the eggplant is soft.
Brush the bread with olive oil and toast in the oven for about 10 minutes until crispy. Then break it up into pieces.
In a bowl combine the yogurt, garlic and lemon juice.
Take the eggplant out of the oven and allow to cool. Place them in a shallow bowl then pour the yogurt mix on top.
When ready to serve, sprinkle with the crispy bread, parsley, pomegranate seeds and toasted pine nuts.
Spiced Fish (Samaka Harra)
6 garlic cloves, chopped
2 red chillies, finely chopped
½ teaspoon ground cumin
¼ cup/40g walnuts, chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
Salt and pepper, to taste
2 whole fish, such as sea bream or snapper
1 bunch of fresh coriander, roughly chopped, including the stems
1 lemon, plus ½ lemon, sliced
Heat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas mark 4. In a bowl, mix together the garlic, chilies, cumin, walnuts, 2 tablespoons of olive oil, salt and pepper.
Stuff the fish with this mixture, reserving two tablespoons for later, then add a handful of coriander, saving some to garnish.
Squeeze the whole lemon over both fish, with a drizzle of olive oil and some salt and pepper. Let the fish marinate in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.
Place the fish in a large baking pan with the remaining 2 tablespoons of stuffing on top and a couple of slices of lemon. Bake in the oven for 30 minutes.
Milk Pudding (Muhallabiyeh)
This is a very light dessert that is simple and can be prepared far in advance. Syrians say the name of this pudding comes from the Umayyad Prince of Damascus, Al Muhallab Ibn Abi Sufra. One day, the bored potentate ordered his servants to make him something different, a special pudding, and this is what they came up with using the only ingredients they had available – milk, sugar, starch and mastic. The pudding then became known as the ‘milk of the princes’, but commoners soon caught onto how simple it was to prepare and it became known amongst them as the ‘milk of the commons’. Today, people flavor the milk with a variety of spices, depending on each individual’s taste. This pudding has a smooth texture, with the nuts on top adding a crunch, which Syrians love.
1 quart/litre milk
1 cup/200g sugar
3 tablespoons cornstarch/cornflour, mixed with water
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon rose-water or orange blossom water
2 tablespoons/20g pistachios, crushed
Rose petals, to decorate (optional)
In a saucepan, gently heat the milk and sugar over low heat, stirring regularly.
Just before it boils, add the cornstarch mix and stir constantly until it thickens, then add the vanilla and rose or orange blossom water.
Once it reaches a thick consistency, pour the mix into individual bowls or trifle glasses and let cool.
Once cool, put them in the refrigerator to set for at least 2 hours.
When ready to serve, sprinkle the tops of the pudding with the crushed pistachios and for extra color, rose petals.
Source: Syria: Recipes From Home by Itab Azzam and Dina Mousawi. Published by Trapeze.
With the holidays approaching and those sumptuous meals and desserts awaiting us, we may want to consider eating lighter in the weeks before the holidays. Earlier this week I gave you some ideas for dinner and, in today’s post, I am sharing some lighter and easy to make lunch recipes. This is a busy time of year, so you do not want recipes that are very involved or time consuming to make in the weeks leading up to the holidays.
- 4 large eggs
- Salt and pepper
- ¼ teaspoon dried oregano
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1/2 cup spinach
- 1/2 cup cherry tomatoes (halved)
- ¼ cup crumbled feta cheese
- 2 heated pita halves
Whisk eggs in a mixing bowl, add the oregano and season with salt and pepper.
In a skillet, heat the olive oil over medium-low heat. Cook eggs, stirring frequently, until just set, 1 to 2 minutes; stir in spinach and tomatoes.
Cook until the spinach wilts and the tomatoes are heated.
Place 2 tablespoons of crumbled feta in each warm pita half and divide the egg mixture between each pita half.
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- Two 14 ounce cans reduced-sodium chicken broth
- 1 ½ cups water
- One 15 ounce can cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
- 1 medium zucchini, diced
- 1 cup sliced carrots
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 3/4 cup elbow macaroni or other short pasta
- 6 cups coarsely torn, trimmed Swiss chard or 8 cups fresh baby spinach leaves
- One 14 1/2 ounce can no-salt-added diced tomatoes
- Fresh basil for garnish
In 5- to 6-quart Dutch oven cook onion in hot oil over medium heat until tender, stirring occasionally.
Add broth, water, beans, zucchini, carrots and garlic. Bring to boiling.
Add pasta and dried oregano. Return to boiling; reduce heat. Simmer, covered for 5 minutes.
Stir in Swiss chard. (If using spinach wait until you add the tomatoes.)
Simmer, uncovered, 5 to 7 minutes more or until pasta is tender, stirring occasionally.
Stir in tomatoes (and spinach if using in place of chard). Remove from the heat. Season with salt and black pepper. Garnish with fresh basil.
Warm Turkey, Pear and Cheese Salad
It you still have leftover turkey from Thanksgiving, this salad it a good way to use some of it up.
- 1 pound leftover sliced turkey or thin turkey cutlets
- 1 tablespoon honey mustard, divided
- ¼ cup olive oil, divided
- 2 tablespoons cider vinegar
- 2 pears, cored and sliced thin
- 4 slices provolone cheese, cut in half
- 5 ounces arugula (8 cups) or your favorite salad greens
- Salt and ground black pepper
Cut the turkey into eight pieces and brush each lightly with a ½ tablespoon of the honey mustard.
In a 12-inch skillet heat 2 tablespoons of the oil over medium-high heat. Cook turkey cutlets or heat leftover turkey in an even layer in the hot oil for 2 to 3 minutes on each side.
Layer pears on top of the turkey; top each with a half-slice of cheese. Reduce heat to medium-low. Cover and heat for 3 minutes or until cheese is melted and pears are warm.
Divide arugula among serving dishes; top with turkey slices.
For the dressing:
Whisk remaining mustard and oil along with the vinegar. Drizzle dressing on each serving.
Salmon Open-Faced Sandwiches
- 4 ounces light cream cheese
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh herbs (parsley, dill, chives, thyme)
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 8 thin slices of your favorite bread, lightly toasted (I like pumpernickel or rye)
- 4 ounces smoked salmon
- 1 cup arugula
- 1/4 red onion, thinly sliced
- 2 tablespoons large capers
Mix together the cream cheese and the herbs and season with pepper.
Spread mixture on each piece of toast and evenly top each with salmon, onion, capers and arugula.
Clementine Salad with Poppy Seed Dressing
Some markets sell loose pomegranate seeds in a cup as a time saver.
- 1/4 cup fresh lime juice
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 tablespoon honey
- 2 teaspoons poppy seeds
- 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 10 cups arugula or your favorite salad greens
- 8 seedless clementines, peeled and broken into segments
- 1/4 cup chopped walnuts, toasted
- 1/4 cup pomegranate seeds
To remove pomegranate seeds:
Score an “X” in the top of a pomegranate. Break pomegranate apart into quarters. Working in a bowl of cool water, immerse each quarter; use your fingers to loosen the seeds from the white membrane. Discard peel and membrane. Drain seeds in a fine wire mesh colander. Cover and chill for up to 24 hours before using.
To prepare the dressing:
In a screw-top jar combine lime juice, oil, honey, poppy seeds, kosher salt and pepper. Cover and shake well.
In a large salad bowl toss dressing with arugula. Add clementine segments; gently toss. Sprinkle with walnuts and pomegranate seeds. Serve.
Look for apples that are firm, brightly colored and free of bruises. The skin should be clean and shiny; a dull finish indicates the fruit may be past its prime. Refrigerate apples up to two weeks. At room temperature, they ripen too quickly and become mealy. Apples are also good baked in pies, roasted or sautéed to accompany meat dishes.
Look for grapes that are plump, unblemished and firmly attached to a flexible stem. Ripe white and green grapes should have a yellowish cast; red and purple ones should have no green. Refrigerate grapes in a ventilated plastic bag up to one week.
Pears ripen off the tree, so most of the fruit you’ll find at the market will need a few days to soften at home. Common varieties include: Anjou, which is egg-shaped with a green, rose-tinged green, or red skin; Bosc, which has a slender neck and a brown skin (Boscs are flavorful even before fully ripe so they are good for cooking); and Bartlett, which has a red skin or a green skin that yellows as it ripens. Let pears ripen at room temperature. When they’re ready to eat, the flesh on the neck of the fruit will give a little when pressed. Refrigerate ripe pears for up to five days. Cooking can really bring out their flavor, so try them baked or poached.
This slightly sour fruit has gotten a lot of press as an antioxidant powerhouse. The juice provides a tangy base for marinades and the seeds can be mixed into salads to give them flavor.
This Middle Eastern favorite is a sweet fruit that is perfect braised in stews, chopped up in desserts, stuffed with cream cheese or almonds or baked into quick breads.
Use this sweet fruit to add a tropical flavor to your recipes. It’s great mixed with other fruits for a fruit salad or combined with pineapple to make a tangy chutney.
- Nonstick cooking spray
- 2/3 cup fat-free milk
- 2/3 cup chopped pitted dates
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 3/4 cup chopped peeled apple
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 1 egg, lightly beaten
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 1/2 cup chopped pecans
- 1/4 cup packed brown sugar
- 1 tablespoon butter, softened
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1 ½ cups all-purpose flour, plus 1 teaspoon all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly coat an 8 x 8 x 2-inch baking pan with cooking spray. Set aside.
In a small saucepan combine milk, dates and salt; heat until steaming but do not boil. Remove from the heat. Stir in apple and vanilla; cool to room temperature.
Whisk in egg and oil and stir until combined. Set aside.
For the topping:
In a small bowl stir together pecans, brown sugar, butter, the 1 teaspoon flour and the cinnamon; set aside.
For the cake:
In a medium bowl whisk together the 1-1/2 cups flour, the baking powder and baking soda. Add milk mixture all at once to the flour mixture. Stir just until combined. Spoon batter into the prepared baking pan. Sprinkle evenly with the pecan topping mixture.
Bake about 25 minutes or until a knife inserted near the center comes out clean. Cool slightly. Serve warm.
Italian Grape Cake
- 2 large eggs, at room temperature
- 2/3 cup (135 g) sugar
- 4 tablespoons (2 ounces; 60 g) unsalted butter, melted
- 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 1/3 cup milk
- 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 1 1/2 cups (200 g) unbleached all-purpose flour
- 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
- A pinch of sea salt
- Grated zest of 1 lemon
- Grated zest of 1 orange
- 10 ounces (300 g) small, fresh, seedless purple grapes
- Confectioners’ sugar, for garnish
Preheat oven to 350°F
Generously butter and flour a 9 inch springform pan, tapping out any excess flour. Set aside.
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a whisk, beat the eggs and sugar until thick and lemon-colored, about 3 minutes. Add the butter, oil, milk and vanilla extract and mix until blended.
Sift the flour, baking powder and salt into a large bowl. Add the lemon zest and orange zest, and toss to coat the zest with the flour.
Spoon the mixture into the bowl of batter and stir with a wooden spoon until thoroughly blended. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and mix once more. Set aside for 10 minutes to allow the flour to absorb the liquids.
Stir about 3/4 of the grapes into the batter. Spoon the batter into the prepared cake pan and smooth out the top with a spatula.
Place the pan in the center of the oven. Bake for 15 minutes, then sprinkle the top of the cake with the remaining grapes. Bake until the top is a deep golden brown and the cake feels quite firm when pressed with a fingertip, about 40 minutes more, for a total baking time of 55 minutes.
Remove to a rack to cool. After 10 minutes, run a knife along the sides of the pan. Release and remove the side of the springform pan, leaving the cake on the pan base.
Sprinkle with confectioners’ sugar just before serving. Serve at room temperature. Cut the cake into thin wedges.
Pear Quick Bread
- 1/4 cup molasses
- 1/4 cup honey
- 1 egg white
- 1 cup buttermilk
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 1 3/4 cups white whole wheat flour
- 1/2 cup wheat bran
- 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 2 cups finely chopped fresh pears (not too ripe – more hard than soft)
- 1/2 cup chopped walnuts
Mix together molasses, honey, egg white, buttermilk and oil in a small bowl or glass measuring cup.
Mix flour, bran, sugar, baking soda and salt in a mixing bowl and add the wet mixture all at once.
Stir in the chopped pears and walnuts.
Pour into a 9 x 5-inch lightly greased baking pan.
Bake at 350°F for 60 to 70 minutes, or until the bread tests done (cake tester inserted in middle of loaf comes out clean). Makes 1 large loaf.
Makes 12 muffins
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 2/3 cup sugar, plus extra for the topping
- 1 tablespoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/3 cup minced crystallized ginger
- 1 teaspoon grated lemon peel
- 1 1/4 cups pomegranate seeds
- 1 cup milk
- 1 large egg
- 1/4 cup (1/8 lb.) butter or margarine, melted and cooled
In a bowl, mix flour, 2/3 cup sugar, baking powder and salt. Stir in crystallized ginger, lemon peel and pomegranate seeds. Make a well in the center.
In a measuring cup, blend milk, egg and melted butter. Pour mixture all at once into the well in the bowl with the flour mixture. Stir just until batter is moistened; it will be lumpy.
Spoon batter into 12 (2 1/2-in.-wide) or 24 (1 3/4-in.-wide) buttered mini muffin cups, filling each almost to the rim. Sprinkle the tops of each muffin with granulated sugar.
Bake in a 425°F oven until lightly browned, about 16 minutes for the large muffin pan or 13 minutes for the small muffin pan. Remove muffins from the pan immediately and cool on a wire rack.
Kiwi Ricotta Cheesecake
- 2/3 cup (about 3 oz.) gingersnap cookie crumbs or biscotti crumbs
- 1/2 cup minced crystallized ginger, divided
- 2 tablespoons melted butter
- 15 oz. (1 2/3 cups) ricotta cheese
- 4 large egg whites
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- 1 cup plain Greek yogurt
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 tablespoon grated lemon peel
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 3 kiwi fruit (about 1/4 lb. each)
Combine crumbs, 1/4 cup crystallized ginger and melted butter. Pat crumb mixture evenly the over bottom of a removable-rim 8-inch cheesecake pan.
Bake in a 350°F oven until the crust is lightly brown, 10 to 12 minutes.
In a blender or food processor, process ricotta cheese, egg whites and lemon juice until very smooth.
In a mixing bowl, stir together yogurt, sugar, lemon peel and vanilla. Add ricotta mixture and stir until well blended (the mixture is thin). Pour into the (hot or cool) crust.
Bake in a 350°F oven until the center barely jiggles when cake is gently shaken, 50 to 55 minutes. Run a thin-bladed knife between cake and pan rim.
Refrigerate cake, uncovered, until cool, at least 2 1/2 hours. (If making ahead, wrap airtight when cool and chill up to 2 days.)
Remove pan rim. Peel kiwi fruit and slice crosswise. Arrange fruit in a ring in overlapping slices on top of the cake and sprinkle with remaining ginger. Cut cake into wedges.