Sadly – for both visitors and (especially, tragically) for its citizens – Syria is very much a danger zone. But this doesn't mean you shouldn’t celebrate its culture. Syrian cuisine’s variety, seasonings and homegrown ingredients set it apart; the city of Aleppo in particular is famous for its unique selection of hot peppers, pomegranates and pistachio nuts. And it has real heritage too, its roots dating back to ancient Egyptian times. “I like to think of it as food of the earth,” says Sharon Salloum, restaurateur and author of Almond Bar: 100 Delicious Syrian Recipes.
Syrian food is a melting pot of Middle Eastern fare, influenced by menus from neighbouring Turkey and Iran. It’s not to do with fancy presentation or the use of special gadgets; Syrian food is made with passion and has a natural beauty, the result of its fresh, high-quality ingredients, ideally plucked straight from the garden.
Authentic Syrian dishes are served tapas-style, including bite-size snacks such as kibbeh (similar to a falafel), kebab (not the late-night van kind) and shanklish, a cheese-based nibble. The key thing to remember is that whipping up a meal is a marathon, not a sprint: a Syrian cook might spend a week pulling their recipe and its elements together.
It’s important to gather your family and friends for a traditional Syrian dinner; it’s as much about socialising with those closest to you as it is about eating. So whether it’s a burghul (bulgur wheat) soup, stuffed aubergines or sautéed okra, celebrate what’s on your plate in the company of others.
For the dough:800g butternut squash, peeled and cubed
For the stuffing:75g dried split chickpeas
When ready, serve your kibbeh either hot or at room temperature with a mint or lemon yoghurt dip or a squeeze of fresh lemon juice.
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