Cooking with the Flavors of Syria
5 Middle Eastern ingredients to introduce at home
Hummus, baklava, and kebab have all found their way to mainstream Europe, U.S., and many other parts of the world. But Middle Eastern cuisine has so much more to offer.
While the local cuisines in the region influence and bear a common resemblance to one another, each country has its own way of preparing and spicing food. The Syrian kitchen in particular offers one of the most diverse cuisines in the Middle East, thanks to its location; Turkish, Lebanese, and Palestinian flavors have an impact on Syrian cuisine that you can taste.
Eating together unites people—and food indeed tastes better when shared! One of the culture’s highlights when it comes to eating with family and friends is the wide selection of appetizers, or “mezze.” These tapas of the Middle East include everything from creamy hummus and smoky baba ganoush—a delicious eggplant and yogurt dip—to grilled and preserved vegetables and a great variety of salads, such as tabbouleh (a bulgur salad laced with lots of parsley and tomato).
Besides fresh fish in coastal areas, traditional main dishes are usually prepared with hearty lamb or chicken and are served with flavored rice and fresh salads. You will always find plenty of garlic and olive oil in the dishes, as well as pita bread for soaking up every last bit!
The best comes for last—fresh fruits and baklava, a sweet pastry filled with nuts and sweetened with syrup or honey.
With only a few tips and ingredients you can add new flavors to your favorite recipes and get to know Syrian cuisine for yourself. Here’s what you’ll need:
Pomegranate Molasses is used in many Middle Eastern recipes and can be purchased at your local Turkish supermarket or another well-appointed grocery store. Traditionally, the molasses is made by reducing pomegranate juice into a thickened syrup. Added lemon juice for prolonged shelf life makes the syrup taste slightly sour. Therefore, it is an excellent substitute for vinegar in salad dressing. Replace vinegar or lemon juice with a small sip of pomegranate molasses and you will conjure up a fruity and exotic salad dressing!
Try it with the recipe below:
Baharaat Spice Blend
Spices can greatly enhance the flavor of all your dishes, and the Syrian kitchen never fails to find the right seasoning. Cinnamon is one of Syria's all-time favorites.
Adding cinnamon to more than just rice pudding and other sweet dishes is somehow unexpected to our palate. However, Syrians love to spice up hearty meat mains and vegetable fillings with it.
They are equally enthusiastic about their 7-spice blend that consists of paprika powder, black pepper, cumin, coriander, cloves, nutmeg, and cardamom and can be purchased as a ready-made spice blend or mixed together by yourself. Try it for yourself and you will see how easy it is to create new aromatic flavors no matter whether it is, meat, fish or vegetables.
When it comes to cooking rice, there is more to it than adding some salt or stock. Syrians pay a lot of attention to the cooking process of rice. The rice cooker is an absolutely essential kitchen appliance.
Rice is often steamed and seasoned with different spices, nuts, and dried fruits. This is an easy method to add an exotic touch to a weeknight favorite. Toasted sliced almonds and raisins are a good choice to start off with. Simply add them to ready-cooked rice and enjoy along with stir fries and curries. You will taste the difference!
How to prepare rice in a rice cooker
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Rose water is popular in Middle Eastern and Mediterranean dishes. It goes especially well with nuts and fruits. This is why it is mainly used in dessert and baked goods to add a floral undertone. Sprinkle a few drops into pastries, puddings, and frostings to add a delicate fragrance.
Nobody can resist this thick, creamy paste made from sesame seeds. Available in many stores, it can be used for sweet but also savory dishes (like everyone’s favorite—hummus). Rich in calcium, it is a staple in many cuisines. It’s great layered with jam on toast or to round off dips and dressings. Another easy, delicious way to enjoy this Syrian staple is to drizzle it over roasted veggies. The nutty flavor also pairs very nicely with sweet potato fries.
If you’re ready to get cooking and put what you learned into action, try your hand at this recipe:
Published on March 18, 2017