The Syria of today offers tourists as much a cultural experience as a sightseeing one, where ancient history provides a fascinating backdrop to everyday life on the streets                          



Arabic Recipes

"My friend Ramsey (From AK Press), ushered me up to his office to show me a green herb mixture which, at risk of life & limb, he smuggled out of Lebanon rather like a drug dealer. "You can only get this in the Lebanon" he claimed carefully measuring out a small portion from the small white cotton draw string bag with mysterious Arabic writing on the side. The mixture was Zaatar. Subsequently, I have located this herb at a number of stores in the bay area at a very reasonable price, much to Ramsey's dismay. I even rubbed salt in his wound by giving him some back in a fake Safeway bag. After some research, I found that in Arabic Zaatar means Thyme. However, this mixture is powdered thyme, whole sesame seeds and sumac (a powder made from ground sour berries). In Lebanon it is mixed with olive oil and eaten with pita bread, but I found a couple of recipes in an old Lebanese cook book.

Onion Zaatar

  • 1 large Onion cut into fine half rings and mixed with a half teaspoon of salt.

  • 3 T. of Zaatar 

Toss with 3 Tablespoons of Zaatar and 3 Tablespoons of extra virgin Olive Oil and eat with pita bread. For  non Vegans, Zaatar can be simply sprinkled on crumbled Feta Cheese, and I found it also makes an excellent salad dressing when mixed with Olive Oil. The Sumac in the Zaatar cuts the oil instead of lemon juice.

Zaatar Bread
"This hearty, filling bread is eaten at breakfast in Lebanon"  

  • Basic pie mixture.

  • 5 T. of Zaatar 

  • 5 T. of extra virgin olive oil

Roll out basic pie mixture to form flat oval loaves around 3/4 of an inch thick and let stand covered with a cloth for half an hour. Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees. Make a paste with the Zaatar and oil and lightly coat the top of each loaf before baking for around ten minutes.

Taratoor (Sesame Sauce)
"Great dressing for more than just Falafels.

  • 3 Cloves of Garlic chopped

  • 1 Cup of Tahini

  • 1 Cup of Water

  • 1/2 Cup of Lemon Juice

  • 1/2 t. of salt

Blend in food processor.

"These days there are many varieties of hummus with different additions - hummus with peppers, hummus with sun dried tomatoes, etc. The authentic middle eastern hummus is still the best and seems to be more lemony than the supermarket varieties (in the USA) and much tastier.

  • 1 Cup of cooked chick - peas, Reserve liquid (soak rinsed dried chick-peas overnight and bring to boil, then simmer for 2 hours. Skim off foam once boiling)

  • 1/2 cup of tahini

  • 3 large cloves of garlic

  • Juice of 2 lemons

  • 3 T. of water from chick-peas

  • xtra virgin olive oil

  • Paprika

  • 1/2 t. of salt

Blend garlic, lemon Juice and chick-pea water in food processor. Add chick-peas, (Save a few whole chick-peas), tahini and salt - If you are using canned chick-peas use less salt as they usually have salt added. Otherwise start with a teaspoon, taste, and add more if needed. Run until mixture forms a paste. If you prefer Hummus smooth, process for a longer period.

Option #1 Add 1/2 t. spoon of paprika into blender.

Option #2 Stir in two T. spoons of chopped chives after blending, before dressing.

Formal dressing: Pour hummus into shallow bowl and level out just below the rim. Pour about a tablespoon of olive oil into center and smooth over using the back of a spoon until entire surface is sealed. Make sure no puddles of oil remain. Using a container like a salt shaker with a single hole, pour paprika in sparse diagonal lines about an inch apart.  Repeat in opposite direction forming a cross hatch pattern. Place whole chick-peas where lines cross.  Garnish around the perimeter with chopped parsley.

Informal dressing. Pile hummus on a serving bowl. Form a small crater in the center, then fill with olive oil. Garnish with paprika lightly sprinkled on top and a few parsley leaves. A nice addition is a few black olives placed on one edge and a little chopped green onion thrown over the top.

Hummus should be eaten with fresh pita bread baked that day. Look for pita without added sugar or preservatives, they taste awful. Generally, the supermarket varieties of pita are a complete waste of time. Try the local Lebanese or Egyptian store if you have one near you.

Fool Moudammas

"Staple of Egypt"

  • 1 cup of dry fava beans (soak overnight in water)

  • 1/4 cup of olive oil

  • 1 t salt

  • 3 large cloves of crushed garlic

  • 1/4 cup of lemon juice

  • 1/2 t cumin

  • 1 T chopped parsley

  • Pinch of black pepper

Rinse beans then cook in covered saucepan with enough water to cover the beans for about an hour or until the they are very soft (This will vary with type vanity bean). Drain off water then add salt, pepper, half the oil, garlic, lemon juice and cumin. Mix, crushing some of the beans with the back on a fork. Turn on to plates and  garnished with parsley and drizzled with remaining oil. Serve with pita bread.

Moroccan version:

  • 2 cups of fresh fava beans

  • 1/4 cup of olive oil

  • 1 large red bell pepper

  • 3 large cloves of minced garlic

  • 1 t salt

  • 1/2 cup chopped coriander leaves

  • 1/4 t. of chili powder

Cook in a covered saucepan with a cup of water until the beans are cooked (about 12 minutes)

Fava Beans with Tomatoes

"A version of Fava beans cooked in other parts of the Arab World"

  • 2 cups of fresh fava beans

  • 1/4 cup of olive oil

  • 2 onions chopped

  • 3 large cloves of crushed garlic

  • 1/3 cup of fresh coriander leaves

  • 3 medium tomatoes finely chopped

  • 1/4 teaspoon of cyanine pepper

  • 1/2 teaspoon of salt

  • Pinch of black pepper

Fry onions and garlic in oil until golden brown. Stir in coriander leaves and fava beans stir for 5 minutes. Add chopped tomatoes and cook on medium heat until tomatoes reduce a little, then add remaining ingredients, simmer covered for half an hour. Can be served hot or cold.

Preserved Lemons
"Out here in California a lot of people have Lemon trees which produce such an abundance of fruit that most rot on the ground. When most people think of lemons, they might think of Lemonade or maybe salad dressing or Humus. However in Morocco Lemons are preserved in salt water and are an integral ingredient in their cooking. My tree is still quite small, but even in foggy San Francisco produces hundreds of Lemons - I have started to use the Moroccan method of preserving them and once ready, dice them into salads and add them to Fool Moudammas (Arabic fava bean dish), they retain their flavor without the mouth puckering sourness.

  • Half a cup of salt

  • 10 medium lemons

Quarter the lemons and sprinkle salt over open surface. Pack tightly into large kilner jar (Put a table full of salt in first). Sprinkle salt on each layer as you build to the top of jar. The lemons will release juice as jar fills up. Add extra lemon juice if necessary until lemons are covered. Place in warm area and shake every day. Ready to use in a month, keeps for around a year. You can rinse under water to reduce salt before using if you wish.

Barbecue Sauce
"All over the Middle East a wide variety of foods are barbecued. Most however involve meat. Here are a couple of barbecue sauces which work great with corn-on-the-cob,  shallots, and other vegetables.

Barbecue sauce #1

  • 3 T. of extra virgin olive oil

  • Juice of 1 lemon

  • 2 cloves of garlic minced

  • 1 medium onion minced

  • 1 1/2 T. of fresh oregano

  • 1/4 t. of salt

  • 1/4 t. ground black pepper

Blend all ingredients in a mixing bowl or in a blender (do not over blend)

Barbecue sauce #2 (Morocco)

  • 1/2 Cup extra virgin olive oil

  • 2 T. fresh lemon juice

  • 1 T. ground cumin

  • 1/2 t. salt

  • Large pinch of ground black pepper

  • 1 T. paprika

  • 3 T. minced fresh coriander

  • 1/2 t. dried oregano

  • 1/2 t. ginger powder

Mix all ingredients well in a bowl.

Moroccan Orange and Black Olive Salad
"This is one of my favorite salads. Iit not only looks stunning, but the fresh citrus counters the oily olives to create a spectacular side dish".

  • 3 oranges

  • 1 cup of black olives, I prefer oil cured in this dish

  • 2 T. of extra virgin olive oil

  • 2 medium cloves of garlic finely chopped

  • 1/8 t. of cayenne

  • 1/2 t. of paprika

  • 1/2 t. of salt

  • 1/8 t. of ground cumin

  • 2 T. finely chopped parsley

Peel oranges and dress segments by removing white membranes.  Note: Ease of dressing varies greatly between varieties. Carefully remove pits from olives then arrange between orange segments. Stir the other ingredients together in a small bowl, then pour over oranges and olives and serve.

Moroccan Mint Tea
You canít move in Morocco without being offered the incredibly sweet mint tea poured high from pot to glass several times. Locals generally leave the mint leaves in the pot, but tourists are served the tea in glasses packed with leaves.

  • 2 t. of green tea

  • 1 bunch of rinsed spearmint leaves

  • Between 4 to 6 t. of sugar

Warm teapot by quickly rinsing green tea with some boiling water, then drain off water immediately. Add mint leaves to the rinsed tea and enough boiling water for two glasses. Add sugar to taste - it should be very sweet. Pour into glass, return to pot and repeat a couple of times.

Note: Khokhi is a version made without tea if you want to cut the caffeine.

Basic Lebanese Pie Mixture
"I make double or triple the amounts of this dough and freeze the pies.

  • 3 Cups of flour

  • Heaped 1/2 t of salt

  • Heaped 1/2 t of active yeast powder

  • 3 T. of warm water

  • 1/2 t. sugar

  • 1 cup of warm water

Activate yeast in a small bowl by mixing with sugar and 3 T. of warm water. Takes just 3 or 4 minutes. While yeast mixture stands, combine flour and salt in a large bowl. Dilute the yeast mixture with a cup of warm water, then add to flour bowl and stir in. Work mixture for ten minutes with hands, kneading on floured surface until you get a rubbery dough. Place in oiled bowl in a warm place covered with cheese cloth or towel until it rises to almost twice itís original size. Then form into a ball and set aside for ten more minutes. (This will give you time to prepare filling, or topping).

Spinach Pies
"These Lebanese pies are a great addition to the Vegan diet.

  • Basic Lebanese Pie Mixture

  • 2 pounds of spinach after the stems are trimmed. Wash and chop

  • 1 medium to large onion diced

  • 1 heaped teaspoon of salt

  • 5 T. of extra virgin olive oil

  • 5 T. of lemon juice

  • Pinch of pepper

  • 1 t of salt

Decide on the size of the pies you want to make. For small pies divide dough and roll into 12 balls (oil hands with olive oil first). For large pies divide into four balls. Or, any combination of small and large. Let dough balls sit for half an hour covered with cloth. Fry onion in a couple of tablespoons of the olive oil, until golden, then turn into mixing bowl. Drop wet spinach into saucepan and heat until it withers. Add a couple of tablespoons of water if necessary. Let cool then squeeze out all the water. Add to onions along with salt, pepper, remaining oil and lemon juice and mix well. Roll out each dough ball into a circles about 1/4 inch thick. Place enough filling into the center of each so that it forms a plump pie when folded over into a half circle. Press edges together firmly. Pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees and bake in greased pan for a quarter of an hour.

Vegetarian Option:    Add 3/4 pound of feta cheese crumbled and mixed into filling.

Indian Recipes

Mung Dal (Basic Recipe)
"Dal is an essential side dish in India and is flavored with a seemingly endless variety of ingredients. It is also combined with vegetables dishes, particularly in the south. This recipe also works for red and yellow lentils as well as yellow split peas."  -- Nicky

  • 1 1/2 cups of split Mung Dal

  • 1/4 t of turmeric

  • 4 1/2 water

  • 1 t salt

Make sure there are no foreign objects like small stones which are often in the imported dal. Rinse dal in several changes of water until water runs clear. Add water and bring to boil. I like to skim off any scum before adding turmeric. Boil on medium low heat for half an hour in a saucepan with the lid slightly ajar. If needed, you can add a little water if dal starts to get to thick. It should be like a very thick soup. (mung dal, red lentils, and split peas need no soak time for this dish, but the peas will need 3/4 of an hour cooking time). Add salt and fluff the dal.

Flavoring Option #1: Cumin

  • 1 t whole cumin seeds

  • 1 T vegetable oil

Heat oil in small frying pan until almost smoking then take off heat. Toss in cumin seeds and stir quickly for a few seconds - be very careful not to burn, but should turn a shade lighter. Pour immediately onto cooked dal, fold in and serve. Garnish with a few chopped coriander leaves.

Flavoring Option #2: Ginger/chili

  • 3 T vegetable oil

  • 1 heaped t whole cumin seeds

  • 1 T finely chopped fresh ginger

  • 3 small hot green chiliís finely chopped

  • 2 T chopped coriander leaves reserve a little for garnish

  • 1 T of lemon juice

  • 1/8 t Cayenne pepper

Heat oil in small frying pan add cumin seeds let sizzle for a few seconds. Add ginger and chiliís and fry for minute before folding into cooked dal along with lemon juice, cayenne and coriander. Serve garnished with more chopped coriander

Flavoring Option #3: Garlic

  • 6 T vegetable oil

  • 6 large garlic cloves finely sliced

Fry garlic until golden brown then fold into cooked dal (best with red lentils)

Flavoring Option #4: Black Mustard Seeds

  • 4 T of vegetable oil

  • 1 t of black mustard seeds

  • 2 small green chiliís finely chopped

  • Chopped coriander leaves for garnish

Heat oil in a small frying pan until quite hot. Add mustard seeds fry until they splatter (note: yellow mustard seeds cannot be substituted). Keep lid handy to stop the seeds flying all over the kitchen. Add chiliís and stir for a minute before folding into cooked dal. Garnish with coriander leaves.

Flavoring Option #5: Onion and Tomato

  • 1/2 t ginger minced

  • 1 clove garlic minced

  • 2 small green chiliís finely chopped

  • 2 T vegetable oil

  • 1/4 t of black mustard seeds

  • 1/4 t of black onion seeds (nigella)

  • 3 dried red chilies

  • 1 ripe tomato diced

  • Chopped coriander leaves for garnish

Add minced ginger, garlic and chilies into dal at the start of boiling, after scraping off any scum. In a small frying pan heat oil and fry onion until golden brown then add black mustard seeds, black onion seeds and dried chilies. I usually pull the onions aside with a wooden spoon and turn the heat up so the seed can sizzle for a few seconds without burning the onions. Add chopped tomato and fry until the tomato is cooked and the oil starts to separate. Fold into dal then garnish with coriander leaves.

Flavoring Option #6: Mango    

  • 1 green mango sliced   

  • 5 T of vegetable oil   

  • 1 heeped teaspoon of whole cumin seeds   

  • 1/2 teaspoon of cayenne pepper   

  • 1 t gram macula   

  • 4 T chopped coriander (reserve some for garnish)

Heat oil in small frying pan. Add cumin seeds and let sizzle for a few seconds then add mango slices and fry for a about ten minutes on medium heat. Sprinkle on cayenne and gram masala, stir for a few seconds then fold into cooked dal. (best with yellow or red lentils). Fold in most of the coriander and serve garnished with remanding coriander.

Flavoring Option #7: Tomato/Spice

  • 5 small hot green chilies. trimmed and seeded   

  • 7 T or vegetable oil   

  • 1 Large onion minced   

  • 1 T minced ginger  

  • 1 Large ripe tomato finely chopped  

  • 1 T pinch phoron *

  • 6 Curry leaves

  • 4 dry red chilies

  • 1 T minced garlic

              * (Equal parts whole Cumin, Yellow Mustard, Fennel, Fenugreek and Nigel seeds)

Add green chilies at the start of cooking dal (see basic recipe). Heat 5 T oil in large frying pan and fry onion until golden. Add ginger & tomato. Fry while stirring until the content is cooked, about 10 minutes, then fold into cooked dal. Heat the remaining 2 T of oil in a small saucepan. Add Pinch phoron mix let sizzle until the seeds pop, add curry leaves for only a few seconds, then add minced garlic, keep stirring for half a minute, then fold into dal and serve.

Vegan Fried Yogurt Breakfast

  • 1 Tablespoon of light vegetable oil

  • 1 Teaspoon of Bengal Pinch Phoron mix *

  • 1/4 Teaspoon of ground asafetida powder

  • 1 Teaspoon of finely diced ginger

  • 3 Small hot green Chili's

  • 1 Cup White Wave dairy free yogurt

    * (Equal parts whole Cumin, Yellow Mustard, Fennel, Fenugreek and Nigella seeds)

Heat oil in a frying pan. When hot, throw in Bengal Pinch Phoron.  Cover to prevent splattering.  As soon as the popping stops, add asafetida.  Stir and quickly add ginger and chili's.  Stir and cook for 5 minutes on medium low heat, do not burn.  Lower heat and stir in one cup of White Wave non dairy yogurt.  Warm through and serve.

Smoked Eggplant

"This is simply the best thing you will ever put in your mouth! Unlike many dishes, this is made without dried spices.

  • 2 large eggplants

  • 1/2 a cup of shelled peas (frozen or fresh/cooked)

  • 10 T. spoons of vegetable oil

  • 1 t. of minced garlic

  • 1 T. spoon of grated fresh ginger

  • 2 medium Onions finely chopped

  • 3 large ripe tomatoes chopped

  • 2 green hot chilies finely diced

  • 2 t. of salt

  • 3 T. of finely chopped coriander leaves

Roast eggplants over open flame. If the eggplants are small use three or more. A barbecue is a good method. Use fork to puncture skin all around each eggplant. Roast over flame until the outer skin is black and the eggplant collapse. Slit bottoms with a knife and drain liquid out while they cool. I stand them in a colander with a bowl underneath. (You may want to roast additional eggplants for baba ghanouj). Once the eggplants are cool, scrape white insides into a bowl and discard all the burnt skin. Include any darken portion of the flesh as this adds to the ďbhartaísĒ irresistible smoked flavor. Drain off any additional liquid. The more liquid you remove the sweeter the dish. Chop eggplant. Heat oil in non-stick frying pan; when hot turn down to medium and add garlic, and ginger followed after a few seconds by the onions. Keep stirring to prevent burning and fry for around 12 minutes then add chopped eggplant and chilies. Continue to cook for ten more minutes. Now add chopped tomatoes and cook for 10 more minutes stirring regularly. Add peas and salt and cook for a few more minutes. You should start to see oil separating around the edge of the pan. Fold in coriander

Vegetarian Option: Fold in two T. spoons of plain yogurt - this makes it even creamier, I use soy yogurt. Serve with basmati rice and nan bread

Potatoes With Fenugreek Leaves
"Justin Sane came over the other night complaining about not being able to find tasty vegan food, so I showed him this way to spice up potatoes without being any kind of cook.

Cut a couple of medium potatoes up into 1 1/2 inch cubes boil in salt water until cooked but still firm.  Heat two tablespoons of vegetable oil over a medium high flame. When oil is hot add a teaspoon of master curry powder (home made or store bought) to the oil; stir quickly, then add the drained potato cubes. Toss in the oil and lower heat. Take a tablespoon of dried methi leaves (fenugreek leaves), roll in your hands to break them up, then add them to the pan.  Keep stirring until the potatoes are golden brown on the outside. Serve with some chutney.

Tamarind Sauce
ďDipping sauce for Samosas and PakorasĒ

  • 2 T tamarind concentrate

  • 2 cups hot water

  • 1/4 cup of brown sugar

  • 1 T cayenne pepper

  • 1 t ginger powder

  • 2 t mango powder

  • 1/2 t gram masala

  • 2 t cumin powder

  • 1 t salt

Mix all ingredients making sure there are no lumps then chill

Fruit & Nut Chutney
"This recipe calls for dried apricot kernels, but almonds work equally well.

  • 1 pound of un sulphered dried apricots

  • 1/2 cup of apricot kernels or almonds

  • About a two inch (or equivalent) square of fresh ginger peeled and cut into medium sized pieces

  • 12 cloves of garlic peeled

  • 1 1/4 cups of red wine vinegar

  • 2 1/8 cups of brown sugar

  • 1/2 t. of cayenne pepper

  • 3/4 of a cup (un sulphered if available) golden raisins

  • 1/2 cup currants

  • level 1/2 t. of salt

Rinse dried apricots then cut into small chunks. Soak apricots with apricot kernels or almonds for 1 and a half hours in 4 cups of hot water. Meanwhile make a paste in food processor using half the vinegar, ginger and garlic. Add remaining vinegar and pour into stainless-steel sauce pan. When the soaking apricots and nuts are ready add, along with the water they are soaking in, to the pot along with sugar, and cayenne. Bring to the boil then simmer for half an hour. Stir to prevent burning. Add raisins and currants and continue to simmer for another half hour. Add salt and cook for 15 more minutes. Turn off heat and set pot aside to cool then store in chutney or kilner jars.

Nasturtium Seed Pickle
"Here is a recipe from an old British cook book from the fifties. Don't run screaming, it's not blood pudding or tripe - in fact it's an Indian recipe. In areas of Golden Gate Park great mats of bright orange and yellow Nasturtium flowers cover the ground between the trees. As most people know, these flowers make a colorful peppery addition to a salad, and the green leaves are stronger. The seed pods are also edible but quite strong. The pungent taste can be tamed somewhat using this pickling method. Use as you would capers. Great accents in chopped salad.

  • 3/4 of a pound of green Nasturtium seeds

  • A pint of white wine vinegar

  • 2 oz. sliced onion

  • 1/8 oz cloves

  • 1/8 oz ground mace

  • 1/4 oz of sliced green chilies

  • Salt

Soak seeds in salt water for four days changing water each day. Boil spices, onions and chilies in vinegar for 15 minutes. Drain seeds and fill large jar then cover with vinegar/spice and add extra vinegar if needed to cover. Use after 3 months.

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