Itab Azzam and Dina Mousawi, authors of the cookbook Syria: Recipes From Home, donated recipes and the stories behind them in the #CookForSyria Recipe Book.
Friends and chefs Itab and Dina met with Syrian women across the Middle East and Europe to collect recipes from one of the world’s greatest food cultures; their months of research left them with not only the recipes for their own cookbook, Syria: Recipes From Home, but with stories of home. Their donations to the #CookForSyria Recipe Book shed some light onto the already bright culture of Syrian cuisine.
Their first recipe of Damascene Pancakes, topped with Grape Molasses & Tahini is influenced by their research with Syrian women for their own cookbook. The pancakes churn a memory of life in Damascus: “These are a speciality of Damascus, traditionally sold by a man on a bicycle, who would cycle around neighbourhoods with a glass box attached to the back of his bike. The box would be filled with these treats, and people would devour them on the spot. Grapes are grown all over Syria – and you could say that grape molasses is the maple syrup of our country.”
Alongside grape molasses is an abundance of fresh ingredients frequently found in Syrian cuisine. “We Syrians use a lot of fresh ingredients,” says Itab, “We rely a lot on vegetables, so most meat dishes are actually like vegetable dishes with meat in it rather than the other way around. My husband is British and we talk about food a lot and I always say: ‘Oh I’m going to make this today,’ and so I say the vegetable in the dish. And he’ll say: ‘Oh you mean the chicken dish?’ and I’m like, ‘No, it’s not a chicken dish, it’s a bean dish or an aubergine dish.’ We appreciate vegetables a lot.”
One such vegetable is the would-be star of their next dish, Meatballs with Butternut Squash & Tahini Sauce: “In Syria, pumpkins grow in abundance, so every summer there’s a new crop to find things to do with. Most people use them to make jam, but some of the tastiest pumpkin recipes are the savoury ones. In Aleppo the most famous one is pumpkin kebab while in Damascus it’s abu basti, a pumpkin stew with chickpeas and tomato sauce. On the coast they dry it and keep it in jars to be used all year round; they also cut it into cubes and keep it on the windowsill, in the belief that it keeps the flies away. Syrian pumpkin tastes sweeter and richer than its British cousin, and that is why we are using butternut squash in this recipe as it is closer in taste. Pumpkin meatballs are a combination of some of the most quintessential Syrian ingredients put together on one plate.” Itab and Dina show more than anything how deeply food is instilled in Syrian culture, their stories as important to the recipes as the ingredients that build them.
Additional recipes donated by Itab Azzam & Dina Mousawi and others can be found in the #CookForSyria Recipe Book, available for purchase on amazon.co.uk. All profits will be donated to aid children affected by the crisis in Syria.