Cook, writer and founder of the Mexican street food chain, Wahaca, Thomasina Miers was no stranger to Middle Eastern food when she was asked to join the #CookForSyria campaign.
“I knew quite a bit about Middle Eastern because I grew up in Shepherd’s Bush and have always loved the flavours of this part of the world. I think the research made me think deeper about the country and where certain dishes and ingredients first came from. Aleppo chilli flakes are one of the ingredients I use most at home – appalling to think about the state of that city now – it made the horror of the war even more tangible.”
Miers was inspired by Mexico’s national dish and the surprising similarities between Mexico’s Lebanese influences and Syrian cuisine: “Mexico’s national dish, chiles en nogada, uses walnuts and pomegranates. When I heard about the book I started thinking about the dish and its origins. Mexico had a large Lebanese population which would have had some influence, but Aztecs and Mixtecs have been grinding nuts and seeds for hundreds of years to enrich and add protein to simple dishes of wild leaves, vegetables, beans and tortillas. Syria’s cuisine doesn’t feel too dissimilar in the way it uses nuts extensively, not to mention pomegranates and spices. Its tendency to stuff vegetables with braised meats also resonated – that came to Syria via Persia.”
Her roasted mini potato salad with walnut sauce and pomegranates combines a variety of Syrian elements: “Instead of stuffing a Mexican chilli pepper I decided to make the walnut sauce a central part of the recipe, as a dip for the roast potatoes. Both the original dish and my adaptation contain pomegranate seeds, an ingredient prized in both countries. In place of the poblano chili that the Mexican dish calls for I use Aleppo chilli flakes for a scattering of heat to season the other flavours.”
When asked what #CookForSyria means to her, Miers response is in praise of the food industry’s response to the Syrian conflict: “It makes me feel incredibly proud of the industry I work in. What is going on in Syria is barbarous and I find it incredibly depressing watching the western world do nothing as devastation is wrought in one of the most civilised countries in the world. We have removed ourselves from taking any responsibility or feeling any empathy for an entire country of dispossessed people. Being able to get up and do something, even if tiny, makes me feel better about myself – imagine what we could do if all of us did one little thing to help.”
Recipes by Thomasina Miers 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.