Australia’s understanding of Middle Eastern food has been growing over the last few decades as local populations of Iranian, Afghani, Turkish, Sudanese and Egyptian expats, among all the other countries of the region, have grown.
So too has our desire for new tastes and techniques, particularly those involving as much rich history, and as many rich flavours, as those of the Middle East.
Emerging as a current area of particular interest among restaurateurs and home foodies alike is the cuisine of Syria.
Nestled in the heart of the Middle East, and bordered on the west by the Mediterranean Sea, Syrian cuisine has been strongly influenced by its neighbours.
Turkish and Lebanese cuisines are strongly recognisable in the flavours of Syria, so many flavours already recognisable to Australian diners form essential parts of the Syrian table, including baba ghanouj, falafel, tabouleh and, for something sweet, baklava.
Yoghurt, chick peas, olives, garlic, lemon, eggplant and fresh herbs such as parsley and mint all play a central role in Syrian cuisine, making it perfect for recreation in Australian kitchens, particularly during the warmer months.
The national dish of Syria is kibbeh, a deep-fried, torpedo-shaped croquette usually filled with minced lamb or beef.
Meat plays an important part in the cuisine, but usually either minced (such as in a ‘kabab’, or in ‘lahm bil ajĩn’, a pastry topped with minced meat, nuts and onions) or in small pieces (the ‘shawarma’ and ‘shish taouk’ are two examples, both skewers of marinated meat).
Spices play a central role in the flavours of Syrian cuisine, particularly those used in the spice mixes za’atar and baharat. The former is a mix of dried thyme and sumac which is rubbed onto grilled meat, sprinkled onto bread or mixed with yoghurt for breakfast. Baharat is made up of more ingredients, including cardamom, cassia, cloves, coriander, cumin and dried chilies, but is used in similar ways.
Syrian dishes are created to be shared, placed in the centre of the table and enjoyed as part of a big group. This is known as ‘meze’ dining, a word now eponymous with communal dining in many cuisines but originating in this region, meaning ‘taste, flavour, smack, relish’.
Syrian cuisine is simple, delicious and social, and is easy to recreate in Australian kitchens.
Whether you’re looking for cumin seeds, cardamom pods or coriander seeds to put together your own Syrian flavours, Greg Malouf’s high quality baharat, za’atar and other Middle Eastern spice mixes (buy them now from our Online Store), or a Syrian cookbook to inspire you, The Essential Ingredient can help bring the food of Syria into to your kitchen.
Visit your nearest The Essential Ingredient store today and you’ll be sharing a meze feast, laden with homemade baklava, kibbeh and shish taouk in no time.