22nd October 2016
In November 2010, just before the war, I went walkabout in Syria. As a child I often heard about Aleppo. My "Aunty" Virginia was Armenian, I knew, but she talked about Aleppo a lot, so I thought it was in Armenia, not that I knew where that was either. In fact Syria had taken her family in after the Armenian Genocide, ironic since it is now sending refugees flooding into Turkey.
So because of Aunty Virginia I set off on the road to Damascus. I went round almost the entire country - all the hotspots whose names we're now familiar with - Hama, with its beautiful ancient and peaceful waterwheels, Homs, Aleppo whose mediaeval souks are now destroyed. We went along the Euphrates and close to the Iraqi border. Turn right for Baghdad.
Syria is a magical country. Or it was. It's the home of countless historical treasures - Roman ruins by the bucketload but also the remnants of ancient civilisations like the Mari, contemporaneous with the Egyptians and just as civilised; some of the last people in the world to speak Aramaic (Jesus's language), and Crac des Chevaliers, a fantastic crusader castle. But it's also home to a people so friendly and gentle that it's difficult to imagine how they are surviving this bloody civil war. I was lucky to get in and out before the war started; I hope one day other people can travel there peacefully to enjoy its riches, and I hope they will still be there to see. And that includes the people. Aunty Virginia's relatives taught me some of these recipes; others were taught to my by a woman from the Institute of Gastronomy or replicas of dishes I ate along the way. I hope all these people are still OK. But their recipes will live on.
We will be cooking:
Sabenirh Bezzet - Spinach and onions with spices, one of our most popular dishes (v)
Kibbeh Bel Ferroun - Quince and Pomegranate Kibbeh, truly a “feast” dish
Hirak Isbaoo - Fabulous Lentil dish from “Naranje”, the best restaurant in Damascus, before it closed (v). This is a speciality of the North East of Syria.
Mutabal Kusa - Courgette pulp gently fried with garlic (v)
Hummous - "so rich and velvety smooth you could slip into a hotel room with it and lose an afternoon" as one reviewer said (v)
Yehlanji - Vegetarian rice stuffed vegetables (v)
Tabbouleh - Parsley and Burghul salad (v)
Falafel – homemade and really, really good, served with Tahini Sauce (v)
Mahshi Batinjaan – lamb stuffed aubergines in a pomegranate sauce
Fattoush - Typical Syrian salad with croutons (v)
Fasolia Bzait - Green Bean Mezze (v)
Kurdish Bread and Olives
Assabih b'Sutlaj – delicious crispy custard stuffed rolls, a speciality of the Aleppo Jews
For more photos of the fascinating Syria we are losing, click here to go to an album on Facebook
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Price will be £45 of which £35 will go direct to MSF to help with their work there.