Traditional Syrian recipes made easy

Malakeh Jazmati

Malakeh Jazmati, above, in her kitchen in Berlin. Jazmati, who came from Syria to Germany as a refugee 2-years-ago, has set up her own catering business featuring Syrian food. Image via Arab News

Syrian cuisine features home-cooking and a secret ingredient called “love”, necessary in Middle Eastern style cooking. Syrians use a wide variety of spices such as cumin, coriander, allspice, cinnamon, sumac, and za’atar.

The use of these spices and herbs in Syrian cooking is a result of the country’s location and history. Syria has been a crossroads of trade and culture for centuries, and this has influenced its cuisine. The country’s proximity to the Mediterranean Sea has also had a significant impact on its food traditions. The small coastal region of Syria above Lebanon and below Turkey is known for its seafood dishes, which feature a variety of herbs and spices such as thyme, parsley, and garlic. We have a list of pantry items, dried, herbal and spices you will need for a Middle East kitchen here.

Another unique aspect of Syrian cooking is the use of ingredients such as pomegranate molasses (make an almond torte with your pomegranate molasses), rose water, and orange blossom water. These ingredients are also plentiful in Turkey, and in my backyard in Jaffa, are used to add a sweet and tangy flavor to dishes the same way Indians use tamarind. (My family had the pleasure of harvesting tamarinds in Goa, India.)

In addition to the variety of herbs and spices used in Syrian cooking, the cooking methods also play a role in creating the unique flavors and textures of the cuisine. Traditional Syrian dishes are often cooked in large family-friendly batches, slow-cooked or grilled, which allows the flavors of the spices and herbs to infuse into the dish. I still remember the slow-cooked and grilled chicken our friend made for us in Aleppo, Syria, and another time sitting cross-legged near Damascus, round a large dish of fresh salads, digging in together, with pitas as forks. 

Overall, the combination of unique herbs and spices, cooking techniques, and cultural influences make Syrian cooking a standout in my world. Over the years we have written a great number of recipes covering Middle East cuisine and which focus on Syria and the region. The traditions overlap into Lebanon, Turkey, Israel, The West Bank, Jordan. These recipes are the common ones and easy to do once you get the hang of it. 


kibbeh from Syria

Kibbeh is a traditional Syrian dish made from bulgur wheat, ground meat (usually lamb), onions, and spices. It is often served as an appetizer or a main dish. The dish is believed to have originated in the Levant region, which includes modern-day Syria, Lebanon, and Palestine. The recipe for kibbeh is here


Fattoush Salad with fried bread

Image from Feel Good Foodie

Fattoush is a salad made from chopped vegetables, herbs, and crispy (leftover?) pieces of pita bread. The dressing is usually made from lemon juice, olive oil, and sumac. Fattoush is a popular dish in Syria and throughout the Levant region. I had the best tangy fattoush in my life in Jordan with piles of sumac but each country and kitchen has its own take. Jump into vegetarian Ramadan recipes here and find a way to make fattoush


Quinoa tabbouleh salad

Tabouleh is a salad made from finely chopped parsley, tomatoes, onions, and bulgur wheat. The dressing is usually made from lemon juice and olive oil. Tabouleh is a popular dish in Syria and throughout the Levant region. Try this tabouleh with a twist, using quinoa which is healthier than bulgur.


Eggplant dip in a bowl

Moutabbal is a dip made from roasted eggplant, tahini, lemon juice, garlic, and olive oil. It is often served as an appetizer or a side dish with pita bread. Moutabbal is similar to baba ghanoush, which is a similar dish made with mashed eggplant. Get my recipe here.


Fatayer recipe made from Syrian style cooking

Fatayer are small, stuffed pastries that are often filled with spinach, cheese, or meat. They are similar to empanadas or samosas. Fatayer are a popular snack in Syria and throughout the Middle East. In this recipe Miriam learns to cook like a Druize, making fatayer like a local (Druize in Israel have Syrian roots).


kofta balls in tomato sauce

Kofta, kafta is a dish made from ground meat (usually lamb or beef) that is mixed with spices and shaped into balls or patties. The meat is then grilled or fried. Kofta is a popular dish in Syria and throughout the Middle East. Get a satisfying kofta recipe here.


Mujadera recipe

Mujadara means lentils and rice and it is a simple dish made from rice, lentils, and caramelized onions. Cumin is key. It is a simple and hearty dish that is popular throughout the Middle East. Get our mujadera recipe here.


Mahshi from Lebanon

Mahshi are stuffed vegetables, usually bell peppers or zucchini, that are filled with rice, meat, and spices. They are then cooked in a tomato-based sauce. Mahshi is a popular dish in Syria and throughout the Middle East. This mahshi recipe is from Lebanon but you will find similar cooking in Syria


manakeesh pita with za'atar

Manakeesh are flatbreads that are topped with a variety of ingredients, including za’atar (a spice blend made from thyme, sumac, and sesame seeds), cheese, or meat. They are a popular breakfast food in Syria and throughout the Middle East. Make flatbread the way you like it then add olive oil and za’atar, sumac or soomsoom (sesame seeds). Read a bit of history here.


bamia okra in tomato sauce

Bamieh is a dish made from okra that is cooked in a tomato-based sauce with onions and spices. It is often served with rice or bread. Bamieh is a popular dish in Syria and throughout the Middle East. Get the recipe for bamia here. Or a bamia version from Lebanon cooked in olive oil


Muhammara recipe from Syria

Now, we’re not claiming that we’ll be able to reproduce your favourite hummus perfectly – that kind of standard is entirely beyond us. There are as many versions of hummus as there are people that make it, after all. If your grandmother has passed her secrets on to you, consider yourself blessed.  After hummus you must try muhammara: the garlicky, earthy, addictive red pepper and walnut spread that originally hails, so we understand, from Aleppo, Syria. Get the muhmarra recipe here.

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