Our Syria

Recipes from Home


By Dina Mousawi

By Itab Azzam

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$39.00 CAD



  1. Hardcover (New edition) $30.00 $39.00 CAD
  2. ebook $15.99 $19.99 CAD

This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around October 3, 2017. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.

Syria is where food, memory, and resilience collide: recreate the flavors of this beautiful country in Our Syria, for delicious meals anywhere in the world.

Syria has always been the meeting point for the most delicious flavors from East and West, where spices and sweetness collide. Even now, in possibly the country’s darkest hour, Syrian families in tiny apartments from Beirut to Berlin are searching out the best tomatoes, lemons, pomegranates, and parsley to evoke the memory of home, keeping their treasured food history alive across continents.

Friends and passionate cooks Itab and Dina met Syrian women in the Middle East and Europe to collect together the very best recipes from one of the world’s greatest food cultures. They spent months cooking with them, learning their recipes and listening to stories of home. Recipes like the following elicit vibrant images of an ancient culture:

  • Hot Yogurt Soup
  • Fresh Thyme and Halloumi Salad
  • Lamb and Okra Stew
  • Chicken Shawarma Wraps
  • Semolina and Coconut Cake

Our Syria is a delicious celebration of the unique taste, culture, and food of Syria-and a celebration of everything that food and memory can mean to an individual, to a family, and to a nation.



Since the eighth century BC, for Asians Syria has been the first glimpse of “the Great Sea,” a great land of culture to the West, as well as home to the most beautiful ancient mosques and churches. To Westerners, Damascus and Aleppo have always been the gateways to the Orient, the ancient marble and tile work peeking out along tumbledown medieval streets a reminder of the country’s biblical and classical heritage. Both of these groups of visitors brought travelers and traders; one bringing pepper, saffron, silk, and porcelain, the other precious metals and new-fangled technology. The markets of Syria still reek of the mingling odors of flowers, spices, tea, baking bread, and its legendary courtyard houses. Both have also brought armies; Tiglath-Pileser’s Imperial Army of Assyria, the hoplites of Alexander the Great, crusading knights, Mongol warriors, and Ottoman janissaries have all raped and burned across Syria. Many Syrians alive today were born under French rule. And now, once again, fighters are coming from afar and tearing the country apart.

Our culture is under attack as never before—our greatest buildings are being razed to the ground and our people are fleeing their homeland, disappearing into countries around the globe to seek a new, safer life. But one part of our heritage is still alive and well and will continue no matter what drives families from their homes. This is possibly the country’s darkest hour, but even now in tiny flats in Beirut, Berlin, and Bradford, Syrian families are searching out the best tomatoes and lemons, pomegranates and parsley, to recreate the dishes that remind them of home.

Syrians are masters of adversity, and nothing unites and inspires them as much as food. They will let loose with sugar, caffeine, herbs, and spices. A Syrian mother with barely two pennies to rub together can miraculously produce six or seven dishes bursting with flavor every day. And it’s an all-day operation—rolling vine leaves, frying huge batches of eggplant, finely chopping parsley for tabbouleh. Such is the power that food has to connect us to our past: we hope that this book will be a way to preserve that hugely rich part of Syrian culture, at a time when it is most at threat.


When I was growing up in Syria, no one went abroad. My family and I lived in a one-story house that my dad built in a village in the Hauran, the remote and unglamorous mountain region on Syria’s border with Jordan—all red soil and black stones—whose main claim to fame over the years has been as a hiding place for rebels and heretics.

We grew up behind the Iron Curtain under Hafez al-Assad, so we missed out on the consumer revolution that took the West by storm in the last century. Even now, everything is cooked fresh. Away from the hurly-burly of the world economy, Syrians have always made their own cheese and yogurt, grown their own olives for olive oil and roses for rose water. The more perspective I get from spending time out of my country, the more extraordinarily vibrant our food culture seems.

We don’t stint on flavor. Sweets are very, very sweet; we ladle on the lemon and the pomegranate molasses. And look away now if you don’t like raw garlic. Syrians are food chauvinists; nothing elsewhere tastes quite like the flavors of your own village, the way your own mother cooked them. As the last of my family contemplate leaving behind our little village, this is my Noah’s ark: a capsule containing the intoxicating taste of home.


Growing up in Baghdad meant a constant gathering of my huge Iraqi family and, of course, that meant huge feasts to go with it. My dad particularly loved cooking and hosting; naturally my three siblings and I grew up with a passion for food.

Most of my family fled Baghdad during the Iraq War and are now spread all over the world. Many of them are in Amman, and when I visit, I spend every day in a different auntie’s kitchen, learning each one’s special recipes. What I find interesting is that all my aunties cook the same dish but in a different way, each with her own special ingredient or method. Now I know whose Timan Baagila (fava bean and dill rice) is the most flavorful, whose kebabs are the most succulent, and whose dolma (stuffed vine leaves) are so juicy that I simply cannot stop eating. I have come to realize this is the same with Syrian women too; each has her own special way of making a traditional dish.

My introduction to Syrian cuisine came in 2010, when I was visiting Damascus to research a theater piece I was writing. Waking up to the smell of freshly baked mana’eesh (pizza-like dough with toppings of za’atar, cheese, or meat) and hopping across the road to buy a couple for breakfast was one of my favorite times of day. I soon began to realize just how utterly delicious and flavorful Syrian food is. There are many similarities to Iraqi food, of course, but discovering the intricate flavors of Syrian cuisine added a whole new dimension to my palate.

Dina and Itab

We first met at a friend’s house in east London in 2014; we instantly bonded over our mutual love of food—both making and eating it—and we swapped recipes. Since then we have been firm friends, calling each other almost every day to swap tips on our favorite foods.

Later that year, we spent three months together in Beirut, where we reveled in the opportunity to share and refine our recipes. We had gone there to work on a theater project with a large group of Syrian women. We had both been working in Britain for the previous few years, so it was a revelatory experience for us to get back to our roots. Spending day after day with women who’d only recently escaped the war, we discovered what was special about each individual, and we found that as well as resilience, a love of singing, jokes, and stories, all the women we worked with had another common ground: food.

Most days we would receive invites to their homes. They were tiny, shabby little flats to the untrained eye, but to us they were Aladdin’s caves of culinary treasures. We heard all the old stories and tasted their wonderfully traditional home cooking. Learning from Fedwa how to scoop a mouthful of tabbouleh with a lettuce leaf rather than a spoon was one memorable quirk of our day; Israa’ introducing us to her family tradition of smoked rice was another; as was Mona teaching us how she relaxed and forgot her worries by making milk pudding.

That’s when we hit upon the idea for this book—to bring to the world the glories of Syrian food and in the process honor these brave women who are fighting back against the destruction of their home with the only weapons they have: pots and pans. We desperately wanted to share their great recipes and our love of Syrian food and, to celebrate what food can mean to an individual, to a family, and to a nation.

When we asked thirty-one-year-old Mona how she felt about this book, she replied, “The thought that someone might be cooking my maqloubeh recipe makes me so happy. It means people in the West are thinking of us.”

And here we are, two food fanatics who love to share recipes and delicious Syrian dishes. We traveled across Europe and the Middle East, where we met women who welcomed us with humbling generosity, whether they lived in a tent, a rented room, or an apartment. Their stories are the beating heart of this book, and their recipes invite you into their culture with arms wide open.

So forget what you think of when someone mentions Syria today. Let’s celebrate what this wonderfully rich, beautiful country does best. Let’s eat!


Dips and mezze dishes are the bedrock of Syrian cuisine. Mezze is an Arabic word that stems from the verb tamezmez, which means to enjoy something so much that you savor it slowly.

The question isn’t so much when do Syrians eat mezze, as when do they not? If you go to someone’s house in Syria, there’s no way you’ll skip the mezze on your way to the main course. We’re not talking starters here; these dishes might start to arrive before the bigger meat or rice ones, but they’re just as much the focus as what comes later. Cooking a single main course is pretty much unheard of. A proper meal consists of loads of dishes that you all dive into armed with pieces of freshly baked bread between thumb and forefinger. Any vegetable can become part of the mezze. With a bit of garlic, some parsley, or a dash of cumin, the humble, pious runner bean or cauliflower is transformed into a proper treat. Kids don’t have to be forced to eat their greens in Syria.

Zucchini in Tahini Sauce

(Mutabal Kusa)


If you are a fan of tahini, this dish is a winner and a nice change from the better-known eggplant mutabal or baba ganoush. In Syria we generally use the small, pale green zucchini that you find all over the Middle East and in a lot of Arab or Turkish markets in Europe, but you can make it just as well with any of the other varieties out there. We’ve also found this works as a great smoky relish in a ham or cheese sandwich.

You can serve this in two different ways: either pour the Tahini Sauce on top of the zucchini rounds, or mash up the zucchini using a fork and mix them with the sauce, to make a dip. Either way, it is delicious with a sprinkling of dried mint and sumac on top.

5 baby zucchini, sliced into ¼-inch/½ cm rounds

Vegetable oil, for frying

Salt, to taste

3 tablespoons Tahini Sauce (here)

Sumac, to taste

Dried mint, to taste

Fry the zucchini on both sides in a generous amount of oil. When they are brown and crispy, place on a paper towel to soak up any excess oil. Season with salt.

Mash the zucchini, if you like, and mix together with the Tahini Sauce if you are making a dip, or drizzle the sauce on top of the zucchini rounds. Sprinkle with sumac and dried mint.

Eggplant Fetteh

(Fetteh Beitinjaan)


Layering food on toasted bread with a yogurt sauce is a distinctly Syrian specialty. As far as Syrians are concerned, no flavor has yet been found that can’t be enhanced by the addition of garlicky yogurt and a bit of crunch.

Bread is considered a sacred gift from God in the Arab world, whether you are Muslim, Druze, or Christian, and it’s a sin to waste it even after it has gone stale. That’s one of the reasons why fetteh—literally, “breadcrumbs”—is such a popular dish and can be made with chickpeas, eggplant, chicken, or lamb. Whenever we make Eggplant Fetteh for friends it is always everyone’s favorite dish on the table.

3 medium eggplants

Olive oil, for roasting and drizzling

Salt, to taste

2 flatbreads or pitas

2 cups/500 g plain yogurt

2 small garlic cloves, crushed

2 tablespoons lemon juice

Handful of roughly chopped parsley

Handful of pomegranate seeds

½ cup/50 g toasted pine nuts

Heat the oven to 350°F/180°C.

Cut the eggplants into quarters lengthwise and then slice them into ½-inch/1 cm chunks and place on a baking tray. Pour over a generous helping of olive oil and a sprinkle of salt, then roast in the oven for approximately 40 minutes, or until the eggplant is soft.

Brush the bread with olive oil and toast in the oven for about 10 minutes until nice and crispy. Then break it up into pieces.

In a bowl combine the yogurt, garlic, and lemon juice.

When the eggplants are ready, take them out of the oven and allow to cool. Place them in a shallow bowl, then pour the yogurt mixture on top.

When ready to serve, season to taste, sprinkle with the crispy bread, parsley, pomegranate seeds, and toasted pine nuts.

Red Pepper and Walnut Dip



Traditionally from Aleppo, this sophisticated hot red pepper dip has traveled all over the Levant. Mhammara means “roasted until red,” which gives just the right sense of its earthy, fiery flavor. The color comes from the roasted red peppers, but the real key is the walnuts, which are everywhere in Syria. This is possibly our favorite of Syria’s myriad walnut dishes.

Everyone has their own way of making it, and we tried more versions than we can remember on our travels—from scorching hot to sweet and crunchy. Most people use breadcrumbs or bulgur, but we found that you don’t actually need either.

2 red bell peppers or 7-ounce/200 g jar of chargrilled peppers

1 red cayenne or birdseye chile

¾ cup/75 g walnuts, toasted

1 teaspoon red pepper paste (here), hot or medium

1 garlic clove

1 tablespoon pomegranate molasses

3 tablespoons olive oil, plus extra for drizzling

Salt and pepper, to taste

Flatbreads, to serve

For fresh peppers, preheat the oven to 350°F/180°C. Cut the pepper and chile in half and remove the cores and seeds. Place on a baking tray skin-side up, drizzle with olive oil and salt, then roast in the oven until they soften and darken, 15 to 20 minutes.

If using jarred peppers, and combine with the charred and cooled chile.

Blend the walnuts in a food processor until chopped, then add the pepper, chile, red pepper paste, garlic, molasses, olive oil, and salt and pepper and blend well.

Drizzle with olive oil and serve with flatbreads.

Beet Dip

(Mutabal Shwandar)


Not traditionally a Syrian mezze dish, this beet dip has been around in Lebanon for many years and has since traveled the Levant, making its way into many Damascene restaurants. We love its rich color, which brightens up any table. Roasting the beets creates a thicker, darker dip, but if you don’t have time to roast them, using ready-cooked boiled ones is also fine.

4 medium beets

Olive oil, for roasting and drizzling

Salt and pepper, to taste

2 tablespoons tahini

2 tablespoons plain yogurt

1 garlic clove, crushed

Juice of ½ lemon

Chopped parsley, to garnish

Heat the oven to 350°F/180°C.

Scrub the beets well, trim the edges, and slice into wedges. Place in a baking tray, pour over a generous helping of olive oil, and season with salt and pepper. Roast for around 30 minutes, or until they are soft enough so that a sharp knife can easily be inserted all the way through. Take out of the oven and leave to cool.

Blend the beets in a food processor with tahini, yogurt, garlic, and lemon juice, until you have a smooth, pinky-purple-colored dip. Season to taste.

Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with parsley for a lovely clash of purple and green.

Roasted Cauliflower with Cumin

(Zahra wa Kamoon)


Cauliflower is used a lot in Syrian home cooking, partly because it is so cheap. On its own it is a little bland, but Syrians have managed to find combinations that elevate the humble cauliflower to the level of a delicacy.

This is a great dish for vegans; you can either serve this as part of a mezze or as a side dish. It also goes well with any of our fish recipes.

This roasted cauliflower can be eaten warm or cold, but if you do roast it in advance, pour the dressing over at the last minute to prevent the cauliflower from becoming soggy. You can roast the spines of the leaves with the cauliflower to add a bit of color and texture. Another option is to drizzle Tahini Sauce over the dish (see here).

1 large whole cauliflower, chopped into florets

Vegetable oil, for roasting

Salt and pepper, to taste

For the dressing

1 garlic clove

¼ teaspoon sea salt

3 tablespoons/45 ml extra-virgin olive oil

Juice of ½ lemon

½ teaspoon ground cumin

Small handful of chopped parsley

Handful of toasted pine nuts or almonds

Salt and pepper, to taste

Heat the oven to 350°F/180°C.

Roast the cauliflower florets with a little vegetable oil, salt, and pepper for around 30 minutes, or until they have turned golden brown.

While the cauliflower is cooking, make the dressing by crushing the garlic and salt with a pestle and mortar, adding the olive oil, lemon juice, and cumin, and whisking everything together. Season with salt and pepper.

Pour the dressing over the roasted cauliflower and sprinkle with parsley and almonds to serve.

Red Lentil Kibbeh

(Kibbeh Addas)


“Bulgur is coral but lentils are pearls” is a common saying in northern Aleppo, where lentils are widely cultivated. There are some village names that even have the word “lentil” in them, such as Yaked Al Adas (Yaked of the Lentils).

These vegan red lentil kibbeh do tend to dry out if not eaten fairly quickly, but they are so delicious we find it rarely proves to be a problem.

For the kibbeh

½ heaped cup/100 g red lentils

2 cups/500 ml water

1 onion, finely chopped

3 tablespoons vegetable oil

¼ cup/40 g fine bulgur wheat

Salt, to taste

¼ cup/4 tablespoons olive oil

1 tablespoon finely chopped mint

1 tablespoon finely chopped parsley

½ teaspoon red pepper paste (here)

½ teaspoon ground cumin

¼ teaspoon Aleppo pepper

For the salsa

12 cherry tomatoes, finely diced

1 green bell pepper, seeded and finely diced

1 small onion, very finely diced

2 tablespoons pomegranate seeds

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 tablespoon pomegranate molasses

Juice of 1 lemon

Salt, to taste

Rinse and drain the bulgur and leave to one side. Rinse the lentils, then in a saucepan, bring the lentils and water to a boil and cook at a simmer until almost all the liquid has evaporated. Stir regularly.

Meanwhile, over a very low heat gently fry the onion in the vegetable oil for about 30 minutes until caramelized.

Once the water from the lentils is almost all gone, add the bulgur and salt and keep simmering until the water has completely evaporated and the lentil mixture has made a thick paste.

Meanwhile, mix all the ingredients for the salsa together in a bowl. Add more salt or lemon juice to taste.

When the lentils and bulgur are completely dry, like the texture of mashed potatoes, take off the heat and stir in the olive oil, mint, parsley, red pepper paste, cumin, Aleppo pepper, and caramelized onions. Leave the mixture until it is cool enough to handle then make into little oval-shaped patties with your hands.

Serve with the salsa.

Spinach Kibbeh

(Kibbeh Zankaliyeh)


Kibbeh Zankaliyeh is one of the more unusual versions of kibbeh: it is completely vegan, not deep-fried, and the preparation time is relatively quick. It makes an excellent starter as well as great finger food, drizzled with pomegranate molasses and served with a bit of yogurt on the side. It’s also surprisingly good eaten cold the next day, and makes the perfect lunch box filler.

⅔ cup/100 g fine bulgur wheat

10 ounces/300 g spinach, coarsely chopped

Handful of finely chopped parsley

Handful of finely chopped cilantro

4 spring onions, chopped

⅔ cup/100 g cooked chickpeas, roughly mashed

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon black pepper

1 teaspoon Aleppo pepper

1 teaspoon 7 spices (here)

2 to 3 garlic cloves, crushed

⅔ cup/100 g all-purpose flour

½ teaspoon baking powder

2 tablespoons vegetable oil, plus extra for frying

Pomegranate molasses, to serve

Plain yogurt, to serve

Rinse the bulgur a couple of times, then leave to one side to drain completely.


  • "Like most Syrian dishes, the recipes in Our Syria are flavorful, scrumptious and healthy. You will tremendously enjoy making and eating these dishes if you like international and healthy food. If this is your first time eating Syrian dishes, you will become addicted to them."—- The Washington Book Review
  • "Our Syria is laced with glorious food to nourish the body and bittersweet memories to salve the soul. The ancient splendors of Syrian culture may have been decimated, but thanks to these two culinary documentarians, its foodways are being preserved."—- myAJC (blog)

On Sale
Oct 3, 2017
Page Count
256 pages
Running Press

Dina Mousawi

About the Author

Itab Azzam was born in Sweida, Syria, and moved to the UK in 2011. An award-winning filmmaker and theatre producer, she was part of the team behind BBC Four’s Syrian School and one of the producers of the Peabody and BAFTA-winning documentary series Exodus: Our Journey to Europe. She produced independent films including Queens of Syria and theatrical productions with refugees including Antigone of Syria. She lives in London.

Dina Mousawi began a career in the arts at the age of ten. Her extensive work in theatre has taken her on national and international tours across Europe, America, and the Middle East. After working on Antigone of Syria in 2014, Dina went on to produce and direct Terrestrial Journeys, a theatre piece devised with Syrian women living in Beirut’s refugee camps. She now works at Complicite theatre company, and lives in London.

Learn more about this author

Itab Azzam

About the Author

was born in Sweida, Syria, and moved to the UK in 2011. An award-winning filmmaker and theatre producer, she was part of the team behind BBC Four’s Syrian School and one of the producers of the Peabody and BAFTA-winning documentary series Exodus: Our Journey to Europe. She produced independent films including Queens of Syria and theatrical productions with refugees including Antigone of Syria. She lives in London.

Learn more about this author