Syria has recently been in the news over the last few months unfortunately for all the wrong reasons, but there is something positive about Syria, not only the resilience of the people, but the cuisine of the country. In all honestly, I have never attempted to make Middle Eastern cuisine prior to receiving this book, although I have eaten various Middle Eastern dishes. Almond Bar published by Jacqui Small Publishing and written by Australian chef of Syrian heritage, Sharron Salloum, shares 100 Middle Eastern recipes which all can be recreated at home, and entices the reader to sample some of the culinary delights that she was brought up on. I would never dream of making Middle Eastern food at home for the fear of it being too complicated, but after having a good read of this book, I realise that was a misconception.
There are several pictures of Sharron, alongside her family and friends dining on the recipes shared in this book. What really comes across in Almond Bar is that Syrian, or Middle Eastern dishes are all about sharing and is a fundamental part of family life. A positive of this book is that there are several beautiful pictures for the majority of recipes which gives you a guide on how the recipes should look. A further positive of Almond Bar is that all the recipes come with an introduction which gives a background to the recipe, many are linked to her home life and the writing style is friendly and inviting.
The book is split into a whopping 10 chapters:
- Introduction - There is a very comprehensive introduction where Sharron shares with the reader her love of Syrian cooking, the tips that she learnt from her mother, and where she has developed her own take on Syrian classics. There is also a lovely picture of her very photogenic family.
- The Syrian Pantry - This section includes 3 pages on some essential ingredients that are part of Middle Eastern cuisine and also their flavour and how to cook these ingredients, such as Basturma (air-dried beef), moghrabieh (Israeli cous cous) and Sujuk (American-Syrian sausages).
- Middle Eastern food suppliers - A really insightful couple of pages on where to buy those all important Middle Easters spices and ingredients if you are living with the UK or the US.
- Spice blends - Features four essential Middle Eastern spice blends, I made the Syrian mixed spice to make the homemade shawarma (recipe later on in the post).
- Sauced and Dips - Who knew Middle Eastern cuisine contained so many sauces and dips. There is a range of delicious sauces and dips and I've bookmarked the creamy date and avocado dip to make, the accompanying picture to this looks inviting and the dip appealing.
- Finger Food - This chapter features many nibbles and canape style recipes. I'm more of a meal girl, so if I was having a family gathering, the scallops & basturma drizzled with pomegranate butter is the number 1 on my list of finger foods.
- Shared Plates - This chapter is all about sharing dishes (ideal for those lazy weekends) including the wonderful sounding middle eastern sausages with chicory and fennel, and pomegranate quail.
- Salads and Side - I'm much more of a side dish girl, so recipes that appealed to me were the coriander potatoes.
- Mains - The main event as I would say. I enjoyed making the spiced beef strips (a.k.a shawarma) and other stand out dishes include sour cherry kebab balls and freekeh with chicken and roasted nuts.
- Desserts - I love anything with chocolate so the chocolate pistachio ice-cream and the turmeric cake.
I made the shawarma also known as spiced beef strips and served this with Mediterranean vegetables and Middle Eastern bread, I deviated slightly from the ingredients stated in this recipe and used the Syrian mix that is part of the Spice Blends. My family liked the flavour of the beef but I was not entirely sure with the mixed spice as I always associate mixed spice with West Indian fruit cake, what won me over is the pairing of the beef with the Middle Eastern bread, the slightly sweet taste of the beef with the soft seeded bread . I also further deviated by cooking the beef in the oven (I'm super lazy letting the oven do all the hard work), but after all this is the home cooked version and not the street version, so I think I can get away with it. The recipe that I will share later on in the post is directly from the book and not my adaptation, I want you to try the shawarma as it is supposed to be tasted, not a healthier oven-baked version. I omitted the Shanklish cheese as this was not in my local Middle Eastern shop, but there is a recipe on how to make this cheese at home in the book.
Here is how my homemade Shawarma turned out:
|Yellow peppers added.|
|Shawarma cooked in oven.|
The lovely people at Jacqui Small Publishing are offering readers of Food, Glorious Food a discount to the and instead of the recommended retail price of £25, are offering this book at £20. To order Almond Bar at the discounted price of £20.00 including post and package, telephone 01903 828503 or email email@example.com and quote the offer code of APG71.
Here is the recipe for Shawarma and Shanklish a.k.a spiced beef strips with aged yogurt cheese.
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
3 cardamom pods
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
1 1/2 teaspoons salt flakes
1 teaspoon ground pimento
1kg beef rump or round steak, trimmed of fat and cut into thin strips
125ml white wine vinegar
2 cloves garlic, crushed
2 brown onions, cut in half and thinly sliced
1 red pepper, cut in half and thinly sliced
180ml olive oil
3 pieces of Middle Eastern bread
1 x 200g ball of mild shanklish
2 tomatoes, diced
small handful of mint.
Using a mortar and pestle, crush the cumin seeds, cloves, peppercorns, cardamom pods, paprika, cayenne pepper, salt and pimento or seven-spice mix to a fine blend. Run the spice mix through a fine sieve and discard any large pieces or husks cannot be crushed.
Place the beef in a large bowl, add the spice blend, vinegar, garlic, onion, red pepper and 125m olive oil and mix together until the beef is evenly coated. Cover and marinate in the fridge overnight to enhance the flavour and allow the vinegar to soften the meat.
Heat the remaining olive oil in a large frying pan over high heat. Drain the beef strips, then add to the pan and cook until nicely browned. if you cover the pan for a few minuted, the steam will speed up the cooking process without toughening or overcooking the beef.
Arrange the Middle Eastern bread on a large serving platter and place the cooked beef in a mound in the middle. Crumble the shanklish cheese over the beef, followed by the diced tomato. Sprinkle the mint leaves over the top and serve immediately.
If you like serve with potato salad or cabbage salad with almonds.
Disclaimer: I was given a copy of Almond Bar to review, I was not required to write a positive review.