Make sure your kitchen is stocked with these essential ingredients.
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16 May 2013 - 11:57 AM  UPDATED 22 May 2015 - 2:47 PM

Baqli/purslane

While purslane is generally considered a weed by those unfamiliar with its use as a leaf vegetable, Lebanese and Syrians have long valued it for its slightly sour and salty taste, and often cultivate it to use in cooking.

Burghul

Made from wheat that is parboiled, parched dry and then ground, either fine or coarse. The fine grind is commonly used in salads and the coarse grind is used in cooking. There is also the option of wholemeal and "white". Burghul is used in tabouleh, kibbeh and kishk, a powdery cereal made by mixing the burghul with yogurt and left to ferment. This is then dried and powdered.

Freekeh

A roasted wheat grain very popular in Syria, that’s cooked in a way similar to risotto rice. Freekeh is made by harvesting the wheat while the grains are still young. The wheat is set alight burning the straw and bran, but not the seeds. These are left to dry in the sun, giving the grain a nutty flavour that it brings to the dishes of meat and vegetables that it accompanies.

Halawa/halva

The halawa loved in Syria is a sweet based on tahini, sugar and often pistachios are included to give it a nuttier taste and texture. In other parts of the Middle East and the sub-continent halawa is made with semolina and has a softer consistency.

Labneh

Middle Eastern cheese made from yogurt and eaten as a dip with bread or served as an accompaniment to other dishes.

Baharat/“seven spice mix”

This is a spice mix that blends pimento, white and black pepper, lots of cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg, coriander and caraway. Sometimes known as Syrian baharat it’s often used in meat dishes like baked kibbeh and freekeh with chicken.

Nuts

Syrians love to cook with almonds and pine nuts. In savoury dishes the nuts are often toasted in butter and used to garnish rice dishes to add flavour and crunch. Pistachios are much loved. The pistachio trees of Aleppo are historic and famous, providing bountiful fruit that are used particularly in sweet dishes like baklava, halva and ma’moul.

Pomegranate molasses

Pomegranate molasses is made with pomegranate juice, lemon juice and sugar that is reduced on a low heat over a couple of hours to create a thick, dark, caramelised syrup with a tangy, piquant taste. It is a condiment readily found in Middle Eastern grocery stores and increasingly in major supermarkets as well. It is used in cooking to give a tart flavour to dishes and is a good tenderiser for meat.

Qamar al-deen

Known as “apricot leather” this sweet is made from dried apricots that are sweetened and made into thin sheets.

Shanklish

Sharp tasting cheese with a strong nose that is made from labneh, packed tightly together in balls and rolled in oregano. It is served broken up into a rough crumble with chopped tomato and onion and drizzled with extra virgin olive oil.

Sumac

Sumac is a spice that is very popular in Syrian food, and a key ingredient in the salad fattoush. The little red fruits are dried and finely ground to produce a tangy, dark purple spice that Syrians adore.

Za’atar

This mixture of thyme, (sometimes oregano and/or marjoram) mixed with roasted sesame seeds and sumac is used a lot in Syrian food and more broadly in Middle Eastern cooking, as a seasoning and condiment.