Have you heard of #cookforsyria yet? Following an initiative by instagrammer Clerkenwell Boy, Cook for Syria is a month-long fundraising initiative focused around Syrian cuisine. Virtually all of my favourite London restaurants are participating, featuring a Syrian-inspired dish on their menu during all of November and donating a portion of the proceeds from that dish to UNICEF’s Syria Relief Fund. You can read more about it here.
As someone who sees Syrian refugees, many of them children, on a daily basis and taking more than a little interest in culinary traditions, I couldn’t support this initiative more whole heartedly. Because Syria is not just a country savaged by war. It is also the home to some of the world’s oldest culinary traditions. Think of Aleppo, a culinary capital long before Paris was considered one. The world’s oldest known evidence of human cultivation of crops is in what is today Northern Syria. These are lands with an incredible history. And, of course, a cuisine packed with the flavours I love.
I’ve called this dish Syrian lentils – in fact it may be pushing the point. I’m not sure they eat lentils exactly like this in Syria. But the flavours are distinctly familiar in Syrian cuisine: Lentils. Pomegranate. Herbs. And if I may say so: This dish is as genius as it is simple. The pomegranate syrup and the herbs add a wonderfully fresh sweet and sour flavour to the umami of the lentils. I could eat this on its own for dinner, perhaps with a simple salad of some sort on the side. It also works well as a side dish with chicken. Serves two as a main course, three as a side.
- 200 g green lentils
- 4 tbsp olive oil
- 3 garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced
- 30-40 g coriander (stalks and leaves), roughly chopped
- 3 tbsp pomegranate molasses
- 1-2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- salt and pepper
- Boil the lentils in plenty of lightly salted water until tender but retaining a slight bite, 20-30 minutes. Drain and set aside.
- Fry garlic and coriander in the olive oil over a medium heat until the liquids have evaporated and the coriander has started to darken, 4-5 minutes. Add the lentils and pomegranate juice. Mix, lower the temperature to low and continue frying for a further 4-5 minutes, stirring regularly. Add a little water if it’s looking a little dry – it should look moist without being runny. Season and stir in a little extra virgin olive oil. Serve warm.