Broad Bean Bulgur

Bulgur is a stable ingredient of the East Mediterranean diet for centuries. Romans and Egyptian used to eat it since 1000BC. There is even reference in The Old Testament to the wheat grain. Bulgur is made from durum wheat. The grains are bar-boiled, dried again in the sun, partially de-branned then ground to the desired grain size. Traditionally it comes in two varieties, fine used in Tabouleh and Kibbeh and coarse used in pilafs.

In the UK, Bulgur became very fashionable in the last few years partially due to its good nutritional value and partially due to few celebrity chefs incorporating it in their dishes and introducing it to the nation. It is now sold in most high street supermarket but unfortunately only the fine variety is widely available, You still needs to make the effort to go to the nearest Middle Eastern shop to buy course Bulgur for pilafs. If not please don't let that put you off use the fine variety even for cooking.

In Syria, Bulgur is an important part of the diet and an essential ingredient in many dishes, Tabouleh and Kibbeh being the most famous. Bulgur was traditionally the main grain in Syrian cuisine. It used to be served next to stew type dishes almost on daily basis. This role was slowly taken by rice over the second half of the last century. As expected Bulgur is making a come back to that role due to , like in the UK, increased awareness to its nutritional value.

Apart from a being a delicious side Bulgur could be a full dish in its own right. Bulgur pilaf dishes have an wonderful texture and beautiful nutty flavour. There are tens of these dishes depending to the main ingredient added to Bulgur. Mujadara is the most popular of these dishes and it is made from lentils and bulgur. Other classic ingredients to add to these pilafs includes tomatoes, courgettes and aubergines.

Today's dish is a quick one-pot Bulgur broad bean pilaf (Burghul bi Ful as we call it in Syria). It takes no more than 30 minutes to make this hearty delicious dish. The dish can be easily adapted to a vegetarian one by simply not using meat.

Here is my Broad Bean Bulgur recipe:

Coarse Bulgur 400g
Mince lamb 400g
Fresh or frozen broad beans 400g
Clarified ghee butter 1tbsp (Olive oil if you opted for the vegetarian version)

Wash and soak the Bulgur in plenty of cold water for 15 minutes.

Start by frying the mince meat in the ghee butter. Season with salt and pepper. Add the broad beans and cook for few minutes. Drain the Bulgur and add to the pot. Add boiling water till you cover all the ingredients and roughly an extra inch of water on the top. Bring back to quick boil, stir well then turn the heat to medium and cook for around 15 to 20 minutes. Turn off the heat and let set for another 10 minutes.

Fluff with a fork and serve with Greek style yoghurt.

Lemon and Mint, Damascus favourite drink.

It is so bloody hot in London. I just came back from work on the underground. I swear the temperature in that train was in the high thirties, low forties. It is been like this for the last three days and it is getting too much for me. My functioning temperature is below twenty and if it gets any higher my brain starts to melt away. People are usually amazed how a person from the Middle East can not tolerate the milder heat on the English summer. My wife theory is that my hypothalamus (medical term for thermostat) is defunct.

To celebrate the early summer, and survive the weekend, I made my drink of choice when I am in Damascus. This is the single most requested recipe of all Syrian food on my blog. It seems this drink left its mark on every person who passed through Damascus. Many people have mentioned to me that they tried to look for a recipe since they came back without success. Others have attempted their own versions without much luck. I find that really surprising considering the simplicity of this drink. It is lemonade and mint leaves mixed together in a juicer, simple as that!

One last thing to mention, this drink is now called Polo! Yes, as in Polo the white round mints with a hole. I have no idea how this name came common knowledge but we in Syria have this annoying habit of giving things annoying unrepresentative silly names. Why do we do that I have no idea. When this drink first showed up on restaurant and cafe menus ten years ago everybody called it Lemon and Mint as it should be called. Now it is Polo!

I, as a person who refuses to use silly names, still call it Lemon and Mint. During my last Holiday I can't count the number of times a waiter corrected me after I ordered, insisting that this thing is called Polo. Every time I felt like shouting "It is not a bloody Polo. It has nothing to do with bloody Polo. Why give a great drink such a silly name". Instead I nod quietly with an awkward smile. I give up!

Her is my "POLO" recipe:

Water 1L
Juice of five lemons
Caster sugar 70g
Mint 50g
Orange blossom water 1tsp (optional)

Pick the mint leaves. Make sure you get rid of all the stalks otherwise you end up with loads of bits in your straw. In a juicer, add all the ingredients and buzz for few minutes.

Add a splash of Rum for a Syrian Mojito.

Is Bigger Always Better?

On my last trip to Damascus I went to my favourite Arabic Sweets shop, Alfaisal, to bring back few boxes of sweets to give away to friends and family in London. A couple of boxes in the shop brought back childhood memories and put a big smile on my face. I thought I should share with you.

Back in the early eighties Syrian sweet makers used to make sweets an the exact same way their parents and grand parents used to, in a "manly" large proportions. As years went by sweet makers became more sophisticated and the size of their product shrank gradually. This obsession of miniaturisation between Damascene sweet makers rivals that of their Japanese counterparts! Tiny sweets became synonym with better quality.

Like every thing else, food fashion runs in cycles and seventies and eighties styles are making a come back. As you can see in the picture the front row of boxes are the modern versions of three traditional Damascene sweets Barazek, Ghraybeh and Dates Ma'amoul. The back row is their traditional ancestor.

Large sweets are cool again!