Tuesday, October 4, 2011
Cooking in the Sham Region
Many of the recipes I will be posting have their origins in the Sham region of the Middle East. To Westerners, the Sham region in variously known as the Near East and the Levant. Shami cooking is comprised of the dishes traditionally made in Syrian, Palestinian, Jordanian, and Lebanese homes and restaurants.
Shami cooking can be intricate and time consuming, but it can also be simple and quick. There is a great emphasis on the importance of nutrition in the culture and children are still fed a hot meal upon arriving home from school. "Citified" versions of dishes, like those made in Beirut and Damascus, are more delicate and refined. A Palestinian version is often hearty and rustic--designed to fill the bellies of the farmers arriving home after a day working their famous farmlands in one of the most fertile areas of the Middle East. Like Boston's famous baked beans or Maryland's crab cakes there are some specialties belong to a more specific area in this region, but even those have now been adopted by neighbors.
The cooking of this region is typified by a few ingredients that are considered exotic to the average Westerner. Other ingredients, such as yogurt, are ubiquitous in the West but used in different ways.
I will keep an ongoing glossary page where I describe or define ingredients and non-English terms.
If you are truly interested in learning to make Shami foods, I suggest you find a good Middle Eastern or Greek market where you can find fresh spices and other ingredients.
For my Middle Eastern and especially my Shami readers, bear with me--I think you may be pleasantly surprised. As I am neither Shami nor Arab, I have been freed from many of the constraints you are bound by. I can take tips from my closest Syrian friends, temper with American ingenuity, and apply them to the Palestinian dish that is the staple at my mother in law's house. Sometimes this results in disaster, but on other occasions I have produced a meal that is guaranteed to knock your socks off!