Recipe for peace: Haraq osba’u (SYRIA)

Our Recipes for peace series features a range of inspiring dishes to celebrate the varied - and tasty - ways in which food can play a role in building peace.

This week’s recipe comes from food writer, chef and consultant Anissa Helou. Born and raised between Beirut in Lebanon and Mashta el-Helou in Syria, she is passionate about the cuisines and culinary heritage of these countries and is the author of numerous award-winning cookbooks.

Anissa has contributed a Syrian recipe to coincide with the Supporting Syria and the Region conference in London this week, where Alert has been urging the billions of dollars of aid pledged to be invested in a way that supports grassroots peacebuilding efforts now.

We are working with Syrian artists and young people in this region to build trust in their communities and develop shared understandings of conflict. We also help strengthen the influence of Syrian civil society organisations by ensuring that their voices are heard in international decision-making circles. Find out more about our work in Syria here.

Anissa Helou’s Haraq osba’u (SYRIA)

This particular dish comes from Damascus, the capital and second-largest city of Syria after Aleppo. It is also one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world, and it became a major battleground in 2012 as the country descended into civil war.

The dish has the amusing name of ‘haraq osba’u’ – which literally means ‘he burned his finger’. According to a friend, who shared this recipe with me, it came to be known as this because chefs tend to burn their fingers when arranging the hot fried bread over the lentils. If you don’t feel like making the dough, you can buy fresh pasta and use this instead. It will not be quite the same, but it is a respectable substitute.

Ingredients for 4-6 people

  • 500g (1lb 1oz) brown lentils, soaked for 30 minutes in cold water (enough to cover the lentils by 2–3 fingers)
  • 100ml (31/2fl oz) extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 medium-sized onions, peeled and thinly sliced
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • Sea salt
  • 200g (7oz) fresh coriander (about 1 bunch), most of the stalk discarded, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
  • Vegetable oil for frying

For the pasta

  • 150g (5oz) plain flour, plus extra for dusting
  • Fine sea salt

Cooking instructions

  • First make the dough. Mix the flour and ½ teaspoon of salt in a large mixing bowl and make a well in the centre. Gradually add 100ml (3 ½ fl oz) of water and mix with the flour until you have a rough ball of dough. Let the dough rest for 15 minutes. Knead the dough for a few more minutes, lightly flouring your hands every now and then, until the dough is smooth and elastic. Shape into a ball, and let it rest while you prepare the rest of the dish.
  • Drain the lentils and put them in a large saucepan. Add 1 litre (1 ¾ pints) water and place over a medium heat. Bring to the boil, then lower the heat and simmer for 30-45 minutes, depending on the type of lentils you are using – some will take longer to cook than others.
  • While the lentils are cooking, roll out the dough. Cut this first into long strips, and then into small squares. Spread the squares of ‘pasta’ over a clean kitchen tea cloth towel to let them dry a little. You will be adding half to the lentils and frying the other half to use as a crouton garnish.
  • Next add 75ml (2 ½ fl oz) of the olive oil plus the onion to a large frying pan and place over a medium heat. Fry until golden brown, then transfer half the onions onto several layers of kitchen paper to drain the excess fat – you will use these for garnishing. Reserve a third of the chopped coriander for scattering over the finished dish and, in a separate pan, sauté the rest with the crushed garlic in the remaining olive oil until they become aromatic.
  • 5 minutes before the lentils are ready, add half the pasta, the fried onions and their oil, the lemon juice and the coriander and garlic mixture. Add salt to taste and simmer for another 5 minutes. Take off the heat and allow to cool while you fry the remaining squares of pasta until golden brown in a little vegetable oil. Serve the lentils garnished with the pasta croutons and reserved fried onions and chopped coriander.

Want to give another 'recipe for peace' from Anissa a try? Take a look at her version of spiced Middle Eastern lamb chops.

You can find out more about Anissa on her blog. Follow her on twitter @anissahelou and Facebook.

Photo © Phil Fisk