Cooking Good with Sito

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Being Arab-American (Syrian and Lebanese decent) has not always been easy for my husband’s Sito (grandmother in Arabic) and lately I’ve heard her say things to my husband like, “don’t tell anyone you’re Syrian.” Hearing this breaks my heart. In a time where people from the Middle East are under attack in so many different ways, I thought it would be uplifting to write about something that I think builds bridges and brings comfort and connectedness: food.  

People who love to eat are always the best people.
— Julia Child

It’s more important now, more than ever, to celebrate what brings us together, what we share, and what we have in common, and I believe food and recipes have a powerful way of opening people up and helping us to embrace others. I can remember many times in my life where something was solved, mended, or innovated around the dinner table.  

My husband and his Sito are of Syrian and Lebanese heritage, and my husband grew up eating so many staples of the Arabic world: hummus, pita bread, grape leaves, tabouleh, kibbeh, fattoush, baba ghanoush, the list goes on. The Middle East has one of the oldest food cultures in the world, with a long history of hospitality and generosity. What I love about Syrian and Lebanese food is that it has a wonderful variety and is some of the freshest foods I’ve tasted. There is something so satisfying to me when I dip fresh baked pita bread into my husband’s aunt’s hummus. And I truly enjoy seeing my husband’s face light up when he eats one of his favorite foods, grape leaves.  

My hope and wish is that the recipes I’m sharing will bring people together and help us to appreciate that at the dinner table everyone is welcome. 

Syrian and Lebanese Recipes

What is so wonderful about sharing a meal or trying a recipe is the comfort and healing that can happen around a dinner table. I’m sharing some of Sito’s favorite recipes and I encourage everyone to try them at home. Let me know what your favorite Middle Eastern foods and recipes are!

Khi-yar Bi-la-ban

1 qt. plain yogurt
1 small garlic clove, crushed or 1 tsp. garlic salt
1 large cucumber
1 tbsp. dried peppermint, crushed
½ tsp. salt

Peel cucumber and slice thin, add yogurt and all of above ingredients fold in well. Chill until ready to serve. Serves 6.

Hommos Bi-tahini

1 can chick peas
2 cloves garlic
2 tbsp. tahini
1 tsp. salt
½ cup oil
½ cup lemon juice
½ tsp. cumin

Combine above ingredients in a blender and blend at high speed for 2 or 3 minutes until smooth. Add extra lemon and salt, if desired. Pour into small bowl. Garnish with parsley, sprinkle with paprika and cumin powder lightly and serve. 

Fa-ta-yer Bi-sabanegh

2 lbs. dough (cut into biscuit size on floured board, let rise 10 minutes)
2lbs. whole frozen or fresh spinach
2 onions, chopped fine
4 tbsp. lemon juice
¼ cup pine nuts
½ tsp. salt
1 tbsp. oil

Combine everything except dough in a bowl and let rest for five minutes. Drain excess liquid and reserve in a separate bowl. Prepare dough and drop one tablespoon of spinach stuffing on the dough. Seal together into a triangle effect and place on greased tray. Bake at 350 degrees for 15 minutes.

Slee’a

1 lb. whole wheat kernels
1 lb. raisins
¾ lb. broken walnuts
1 tbsp. fennel seed
1 tbsp. cinnamon
½ cup sugar
pomegranate kernels for decoration

Fill a 6-quart pot ¾ with water; drop in whole wheat kernels that have been rinsed in hot water and drained. Bring to a boil, remove from flame, cover and allow to stand for 3 to 4 hours. Then put back on stove and cook about 45 minutes until tender. Drain water if any. Cool slightly. Add sugar, cinnamon, fennel seed and mix. Then add raisins, ½ cup of walnuts and put on a serving platter. Sprinkle top with remaining toasted walnuts and pomegranate kernels. Mix just before serving. Leftovers must be refrigerated. 

Katie is a social media and blogging guru for a local software engineering company. She's passionate about the user experience and loves to write. She also has two awesome cats.

Photo Credit: cooked.com.au