It was coming to the end of a long and sultry day as I languidly lay upon a heap of vintage embroidered cushions, the candle-lit lanterns flickering in the warm breeze of the early evening; the music in the background was haunting and exotic as if it were calling me from a far away place. I learned that it was a track called ‘Couples‘ written by Kinan Azmeh, an absolutely brilliant Syrian musician. If you have time then listen to it now with the volume turned up and feel your heart gently break for a lost love. Then have a glass of wine and forget about it because the love was lost for a reason and it’s really not cool to dwell on the past. So, back to that evening in Istanbul. The mood returned to the usual kind of upbeat a few minutes later when we were joined by a bunch of friends, some Turkish and some Syrian; we gathered together around a worn wooden table chatting and telling stories as we prepared a mezze-style feast to share. This classic Syrian dish – which is also very popular in Turkey – was my contribution. It’s one of my favourite things to eat in all the world; try it smothered over warm flatbreads and sprinkled with herby za’atar.
3 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 onion, peeled and finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
30g coarse sourdough breadcrumbs
1 tsp ground cumin
80g walnuts, roughly chopped
2 tbsp of Turkish red pepper paste, biber salçasi
1 tbsp tomato purée
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to your taste
Hazelnut dukkah, cumin seeds or Aleppo pepper, to garnish
How I make it
In a large frying pan, heat the oil and fry the onion and garlic until softened and golden brown. Transfer it to a food processor.
Add the bread and cumin. Season to your taste and whizz into a fine paste. Stir in all the other ingredients and that’s all you have to do. I prefer mine quite coarse because I love the taste of walnuts but feel free to blend it into a smooth paste if you prefer. If you need to, loosen up the paste with a splash of water mixed with a drizzle of olive oil or pomegranate molasses.
Turn it into a pretty dish and scatter with hazelnut dukkah, cumin seeds or Aleppo pepper. This will keep in the fridge for up to four days.
Try it as I’ve suggested above or serve with chunks of freshly baked pide ekmeği, a traditional Turkish flatbread.