The Perfect Blend: Our Syrian Spice Story

If you’ve already mixed up a batch of our Syrian Spice, then you’re familiar with how many components it requires. While today we think of our blend as providing just the right amount of flavor and complexity, quite a bit of trial and error was involved before it was pronounced perfect. Although there are admittedly many ways to make Syrian Spice—each family has their own preferences—this is the story of how 11 ingredients came together to form the proprietary blend we favor.

“The one that they had here in the United States, it was made of seven spices,” recalls Steve. “It was fine, but my father-in-law and I broke it down and added four more spices. That made it 11 spices total. Every few weeks we changed the amount or percentage of each ingredient. We had to use more coriander, or more allspice until we came up with the right blend—60 percent of our Syrian Spice is made up of allspice, coriander, and black pepper. The rest we used in smaller portions—cumin, cardamom, cloves, and so on. To test it we would make Kibby Neyeh, a raw lamb dish—that was the only way you could taste the flavors openly. When we got it perfect, we took the recipe to a spice company and they would mix it for us. That’s what we began to use in all our food. Everybody loved it, so we kept it up. Today, the spice company is still making it and they call it Steve’s Syrian Spice.”

Ready to make your own batch? Click here to get started!

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Baba Ghannouj

Baba Ghannouj, or “Baba” for short, is almost identical to hoummos in terms of the ingredient list save one critical substitution: that of eggplant for chickpeas, which results in a completely different flavor profile. The best, most delicious Baba is made with charred eggplant—the more charred the better. Let your eggplants grill for as long as possible to allow the smoke to seep inside the vegetables. When you’re ready to serve your Baba, diced tomatoes   make for a nice garnish.

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Big Steve’s Tangy Hoummos

You should know that we have a bit of a hoummos skirmish going on in the Kalil family. Stephen continues to prefer a basic recipe that straddles the line between Israeli and Lebanese hoummos, while Big Steve’s tastes are trending as of late toward a creamier hoummos with a bit of tang thanks to the addition of yogurt. Our family’s difference of opinion is just a battle in the much greater “Hoummos War” between Israeli and Lebanese -style variations, though. One is more Tahini-centric while the other features stronger notes of lemon and garlic, but without a doubt, both are delicious…and the same goes for Stephen and Big Steve’s preferred recipes.

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Stephen’s Traditional Hoummos

You should know that we have a bit of a hoummos skirmish going on in the Kalil family. Stephen continues to prefer a basic recipe that straddles the line between Israeli and Lebanese hoummos, while Big Steve’s tastes are trending as of late toward a creamier hoummos with a bit of tang thanks to the addition of yogurt. Our family’s difference of opinion is just a battle in the much greater “Hoummos War” between Israeli and Lebanese -style variations, though. One is more Tahini-centric while the other features stronger notes of lemon and garlic, but without a doubt, both are delicious…and the same goes for Stephen and Big Steve’s preferred recipes.

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Sheikh-el-Mahshi

Along with Ablama, Steve counts Sheikh-el-Mahshi among his all-time favorite dishes. Not surprisingly, it was also the top seller at his restaurant. Give this classic recipe a whirl and we have a feeling it will become one of yours, too.

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Mujudara

Difficult to say, but so very easy to enjoy, Mujudara combines hearty lentils and cracked wheat with crispy fried onions in one delicious masterpiece of a dish. As with Lentil Soup, always make sure that the lentils you’re using are free of stones before beginning this recipe. Equipment-wise, a 4-quart pot works best for Mujudara. And a final word about those fried onions: the trick to avoiding burning is to cook them low, slow, and agitate as you go.

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Lentil Soup

Packed with vegetables and protein, Lentil Soup is a highly-nutritious dish that feels more like comfort food than healthy fare. A roux of flour and olive oil ensures that the final brew is thick and hearty and, like any soup, we’re of the opinion that it tastes even more delicious the next day. Whether you’re making this soup, Mujudara, or both dishes (we wouldn’t blame you), always ensure that your lentils are picked free of stones before beginning.

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Baklava

Greece. Turkey. Lebanon. Syria. Baklava is treasured by a wide array of cultures and countries, and for good reason. The combination of flaky phyllo and sugary walnuts is almost irresistible, and even if you can resist Baklava…why would you want to?

Baklava, by the way, just so happened to be the first pastry Steve ever learned to make. Although this recipe went on to become a Steve’s Backroom classic, Steve’s foray into baking had humble beginnings. “I burned six trays of Baklava because I forgot them and they kept cooking at the bakery,” Steve recalls of his first attempt at baking Baklava by himself. “The temperature was 300 degrees and I put six pans in a pizza oven. I came back the next day and they looked beautiful…but they were all black.”

With that said, keep a steady eye on your oven’s timer to avoid disaster! Now, a few words on the ingredients you’ll see listed below. Ghee, a Persian word for butter, is simply butter that has been clarified through boiling. This recipe requires quite a bit of fillo dough (also called “phyllo”), which you will need to pull, fold, tuck, and press at various intervals. We recommend using fresh fillo if at all possible to keep the dough from sticking together. Don’t be afraid to get handsy with your dough, by the way—it’s stronger than it looks. We’re particularly partial to Athens Fillo, and that’s not just because Steve used to distribute it. Stop by The Pantry to learn more about the Athens brand and story.

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Kafta

Kafta can take many shapes, from an oblong patty, to a hamburger-style round, to a shape that resembles a large sausage. Additional options include grilling Kafta on skewers or creating miniature bites to serve as appetizers. A basic dish, yes…but by no means is Kafta boring.   

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Ablama

Warm, savory, and creamy, Ablama is comfort food at its absolute finest. When sourcing your squash, be sure to look for vegetables that are early and small—the younger the better.  These baby green squash will be labeled as Koussa at some stores; others will identify them as Mexican Summer Squash. They are usually available at specialty shops, and you can learn more about where to source them by clicking over to The Pantry. Happy hunting!

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