Sunday, April 17, 2011

Syrian Independence Day

Syria’s independence was recognized by France 65 years ago on this day in 1946. Things remain unpredictable in Syria today with President Assad joining the ranks of “embattled Middle East leaders. Syria is reputed to have the best food in the Middle East and I had hoped to travel there in May. I think I’ll wait a bit and, for the time being, settle for this Syrian recipe for lentils.

This recipe is from Clifford A. Wright’s exceptional website on Mediterranean cuisine. It was given to him by a Palestinian living in Damascus (although the presence of pomegranate molasses, he writes, suggests it was influenced by a cook from Aleppo.)

'Adas bi'l-Hamid
(Lentils with Lemon)

1 1/2 c. green or brown lentils, picked over and rinsed
1/4 c. extra virgin olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
5 large Swiss chard leaves, washed well, dried, stems removed and sliced into thin strips cross-wise
2 T. mashed garlic (about 8 large garlic cloves) made using a mortal and pestle
3/4 c. finely chopped fresh coriander (cilantro; leaves from about 1 to 2 bunches)
1 c. water 
1 T. fresh lemon juice
2 T. pomegranate molasses (available in Middle Eastern markets and many supermarkets)

1. Bring a pot of lightly salted water to a boil and cook the lentils until tender, 20 to 45 minutes; check often because the cooking time varies depending on the age of the lentils.   Drain and set aside.

2. In a medium-size nonreactive skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil over medium-high heat, then cook the Swiss chard until it wilts, 1 to 2 minutes.   Remove and drain off any liquid.   Set aside.

3. In the same skillet, heat the remaining 3 tablespoons olive oil over medium-high heat.   Add the garlic and coriander and cook until sizzling, about 1 to 2 minutes, stirring constantly.   Reduce the heat to medium, add the Swiss chard, drained lentils, and water, and cook for 10 minutes, stirring frequently.   Add the lemon juice and pomegranate molasses and continue cooking until the lentils look mushy, about another 10 minutes.   Transfer to a serving bowl and drizzle a small amount of olive oil over it before serving.