The exquisite cuisine of Syria, Lebanon’s sadly war-torn neighbour, is found all over the country, wonderfully helping to preserve its ancient food culture. This rather sensational pasta and lentil dish is called HurrakOsbao, which means ‘burnt fingers’, in reference to it being so damn tasty you can’t help but go straight in with your hands. Although I have used more pasta than is traditional (hands up the pasta fiend!), the flavours are spot on, combining fragrant coriander, dried mint, cumin and tangy pomegranate molasses. Despite being very distinct tasting ingredients, they marry together beautifully in this dish.
4 tablespoons olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
2 onions, finely sliced
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 handfuls of finely chopped coriander leaves
2 teaspoons dried mint
2 cardamom pods, bashed
1 teaspoon allspice
1 teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon sumac
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
400g tin green lentils, drained and rinsed
1 tablespoon tomato puree
250ml vegetable stock
½ lemon, juiced
4 tablespoons pomegranate molasses
50g pomegranate seeds
20g walnuts, bashed into a fine rubble
Cook the pasta in a large pan of boiling water for about 7–8 minutes until al dente. Drain and reserve 50ml of the pasta water.
Meanwhile, heat half the oil in a large pan over a medium heat. Add half the onions and cook, stirring occasionally, for 8–10 minutes until golden.
Put the garlic and half the coriander into the pan and mix well. Add the dried mint, cardamom, allspice, cumin, sumac and cinnamon. Season with a good pinch of salt and mix well.
Tip the cooked pasta and drained lentils into the pan with the onion and add the tomato puree, stock, lemon juice and pomegranate molasses. Mix together really well. Cover, reduce the heat to low and cook for 5–6 minutes or until the pasta is beautifully tender. Add the reserved pasta water to help slick up the sauce and mix well.
Meanwhile, heat the remaining oil in a small non-stick frying pan over a high heat and stir-fry the remaining onion for 6–8 minutes until really golden and crispy. Adjust the heat if the onion gets too dark too quickly.
Divide the pasta mixture between four serving bowls and garnish each one with pomegranate seeds, walnuts, fried onions and the remaining coriander. Drizzle each bowl with a little olive oil and serve immediately.
Recipe taken from Saffron in the Souks:
Vibrant recipes from the heart of Lebanon
(Kyle Books) by John Gregory-Smith