Sunday, December 18, 2016

Cooking from the CookForSyria Recipe Book - Labneh Balls and Green Freekeh Salad

Those of you that follow my blog, my cooking and baking adventures and my occasional social media appearances, may have noticed that I not only love to create and re-create traditional recipes from many different countries but that, often, I like to enter unknown territory. Food, like many other everyday things that surround us, is often a challenge. We want to rely on the well-known but we are also curious to test the unfamiliar.

Not that I wasn´t „Ottolenghied“ years ago and dove head first into new culinary adventures, that, among other things, involved stocking up on many a previously unknown ingredient. Nowadays my cupboard shelves are brimming with fabulous and exiting spices such as sumac, ras el hanout, berbere, Spanish smoked paprika (hot and mild), saffron threads, orange blossom water, and many many more.

At the end of the day,  when the rest of my family is already asleep and I am paying a nightly visit to my kitchen to see wether all is in order, I inhale the smells that still linger in my tiny kitchen even long after I have cleaned up…the previously unknown and now much beloved notes of many different spice mixes.

So, when an friend of mine who is a chef-teacher at a local cooking school, asked me wether I was interested in participating and writing about a cooking event that is aimed at getting aquainted with our „new neighbours“ all the while cooking and baking together once a month, I did not hesitate one bit. Although I must admit at being a bit overwhelmed at first at the sight of all that glorious, yet unknown food, I decided to calm my nerves by, what else, searching the internet for Syrian dishes. It did not take me long before I came across the wonderful UK site called CookForSyria.

„CookForSyria is a nation-wide (UK) fundraising initiative curated by Clerkenwell Boy and SUITCASE Magazine. The month-long campaign focused around Syrian cuisine and encouraged “everyone from the UK’s top chefs to people at home to cook and raise money in aid of UNICEF’s Syria Relief fund via Next Generation London (UNICEF’s youth branch). There are hopes that the initiative will then be continued globally.“

I ordered the Cook for Syria Recipe Book and while I am still impatiently waiting for my copy to arrive  – it will not be published before December 28 around here – I looked at the list of recipes that are already available online. Loving many of  the ideas, for starters, and because I had all the ingredients at hand, I made the Green Freekeh Salad first - utterly glorious is all I can say. I even had the Freekeh on hand…not bad.

The Green Freekeh Salad is made with freekeh and chickpeas and tons of herbs (mint, dill, Italian parsley), then cumin, garlic, pomegranate molasses, date vinegar as well as pumpkin and pomegranate seeds and a lovely finish of coarsely chopped smoked almonds. I served some freshly-brewed Mint Tea and Aubergine Boats alongside.

Since the second recipe required a twelve hour wait to drain the whey from organic Greek yogurt in a muslin cloth over my sink (that can only be done overnight at our house) – I made the Labneh Balls the next day.

Both recipes, the one for the Labneh Balls as well as the Green Freekeh Salad, are published in the recipe book and were graciously provided by chef Saima Khan, founder, private chef and caterer for The Hampstead Kitchen, based in Hampstead, North London, that „provides private chefs and catering to locals in Hampstead and neighbouring areas in and around London“.

We loved these, especially the kids. The drained yogurt balls are rolled in different herbs, seeds and nuts, such as dried mint or oregano, red za'atar, nigella seeds (baraka seeds), sesame seeds, smoked paprika, pistachio slivers, crushed smoked almonds, crushed dried rosebuds and flowers. And they do in fact look like little jewels. You can use them as spread on bread or crackers, as a canapé, or package them up and give them away as gifts to family and friends. What a delightful, colorful and delicious keeper-of-a-recipe!

So, now that I know that I do not have to be a stranger to Syrian cuisine and its bold and enticing flavors, I am looking forward to receiving my recipe book (which will be a late Christmas gift to myself this year) – and show it off at the cooking event – maybe I can even convince some of the participants to order a book or two as well. From all that I have seen, this is a wonderful recipe book - and if you need another reason to go out and get it here it is: a portion of the proceeds will go UNICEF’s Syria relief fund.

For more info on the CookForSyria initiative, please look here:

For more info about UNICEF Next Generation London, please look here: and/or look up your local UNICEF chapter.

For more info on Clerkenwellboyec1, the curator of the CookForForSyria campaign, please visit his Instagram account:

For more info about Saima Khan and The Hamstead Kitchen, please look here:

To order the Cook For Syria Recipe Book, please visit your local bookstore or order online.

Please note that the recipe book has been included in the Observer - Guardian's Best Food Books of 2016 - see Guardian (UK).


  1. Such a wonderful Idea. Both of those recipes look so interesting and delicious. Good luck with your cooking event, I'm sure
    it will be a huge success.

    1. Dear Rosemary, so nice to hear from you again - sorry for being such a lazy commentator these days but as soon as Christmas day festivities will be over, I will get back to commenting regularly again! In the meantime thank you very much for your kind words - I cannot wait to make time to cook from the book some more - it is a great way to broaden my cooking horizons.
      Hugs, dear friend,

  2. What a wonderful way to get to know newcomers and make them feel welcome. I love the cookbook and its purpose. Your selections look absolutely gorgeous and delicious, Andrea!

    1. Dear Teresa, delighted to hear that - cooking and baking together seems to be a great way to get to know each other better! There are many initiatives across Germany that focus on creating meals together as a group as a means to get to know each other better.
      Thank you for dropping by dear friend,

  3. What a wonderful and enlightening post, Andrea. I also am an Ottolenghi fan and have many of the spices you mentioned. My favorite cookbook of his is "Jerusalem" which is not only great for new recipes but a wonderful read. Now I am reading your blog posts backward today so you may have answered this in an earlier post. Do you have new Syrian neighbors? Did Bonn open its city to Syrian refugees? I just heard on NPR that two female chefs had created a cookbook for the refugees who are in camps. It primarily has recipes for hearty and nutritional soups using ingredients available in many camps. I want that cookbook. Good luck with your newest cuisine adventure. Am very proud you are enthusiastically doing this and what a great example you are setting for your girls. (Has my box arrived yet?)

    1. Dear Mary, first off, yes, the parcel has arrived safely at our house but I am keeping it hidden with the other Christmas gifts and I will hold my breath until the 24th at night to open it. Thank you for thinking of us!!! You know that it has been a rather busy year for all of us and I do apologize for being so absent these last couple of months but life got so incredibly and uncontrollably hectic, that I hardly found time to sit down and write comments. My apologies! I hope life is treating you and your family well these days - I am looking forward to taking a breather during the holidays and commenting on all that I have missed!!! I know you are a huge Ottolenghi fan and theer are many other talented chefs and families that have contributed to this book. And, yes, Bonn has taken in many refugees from Syria and other countries. Thomas is now also teaching language courses twice a week at night. It is a busy time for all of us.
      Sending you a ton and more hugs - Imken is having a ball these days thinking about her "Mary Christmas" card she drew for you and that is on its way to you!!!
      Lots of love from all of us and "see" you soon, my friend!
      Andrea & Co.

  4. Nice post Andrea and ...touching !
    Im sad by all that happens in Syria :(
    I love the labneh balls!

    1. Dear Gloria, thank you for commenting - I am glad that you like this post of mine. My apologies to you as well for not having been around for comments lately - a situation I plan to improve overthe holidays.
      Thanks for your kindness,

  5. They do look like little jewels - how fun! And you get to use all your delicious herbs and spices too! You have kids with very adventuresome tastes, I love that!

  6. This is a wonderful idea and I want to look into it. The labneh balls are, as Chris said, like jewels. And the freekeh salad looks delicious!

    Happy New Year, dear friend!