Sumac: Recipes and Stories from Syria, written by Anas Atassi, features the incredible cuisine of Syria with 80 traditional and contemporary recipes, gorgeous photography, and family memories. A few highlights include Ejjeh (Egg Pancakes with Parsley), Batata Harra (Spicy Potatoes with Garlic and Cilantro), Kibbeh Sayniyi (Kibbeh Tart), Tajen Samak (Fish with Sumac-Tahini Sauce), and Spiral Shabiyat (Filo Spiral With Ashta and Raspberry Filling). I will also be sharing his recipe for Kaak (Cookies with a Sesame-Anise Glaze) following the review.
Disclosure: I received a copy of this book from Interlink Books in exchange for my honest review. All comments and opinions are my own. This post contains Amazon affiliate links. If you purchase something through the link, I may receive a small commission at no extra charge to you.
Anas Atassi was born in Homs, Syria and is currently based in Amsterdam, Netherlands. His love of food began as a child while watching his mother in the kitchen and television cooking shows. Anas’s passion for Syrian cuisine continued to grow after leaving home for university and missing the flavors and memories of his family. Sumac is his first cookbook.
Within Sumac are recipes and stories that have been passed down through Anas’s family along with dishes adapted through the influence of other regions and personal preference. After a short introduction, he begins with a guide on essential spices and a few foundation recipes for sauces and seasonings to help get you started.
I especially love the personal touches found throughout the book with memories, personal stories, and family photos. Anas even provides the history behind the beautiful Aghabani tablecloths and cultural notes on favorites such as Hummus, Sfeeha, Falafel, Shawarma, Yalanji, Kibbeh, and Walnut Baklava.
The chapters are divided according to course: Breakfast; Mezze for Sharing and Spreading; Street Food; Grains, Vegetables, and More; Meat Dishes; Chicken and Fish Dishes; and Desserts and Beverages. Included within the table of contents are a list of the recipes with page numbers for easy reference.
The food photography is provided by Jeroen van der Spek with food styling by Ajda Mehmet and location photography in Syria by Rania Kataf. Many of the recipes have a half to full-page photo of the finished dish. Titles are written in Arabic with the English translation underneath. Measurements are listed in US Customary and Metric. Each recipe includes a headnote with background information, personal stories, menu ideas, and serving size.
Kaak (Cookies with a Sesame-Anise Glaze)
Every single recipe I have tried so far has been remarkable, but I especially love these Kaak (Cookies with a Sesame-Anise Glaze). Anas mentioned that his grandmother came across an amazing cookie shop on the highway connecting Damascus to Homs. The highway went past the airport, so she would order these memorable Kaak whenever a family member arrived.
I can definitely see why they were such a favorite. The combination of flour, semolina, and cornstarch creates a sturdy, yet delicate cookie dotted with flecks of vanilla and anise seed. It contrasts beautifully with the crunch from the sesame and anise seed topping.
Just as the instructions state, the dough was very easy to manage after resting for an hour. I didn’t even need to flour my work surface to form the Kaak. Each piece of dough (the size of an apricot, 1-2 inches, 2.5-5 cm) is rolled into a sausage or log, then the ends are pressed together to form a ring (I also kept a few log-shaped).
The top of each cookie is coated in a milky glaze, dipped in sesame and anise seeds, then baked until golden. After baking, allow to rest for 30 minutes to cool before pairing with coffee or tea.
I also made Moutabal Shawandar (Beet and Tahini Dip), Sambusak (Filo Rolls with Cheese Filling), Biwaz (Simple Onion and Parsley Salad), and Asafiri (Pancakes with Ashta and Pistachio Filling).
The Moutabal Shawandar is a vibrant Beet and Tahini Dip packed with flavor. Cooked beets (instead of the traditional eggplant- recipe also included) are blended with yogurt, garlic cloves, tahini, and lemon to create a quick and easy accompaniment to Kibbeh Sayniyi, flatbread, or crackers.
Anas has included two recipes for Sambusak- one with a cheese filling and another with meat. I went with the cheese version, but definitely have the meat one saved for later. Traditionally made by hand, filled with akawi cheese, and deep-fried, Anas has included a lighter baked version with a combination of mozzarella and feta cheese since akawi can be difficult to find.
Biwaz (Simple Onion and Parsley Salad) is an easy salad with only a handful of ingredients. Thinly sliced onions are tossed with coarsely chopped parsley, sumac, pomegranate molasses, and olive oil. It is perfect for adding flavor and texture to shawarma, kebabs, and other meat dishes.
The Asafiri (Pancakes with Ashta and Pistachio Filling) were absolutely amazing! Small, spongy pancakes are filled with homemade Ashta or whole-milk ricotta, garnished with chopped pistachios, and served with a sweet Atter syrup. They are similar to the fried Qatayef (Mini-Pancakes with Ashta and Walnut Filling, also in the cookbook).
Sumac is a wonderful book for those interested in Syrian cuisine. Recipes range from quick dips and appetizers to more intricate and time consuming meals and desserts. There is also a great variety of breakfast items, meat, fish, street food, vegetarian options, and sweets. Most of the dishes are an excellent choice for entertaining and family-style meals.
Having a grocery store nearby with Middle Eastern items will be helpful in locating bulgur, filo dough, cardamom, apricot leather sheets, licorice root, orange blossom water, grape molasses, date molasses, rose water, dried hibiscus flowers, anise seeds, semolina, tahini, red pepper paste, Aleppo pepper, fava beans, nigella seeds, sumac, pomegranate molasses, and more.
Kaak (Cookies with a Sesame-Anise Glaze) Recipe
Excerpt from Sumac
Kaak (Cookies with a Sesame-Anise Glaze)
For the cookies:
- 5 tablespoons milk
- 1/3 cup (65 grams) granulated sugar
- 1/4 cup (60 milliliters) vegetable oil
- 1 egg
- 1 1/4 cups (155 grams) all-purpose flour
- 1/2 cup (90 grams) semolina
- 1/2 cup scant (50 grams) cornstarch
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla bean paste
- 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 tablespoon anise seeds
For the crust:
- 1 egg
- 2 tablespoons milk
- 1 tablespoon vinegar
- 3 tablespoons sesame seeds
- 1 teaspoon anise seeds
To make the cookies:
- In a large bowl, whisk together the milk, sugar, oil, and egg until smooth and homogeneous.
- In another bowl, combine the flour, semolina, cornstarch, salt, vanilla bean paste, baking powder, and anise seeds.
- Gradually whisk the milk mixture into the dry ingredients until it is completely incorporated. The dough should be soft and sticky. Cover and set aside for 1 hour.
- After the dough has rested, it should have a smooth consistency and should not feel sticky anymore.
- To form the cookies, divide the dough into apricot-sized balls and roll them into little sausages, about 8 inches (20 cm) long. Join the ends to form rings about 2 inches (5 cm) in diameter.
- Preheat oven to 350˚F (180˚C). Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Make the crust:
- Whisk the egg, milk, and vinegar together and pour into a shallow dish.
- Mix the sesame seeds and anise seeds in another dish.
- Dip the cookie base into the egg mixture and then into the seed mixture. Arrange the kaak, seed side up, on the prepared pan.
- Bake for 20-30 minutes, until golden brown.
- After baking, cool the cookies for at least 30 minutes before dipping them into a cup of tea.