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Christmas Breakfast from an Ancient Land

posted on: Dec 21, 2021

By: Habeeb Salloum/Arab America Contributing Writer

I enjoyed what was to me the ‘mother of all Arab breakfasts’ during my first trip in the early 1960s to Damascus, Syria’s capital. In my many following trips to the Middle East, I was to relish many similar breakfasts.  However, I have never forgotten that first early morning meal in the world’s oldest continuously inhabited city.

It felt like a dream as I relished the best of morning dishes eaten for thousands of years in that part of the world.

From among these were: hot Arabic bread, za’tar (thyme condiment), baba ghannooj (eggplant purée), and piping hot fattat hummus (chickpea and yogurt platter), manaqeesh (both cheese and thyme pies) as well as ‘aysh as-saraaya (bread of the palace) and  half a dozen other dishes.  As I gazed at the delicacies before me, I thought to myself “This is, indeed, a royal morning spread.”

These two dishes which I enjoyed during that first Damascus trip often form the core of the foods I serve as part of a Middle East breakfast.

Chickpea and Yogurt Platter – Fattat Hummus

Christmas Breakfast from an Ancient Land

Serves 6

In Damascus, this dish is usually served as a part of a hearty breakfast.

2 medium loaves Arab bread (pita), toasted; then broken into small pieces

1 can chickpeas (540 ml – 19 oz), drained

1 1/2 cups plain yogurt

2 cloves garlic, crushed

salt and pepper to taste

seeds of one pomegranate

2 tablespoons lemon juice

1 tablespoon tahini

1 tablespoon butter

4 tablespoons pine nuts or slivered almonds

1 tablespoon finely chopped parsley

Spread bread evenly on a platter; then spread chickpeas evenly over top and set aside.

Thoroughly combine yogurt, garlic, salt, pepper, pomegranate seeds, lemon juice and tahini; then spread over chickpeas.

Melt butter in a frying pan; then sauté pine nuts or almonds until they begin to turn golden.  Spread nuts over yogurt mixture; decorate with parsley and serve.

Bread of the Palace – ‘Aysh as-Saraaya

Christmas Breakfast from an Ancient Land

Serves 8

Aysh as-Saraaya – a Middle Eastern dish, once only prepared in the homes of the wealthy, has been brought by Arab immigrants to North America.  This my own version of this famous dish.

1 cup honey

4 tablespoons butter

1/2 cup water

1 teaspoon almond extract

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

8 slices white bread toasted, crusts removed

2 cups half and half cream

8 slices white bread, crusts removed and cut into tiny pieces

2 tablespoons sugar

4 tablespoons crushed pistachios

Make a syrup by placing the honey, butter and water in a saucepan and bringing to a boil.  Stir in almond extract and cloves and boil for 2 minutes then allow to cool.

Lay the toasted bread side-by-side on the bottom of a 9 X 13 inch pan; then set aside.

Place cream, bread pieces and sugar in a saucepan; then, stirring constantly, bring to boil. Continue stirring over medium heat until mixture thickens.  Remove from heat.

Pour syrup over toast in pan; then spread warm cream mixture evenly over top. Sprinkle pistachio evenly over top; cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 12 hours. Cut into 8 pieces and serve for breakfast or dessert.