Syrian Breakfast Feast with the Soufi Family

EatsTis’iye, Labneh, Grilled Haloumi, warm pita, traditional accompaniments, and Red Tea with Mint
TunesSoufi Family Breakfast Feast, free via Spotify
Story: Weekend Breakfast with the Soufi family of Toronto

Intro

After salivating over Soufi’s restaurant in Toronto in a recent NY Times piece we reached out to Jala by email.  The article noted their intention to share Syrian culture, music and art alongside their delicious food, and of course that really resonates with this Culture Capsules project.  If we can’t buy a plane ticket to Toronto, maybe we approximate it by exploring some of the tunes, tastes and stories of the Soufi family from our own homes.

Given the timing and content of this post, I will also take this opportunity to say Ramadan Kareem to all those celebrating!  And though yes, we happened to enjoy this meal during Ramadan, part of our conversation also centered around Ramadan practices and traditions, not the least of which is because tomorrow we will host our first iftar.  Check back soon for details on that!

Story

When Jala and I spoke on the phone, I asked her if she had any favorite memories about food when she was growing up.  She fondly recalled her dad blasting Arabic music (especially Fairuz!), early on weekend mornings, waking everyone in the house up.  This loud music was the way to alert the house that it was time breakfast.   On the table would be traditional Syrian sofra: a tapas-style feast of Labneh (strained yogurt),  Grilled Haloumi cheese, Tis’iye (aka Fatteh), warmed up pita bread, strawberry jam, olives, Za’atar, and occasionally some boiled eggs.

Their favorite drink over breakfast is red tea with fresh mint, and her dad loved to have grapefruit juice afterwards. She noted that there is no need for forks or spoons; just warmed up pita bread.

Tunes

The first step is always to get the tunes going.  If your household is still sleeping, maybe keep the volume low until everything is ready, but in the full abu (‘father’ in Arabic) Soufi-style, you must crank the music to summon your family to breakfast.  You can find the Soufi Family Breakfast Feast playlist here, for free on Spotify.

Jala mentioned that Fairuz was a family favorite.  Fairuz is a singer from Lebanon who is popular all over the Arab world.  A quick poll of my own friends confirmed that, some telling me they played her music at their weddings and one even telling me she is moved to cry when she hears Fairuz sing.  Powerful stuff.  Here is a video of her singing.

There were also 2 songs by Lena Chamamyan, a Syrian artist, as well as Zaki Nassif that Jala added.

Eats

At the Soufi household, Jala’s mom prepares breakfast during the week but on the weekends it’s her dad.  She says that “it’s all relatively quick because everything is bought and/or made in advance and stored in the fridge. You just have to set the table.”

To complete the feast, she also noted that their “favorite drink over breakfast is red tea with fresh mint.  My dad loved to have grapefruit juice afterwards, as well.”

Items to have on hand

In addition to the items within the recipes noted below, make sure these are on your shopping list:

  • Labneh (strained yogurt)
  • Green & black olives (the Soufi favorite family is green olives marinated in olive oil, parsley & garlic)
  • Fresh Syrian pita bread (they buy from local bakery. You could also make your own, of course)
  • Strawberry jam
  • Olive oil
  • Za’atar with olive oil
  • Boiled eggs (they would have occasionally)
  • Grapefruit juice (or grapefruits to make your own, of course)
Mini-chefs assisted with the grapefruit juice, ripping pita, and making the fresh pita.

Your Overall Plan:

  1. Put the playlist on for you – the chef!
  2. If you’re making pita you should start that with at least a 1.5 hour lead time but 2 hours would be easier.  Once the first 4 steps of that are done you can begin on the below:
  3. Get the eggs boiling so they have time to cool for easier peeling
  4. Set out the accompaniments: olives, za’atar, jam, olive oil. Prepare the pot/cups with the tea & mint.
  5. Make the grapefruit juice and keep it in the fridge.
  6. Drain and cut the haloumi, making sure it’s dried with a paper towel so it browns best.
  7. If making pita, do step 5 here.
  8. Boil water for the tea.
  9. Make the Tis’iye, except the garnish, and let it sit on the table to meld flavors a bit.
  10. Cook the Haloumi and put it on a serving dish.
  11. Start cooking the pita per steps 6 and 7.
  12. Pour the hot water in the teapot/cups as desired.
  13. Garnish the Tis’iya.
  14. Re-start the playlist and increase the volume to summon others to the table.
  15. Enjoy the sounds and tastes of the Soufi Family Breakfast!

Tis’iye (aka Fatteh)

Here’s Jala’s intro: “This is a warm chickpea yogurt dish we typically have on special occasions. It’s made up of layers of boiled chickpeas topped with baked pita bread squares, warm yogurt (with spices, tahini, lemon, garlic…), and garnished with fried pine-nuts, pomegranate fruit and parsley.”
Prep Time20 mins
Cook Time10 mins
Course: Side Dish
Cuisine: Syrian
Keyword: pita, Yogurt

Ingredients

  • 2 pita rounds
  • 2 1/2 cups plain yogurt (we did whole but I think 2% Greek would work)
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tbsp tahini
  • 3 tbsp fresh lemon juice (used 1 1/2 & 1 1/2)
  • 1/2 tsp salt (used 1/4 & 1/4)
  • 2 cups cooked chickpeas
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 2 tbsp olive oil (approximately)

For garnish:

  • 2 tbsp fresh parsley, chopped
  • pomegranate seeds
  • 1/2 cup pine nuts, pan toasted in olive oil

Instructions

  • Preheat oven to 350. Rip pitas into 1 inch pieces and place on a baking sheet.
  • Over medium heat, heat 1/2 tbsp olive oil in a pan, add pine nuts and toast until just browned. Remove from heat and keep in a small bowl to cool until ready.
  • In a bowl whisk together yogurt, minced garlic, tahini, 1 1/2 tbsp of lemon juice and 1/4 tsp salt. Set aside sauce.
  • If chickpeas aren’t warm from cooking them, heat them in a bit of water for about 5 minutes. Drain and add cumin. 1/4 tsp salt and 1.5 tbsp of lemon juice.
  • If oven is heated, put in pita pieces and toast for a few minutes. When done, toss with a bit of olive oil and keep aside until chickpeas are warm and ready.
  • To serve, layer toasted pita, chickpeas and yogurt mixture in that order. Garnish with parsley, pomegranate seeds, and the toasted pine nuts and serve immediately.

Grilled Haloumi Cheese

Jala confirmed that the David Lebovitz version of grilled Haloumi cheese is a good one to follow.  We concur.

Red Tea with Fresh Mint

This one is just as simple as it it sounds, but oh-so-delicious.  Just boil some hot water, steep some red tea along with fresh mint leaves and add sugar to taste. This was a favorite of the kids and adults alike.  We were only able to find rooibos with cinnamon but it worked with the mint and a bit of sugar.  YUM.
hey look our pitas puffed up! whoohoo!

 

…. when it’s all ready, then reset the playlist to play from song one and increase the volume. “Baadak ala Bali” is such a pretty song that it feels like a nice song to wake up to… even if it apparently is about missing one’s beloved.

Thank you Jala, for sharing your story, food, and related tunes with us!  It was delicious, and unlike any breakfast we had prepared on our own.  Can’t wait to try it again…. and we want to hear from you when you try this Culture Capsule for yourself!