Our dinner group and the Syrian food experience

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Canadians are truly citizens of the world. Our wanderlust broadens our understanding of cultures beyond our own and fuels a national curiosity for new cuisines. As global citizens, Canadians stand proud to serve as a safe haven for those who are troubled and threatened. Last winter, Syrian family Khodor and Nour Jarous and their two children arrived in Almonte to begin life anew facing challenges ranging from the new language to snow boots. In a triumph of community support and refugee determination, fourteen months later we see a newly minted Canadian family, with kids that enthusiastically greet you at the door with a decidedly Ottawa valley lilt to their effortless English and parents absorbing all they can of us, keen to share their square of the great Canadian cultural quilt.

As an experienced chef from the city of Homs, Khodor is using his skills to embark on a food-based business venture. Jessica’s Syrian Food (named after their daughter) began by selling Syrian appetizers at the Almonte Farmers Market. With community support, the family business has broadened to include daily takeout at Baker Bob’s and has recently expanded into catering.

Over the past 35 years, our dinner group has enjoyed monthly theme-based meals prepared by its members, a group of knowledgeable foodies brought together by careers in food and nutrition. This month, our Almonte hosts, Debbi and Mike O’Malley, took a break from our traditional hands on approach, to have a meal catered by Khodor and Nour of traditional Syrian celebration fare.

Our meal was comprised of 10 dishes including stuffed grape leaves, hummus, Syrian salad, Syrian rice, shish taouk (chicken kebab with vegetables), meat pie (beef), spinach pie, zaatar pie (sesame seed and herbs), date tarte and sokcel (a sugarless cacao confection). Middle East fusion defines the Syrian taste experience; salty and tangy are the key tasting notes, built from the Syrian spice palette of black pepper, allspice, paprika, sumac, cinnamon, nutmeg, cassia bark, coriander, cumin and cardamom. Group favourites included the Syrian hummus with its sesame rich tahini base, Syrian rice, stuffed grape leaves and shish taouk.

Our Syrian culinary adventure was great fun and a food horizon expanding experience for a group of well travelled diners who welcomed the opportunity to experience authentic Syrian food right here in Almonte. We encourage you to explore the website for Jessica’s Syrian Foods (jessicassyrianfood.com) and consider taking your own food journey with Khodor and Nour.