This challenge is about learning about different cuisines and expanding my cooking skills, however it’s difficult to ignore the pain and suffering that the people of Syria are experiencing. According to Mercy Corps, the Syrian civil war is the worst humanitarian crisis of our time. More than 250,000 Syrians have lost their lives in four and a half years of armed conflict, which began with anti-government protests before escalating into a full-scale civil war. Prior to the outbreak of the war in 2011, according to the U.S. government’s estimates, Syria’s population was 18 million. The UN estimates about 11 million Syrians have been displaced from their homes, including about 4.8 million refugees who have been forced to seek safety in neighbouring countries. During 2016, the U.N. predicts $7.7 billion is required to provide emergency support and stabilisation to families throughout the region.

Since approximately 10,000 BC, Syria was one of the centers of Neolithic culture (known as Pre-Pottery Neolithic A) where agriculture and cattle breeding appeared for the first time in the world. Archaeologists have demonstrated that civilisation in Syria was one of the most ancient on earth, perhaps preceded by only those of Mesopotamia. The earliest recorded indigenous civilisation in the region was the Kingdom of Ebla, near present-day Idlib, northern Syria, founded around 3500 BC.

Syria has 6 UNESCO world heritage sites:
Ancient City of Aleppo (1986)
Ancient City of Bosra (1980)
Ancient City of Damascus (1979)
Ancient Villages of Northern Syria (2011)
Crac des Chevaliers and Qal’at Salah El-Din (2006)
Site of Palmyra (1980)

They also hold a number of Guinness world records:
Longest marathon TV talk show by one team – 70 hr 5 min in Damascus (2014)
The largest copper bas-relief measures 122.5 m² (1,318.5 m²) in Qurdaha, Lattakia, Syria (2009)
The oldest surviving Christian church in the world is a converted house in Qal’at es Salihiye in eastern Syria, dating from AD232. In the 1930s, Yale archaeologists dismantled it and rebuilt it back in the United States.

Syrian recipes I came across include Yakhanit batata (potato and lamb stew), Sharhat Mtafay (Lemon garlic steak), Kufta kabab (lamb kebab), Dawood basha (Syrian meatballs), Kibbeh bil sanieh (kibbeh pie), Mujaddara (lentil pilaf), Fatti dajaj (chicken fatti – bread, rice and chicken in yoghurt and nut sauce), Muhammara (red pepper dip) and Makdous (Pickled stuffed eggplant in olive oil). I opted to cook Jag Bil Forin (chicken in the oven), which was a little oily but tasty nonetheless.

Rating: 7/10

Serves: 2
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 55 minutes

4 chicken pieces on the bone
3-4 medium potatoes
1/2 head garlic, peeled and mashed with a little salt
1/4 cup olive oil
2 bay leaves
1/8 tsp pimenton
1/2 tsp dried coriander leaf
Salt & pepper

Rub the chicken pieces with the mashed garlic all over (reserve 1/2 tsp for the potatoes) and place in a casserole dish
Season the chicken with pimenton, salt & pepper
Peel the potatoes, cut them in half lengthways then cut each half into half cm slices and place on top of the chicken pieces
Season the potatoes with the remaining garlic, salt, pepper and dried coriander
Drizzle over the olive oil
Cover with foil and roast in the oven for 45 minutes, uncover and roast for a further 5 – 10 minutes to brown

Ingredients for Jag Bil Forin (chicken in the oven)
Mashing the garlic
Jag Bil Forin (chicken in the oven)
Jag Bil Forin (chicken in the oven)
Jag Bil Forin (chicken in the oven)
Jag Bil Forin (chicken in the oven)
Crac-des-chevaliers, Syria
Site of Palmyra, Syria
Bosra amphitheatre, Syria
Ancient city of Aleppo
Aleppo, Nov 2014

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