Join The National and Table Tales on a culinary journey around the Middle East to savour the quintessential dishes that embody the spirit of Ramadan. From table staples to family favourites, this series of recipes – one for each day of Ramadan – pays homage to the holy month and the home cook alike.

Syrian dish harak osbao is an ideal vegetarian addition to the iftar table.

There are different ways to make harak osbao, but this recipe has been passed down from my 110-year-old great aunt

Alaa Al Zain

Recipe contributor Alaa Al Zain says: “Harak osbao is one of the most delicious, healthy and traditional dishes in old Damascus. There are different ways to make it, but I think this one is the best. It is passed down from my 110-year-old great aunt. I make the dough at home, but you could substitute it with a flat pasta.”

Hanan Sayed Worrell of Table Tales says harak osbao transports her back to her mother’s Ramadan ghabqas, or gatherings, of the 1980s in Kuwait. “Ghabqas are festive, ladies-only, late-night gatherings with a generous spread of savoury and sweet dishes,” she says. “Harak osbao was quite the trend then, with many variations. It even earned a new name in the Kuwaiti dialect: mahrooq sub’o. It now seems to be enjoying a comeback among the younger generation, with a focus on vegan and vegetarian diets.”

Alaa Al Zain’s harak osbao – lentils and pasta with tamarind, garlic and pomegranate

Serves 6 to 8

Ingredients for the lentils:

  • 2 cup lentils, brown or green
  • 1½ tbsp olive oil
  • 1½ tbsp vegetable oil
  • 2 large yellow onion, chopped
  • 10 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 cup fresh coriander, chopped
  • 2 lemons, squeezed
  • 3 tbsp pomegranate molasses
  • ½ cup tamarind extract
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Ingredients for the dough:

  • 1 cup flour
  • ½ cup warm water
  • 1 tbsp olive oil

Ingredients for the garnish:

  • 1½ tbsp vegetable oil
  • 2 pieces pitta bread
  • ¼ cup flour
  • 2 medium onions, thinly sliced
  • ¼ cup pomegranate seeds
Harak osbao ingredients. Victor Besa / The National 
Harak osbao ingredients. Victor Besa / The National

Method for the lentils:

  1. Rinse and soak the lentils in 10 cups of water, in Dutch oven, covered, for three hours.
  2. Bring the lentils to a boil on high heat. Then lower the heat and cook for 30 to 45 minutes, until they are half cooked.
  3. In a pan, saute the onions in olive oil until caramelised, add to the lentils and continue to simmer on low heat.
  4. In the same pan, add one and a half tablespoons of vegetable oil. Saute the minced garlic, adding the coriander in batches. Stir for three to five minutes until well combined, set aside. Part of this will be used for the lentils and part for the garnish.
  5. Pour in the lemon juice, pomegranate molasses and tamarind, and add a sprinkle of salt and pepper.

Method for the dough:

  1. Combine the flour, water and oil in a medium bowl. Knead until it comes together easily. Let rest for 10 to 15 minutes.
  2. Dust a flat surface with flour. Roll the dough out until it is half a centimetre thick. Cut into long strips about 1.5cm wide, then cut into small squares. Cover until ready to use. Note: if you don’t want to make the dough at home, you can substitute dough with 300g flat pasta.

Method for the garnish:

  1. Cut the pitta bread into 2cm squares. Heat the oil in a pan and toss the bread, stirring until golden brown. The pitta can also be baked. Place on a paper towel-lined plate to absorb excess oil.
  2. Toss the sliced onions in flour and fry in oil until crispy.

Method to assemble:

  1. Carefully drop the dough pieces into the lentils in small batches, and mix. Continue to simmer the lentil mixture on low heat. There should be enough liquid to cook the pasta and lentils to a thick consistency. If needed, add some water.
  2. Add half of the coriander and garlic mixture to the lentils and pasta. Stir for another few moments. The consistency should be of a thick porridge.
  3. Scoop the lentils, while hot, into a deep serving dish. Top with the remaining coriander and garlic mixture, crispy onions, pitta chips and pomegranate seeds. Serve hot or at room temperature.

This dish has been brought to you by Alaa Al Zain and curated by international recipe hunter Hanan Sayed Worrell, author of Table Tales: The Global Nomad Cuisine of Abu Dhabi. The Table Tales concept celebrates the people and stories that give flavour to recipes of the Middle East.

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