Damascus-Style Ouzi

from Bison Delights

This recipe follows the method for making ouzi in Damascus, the oldest continuously inhabited city on earth today. The Byzantine Emperor Justinian called Damascus “the light of the Orient.” The writer Maurice Barrès is reported to have said, “Damascus is not a mere area of land; it is the place of the soul.” It is said that the Prophet Muhammad refused to enter Damascus, which he considered “heaven on earth.” He preferred to enter Paradise only once. Such is the history and reputation of this great city; through the centuries, Aramaeans, Assyrians, Persians, Greeks, Romans, Byzantines and, above all, the Umayyad Arabs of the seventh century, left a rich legacy in all areas of the city’s daily life— including in its food. In this “Damascus version” of ouzi, I have utilized many more spices than are usually used. If one finds it too spicy, some of these can be omitted.


24 sheets filo dough 

4 Tbsp / 60 ml olive oil 

1 cup / 250 ml ground bison 

1 medium onion, finely chopped 

4 cloves garlic, crushed 

4 Tbsp / 60 ml finely chopped coriander leaves (cilantro)

1 tsp / 5 ml salt 

1 /2 tsp / 2 ml pepper 

1 /2 tsp / 2 ml cumin 

1 /2 tsp / 2 ml allspice 

1 /4 tsp / 1 ml cinnamon 

1 /8 tsp / 1 /2 ml cayenne 

1 cup / 250 ml frozen or fresh peas 

2 cups / 500 ml cooked rice 

1 /2 cup / 125 ml pine nuts or slivered almonds, toasted 

1 /2 cup / 125 ml melted butter


Cut sheets of filo dough in half, then cover them with a slightly damp cloth. 

Heat olive oil in a large frying pan, then sauté ground bison and onion over medium-low heat for 12 minutes. Add garlic, coriander leaves, salt, pepper, cumin, allspice, cinnamon and cayenne, then sauté for a further 3 minutes. Transfer to a mixing bowl, then stir in peas, rice and nuts to make a filling. Divide into 12 portions and set aside. 

Brush 4 half- sheets of filo dough lightly with butter, then stack. Place one portion of filling in the middle then fold the filo dough over the filling from all sides to make a square pie. Continue until the 12 pies are done. Place in a greased baking pan, then brush with remaining butter. Bake in a 300° F (150° C) preheated oven for 1 hour or until the pies begin to brown. 

Serve warm.

Nada’s Tips & Tricks: These are great as appetizers or if you can make the pies a little smaller, they are delectable bite-sized hors d’oeuvres. Can’t find bison? Use your favourite meat filling or a combination of beef, pork and lamb. 

From the book Bison Delights: Middle Eastern Cuisine, Western Style by Habeeb Salloum, copyright © 2010. Reprinted by permission of University of Regina Press. https://uofrpress.ca/Books/B/Bison-Delights