Last week my in-laws were town and Wyatt planned a wonderful surprise. He decided to make sheesh barak, Syrian dumplings with yogurt sauce (knowing I wanted to feature it on the blog but that its complexity intimidates me) and my father-in-law volunteered to do a photo shoot (knowing I have serious issues with food photography). I am so loved.
3 cups flour
1 pound ground lamb
2-3 shallots (well chopped)
salt, pepper, allspice (heavy shakes of all 3)
1. Knead flour well with a pinch of salt and about 3/4 cup of water.
2. Roll out dough on well-floured surface. Cut into 3-inch rounds (dumplings will be sizable).
3. In a separate bowl, combine lamb, onion, spices, and coriander.
4. Place small scoop in center of each round.
5. Fold over as to form a pocket and pinch shut with knife.
3 quarts yogurt
1 tablespoon flour
1 egg white
2 cloves garlic (minced)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon fresh mint
1/4 cup butter
1. Combine yogurt, flour, and egg white. Beat mixture thoroughly.
2. Transfer mixture to large pot and cook on high heat, stirring constantly, until it comes to a boil.
3. Immerse dumplings in boiling yogurt mixture and cook about 20 minutes on low heat. Transfer to large platter.
4. In a small bowl, combine garlic, salt, and mint.
5. Melt butter in a frying pan and saute garlic mixture for just under a minute. Drizzle over dumplings.
Eat until stuffed.
Readers of this blog will have noticed that many of the recipes I use come from Helen Corey's Healthy Syrian and Lebanese Cooking, which my husband bought approximately one minute after returning to the United States from Damascus because he was so jazzed about the food. At the time, it was one of the very few Syrian cookbooks 1) still in print 2) not astronomically expensive; now, I'm excited to report, there are many.
Corey's cookbook is comprehensive but not without its flaws. I've tested some recipes where the ingredient proportions seem a bit off and others whose authenticity was dubious. But in large part it was a very good introduction to the Syrian culinary ouevre.
Now that I have my feet wet, it's time to move on, which is why I just purchased Marlene Matar's The Aleppo Cookbook: Celebrating the Legendary Cuisine of Syria. Look for one last (but not really) post on the recipe for sheesh barak (lamb dumplings) from the Corey cook, then more adventures with Matar.
Houston, we have a quarterback. To celebrate, a culinary touchdown in the form of toum (also spelled 'toom' in some Syrian cookbooks). Toum is the ketchup of Middle Eastern food (or is ketchup the toum of American food?); an omnipresent condiment, it is used to dress grilled meats, sandwiches, even rice. The ingredients are simple, but the preparation more sophisticated, for its success depends on delicate emulsion. Don't throw all the ingredients in a blender and expect to have anything resembling the correct end product. Patience is key.
5 garlic cloves
1 egg white
Juice of 1 lemon
1 cup vegetable oil
ice water on hand
1. Place garlic and roughly 1/4 of the lemon juice in a food processor. Pulse on medium.
2. Add half the egg white and pulse again on medium.
3. Gradually add the half oil. And, I mean, gradually. Pulse intermittently on medium.
4. Add remainder of lemon juice and egg white. Pulse on low.
5. Add remainder of oil, again slowly. Pulse on low.
6. Add 1 or 2 tablespoons of ice water. Pulse on low until mixture just reaches creaminess.
Slather on your choice of protein.
If I'm not thinking about food, cooking food, or eating food, I'm probably reading about food. Since the start of 2017, I've read over 15 food memoirs in the course of doing research for my own writing project. Some are better than others, and among my favorites for their depth of detail and original phrasing are those written by Diana Abu-Jaber. I first read The Language of Baklava and am now finishing Crescent (technically personally-inspired fiction, not memoir), and next up is Life Without A Recipe.
Abu-Jaber is Jordanian and of course peppers her books with Middle Eastern recipes, which always makes me hungry and eager to cook more Syrian food. Last night, I said to hell with more healthful mezze and made roz bhaleeb, a fragrant rice pudding. Versions of roz bhaleeb are found all over the Arab world and sometimes orange blossom water is used instead of rose water.
5 cups whole milk (don't skimp on the fat!)
1/2 cup medium-grain white rice
1/2 cup white sugar (or brown...drr...if you run out)
3 tablespoons rose water
1/4 cup crushed pistachios
1. Combine rice and whole milk in a saucepan under low heat.
2. Simmer and cook for 90 minutes, stirring FREQUENTLY, until mixture thickens significantly.
3. Add sugar and rose water.
4. Refrigerate for at least four hours, if not overnight.
5. Garnish with crushed pistachios.
You learn something new every day, and yesterday, I learned two new things. First, Randall's on Holcombe Blvd. does not sell bulgur wheat. Second, some forms of traditional tabbouleh are made with couscous. This latter fact was especially heartening, especially since the former revelation initially caused a certain woman craving a refreshing Syrian mezze much consternation. And with a box already at home, she didn't even have to rely on Randall's for the couscous. Suck it, Randall's. (Just kidding. Thanks for the sale on parsley!)
Bulgur wheat gives rise to a grittier, heartier tabbouleh, while couscous tends to soften what is otherwise a very fibrous mixture. I find it also absorbs olive oil more readily, so don't over-pour lest you want your salad very slick.
1 cup cooked couscous
1 bunch of parsley (about 2 cups chopped)
1 medium tomato (about 3/4 cup chopped)
1 small white onion (about 3/4 cup chopped)
3/4 cup chopped mint
1/4 cup olive oil
3 tablespoons lemon juice
1. Cook couscous according to instructions; usually, this involves a 1.5:1 ratio of hot water to rice.
2. Combine all vegetable ingredients in a deep bowl.
3. Incorporate cooled couscous vigorously into mixture.
4. Add liquid ingredients and toss such that salad is liberally coated.
5. Eat right away.
As promised, I'm celebrating that artichokes are in season by using them in some Syrian dishes. First up, ardi shoki blahmi, Syrian stuffed artichoke hearts (with a bit of modification). Before embarking on this recipe, consider whether you want to butcher whole artichokes in order to secure some hearts or just buy a can or jar of artichoke hearts. The former option is appropriate given chokies are in season but can get expensive if you want to make a large batch. The latter option is definitely not as cool but cheaper and yields meal-size portions. I'm sure you can guess what option this hungry runner selected.
Also note that regardless which option you choose, manipulating the hearts into little cups for the stuffing is a delicate, challenging process that is not to be done in a rush with heavy hands.
1 can or jar artichoke hearts (in water, if possible, not oil)
1 medium onion (chopped)
1/2 pound ground lamb OR chopped lamb shank meat
1 tablespoon allspice
1/4 cup parsley (chopped)
1/4 cup roasted eggplant (chopped)
chicken broth or stock (about a 2 cups)
1 teaspoon cornstarch
Salt and pepper to taste
Chopped nuts (pinenuts are most authentic; peanuts will due if you were absent-minded at the store)
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
2. Sauté onion in olive oil until transparent. Add lamb and cook until just brownish. Sprinkle with all-spice and mix well.
3. Remove meat and onions from pan and combine with chopped parsley and chopped roasted eggplant. Drizzle with lemon juice.
4. If your artichoke hearts still have the stem attached, trim so they rest flat on your baking dish. Push down inner most petals to create space for stuffing; try to keep outer petals intact to serve as 'sides' of your 'cup.' Stuff with meat and vegetable mixture. In separate bowl, combine chicken broth and cornstarch.
5. Arrange stuffed artichoke hearts in pan. Pour chicken broth and cornstarch mixture into pan until liquid level just reaches top of hearts. You will probably have extra liquid.
6. Cover with aluminum foil and bake for about 1 hour. Baste occasionally with any remaining chicken stock.
7. Remove from oven and garnish with chopped nuts, salt, pepper. Eat while watching Grace & Frankie.
This post is the first of a series highlighting seasonal ingredients that feature prominently in Syrian cooking. I am thrilled that the inaugural episode focuses on the artichoke, one of my favorite vegetables for its alluring, challenging qualities.
And that's on a good day. On a bad day, artichokes are painfully difficult to prepare well comprehensively and annoying to eat. But every day they are oh-so-satisfying.
Incidentally, although most people associate artichokes with Israel, (i.e., Jerusalem artichokes), Italy actually leads the globe in production. But their choice species is typically the small, purple artichoke not the larger, green variety favored in the Middle East.
Later this week, I will feature one of my favorite Syrian recipes featuring artichokes. For now, a simple, almost fool-proof method of roasting the full flowers.
4 large artichokes
4 tablespoons olive oil
4 cloves of garlic
1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
2. Cut off stem of the artichoke where it meets the base. Invert artichoke, then slice 1 inch off the top.
3. Tear off 4 square pieces of foil, large enough to cover each artichoke. Rub each piece with a few drops of olive oil, then place artichoke on foil stem side down.
4. Stick 1 garlic clove into center of each artichoke until it is wedged about 1 inch inside.
5. Sprinkle each artichoke with salt and drizzle with 1 tablespoon olive oil.
6. Bring four corners of foil square together to "package" artichoke, covering completely and sealing tightly. Repeat for other three artichokes.
7. Bake for 1 1/2 hours. Let rest for about 15 minutes before gorging, er, I mean, serving.
On top of some pita/All covered with ghee/I lost my poor meatball/When somebody sneezed
-Old Syrian Boy Scout Song
In an attempt to roll with the punches last week at work, I decided to embrace spherical foods, my savory favorite of which is the meatball. I like 'em big, juicy, and slightly rare. Again, I'm talking about meatballs.
I found a recipe on SyrianCooking.com for "Dawood Basha", which by the parenthetical that followed implied can be roughly translated as "meatball." But I wouldn't know because I don't speak Arabic. YET. Below is a slightly modified version.
1 pound beef or lamb
2 cups your husband's homemade spaghetti sauce
1/2 cup chopped onion
1 cup chopped parsley
1/2 tablespoon Baharat (Syrian Spice Mix)*
1/2 cup sesame seeds
Olive oil or ghee
*Baharat can be bought online or at most foreign food markets. You can make it yourself by combining spices that might just be already in your pantry (what I did).
1. Combine ground meat, onion, parsley, and baharat.
2. Form meat mixture into balls, any size of your choosing.
3. Coat with sesame seeds.
4. Brown balls in oil or ghee over medium heat until there's thin cooked exterior crust.
5. Finish in oven at 350 degrees until interior is of desired brownness (or pinkness in my case).
6. Served balls bathing in warm tomato sauce over rice, not spaghetti, duh.
I don't give a fiddler's fuck about engaging in any partisan debate as who should be blamed for this horrific recent attack. I think the images are sufficient evidence that the Syrian people need our support. I don't know if that comes in the form of further intervention, or intervening against others whose intentions are clearly nefarious.
I have no appetite, but I won't stop cooking.
The first challenge with Foul is that its name is unfortunately an unappealing English cognate.
The second challenge with Foul is finding its star ingredient, fava beans, also known as broad beans also known as faba beans also known as field beans also known as bell beans also known as pigeon peas also known as horse beans...you get the picture. Turns out, a fava bean by any other name is still a fava bean.
Kroger's canned vegetable aisle boasted at least 20 different types of beans but none of them were labeled with the aforementioned monikers. On a hunch, I skipped to the "International Foods" section and located a can of "Pigeon Peas" on the English shelf. Hurrah.
After that, it's pretty simple. Fava beans are prominently featured in many Arab dishes, including some common in Syria, in part because they're easy to grow and yield abundant harvests even under harsh conditions. Usually, fava beans are incorporated into a mezze or side dish and sometimes even are presented warm and mashed. I wanted to preserve the integrity of the beans' shape and texture, so I kept them whole and took a cue (once again) from Syrian Foodie in London in assembling a salad.
2 cups canned fava beans (drained)--or if you're really ambitious (I'm not!) cook fresh ones
3 tablespoons cilantro
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 tablespoons olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
1. Combine beans, cilantro, garlic, and lemon juice well.
2. Slowly stir in olive oil. Season with salt and pepper. Garnish with lemon slice.
Eat right away with a fork, or more preferably, with pita and sparkling apple cider.
I love artichokes but the preparation their raw form requires intimidates me. Oh hell, who am I kidding? I'm not afraid; I'm just lazy. Despite the luscious rewards of preparing buttery roasted artichokes, I am much happier, usually, to settle for less unctuous but still satisfying marinated artichoke hearts. Artichoke are prominently featured in Syrian cooking, with many recipes involving stuffing the hearts with spices, pine nuts, and ground meat. Some day, I will make those recipes.
Last night I was just fine with making an artichoke salad inspired by a memory of a similar botanical assemblage I enjoyed during my first visit to Damascus.
5-7 Artichoke hearts marinated in oil (from a jar like this from your local supermarket)
1 large tomato (chopped)
1/2 red onion (chopped)
4 tablespoons parsley (chopped)
More olive oil (if necessary)
Salt and pepper
Toss artichoke hearts, tomato, onion, and parsley together in a medium bowl. Add salt and pepper to taste and more olive oil if you like.
Sujuk is apparently a very common Syrian dish as well as a specialty of Damascus but I managed not to eat it during my two trips. I even dined twice at Naranj, where SyrianFoodieinLondon enjoyed sujuk with hummus and it escaped my notice. Fail. One more reason why it's important to do research before you visit a country in order to compile a comprehensive eating itinerary. But also another reason (as if I needed more) to return to Syria.
1 pound minced lamb
1 tablespoon ghee (clarified butter)
2 teaspoons paprika
2 teaspoons dried chili flakes
1 tablespoon minced garlic (or garlic powder if you're strapped)
2 teaspoons allspice
1. Pan-fry the lamb in ghee until it just begins to turn brown.
2. Add garlic and spices.
3. Lower heat and cook until all water has evaporated and lamb begins to get crispy (but not dry!). Might take 20-30 minutes.
Spoon onto hummus and eat straight with a spoon. Or, with pita bread if others are watching.
I'm trying to step it up a notch with regards to the complexity of the recipes I'm attempting, and to that end, I made fatayer this past weekend. Fatayer (spinach pies) are popular all over the Middle East and a staple of mezze menus in Damascus. The biggest challenge is shaping the dough into compact triangles around a heaping tablespoon or so of filling. After a few false starts, I got the hang of it. If you don't have time to make dough, you can use store-bought pie crust.
1 tablespoon active dry yeast
1 teaspoon sugar
1 cup warm water
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1. Activate yeast by dissolving it in 1/4 cup of warm water with sugar. Let rest 10 minutes.
2. Whisk together flour and salt in a medium bowl. With a spoon, create a well or small gap in the center of the dry mixture and add the oil and yeast mixture.
3. Using an electric mixer, slowly combine the wet and dry ingredients. Add the remaining 3/4 cup of water slowly.
4. Remove dough from bowl (will be sticky) and knead by hand about 5 minutes or until dough is firm.
5. Spritz a large bowl with cooking spray. Transfer dough into bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let dough rest until doubled in size (about 1.5 hours).
FILLING & PIES
2 lbs frozen chopped spinach (thawed and patted until completely dry)
1 1/2 cups chopped yellow onion
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 cup pine nuts
sesame seeds for dusting
1. Combine spinach, onion, salt, lemon juice, cinnamon, and pine nuts.
2. Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
3. Dust a large cutting board or surface with flour. Roll out the dough to 1/8 thickness and cut into circles (you can use a water glass) roughly 4 inches in diameter. Reknead dough and repeat until all dough is used up.
4. Place a tablespoon or so of filling in center of each dough circle. Fold sides around fillings to form a triangle. This recipe has some helpful photos.
5. Place fatayer on baking sheets and brush with olive oil. Sprinkle liberally with sesame seeds. Bake for 18-20 minutes until brown.
Serve hot to guests; eat cold leftovers the next day for breakfast.
Don't judge a sandwich by its crust. My attempt at making arayes, a type of Syrian grilled sandwich turned out a bit sloppy but thanks to high-quality, unctuous lamb, fresh labneh, and good amount of chili, the contents were delicious.
Ironically, it was my choice of labneh rather than frozen pita that was probably the undoing of this sandwich. The former was unavailable fresh and the latter (more traditional) only frozen. Next time, I won't overstuff my sandwich and use pita in order to form neater, more compact pockets. Right now, I'll just enjoy this simple, satisfying snack.
1 pound ground lamb
1 small yellow onion (chopped)
1 bunch parsley (chopped)
1 teaspoon chili flakes
1 teaspoon allspice
1. Preheat oven to 200 degrees Fahrenheit.
2. Combine ground lamb, onion, parsley, chili flakes, and allspice in a large bowl.
3. Cook meat mixture in a pan on the stoveup until just hints of pink remain.
4. Butter exterior of bread pockets and stuff with meat mixture. Do not overstuff.
5. Cook on wire rack in oven; 10 minutes for medium rare, 20 minutes for well done.
This weekend chicken livers were on sale at Kroger, which means they cost a cheek-slappingly low 90 cents(!) instead of $1.42. Seriously, when was the last time you could buy a pound of meat that provides 487% of your RDA of iron for less than a dollar?
Syrian Foodie in London claims this recipe is for one of his very favorites, and after preparing it, I'm happy to say now it's one of mine, too. Its success is due to the rich balance of butter, booze, and fruity sweetness. Btw, if you can't find ghee at your local supermarket (check the foreign foods section), you can clarify butter yourself.
1/2 pound chicken livers
1 tablespoon ghee
2 tablespoons pomegranate molasses
3.5 ounces of red wine
Salt and pepper
1 tablespoon cold butter
1. Pan fry the chicken livers in ghee until they are brown on the outside.
2. Add molasses, red wine, salt, and pepper.
3. Cook livers one or two minutes more, just until tender.
4. Remove livers and reduce sauce by a quarter.
5. Add cold butter to sauce and mix thoroughly. Pour on top of livers and serve with bread or rice.
One of my many culinary-writing goals is to compose a cookbook comprising only recipes for liver (from all different animals). People who discount the edible potential of this organ due to its metallic taste (easily masked or eradicated through proper preparation) are missing out not only on a terrific offal experience but also on an incredibly cheap powerhouse source of nutrients.
I spend a lot of time reading Syrian Foodie in London for inspiration, so when I came across not one but TWO recipes involving liver, I was extremely excited. And, remarkably, I had all the ingredients on hand already save the liver itself.
Like Syrian Foodie in London, I substituted chicken livers for the more traditional lamb livers due to the former's availability. But next pass I will try the latter if I can track some down. Recipe below is slightly adapted from the original.
1 pound chicken livers
2 or 3 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons chopped garlic
2 tablespoons chopped coriander
1 red chili (chopped)
1. Pat chicken livers completely dry with paper towel.
2. Remove any gristle. Or not. (I like the little fatty bits.)
3. Heat olive on medium heat in a wide saucepan.
4. Add liver, garlic, and chili. Cook for about 6-8 minutes until livers show just a smidge of pink.
5. Add coriander, some salt and pepper, then cook until livers are just brown (about 2 more minutes). You want the livers to be tender, so don't overcook.
6. Garnish with more coriander and squeeze of lemon.
I ate this liver with some popcorn and a nice Chardonnay.
The Metro Yeoman is in Deutschland for work, which means it's just Bridey, Mason, and Jack at home this week. Mason and Jack, btw, are the world's cutest cats with a total of three eyes. Yes, they're that superior: they don't even need two full sets.
Usually when I want eggs for dinner I commandeer my better half because he is exceedingly adept at preparing all variants: scrambled, poached, sunny-side up, etc. But his absence was a good opportunity for me to hone my own skills by making ojji, a type of Syrian omelet. I cooked it and relished it; now, I just have to learn how to pronounce it. The recipe below is adapted from syriancooking.com; I have seen others on the interwebs that involve mint, which I excluded only because I worried it would overwhelmed the more delicate flavors of the parsley and onion.
6 large eggs
1 cup flour
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
1/2 cup chopped white onion
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 teaspoon ground red pepper
1/2 tablespoon salt
1. Combine eggs, flour, parsley, and onions in a mixing bowl. Add in pepper and salt slowly. Batter will be thick.
2. Heat olive oil in skillet over medium heat for just under a minute.
3. Ladle small (or large depending on how big you want your omelet patties) scoops of batter onto the skillet. Brown on both sides but do not overcook lest interior become dry.
Two things you should know about me and lentils. First, after reading the original version of Cinderella in middle school in which the eponymous heroine's evil stepmother falsely asserts if Cinderella is able sift lentils out of the ashes she can go to the ball, I for years associated lentils with dirt and broken promises. Second, this association shifted dramatically, and most importantly, positively when I volunteered one summer in Himachal Pradesh in northern India. The cook at our lodgings packed us tiffins of dal, okra, rice, and chapati every day for lunch, and in the cooler mountain temperatures, the warm spiced lentils were the perfect comfort food. (And welcome distraction from the fact that I was exposed daily to TB patients not wearing masks but that's another story.)
A leftover bag of green lentils from holiday entertaining presented the perfect opportunity to make salata addis, a Syrian lentil salad speckled with onions, parsley, and tomatoes. The recipe below is adapted from Helen Corey's Healthy Syrian and Lebanese Cooking, my bible until I find a better one (irony noted) for this experiment.
1/2 cups lentils
3 1/2 cups water
1 bay leave
2 tablespoons minced garlic
1 small onion (chopped)
2 tablespoons fresh parsley (chopped)
1 medium tomato (diced)
1 tablespoon lemon juice
3 tablespoons olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
1. Rinse and drain lentils. Place in saucepan and add in water and bay leaf. Bring to a boil and cook partly covered for approximately 30 minutes.
2. Drain lentils and discard bay leaf.
3. Combine lentils with garlic, onion, parsley, and tomato in a large bowl.
4. Toss with lemon juice and olive oil. Salt and pepper to your pleasing.
5. Serve warm or chilled.
Last June I made mutubal shawandar, which despite its garish color exacerbated by my bad food photography, was light, lovely, and incredibly refreshing in the height of the humid season.
This week I embarked on a brief vegan challenge with my favorite masshole Zach and therefore was limited in what Syrian recipes I could test. Not that there's any dearth of vegetable-heavy dishes in that country's culinary canon, for as in many Western nations, Syrians use meat more often for garnish and flavoring rather than as the main event.
Mutubal is as simple to make as mutubal shawandar as the former swaps out beets for roasted eggplant. It should be noted that eggplants are not in season. It should also be noted that I do not care because I LOVE EGGPLANT AND NO ONE WILL STOP ME FROM EATING IT. This is basically me:
But I otherwise I really try to eat what's in season, I swear. Here is a short and sweet recipe for mutubal, adapted from FashionEdible.
2 cups roasted eggplant (chopped)
2 tablespoons minced garlic
2 tablespoons tahini
1/2 cup plain yogurt (or silken tofu if you're on a vegan challenge)
1/2 lemon (juiced)
Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
Slice eggplant into discs no thicker than one half inch.
Coat each disc liberally with salt and arrange them so they line the insides of a colander.
"Sweat" eggplant slices for approximately 15 minutes. Rinse and pat dry.
Arrange eggplant on foil-lined baking sheet and spritz with olive oil spray. Roast in oven for 20-30 minutes.
Remove eggplant from oven and chop into cube-size pieces.
Combine eggplant with garlic, tahini, yogurt, and lemon juice in a food processor or blender. Pulse into smooth.
Garnish with olive oil.