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Archive for the ‘recipe’ Category

Piece of Cake

Buying my first house was a huge step. The experience was filled with a thrill, panic, and excitement that I’ll never forget! I shared some horror stories in my last post, but homeownership has its upsides. I bought a historic row home from the late 1800s with beautiful exposed brick and a charm that makes me happy to come home.

I recently converted the inside panels of my kitchen cabinets into a magnetic spice rack. Out of all the DIY projects I’ve worked on this past year, this has been my favorite! I was able to clear an entire shelf of precious cabinet real estate and now I can see my spices front and center. I documented the process with my iPhone.

before: spice cabinet in disarray
spice cabinet disarray
materials for project
materials for project

If you plan on doing this, make sure you use gloves while working with the sheet metal. The edges are extremely sharp! I ended up cutting two pieces of sheet metal by hand using the snips in the photo. They came out ok, but not perfectly straight. It also took a really long time and considerable effort to cut each piece. That’s when I decided to called a few local metal fabricators. One of them was really nice and helped me cut the remaining two pieces perfectly straight using their industrial-sized cutter. I wish I had a picture of this — their machine was huge! It took less than a second per cut and they came out perfect.

measuring & marking the panel
measuring & marking the panel

The inside of my cabinets have a little curve at the top that I wanted to recreate in the sheet metal. The metal fabricator who cut the metal for me recommended I do this part by hand. I traced the curvature of the cabinet onto a sheet of paper. Then I cut the paper into a stencil that I used to re-trace the curve onto the sheet metal.

sand away the rough edges
sand away the rough edges

Sanding metal is important to remove any sharp edges. Interestingly enough, it also helps remove any scratches. The best way to get rid of scratches on the sheet metal are to blend them in with more scratches. I know it sounds counterintuitive, but it works.

clean cabinets
cleaning cabinets

Before you can adhere the sheet metal to the inside of the cabinet, you have to make sure the cabinet is clean and dry. Unmount the cabinet doors from the hinges and wipe them clean with your favorite cleaner. Make sure the doors are completely dry before moving on to the next step.

100% silicone caulk
100% silicone caulk

Use 100% silicone caulk to mount the sheet metal to the inside of the cabinet doors. Apply the silicone liberally, but not too close to the edge so that it doesn’t ooze out from the sides.


Apply some weights on the sheet metal while the silicone cures. This is a good time to go do something else: watch a movie, read a book, etc. I left my cabinets like this for a few hours to make sure the silicone had set.

the final project
the final product

Once the silicone has finished curing, you can mount the doors back on their hinge. Fill your spice tins with your favorite spices and you’re set!

clear labels
clear labels

I hope you enjoyed this DIY post! Now, onto the food. If you haven’t tried this Sicilian Orange-Infused Olive Oil cake from Saveur, you absolutely must. The recipe calls for two entire oranges that get pureed into the batter, skin, flesh, and everything. This is a common technique in Italy; it helps impart a wonderful citrus flavor.

I discovered this recipe while living in Italy back in 2007. My host mom made it for me a couple of times. She didn’t follow any recipe. She made it from memory and it came out perfect each time. This is the closest I’ve come to recreating my host mom’s cake.

2007: Making biscotti with my Italian host mom
mise en place
mise en place
cut oranges into quarters
cut oranges into quarters
boil orange quarters thrice
boil orange quarters twice
pureed oranges
pureed oranges
pour batter into cake pan
pour batter into cake pan
simple orange glaze
simple orange glaze
apply glaze
apply glaze
piece of cake!

Orange-Infused Olive Oil Cake

yields 1 cake


  • 2 oranges
  • 2 ⅓ cups sugar
  • unsalted butter, for greasing the pan
  • 2½ cups flour, plus more for pan
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 4 eggs
  • 6 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
  • ¼ cup fresh orange juice
  • ¼ cup confectioners’ sugar
  • Sea salt, for garnish

Putting them all together

  1. Trim the tops and bottoms of the oranges — enough to barely expose the flesh.
  2. Quarter the oranges lengthwise.
  3. Bring 6 cups water to a boil and add the quartered oranges. Bring the water back to a boil and drain. Repeat this process twice more with fresh water. This will help cut the bitterness in the orange.
  4. Put oranges, 1 cup sugar, and 4 cups water into a 4-qt. saucepan over medium-high heat. Cook, stirring often, until the sugar dissolves and the orange rind can be easily pierced with a knife (about 30 minutes). Remove pan from heat and let cool to room temperature.
  5. Heat oven to 350°. Grease a bundt pan with butter and dust with flour.
  6. Whisk together flour, baking powder, and baking soda in a medium bowl and set aside.
  7. Remove orange quarters from syrup, remove and discard any seeds, and puree the orange quartered in a food processor. Pulse until oranges form a chunky purée.
  8. Add remaining sugar, flour mixture, vanilla, and eggs, olive oil, and process until incorporated, about 1 minute.
  9. Pour batter into prepared pan; bake until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean, 40 to 45 minutes. Let cool for 30 minutes.
  10. In a small bowl, whisk fresh orange juice and confectioners’ sugar to make a thin glaze.
  11. Remove cake from pan and transfer to a cake stand or plate. Brush orange glaze over top and sides of cake; let cool completely. Garnish cake with salt.

Note: Recipe modified slightly from Saveur.


cake served

Cab rides through Aleppo

I used to love exploring Aleppo by cab. Occasionally I’ll catch myself daydreaming about these simple, ordinary memories: leaning forward from the sidewalk of a bustling street; hailing a cab in the ancient city. The experience made me feel like a local, like a halabi.

As I waited for a cab to pull over, I would practice how to pronounce the name of the street or destination where I wanted to go. “A’al jama’a, low samahet,” I repeated softly, placing extra emphasis on the a’a sound — to the university, please. The a’a sound in Arabic, produced by the letter aeyn (ع), is the most difficult for me, as a non-native speaker, to pronounce. The sound is that of a deep “a” that is starts at back of your throat. Linguists refer to this as an epiglottal sound.

I miss these small yellow cabs (even with all their honking)
cabs in Aleppo

In Aleppo, if you’re male, you’re expected to ride in the passenger seat alongside the driver. This makes the experience more casual — it encourages conversation. It also ensures there is never a dull or quiet ride through the city.

Once I sat in the passenger seat, a few utterances of my soft-spoken Arabic were usually enough to cause intrigue. The Aleppan dialect is known for its rather sharp and assertive tone. When the driver would ask me where I’m from, I usually turned the question back to him, asking where he thought I was from. This way my way of breaking the ice. It was also how I informally kept track of my progress in Arabic. When I arrived to Syria, I started out as an ajnabi, a foreigner. Towards the end of my Fulbright some cab drivers actually thought I was an Armenian from Aleppo. I was elated the first time I heard that.

After a few guesses, I would clarify that I was an American studying food culture in Syria. Mentioning food in Aleppo is an ice breaker in its own right. Aleppans, as you may gather from my blog, are famous for their food. Once food entered the conversation, cultural barriers suddenly dissipated. Shoulders relaxed and polite smiles felt more sincere. If I was welcomed before, the driver would make sure to welcome me again: Ya ahla w sahla, ya meet el salameh.

Cab rides provided great opportunities for cultural exchange. On many occasions I was the first American the driver had ever met. Cabs were also a great place for me to interact with Syrians from all walks of life. I met professionals looking for a second source of income, religious men, young adults who had run-ins with the law (well, just one), business men, Kurds who played lovely Kurdish music, food enthusiasts, and many others. One cab driver, I will never forget him, entertained me with his Arabic-English riddles. “Cat in light” he exclaimed — “cat in light!!” I’m hardly good at riddles in English, let alone riddles between two languages. After a few seconds, he blurted out, ou’t fil duow (قط في الضوء), and then repeated more fluently, ou’tfi el douw (أطفي الضوء). “Get it“, he asked, cackling. You see, the Arabic translation for “cat in light,” if pronounced quickly, will sound like someone is saying, “turn off the light.” I laughed with him. He then presented me with another riddle, which I will leave for my Arabic-English readers to guess: “small donkey, my money.” If you get it, leave your answer in the comments!

One thing I learned about Syrian cuisine is that it is resourceful. Recipes were never exact; more like simple instructions that vary between neighborhoods, and even families. A series of handfuls and pinches that, when executed properly, lead to extraordinary meals. One of the dishes that exemplifies this culinary ingenuity is called maldoum (ملضوم), an incredibly delicious layered meat and eggplant dish. The classic way to prepare this dish is over a grill, where you alternate meat patties and eggplant slices on a skewer. When the dish is prepared over the grill, it is called, kabob banjan (كباب باذنجان). But if you don’t have access to a grill, you can prepare kabob banjan in the oven, and call it maldoum.

Either way you prepare it, the dish is incredibly simple and only takes a few basic ingredients: eggplants, ground meat, tomatoes, tomato puree, salt, allspice, and paprika.

mise en place
mise en place

The eggplants should be sliced fairly thick, about an inch wide, because they will release a lot of water while they cook in the oven.

thick slices
thick slices

Traditionally, the eggplant slices are pan-fried and then layered into the casserole, but I think it tastes better when the eggplants are roasted in the oven. For one, it’s healthier, but you also won’t have to stand over the stove frying slices of eggplant individually.

Before I roast the eggplants, I sprinkle them with a bit of salt to help break them down and remove some of the liquid stored inside.

sprinkle with salt
sprinkle with salt

Then I cover the eggplants with paper towels and place a baking sheet on top. I weigh the baking sheet down with anything heavy to help the eggplants drain more quickly. I used my cast-iron wok, but anything heavy, like cans or even a brick, will do.

drain the eggplants
drain the eggplants

The meat is important. You can use lamb or beef, but make sure it is freshly ground and seasoned properly. I used beef. You might even try ground chicken or turkey for healthier alternatives. Remember, these are merely guidelines.

If you’re using beef, I suggest using 90/10 ground beef (10% fat). The grilled version calls for 85/15 ground beef (15%), but that’s because a lot of the fat drains into the grill.

simply seasoned: salt, allspice, paprika
simply seasoned: salt, allspice, paprika

Maldoum is traditionally prepared in a large round metal pan, similar to cake pans, but slightly shorter. I didn’t have one of those, so I used an oven-proof rectangular casserole dish. I also sliced the eggplants in half so that they can fit nicely in the casserole dish I had. Then I formed the meat patties and sliced the tomatoes to roughly the same size.

alternate: eggplant, meat, tomato
alternate: eggplant, meat, tomato

Top the casserole with your favorite canned tomato puree and bake in the oven for about an hour. The tomato puree not only compliments the flavor of the fresh tomatoes in the casserole, but also protects the meat from drying out in the oven.

maldoum (ملضوم)
maldoum (ملضوم)

Bonne appétit,صحة و هنا


yields 6 servings


  • 1.5 lbs 90% ground beef or lamb
  • 3 medium eggplants
  • 2 large tomatoes
  • 1/2 cup tomato puree
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt, to taste
  • 1 1/2 allspice, to taste
  • 1 tsp paprika, to taste

Putting them all together

  1. Rinse and dry the eggplants.
  2. Remove the tip of the eggplants, then slice into thick, even slices (approximately 1 inch thick).
  3. Season the eggplant with salt on both sides, cover with a layer of paper towels, and place a baking sheet with weights on top to drain some of the water from the eggplants. This will take about 15-20 minutes.
  4. Roast eggplants in a 425 degree oven for 20-25 minutes until tender, but not soft.
  5. Slice the eggplants in half if they are very large. Slice the tomatoes into roughly the same size as the eggplant slices.
  6. Season the ground beef with salt, allspice (freshly ground, if possible), and paprika.
  7. Divide the meat into even patties, approximately the same size as the eggplant slices.
  8. Alternate between eggplant, meat patties, and tomatoes in the casserole dish.
  9. Pour the tomato puree evenly across the top of the casserole and bake in a 425 degree oven for an hour.
  10. Serve with rice or pita bread and enjoy.


Seasonal Pumpkin Kibbeh

I’m in Miami visiting my family — we’re getting ready to go on a cruise, literally in a couple of hours, but first, I need to tell you about this delicious Pumpkin Kibbeh. It would be incredibly cruel if I kept this recipe to myself any longer. It’s amazing, and I don’t take that claim lightly.

mise en placemise_en_place

I actually packed some of the kibbeh I made for this blog post into my carry-on. I felt like my grandmother, who is incapable of visiting anyone without packing a feast into her luggage. I’m not exaggerating: she will show up with more food than clothes sometimes. She also refuses to rest; as soon as she settles in, she will find her way into the kitchen and begin to work her magic. I get my passion for cooking from her. I wrapped pieces of my Pumpkin Kibbeh in aluminum foil and bundled each parcel inside two plastic bags. I used my clothes for padding and made my way to the airport. This kibbeh merits a blog post.

pumpkinroasting pumpkin

Kibbeh is a classic Levantine dish that can be prepared several ways. The traditional kibbeh is prepared with extremely lean ground lamb kneaded with bulgur wheat (cracked wheat) until a dough is formed. The dough is stuffed with a fragrant filling of pine nuts and minced lamb seasoned with allspice, salt, pepper, and a tiny pinch of cinnamon. This is only one kind of kibbeh.

roasted vegetablesroasted vegetables

Legend has it that you can find 100 different kinds of kibbeh in Aleppo. That is why this ancient city in northern Syria is known as “the home of stuffed vegetables and kibab” (plural of kibbeh) — حلب أم المحاشي و الكبب. I’ve written a few blog posts on stuffed vegetables — swiss chard, eggplant, and grape leaves. Today, I want to focus on kibbeh, specifically the pumpkin kibbeh that I discovered at the beginning of my Fulbright. I arrived to Aleppo in early autumn of 2010. The blazing heat still carried over from the hot summer days, but nighttime brought with it a crisp, autumn breeze that swooped through the entire city. It was a beautiful time to be in Syria.

the dough: simple and colorfuldough ingredients

At that time I was living with my host mom, Tant Kiki, who prepared simple, but delicious meals. When she prepared this pumpkin kibbeh I am ashamed to say that I was not enthusiastic about eating it for lunch. When I asked what we were having, she said they were leftovers. Little did I know she had the powers to turn scrap vegetables into gold. You will never catch Tant Kiki letting any food go to waste; she gathered her unused vegetables and made this delicious kibbeh out of them. I ate my words. I thought it was the most delicious thing I had ever had.

beautiful colorthe dough

I made my kibbeh with eleven vegetables (I didn’t end up using the parsley). The beauty of this dish is that you can make it with almost any vegetables you can think of. Whatever you have in your fridge will work, just like Tant Kiki makes it. This is also a great way to use any leftover pumpkin from Halloween or Thanksgiving. I hope you enjoy this recipe as much as I did — I will see you when I get back from my cruise! Bon appetit and Happy (early) Halloween!

the bottom layerbaking dish
forming the kibbehforming kibbeh
butter, the finishing touchbutter on top
pumpkin kibbehpumpkin_kibbeh1
classic diamond shapekibbeh top

Pumpkin Kibbeh

yields 2 trays


  • 3 cups fine ground bulgur wheat (#1)
  • 3 cups fine semolina
  • 2 1/2 cups pumpkin puree
  • 2 red bell peppers, one diced, one chopped
  • 1 medium yellow onion
  • 2 large leeks
  • 1 green pepper, diced
  • 1 small pumpkin, peeled and diced
  • 4-5 carrots, peeled and grated
  • 1 lb crimini mushrooms
  • 1/2 head of cabbage, finely shredded
  • 1 eggplant, diced
  • 2 zucchini, diced
  • 4 cloves of garlic, minced
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 cup pomegranate molasses
  • 1 stick of butter
  • Pine nuts, garnish
  • salt, to taste

Putting them all together

  1. Rinse and dry all the vegetables. Slice, dice, or grate the vegetables depending on the instructions on the ingredient list.
  2. Toss the peeled and diced pumpkin with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.
  3. Begin by roasting the pumpkin in a 400 degree F oven because it takes the longest. Roast for 30-40 minutes or until a knife easily pierces the flesh. Set aside.
  4. Toss the eggplant, zucchini, carrots, and the minced garlic together with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Roast for 30 minutes in 400 degree F oven or until a knife easily pierces the flesh of the eggplant.
  5. In a large skillet, sauté the leeks, mushrooms, cabbage, green pepper, and the diced red pepper in olive oil over medium high heat until leeks and cabbage are soft, approximately 20-25 minutes.
  6. Deglaze the pan with some water, reduce heat to medium low, and add mix in the pomegranate molasses. Cook until the water evaporates and the sauce develops a syrup consistency.
  7. Set all the cooked vegetables aside and allow to cool to room temperature. You can also refrigerate them at this point and continue preparing the kibbeh tomorrow.
  8. Blend the chopped red pepper and onion in a food processor or blender until completely liquid. Combine the semolina, bulgur wheat, pumpkin purée, and liquified pepper and onion and knead until a dough is formed. You may need to add a couple tablespoons of water if the dough is still dry to the touch.
  9. Grease a large baking dish with butter.
  10. Flatten golf size pieces of dough on the bottom of the baking dish (1/4″) until the entire bottom is covered.
  11. Scatter the cooled vegetables over the bottom layer of dough.
  12. Repeat the process of flattening golf size balls of dough to cover the vegetables and create a top layer for the kibbeh. Don’t worry if there are seams.
  13. Once the top layer is covered, dip your hands in water and run your hand across the top of the kibbeh to flatten out any imperfections.
  14. Slice the kibbeh in the design that you prefer. Add a pine nut to the center of each piece for garnish.
  15. Melt the butter and seal the top of the kibbeh with a thin layer of butter. I used about a third to a half of stick per baking dish.
  16. At this point you can either freeze the baking dish or bake it immediately in a 400 degree oven for 20-30 minutes or until the top is golden brown.

Notes: If you don’t have pomegranate molasses you can season the vegetables with soy sauce to develop a deep flavor (it is not the same, but it is a nice variation). The filling for this dish is also versatile; feel free to use completely different vegetables for your kibbeh. Some people make the same pumpkin kibbeh dough, but fill it with the classic meat, onion, and pine nuts.


pumpkin kibbehpumpkin_kibbeh1

World Peace, a step in the right direction

It is difficult to write about my experiences in Syria knowing that the country is on the brink of civil war and chaos. It breaks my heart. I also realize that not writing anything won’t necessarily make things better, either. And giving up on my blog — the thing that used to bring me so much happiness — is the last thing I want to do.

mise en placemise_en_place

I want to keep today’s post short with the promise that I’ll be back again soon. I won’t disappear like I did before, you have my word. Thank you to all those who nudged me (physically and electronically) and encouraged me to continue writing. It may have taken me a while, but I’m here.

creaming processmixing

Today’s recipe is not one that I learned on my Fulbright in Syria, although I still have plenty of those to share with you, too. This is a recipe that I’ve come across many times on some of my favorite food blogs: World Peace Cookies. It even made it to Saveur’s list, Recipes that Rocked the Internet. Given all that is going on, I thought this was the perfect time to try such an alluring cookie.

sift for clumpssifting

Pastry Chef Pierre Hermé originally developed these cookies for a restaurant in Paris, and Dorie Greenspan introduced them to the world in her book, Paris Sweets . The original name for the cookies was Sables Korova, or Korova Cookies, named after the restaurant off Champs Élysées that Pierre Hermé created the recipe for. It was not until Dorie’s neighbor tasted these these ultra decadent, chocolate-intense cookies that the name changed to what we know today. Dorie’s neighbor was convinced that a daily dose of these is all that is needed to ensure planetary peace and happiness; thus the new name was born.

chocolate: the ‘peace’ in ‘world peace’adding_chocolate

I used Dorie’s recipe, except I took the liberty to add a pinch of orange zest to the dough; the combination of orange and chocolate makes my heart swoon. You could always leave that addition out if you’d like. The point is, these cookies are amazing any way you prepare them. They are crumbly and chocolatey and even if they don’t bring world peace immediately, I’m fully convinced, as was Dorie’s neighbor, that they are a step in the right direction.

refrigerate dough (in logs)logs
cookie doughcookie_dough
freshly bakedsheet_tray
World Peace Cookiesworld_peace_cookies1
cold milk: enabler of world peace world_peace_cookies2

World Peace Cookies

yields approx 36 cookies


  • 1 1/4 cups (175 grams) all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup (30 grams) unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 stick plus 3 tablespoons (11 tablespoons or 150 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 2/3 cup (120 grams) (packed) light brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup (50 grams) sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon fleur de sel or 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 5 ounces (150 grams) bittersweet chocolate, chopped into chips
  • zest of half an orange*(not in original recipe)

Putting them all together

  1. Mix together the butter and sugars in a stand mixer on medium speed until the mixture becomes pale and creamy. You can also use a hand mixer. Add the salt, vanilla extract, and orange zest and mix for a couple more minutes.
  2. Sift the flour, cocoa powder, and baking soda and add to the butter and sugar mixture. Pulse a few times at a low speed to incorporate the flour and prevent it from spilling. Add the chocolate chunks and mix on low speed for 30 seconds, or until the flour is fully incorporated. Do not overwork the dough; the dough should still look and feel crumbly. Divide the dough in two and form into logs approximately 1.5 inches in diameter. Roll each log in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 3 hours (you can refrigerate the dough for up to 3 days or freeze the dough for 2 months).
  3. Preheat your oven to 325 degrees F (160 degrees C). Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper.
  4. With a sharp thin knife, slice the logs into disks that are 1/2 inch thick. Don’t worry if the disks crack as you cut them, just squeeze the bits back together. Arrange the sliced disks on your baking sheets, making sure to leave about an inch between each cookie.
  5. Bake the cookies for 12 minutes. Note that they will still be soft and won’t look done, but that’s how they should be. Cool the cookies on a cookie rack and serve warm or at room temperature. Make sure to store leftover cookies (if there are any) in an airtight container.

Notes: Recipe adapted from Paris Sweets by Dorie Greenspan.


if not world peace, then happiness, for sureempty_glass

Stuffed chard and a day in the souk

I love to walk around for hours deep in the labyrinth of souks that interweave the old city in Aleppo. I lose myself in the crowds, chat with vendors, drink coffee with strangers, and take in my surroundings. It’s an exhilarating feeling. The chatter, the people, the sales, the merchandise–it’s all a very lively experience.

In Aleppo there are souks, or traditional Arab markets, for almost everything: clothing, gold, jewelry, food. Stores selling almost identical merchandise will all be bundled in one section of the souk. From an economics perspective, it’s wonderful; the competition helps keep prices low. The market I most often visit, naturally, is a vegetable souk that’s a convenient 10-minute walk from my house. I’ve posted pictures on my Facebook Page.

The first time I visited, I couldn’t help but think this is what a real farmer’s market feels like. Mountains of vegetables that look like they have just been picked, bargains belted by vendors at every stand, and amazing prices. The kids in the market love showing me around — they compete for my hand and pull me towards their favorite stands.

vegetable market
swiss chard
swiss chard

The Swiss chard at the souk caught my eye; its over-sized dark green leaves are hard to miss. Aleppo is known as the mother city of stuffed vegetables and kibab. It’s a popular saying here, “حلب أم الكبب و المحاشي”. This was my inspiration for today’s post.

Kibab, plural for kibbeh, are small torpedo-shape balls, pointy on both ends, made from minced meat and fine bulgur (cracked wheat). This is a classic preparation across the Levant and anything that slightly resembles this paradigm is dubbed, kibbeh. Aleppo is famous for its endless variations: with sour cherries or quince; carrots or pumpkin; yogurt or broth; raw or cooked; fried or baked; boiled or grilled. I can go on. This is a topic that, rightfully so, deserves its own blog post. Today, however, I want to focus on the first half of the saying–that is, the stuffed vegetables.

Like kibab, Aleppans are also known for their variety of stuffed vegetables: eggplants, zucchini, peppers, grape leaves, cabbage leaves, tomatoes, potatoes; I’m sure I’m forgetting a lot. As of lately, my favorite has been the stuffed Swiss chard leaves. I had them for the first time a few months ago on a chilly winter afternoon in Aleppo. My grandmother’s sister prepared a batch one afternoon for me to try. The stuffed chard leaves looked almost like over-stuffed grape leaves, but with a more pronounced dark green color. They also seemed softer in texture, as I noticed a few inside the pot had broken down in the simmering broth.

Before we sat down to eat, my grandmother’s sister asked me to mince some garlic; it’s for the sauce, she said. She added the fragrant garlic bits into a bowl of pearly white yogurt, sprinkled a small handful of dried mint, and stirred. It looked beautiful. The specks of bright green mint stood out in the creamy yogurt. As she carried the pot of stuffed chard leaves to the table she told me this used to be my grandfather’s favorite dish. “Allah yerhamo,” she said (May he rest in peace).

I took my first bite. I remember I wasn’t very excited. In my mind, it didn’t seem like anything could compare to the flavor and texture of stuffed grape leaves. “You have to eat it with the yogurt sauce,” she proclaimed. My grandmother’s sister took the liberty of adding a few large spoonfuls to the side of my plate. She instructed me, “dip, and then give it a try.”

I took another bite, this time with the yogurt. Had I been a cartoon character, this is when fireworks would be happening in my eyes. The difference is incredible. The sauce brings the dish to life. The garlic flavor is intense, but the yogurt helps round out its sharp edges–it also helps cool the palate.

I practiced making this dish on my own, and I think I finally got it right. I got excellent reviews from a couple expert Aleppan home cooks. This is one of those dishes that takes time, but is worth every minute of rolling. Invite friends who like to cook, put on your favorite movie and enjoy.

Swiss chard from the market
Swiss chard
remove stalk
remove stalk
blanching chard

As I mentioned before, the vegetables from the souk feel like they have just been picked from the ground. Swiss chard leaves are particularly dirty and can have dirt stuck to the leaves. For this reason, I go through a thorough cleaning process. First, I fill my sink up with water and wash off as much of the dirt as I can. Next, I bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, and prepare three separate bowls, or in my case buckets, of ice water. First, I blanch the leaves in the boiling water for a few seconds, and wash them off, in procession, three times, once in each ice bath. This helps me make sure the leaves are clean and ready for rolling.

rice, meat, tomato paste, salt, allspice
meat mixture

incredible yogurt sauce
yogurt sauce
sour grape water (ماءحصرم)
sour grape water

Sour grape water is harvested in late June/early July and lasts the entire year without spoiling — it is a staple in the Aleppan kitchen. When I can’t find “mayy husrom” back home, I use lemon juice, but the flavor is not exactly the same. I found this article in Arabic on how the young sour grapes are harvested, juiced, and preserved:
I bought this bottle from the souk, but I would like to write more about the process of preparing the water later in the summer.

stuffed chard leaves
stuffed chard leaves
yabraq silq (يبرق سلق)
yabraq silq

Yabraq Silq

yields 4-6 servings


  • 1 bunch Swiss chard
  • 1 lb ground beef
  • 2 cups short grain rice
  • 2 Tbsp tomato paste
  • 1 Tbsp allspice
  • 3 cups sour grape water*, (mayy husrom)
  • 3 cups plain yogurt
  • 2 Tbsp dried mint
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • salt, to taste
  • water

Putting them all together

  1. Rinse the rice under cold water 2-3 times and set aside.
  2. Wash the Swiss chard leaves well, preferably in a deep sink so that all the dirt can fall to the bottom.
  3. Remove the stem from all the Swiss chard leaves.
  4. Fill a large pot with water and bring to a rolling boil.
  5. Season the water with salt (not precise, a 2-3 teaspoons).
  6. Prepare three bowls with ice cold water.
  7. Submerge a handful of the Swiss chard leaves into the boiling water for 7-10 seconds or until barely wilted.
  8. Quickly remove from the boiling water and transfer to the first ice-water bowl. Rinse, and move to the second bowl, and finally the third. This will ensure that the leaves are clean.
  9. Strain the blanched leaves from the ice-water and set aside for rolling.
  10. In a big bowl mix together the ground beef, rice, salt, allspice, and tomato paste.
  11. To stuff the blanched chard you want to cut the leaves so they are approximately 3-4 inch long.
  12. Align 2-3 of the shortened chard leaves side-by-side so they overlap a little–you should have something that resembles a wide rectangle at this point.
  13. Form a horizontal mound of the meat mixture slightly above the base of the rectangle, but don’t go all the way to the sides.
  14. Fold in the sides in, and roll the leaf from the base so that the meat mixture is enclosed.
  15. Do this until the meat mixture is finished*.
  16. Throw any leaf scraps in the bottom of a medium-to-large pot.
  17. Arrange the stuffed Swiss chard inside the pot.
  18. Season the sour grape juice (mayy husrom)* with salt, mix, and add to the stuff Swiss chard leaves.
  19. Fill the rest of the pot with water until it completely covers the stuffed Swiss chard leaves by 1-2 fingers.
  20. Press down the stuffed leaves with an inverted heat resistant plate and add a can of beans (or anything heavy) over the top–this will keep the stuffed leaves intact while cooking and prevent them from unravelling or breaking.
  21. Bring to a boil then lower the heat to low and continue cooking for 40-50 minutes, or until the leaves are tender.
  22. Prepare the yogurt sauce by mixing the yogurt, minced garlic, dried mint, and salt together.
  23. Serve the hot stuffed Swiss chard leaves alongside the cool yogurt sauce.

Notes: Leftover chard leaves can be sauteed with olive oil, garlic, dried coriander, and salt; served with rice; and eaten as a meal. You can substitute the sour grape juice (mayy husrom) with lemon juice.