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Archive for the ‘savory’ Category


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

Maldoum

yields 6 servings

Components

  • 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.

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Mloukhiyye at the digital dinner table

I’m back.

The situation in Syria has gone from bad, it skipped worse, and plunged straight into bleak. I needed time to wrap my head around the events of the last seventeen months.

Syria has been on my mind since the day I evacuated, April 26, 2011. My friends Bassel, Zaki, and Karam drove me to a bus station in the outskirts of Aleppo where I boarded an almost empty bus to Lebanon at 2AM. I never imagined things would get this bad. I read newspaper articles, blogs, Facebook posts; I watch videos on YouTube, listen to news reports; I follow vetted Twitter users who are inside Syria; I call friends and relatives on a weekly basis — and still, it is difficult to know exactly what is happening inside the country. My heart aches for all the Syrians who have lost their lives and livelihood during this bloody conflict. And my thoughts and prayers go to all those who remain trapped inside.

The reason I decided to write a blog post today, however, is not to discuss politics — at least not directly. I’ve always described my food blog as part of my home. It’s the dining room table where I invite readers to pull up a chair. I share stories, photos, and recipes and start a conversation around food and culture. People from around the world can chime in with a simple comment. I almost let myself forget how incredible that feeling is. The feeling of connecting with another person — of breaking bread across the internet. With that, I want to open my door once more and invite you to my digital dinner table. Please, come in. Let me get you something to drink.

Tea with friends by the historic citdael in Aleppo
tea
Arabic coffee
Arabic coffee

Part of the inspiration for today’s blog post came from the book, Day of Honey: A Memoir of Food, Love and War by Annia Ciezadlo. The book was published February 1, 2011, while I was still in Syria, but it wasn’t until I arrived to Lebanon that I was able to find a copy at a book store in Beirut. If you haven’t read it already, add it to your summer reading list. Annia writes about the conflicts in Lebanon and the war in Iraq through intimate stories of people living their lives in a war-torn region. She puts faces to part of the world that can often seem distant and disconnected. Annia writes, “if you want to understand war, you have to understand everyday life first.” I agree.

Lunch in the darkness
lunch

This is a photo from a friend on Twitter, @HumanGraces. She lives in Aleppo and tweets (mostly in Arabic) about everything from politics to food and family, including random musings from her brothers. On February 5, 2012 she tweeted this image with the caption, غدا اليوم عالعتمة, meaning, today, lunch in the dark.

Electricity in Aleppo (at that time) used to get cut eight hours each day; usually four hours in the early afternoon and four hours in the evening. When @HumanGraces tweeted this image my mouth watered, but I also felt a strange sense of nostalgia. There was kibbeh (a classic Levantine meat and bulgur patty), mloukhiyye served alongside rice, and a big bowl of house salad that completes every meal in Syria. That’s when I noticed something else that was interesting, hidden in the shadows of the frame. Those were legs and hands of people sitting together around a dinner table. In the middle of a war. I sent @HumanGraces a Direct Message (DM) on Twitter to ask what the meal was like. Was it quiet? Did politics dominate the conversation? Any resentment or anger? @HumanGraces described the emotions surrounding the meal as a blend of helplessness and joy. They laughed and, she confessed, one of her aunts even ululated. If you only follow the politics and conflicts of the Middle East, or any region, you can easily glance over moments like this; the story of a family that gathers for lunch, clinging to any sense of normalcy in a world that seems to be falling apart.

There is a popular saying across the Middle East that says, يوم عسل ويوم بصل (yom a’asal w yom basal), which means, “one day is like honey, another is like an onion.” This is the expression Annia used as part of the title to her memoir. It’s a saying that captures perfectly the blend of emotions: helplessness and joy; an optimism for a better tomorrow. An expression that swallows pain and allows life to continue. In conflicts like the one in Syria, a better tomorrow is usually the most any family can pray for. When I speak with friends and relatives in Aleppo, a lot of them will use the expression, “الله يستر” (Allah yestor) or “may God forbid/protect us.” This means, forbid the bad from happening to us, and thereby protect us from evil. As the conflict in Syria progresses and the country continues to crumble, I understand how this is the best any person, on either side of the conflict, can hope for.

One of the dishes @HumanGraces had at the table is a classic leafy broth called mloukhiyye (ملوخية). This dish originated in Ancient Egypt where it is said to have been a meal prepared for kings (or pharaohs?). The idea being that mloukhiyye (ملوخية) evolved from the word mloukiyye (ملوكية) (with a k instead of kh), which shares the linguistic tri-literal root ma-la-ka (ملك) — the Arabic word for king. Whether or not this etymology is accurate, I can certainly see why a king would love this meal. According to this Wikipedia article on Mloukhiyye, “the leaves are rich in betacarotene, iron, calcium, Vitamin C and more than 32 vitamin and minerals and trace elements.”

mise en place
mise en place

Mloukhiyye leaves can give off a slimy texture, particularly when they’re used fresh or frozen. The mloukhiyye I had in Syria was prepared at home from whole, dried mloukhiyye leaves. The cook explained to me that her kids, who are around my age, would not eat it any other way. This was my first time eating mloukhiyye and I loved it. There was barely any slimy texture to the leaves. In Egypt, however, traditional mloukhiyye recipes call for the fresh leaves to be finely chopped, which tends to release more of the mucilaginous texture, resembling that of okra.

simple seasoning: cumin & garlic
cumin and garlic

Once you are able to find mloukhiyye leaves, the dish comes together fairly easily. Start off by heating up some ground coriander and garlic in a medium pot. This will remove some of the edge from the garlic and it will also bring out the essential oils in the ground coriander. You’ll know when it’s ready; the scent of coriander and garlic will perfume your kitchen. If your nose is stuffy that day, set your timer for 5 minutes, making sure to stir regularly so the garlic does not brown.

A splash of lemon
A splash of lemon

Once you add the broth and the mloukhiyye leaves to the pot, bring the mixture to a boil and finish it off with a splash of lemon juice. This is supposed to help cut down on the slimy texture. How much this actually helps, I’m not sure, but it does add a wonderful bright burst of flavor to the dish.

Minced onions
Minced onions

In the Levant it is traditional to serve mloukhiyye with minced onions in vinegar — like a quick pickle. The acid notes in the vinegar, like the lemon juice, help highlight the flavors of the dish.

A quick onion pickle
A quick onion pickle

At this point you’re ready to eat. Serve the mloukhiyye and rice in separate bowls alongside the pickled onions for guests to add as much as they would like.

Serve separately: mloukhiyye & rice
mloukhiyye and rice

Mloukhiyye

yields approx 4-6 servings

Components

  • 3 cups of chicken broth
  • 1 package of frozen mloukhiyye leaves (400g)
  • poached chicken
  • 1 Tbsp coriander, ground
  • 6-8 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 3/4 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1 small onion
  • juice of 1/2 a lemon

Putting them all together

  1. In a medium pot over medium heat stir ground coriander and minced garlic in some butter or olive oil until fragrant.
  2. Add the frozen mloukhiyye leaves and boiling chicken stock.
  3. Taste for seasoning. Add poached chicken meat and remove from heat.
  4. Add diced onion to vinegar and set aside until needed.
  5. Serve mloukhiyye over a bed of rice with a side of quick-pickled onions.

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Mloukhiyye with rice (ملوخية بالرز)
mloukhiyye with rice

Thank you for everyone who wrote in with comments and emails asking about the situation in Syria. It has meant a lot. I continue to hope for a speedy resolution — الله يستر (Allah yestor).

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

Components

  • 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.

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pumpkin kibbehpumpkin_kibbeh1

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.

happiness
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
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

Components

  • 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.

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Tant Juju’s Chicken Noodle and Rice Soup

Something came up last minute and my grandmother’s sister has to travel; everything, though, should be fine. I spent the last couple of weeks looking at apartments and finally moved a few days ago.

I unpacked my things, tested the washer, took a deep breath, and made soup. Chicken noodle and rice soup. I learned this recipe from lunch at my friend Georgette’s house. Georgette, or Juju as everyone likes to call her, is one of those people you can’t not like. Not even if you tried. She possesses that tender grandmotherly spirit that loves and cares for everyone. She can’t help it. Georgette is in her sixties, is recently-widowed, and has a heart made of pure gold.

Tant Juju
Tant Juju

Tant Juju (Aunt Juju) invited me over for lunch several times while I was looking at apartments. Aside from being an angel, she is also an incredible cook. Her style is simple and homey. She makes the kind of food that you eat with gusto, and in generous servings. Whenever I say something too polite she tells me to stop acting like a stranger; she considers me family.

Tant Juju cooks out of a tiny kitchen that barely fits the two of us. While she cooks I usually stand by the doorway of her kitchen and keep her company. We chat, but mostly I observe from a distance. There are no measuring cups or spoons; no hesitation, no fuss. Her cooking reminds me of a good dance performance. Tant Juju is graceful, but assertive in the way she cooks. This is her domain. You could tell by the way she adds ingredients with confidence that she’s been doing this for a while.

The day Tant Juju invited me for over for soup, I actually went out of courtesy. I had already grabbed a quick bite to eat in the street, but you can’t say ‘no’ to Tant Juju. She won’t have it. It’s part of Aleppan hospitality: eat, eat, eat, then eat some more. So I went. And I ate. And I loved. And ate some more. It was perfect.

In celebration of Tant Juju’s amazingly simple and delicious soup, this was the first dish I made in my new home. Try this recipe before winter is gone. Like Tant Juju, it’s impossible not to like.

mise en place
mise en place
chicken shower
rinse chicken

Before adding any of the vegetables, try to remove as much of the scum from the surface of the stock as possible. This way the vegetables won’t get in your way.

skim off scum
skim off scum
rough chop
rough chop
in they go!
add vegetables
homemade stock
homemade stock
shredded chicken
shredded chicken
toasty noodles
toasty noodles
chicken noodle and rice soup
chicken noodle and rice soup

Chicken Noodle and Rice Soup

yields approx. 8-10 servings

Components

  • 1 whole chicken
  • 5 Liters water
  • 2 carrots, roughly chopped
  • 2 onions, roughly chopped
  • 10 sprigs parsley, bunched
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 6-8 allspice, whole
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 cup angel hair noodles
  • 1 cup short grain rice

Putting them all together

  1. Rinse chicken under cold water. Make sure to remove the gizzards (they are usually in a bag inside the chicken).
  2. Fill a large stock pot with water and add chicken.
  3. Bring the water to a light simmer over medium heat and remove the scum as it starts floating to the surface.*
  4. After removing the scum, add the spices and vegetables to the stock.
  5. Continue cooking for another hour over low heat so that the stock barely simmers.
  6. Remove chicken from stock and allow to cool for a few minutes.
  7. Remove the meat from the bones, shred, and refrigerate until ready to use.
  8. Return chicken bones back to stock and continue to simmer for another 2 hours.
  9. Strain stock through a fine-mesh strainer.
  10. Refrigerate until ready to use.*
  11. Remove layer of fat from stock (optional).
  12. Toast noodles in a dry pan until golden brown.
  13. Bring stock to a simmer over medium heat, and add toasted noodles, rice, and chicken meat.
  14. Ready to serve once rice has completely softened.

Notes: Make sure not to stir the chicken stock too much since that will produce a cloudy stock. If you’re in a rush, you don’t need to refrigerate the stock. Simply strain the stock from the bones and vegetables, and continue by adding the toasted noodles, rice, and chicken meat.

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