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Archive for December, 2010


Merry Christmas & Happy New Year

I hope everyone has a happy new year and a wonderful start to 2011.

Right before Christmas I went on a chilly, but pleasant, one-week vacation to Prague and Geneva. It was beautiful. Prague is like a fairytale come Christmas, and Geneva, well… I spent most of my time in Geneva worrying whether I’ll get stuck because of the blizzard. Their chocolate, however, is top-notch.

Prague + Christmas = Fairytale
Prague during Christmas
huge cathedrals and all
cathedral in prague
glad I was able to make it back…
snowy airport

You can browse through the rest of my prague/geneva picture on my Flickr.

Luckily, I did make it back to Aleppo in time for Christmas, and New Years is now only a few hours away. The streets are still decorated with bright Christmas lights and the air has an enjoyable crispness to it — not too cold, but cold enough to make it feel like the holidays are here.

These are some picture from my Christmas in Aleppo.

Aleppo — Christmas 2010
Aleppo Christmas 2010
Christmas Lights
Christmas Lights
kibbe tarabilsiyye (كبة طرابلسية)
kibbe
bastirma
bastirma
Bûche de Noël
yule log, Bûche de Noël
not Christmas without Santa, right?
Christmas Santa
Christmas spirit
Christmas spirit
happiness
happiness
celebration
celebration
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year
Merry Christmas

Sujuk, Armenian sausage, from scratch

There is something about making a dish completely from scratch that is wonderfully satisfying — a feeling of merited accomplishment. A mixture of happiness and relief. I’m sure this is true of most things, really, not just food. It comes with any craft you can pour your soul into. With food, you appreciate individual ingredients; you savor every ounce of effort that goes into preparing a dish. Something magical happens in the cooking process; a part of you, your essence, probably while you’re mixing ingredients and not particularly paying attention, dives into the bowl and adds that special something to the dish: warmth, brightness, love, something you can’t really put your finger on, but everyone knows it’s there.

In Syria, particularly Aleppo, wintertime means it’s time for sujuk, an Armenian sausage made with beef, lots of garlic and a mix of aromatic spices. Sujuk is bold; it’s a stick-to-your-ribs kind of sausage. And when it gets cold out, it’s what my heart and stomach crave. Yes, sujuk is pretty fantastic.

In Aleppo you can find sujuk all over the place. This is one of the culinary gems the Armenian community brought with them when they moved to Syria. One of my favorite places to eat sujuk outside of home is Shtoura. Shtoura, named after the Lebanese town, is a 24-hour fatayer place famous for their heavenly dough creations. I’m a regular there.

shtoura (شتورة) at 11:11pm
shtoura

Nothing is better late at night than a couple Shtoura palm-sized pizzas topped with classic tomato sauce, liberal amounts of shredded mozzarella, and dotted with nuggets of spicy sujuk.

sujuk pizza
pizza suju

My aunt, luckily for me, makes her own sujuk at home. And to my surprise, it’s pretty simple, and actually borders on effortless. It’s a matter of combining a blend of spices with meat and allowing the mixture to air-dry in a cool place, away from any sunlight. Prep-time is no more than 15 minutes, tops. No sausage casings or fancy equipment necessary; my aunt stitches her own bags from scraps of cloth that are clean and have not been treated with scented detergent.

mise en place
mise en place
lots of garlic
garlic
spices: fenugreek, allspice, cumin, Aleppo pepper, salt
spices

After asking a few of my Armenian friends in Aleppo, I’ve discovered that it is not common to add ground fenugreek to sujuk. If you can’t find fenugreek, you can certainly leave it out, however, I like the taste it adds to the sausage.

mix well
mix
bags of sujuk
bags

My aunt uses her balcony to air-dry her sujuk. She moves the rack of sujuk bags depending on the time of day to keep them away from any sunlight. Once the bags feel firm and dry to the touch, the sujuk is ready. This usually takes 3-5 days depending on the weather and the thickness of your sujuk bags.

Once they’re done drying, my aunt and I keep all the bags, except one, in the freezer and bring them down to the fridge as we go through them.

sujuk sandwiches
sujuk

Sujuk is an extremely versatile sausage that you can eat any number of ways. It’s great over pizza or mixed into pasta sauce. It’s delicious with eggs for breakfast — a different take on the classic sausage and eggs. In Syria and Lebanon, however, it’s popular to make sujuk sandwiches with pita bread. The grease from the sausage melts over the heat and toasts the bread to a pleasant crisp. No extra butter or fat necessary; just good, homemade sujuk.

cheese
cheese
old school sandwich press
sandwich press
sandwich
sandwich

Sujuk Sausage

yields approx 1kg

Components

  • 1kg ground beef, freshly ground
  • 2 Tbsp cumin, ground
  • 2 Tbsp allspice, ground
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp fenugreek (optional), ground
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp Aleppo pepper
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp salt
  • 1/4 cup garlic, minced

Putting them all together

  1. Mix all the ingredients together and refrigerate overnight.
  2. Stuff meat mixture into clean, porous stockings and let hang for 3-5 days in a cool, dry place away from any sunlight.
  3. Once pouches are dry and firm to the touch, remove from the hanging rod and store in the refrigerator — leftover pouches keep great in the freezer.

Notes:Make sure whatever you use to encase the meat is clean, but more importantly make sure it does not have any detergent scent. Sujok keeps great in the freezer. I bring down a pouch at a time from the freezer to the refrigerator as I go through it.

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feast of sacrifice, Eid al Adha in Aleppo

Sparkling lights, lively chatter, crisp air; Eid is the general term for holiday in Arabic. In the days leading to Eid al Adha shops in Aleppo stay open past midnight to meet the demands of eager shoppers rushing to purchase Eid gifts.

Eid al Adha, or the feast of sacrifice, is the holiday that commemorates Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his only son, Ishmael, to God. Before sacrificing his son, God intervenes and allows Abraham to sacrifice a ram instead. Eid al Adha spans four days and begins approximately 70 days after Eid al Fitr, the holiday that celebrates the end of Ramadan, the Islamic month of fasting. This year Eid al Adha began on November 16, 2010.

Once Eid al Adha was announced at sunset, shops across Aleppo closed and the streets emptied soon thereafter. This is the time when families gather at home to exchange gifts and try on their new Eid clothes. I walked around Aleppo the first night of Eid with a friend — the silence was uncanny. The streets that were crowded with hasty shoppers the night before were now completely deserted. We occasionally heard cars zoom in the distance or encountered the occasional wanderers, like us, who were enjoying a peaceful stroll along the empty streets.

Eid, day 1
moon
empty streets
7ara

The next morning was when the sacrifices began. As a symbol of Abraham’s devotion, Muslim families purchase an animal, traditionally a lamb, to slaughter for the Eid and distribute the meat from the sacrifice to the poor. The animals that are slaughtered for the sacrifice must be done so according to Islamic law. This involves a list of strict rules, including that the animal be ethically executed with as little pain as possible. A prayer is recited by the butcher. If done properly, the animals waiting their turn should not witness the slaughters or see any of the blood from the act.

Most of the slaughters during Eid take place early in the morning and continue throughout the day depending on the demand for meat. While my friend and I waited for a slaughter to happen, we met a group of kids playing with a small herd of sheep innocently waiting their fateful destiny.

As soon as the kids spotted me, rather my camera, they yelled out for me to take their picture — half in broken English, half in Arabic, with complementing hand gestures. It was cute. I received a nod of approval from an elder looking over them and proceeded to take their pictures. The kids were elated. After every picture they would run up to me to see how it turned out, tell me how beautiful the picture was, and ask for one more, one more. You could tell from their glowing eyes and big smiles how excited they were for Eid; I couldn’t say no.

Eid festivities
Eid festivities
55 kg sheep
weight in kilograms

After a couple dozen photos or so, they went back to playing with the sheep. I stayed talking with one of the older kids who was eager to tell me everything about Eid. He explained how the sheep are weighed beforehand and are tagged with their corresponding weight. This makes it easier for someone who shows up to purchase one of the sheep as a donation to the less fortunate.

the sacrifice
slaughter

I liked the fact that the kids were involved in all aspects of the festivities, not just the presents and new clothes. They understood where the meat was coming from. They were connected; they weren’t grossed out or traumatized. This is a healthy dose of food culture at a young age.

Eid, day 2
walking

The remaining days of Eid are less gory, more fun. Slaughters still take place, but a lot less frequently than on the first day. On the second day you will see more families taking a stroll with their kids running around them, playing in their new Eid clothes. I met up with some friends at the Aleppo citadel where everyone was enjoying the sunny afternoon weather. Kids were eating colorful ice cream, running around freely, and enjoying every moment of their vacation. Parents took this time to catch up with friends as they looked over their kids from the sidelines.

ice cream!
ice cream
mobile drinks
mobile drinks

As the sun began to set, my friends and I found a cozy spot by a café alongside the Aleppo citadel, which dates back to the 3rd millenium BC. The air was nippy and soft gusts of winds were gentle reminders that winter is on its way. We sat there, enjoying the beautiful view of the historic castle while sipping hot tea.

tea, with a historic view
tea at the citadel
said tea
cup of tea

I hope everyone who celebrated had a wonderful Eid — Adha Mubarak w 3a2bel kil sineh.

Adha Mubarak!
group picture