On October 26, 2011, a few months after I got back from my Fulbright in Syria, I noticed a new email in my inbox. From: Alan Janbay. Alan is Syrian American. He has extended family in Venezuela. And, like me, is also a food blogger. The coincidences seemed uncanny. I remember thinking, this guy is my digital doppelgänger!
I’m writing this blog post remotely, from my brother’s house in Vermont. If you follow me on Instagram, you’ll have seen the amazing snow conditions we’ve had this weekend. The night before I arrived, the ski gods delivered a snow storm that covered the mountains with about 15″ of fresh powder. It was perfect timing! All the evergreens were covered in snow. The views from the chairlifts were stunning. I spent all day Friday and Saturday skiing. My body is sore, but it’s the good kind of sore. The satisfying kind. And when your body is aching and you don’t want to move a muscle, you should have simple and delicious recipes in your back pocket. Because no amount of aching is reason not to eat well.
If I make a dish three times in two weeks, it merits its own blog post. Melissa Clark’s Tarragon Chicken with Sherry Vinegar Onions is delicious.
If you skip today’s post and scroll through the pictures to the recipe, I would understand. For those who just ate or are browsing food blogs at work without access to a kitchen, I’ll try to use my words to do this recipe justice. Think French countryside. Think homey. Think simple, yet assertive. Think onions cooked in chicken fat. Think happiness. It’s not often a dish makes me feel this way.
While I was living in Aleppo, I became the de facto ambassador to the city. I was never shy about expressing how much more interesting I thought Aleppo was than Damascus. As the capital city, Damascus always felt formal relative to Aleppo. Walking down the narrow streets of the old city in Aleppo felt like you were stepping back in time. The old buildings showed age, but also splendor. The hidden culinary gems in tucked away neighborhoods packed some of the most magnificent flavors I have ever experienced. I quickly gained a reputation among the US embassy staff and the Fulbright scholars in Damascus. Anytime anyone planed a trip to Aleppo, I was more than happy to show them around my favorite city. I knew my way though the historical sites, but most importantly, I knew where to find all the best food.
There are no words to articulate how delicious, decadent, and versatile qashta is. Qashta, if you haven’t experienced it before, is Middle Eastern clotted cream. You typically see it used in Arabic desserts, but in Aleppo, they even have it for breakfast (because why not?). One of my favorite breakfasts in Aleppo was zlebiye (paper-thin fried dough) stuffed with qashta topped with cinnamon sugar and chopped Aleppan pistachios. This is not the kind of breakfast you have every day.