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Archive for the ‘recipe’ Category


Not your baker’s lahme b’ajeen

I grew up eating lahme b’ajeen (لحمة بعجين), meat pies, from my grandmother Muna’s kitchen. It was a painstaking work of love, care, and devotion. Sitto Muna always prepared the dough and meat mixture the night before. She would then wake up before anyone else to begin forming the pies one by one. I often woke up to the scent of meat pies sizzling on her griddle. The process took a long time, but my grandmother went to great lengths to make sure my brothers and I connected with our heritage.

When I traveled to Syria for the first time in 2007, I was surprised to learn grandmothers don’t prepare lahme b’ajeen at home. They prepare their own meat topping at home and would often send a young family member to deliver it to the local furn, or bakery. Most neighborhoods in Aleppo have a small, modest furn outfitted with a commercial oven. Ours was a block away, tucked away in an alley. For a nominal fee, the neighborhood baker would form and bake the individual meat pies using the homemade meat topping and their own dough.  This exchange was more about social cohesion than anything the baker profited from. By the time lunch was ready, someone would walk down to the local furn to fetch the freshly baked stack of meat pies.

Every country in the Middle East has their own version of meat pies. Most Middle Eastern recipes call for sautéing meat and diced onions with a variety of fragrant spices. In Aleppo, the recipe is influenced by the Armenian community in the city. The Armenian version of lahme b’ajeen (lahmajun), makes use of fresh mint, a bunch of parsley, onions, red bell peppers, lots of garlic, and vine-ripe tomatoes. It’s a celebration of spring and summer. With a couple weeks left of winter, this is the perfect recipe to kick off the warm weather. It’s a great dish to prepare with friends. If you don’t have a griddle that fits over your stove, you can use an electric griddle or bake them in the oven on a pizza stone.

mise en place
mise en place
rough chop
rough chop of all the vegetables
remove the stems
remove the stems
meat & vegetable topping
meat & vegetable topping
basic dough
basic dough
individual dough balls
individual dough balls
thin dough/thin topping
thin topping
heaven
cooking lahmajun on griddle
golden brown crust
golden brown crust
work of love
lahme b'ajeen tray
lahme b’ajeen (لحمة بعجين)
lahme b'ajeen

Lahmeh B’ajeen

yields approximately 24 pies

Components

Dough

  • 1kg flour
  • 1/4 cup canola oil
  • 1/4 tsp dry active yeast
  • 1 Tbsp salt
  • 2 tsp sugar or honey
  • 3-3.5 cups warm water*

Meat mixture

  • 500g ground beef, ~85% lean
  • 1 bunch of parsley
  • 5-7 sprigs of mint
  • 2 red bell pepper
  • 500g tomatoes, ~2-3 large tomatoes
  • 2 Tbsp red pepper paste
  • 2 Tbsp tomato paste
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 medium yellow onion
  • 2 Tbsp Aleppo pepper
  • 2 tsp allspice, ground
  • salt, to taste

toppings (optional)

  • eggplant pulp
  • plain yogurt
  • mint leaves
  • arugula, baby kale, or your favorite greens
  • Aleppo pepper

Putting them all together

  1. Mix together the flour, yeast, salt, and sugar until well combined (if you’re using honey, add it with the oil in the next step). Add the canola oil (and honey) and begin mixing the warm water into the dough. Stop adding water once a smooth dough is formed. Kneed for 5-10 minutes.
  2. Cut the dough into individual balls slightly bigger than golf balls but smaller than tennis balls (~65 grams each).
  3. Brush some oil to prevent the dough balls from drying, cover with plastic wrap, and allow to rest overnight or until you’re ready to make the meat pies (no more than 24 hours).
  4. Add all the ingredients except the meat into the food processor. Pulse until you have a a pulpy mix. Mix the chopped vegetables with the meat mixture and refrigerate until you are ready to make the pies. The meat mixture can also be made the day before.
  5. Add a touch of canola oil to a clean working surface. Open the dough by pressing on it with your hands until you reach a very thin disk. Be careful not to tear the dough.
  6. Add a very thin layer of the meat mixture.
  7. Carefully transfer the meat pie onto a hot griddle. Cook for 3-4 minutes or until the bottom is golden brown. Transfer to a baking sheet in a warm oven.
  8. Continue forming the pies until the meat mixture is done.
  9. Serve the meat pies with a variety of optional toppings for rolling into the meat pies.

Notes: The amount of water you use for the dough will vary on the flour, the season, and how dry the weather is. This dough isn’t fussy — gradually add the warm water until the dough comes together.

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lahme b’ajeen with homemade yogurt, fresh mint, and baby kale
lahme b'ajeen with homemade yogurt, fresh mint, and baby kale

Zaalouk, a Mashed Moroccan Salad

Zaalouk (زعلوك) is an incredibly delicious Moroccan salad prepared with fresh eggplants cooked with ripe tomatoes, roasted peppers, and warm spices. It’s a celebration of spring and all the delicious vegetables that are right around the corner. I can already begin to feel the rays of the sun stretching further and the days getting warmer.

When I visited Morocco in 2016, I ate zaalouk everywhere I went. It was printed on every menu at every restaurant. I was obsessed. You could eat it cold or hot, but I prefer it cold on a hot spring/summer day. It’s very light and refreshing. It’s one of those dishes that tastes better the next day. Think along the lines of picnic dip, sandwich spread, or straight up, digging in with your fork. You can’t go wrong with zaalouk.

mise en place
mise en place

Although Moroccans and Syrians speak Arabic, the dialects couldn’t be more different. Moroccan Arabic is influenced by Berber, French and Spanish. It’s so different than the Syrian dialect that it was often easier to chat with locals in English than it was to try to use Arabic. Sometimes we opted for Modern Standard Arabic (MSA), the standard Arabic reserved for the press and news broadcasts. It’s rarely spoken by locals. MSA sounds awkward in any context that isn’t the news. It’s like walking into a bakery and ordering a croissant in Shakespearean English.

In the Syrian/Levantine dialect, the root za-aa-la (زعل) means to sadden. In Modern Standard Arabic, za-aa-la means to anger. By extension, I thought zaalouk would be the word used to describe when someone saddens/angers you (3rd person). Not in Morocco. The word zaalouk comes from the term, m’zaalak, which is used to describe a mashed texture. It is an apt description for how the eggplants, tomatoes, and peppers, mash together to create an incredible burst of flavor. The only way zaalouk could be sad is if you missed out.

salt eggplants
salt eggplants
eggplants coated in olive oil
roast eggplants in 400 degree oven
roasted eggplants
roasted eggplants
fresh tomatoes
fresh tomatoes
cooked tomato puree
cooked tomato puree
everything together
everything together
zaalouk (زعلوك)
zaalouk (زعلوك)

Zaalouk

yields ~4-6 servings

Components

  • 2-3 medium eggplants/li>
  • 2 roasted red peppers, diced
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, finely minced
  • 1/4 cup chopped parsley
  • 1/4 cup chopped cilantro, optional
  • 1 tsp Aleppo pepper
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 3 Tbsp olive oil plus more for pan-frying
  • salt, to taste

Putting them all together

  1. Wash and remove the stems of the eggplants. Cut into 1/2 inch cubes.
  2. Season the eggplants with a little salt. Line a baking sheet with a layer of paper towels. Scatter the seasoned eggplants on the paper towels and cover with another layer of paper towels. Press down on the paper towels to draw out the excess moisture.
  3. Toss eggplants in olive oil. Scatter on a baking sheet and roast at 400 degrees for 20-25 minutes, or until cooked through.
  4. Cut tomatoes into 1/2 cubes. Line the bottom of a large sauté pan with olive oil. Add tomatoes and season with salt and pepper. Cook until the tomatoes are soft and have lost their shape.
  5. Add the roasted eggplants, diced peppers, cumin, Aleppo pepper, and garlic to the cooked tomatoes.
  6. Cook for another 7-10 minutes until the eggplants have broken down into a chunky paste.
  7. Mix the chopped parsley (and chopped cilantro). Serve hot, cold, or at room temperature.

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zaalouk bite
zaalouk bite

Aleppo’s Omelette

Growing up, weekend breakfasts meant frying aajeh in the kitchen. Aajeh is a delicious parsley-rich omelette popular across the Middle East. Unlike the classic French omelette, parsley is the star of the show; the eggs are there to hold everything together. Aajeh are fried, simple, and delicious. I love aajeh so much, I stole convinced my mom to give me her traditional aajeh pan from Aleppo. The pan has small dimples/craters that allow you to make individual aajeh fritters. As far as I’m aware, no other city in Syria (or the Middle East for that matter) prepares aajeh this way. Most recipes call for frying the aajeh as a large disk in a non-stick skillet.

Today I’m going to feature the Aleppan variation that I learned from my mom. If you want to prepare individual fritters, but your mom doesn’t have a special aajeh pan you could steal, you can make free-form fritters by carefully ladling spoonfuls of aajeh mix into a non-stick skillet lined with oil. Alternatively, the Danish/Dutch have popular pancake (aebleskiver/poffertjes, respectively) that are cooked in a similar pan. You can find them on Amazon.

mise en place
mise en place
fresh eggs
fresh eggs
whisked
whisked
aajeh fix-ins
aajeh fix-ins: featuring parsley
Mom’s aajeh pan
Mom's aajeh pan
weekend mornings
weekend mornings
aajeh عجة
aajeh عجة

Aajeh

yields ~6 servings

Components

  • 6-8 eggs
  • 1 bunch parsley, finely chopped
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, finely minced
  • 1 medium yellow onion, grated
  • 1 tsp dried mint
  • 1 tsp Aleppo pepper
  • 1/2 tsp allspice
  • olive oil, for pan-frying
  • salt, to taste

Putting them all together

  1. Grate the onions making sure to squeeze out some of the excess water.
  2. Lightly whisk the eggs until the yolks and egg whites are combined.
  3. Mix all the ingredients together.
  4. Place an aajeh pan or a non-stick skillet over medium heat.
  5. Line the bottom of the pan with a thin layer of olive oil.
  6. Once the oil barely begins to shimmer, begin ladling spoonfuls of the aajeh mix.
  7. Cook 2-4 minutes on each side (depending on how big you made your aajeh and how high your heat is. Repeat until aajeh mix is finished.
  8. Transfer the fried aajeh to a plate lined with paper towels to absorb the excess oil.

Note: The Danish/Dutch have popular pancake (aebleskiver/poffertjes, respectively) that are cooked in a similar pan. You can find them on Amazon.

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Alan’s Syrian-Inspired Lamb Chili

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!

We exchanged emails for about a year until we finally met in person in 2012. Alan was born and raised in the southern city of Sweida, Syria (السويداء), approximately 100km south of Damascus and 450km south of Aleppo. His birth name is Alaa’ (علاء), which is short for Aladdin (علاءالدين) in Arabic. While our stories are similar, there are fascinating differences between our food cultures. Dishes in Sweida incorporate plenty of yogurt, specifically dried yogurt or jameed (also known as kitha in Sweida). Jameed is yogurt that has been salted and dried into a rock, which helps preserve milk through the long winters in the Hauran mountains, where Sweida is located.

Alan and his Nana Nadia in Sweida
Alan and his Nana (Grandma) Nadia in Sweida
Alan and his mom in Sweida
Alan and his mom in Sweida

Alan learned how to cook from his grandmothers, Nadia (“Nana”) and Raeefeh. He recalls sitting at the kitchen counter while Nana prepared his favorite dish, vegetarian stuffed grape leaves called yalanji. She often tasked him with the simple jobs like peeling potatoes and fetching utensils. This exposure to cooking influenced his perspective on food. Before moving to the US, he lived with his grandparents for four years. He woke up every morning to the aroma of Teta Raeefe’s Arabic coffee brewing in the kitchen and his grandfather’s BBC Arabic radio station playing loudly in the background.

Ever since he was little, Alan was fascinated by planes and airports. When Alan moved to the US in 2001, he pursued a masters degree in Aviation Management and was able to realize his dream. Upon graduation, he started working for Delta Airlines in Oklahoma City. Before the war broke out in Syria, he used to surprise his family in Sweida. Without them knowing, he’d hop on a last-minute flight on Delta to Amman, Jordan and take a short cab ride across the border to Sweida. Sadly, he hasn’t been able to visit since the war broke out in 2011.

Alan has since moved to Atlanta, where he works at Delta’s Global Offices. He is passionate about sharing his Syrian heritage with friends and colleagues. His delicious food offers a glimpse into Syria’s rich culture. This is what prompted today’s post. Alan recently developed a unique recipe for Syrian-inspired lamb chili that incorporates ingredients from his childhood. He seasons ground lamb with a mixture of aromatic spices and creates a delicious chili base using reconstituted jameed, the dried yogurt traditionally used in dishes like mansaf.

There is no such thing as “chili” in Syria, but Alan does an amazing job of marrying the concept of American chili with the flavor profile of his culinary heritage. If you love lamb (and even if you think you don’t think you like lamb), you need to try this recipe!

mise en place
mise en place
jameed (جميد)
jameed (جميد)
reconstituting jameed in hot water
reconstituting jameed in hot water
beautiful colors
diced peppers
potatoes for richness
diced potatoes
Alan’s Syrian-Inspired Chili
Alan's Syrian-Inspired Chili
ground lamb + spices
ground lamb + spices
blending jameed
blending jameed
creamy jameed sauce
creamy jameed sauce
bay leaves, cilantro with reserved spices and garlic
creamy jameed sauce
cannellini beans #beanchili
cannellini beans #beanchili
Syrian-Inspired Lamb Chili
Syrian-Inspired Lamb Chili

Syrian-Inspired Lamb Chili

yields ~6-8 servings

Components

  • 2 pounds ground lamb
  • 28oz cannellini beans, rinsed
  • 100g jameed*
  • 6 cups of hot water
  • 2-3 yukon gold potatoes, diced
  • 1 red bell pepper, diced
  • 1 green bell pepper, diced
  • 8 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 bunch cilantro, finely chopped
  • 2 Tbsp red pepper paste
  • 1 Tbsp tomato paste
  • 2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil, more for drizzling
  • 2 tsp cumin, ground
  • 2 tsp Aleppo pepper, ground
  • 1.5 tsp turmeric, ground
  • 1.5 tsp cinnamon, ground
  • 1 tsp allspice, ground
  • 1 tsp coriander, ground
  • 1 tsp black pepper, ground
  • 2 dried bay leaves
  • salt, to taste

Putting them all together

  1. Roughly chop the jameed. Cover in a bowl with 6 cups of hot water. Set aside.
  2. Mix all the spices in a bowl. Reserve roughly 3/4 for the meat and 1/4 for the broth.
  3. Preheat large large dutch oven (or heavy bottom pot) over medium high heat.
  4. Coat the bottom of the pot with olive oil and sear the lamb with the spices (do not add salt because the jameed has plenty of salt).
  5. Set aside 1 teaspoon of minced garlic. Add the remainder of the minced garlic, red pepper paste, and tomato paste to the seared meat. Mix until well combined.
  6. Add the diced potatoes. Coat with lamb fat and cook for 6-8 minutes or until potatoes are cooked halfway through.
  7. In the meantime, pour the soak jameed (along with the soaking water) into a blender and blend until smooth.
  8. Add the diced peppers to the potatoes and meat mixture. Cook for 1-2 minutes then add the blended jameed. Taste for salt and adjust accordingly.
  9. Add the bay leaves, chopped cilantro, remainder of the spices, and reserved teaspoon of minced garlic to the pot. Mix until well combined. Lower heat to medium low, cover, and simmer for 30 minutes.
  10. Gently mix in the rinsed cannellini beans. Cover until ready to serve.*

Note: You can find jameed at your local Mediterranean market. If you don’t have jameed, you can substitute greek (strained) yogurt, but be sure to adjust the salt/water accordingly. Jameed is preserved with salt, so does not require (much, if any) additional salt. This dish tastes better the next day.

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Award-winning Syrian-inspired Lamb Chili
lamb chili bite

Sweet Cheese Rolls

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.

One of my last tours was in April of 2011 when my friend Tom, a fellow Fulbright scholar living in Damascus, visited Aleppo with his family. I teamed up with my cousin Zaki who lives in Aleppo and wanted to practice his English. We crammed into tiny Syrian cabs and ate our way through the city.

Anne (Tom’s mom), Tom, and Zaki
Aleppo cab ride
Aleppo’s Souks
Aleppo's Souks
Aleppan dinner at my apartment
Aleppan dinner at my apartment

One of the stops we made that evening was at a famous sweet shop called Salloura. If you’re from Aleppo, you know Salloura. Salloura evokes sweet happy memories. The original branch was founded in the 1870s by As’ad Salloura’s great-grandfather in the city of Hama about 140km south of Aleppo. There’s a wonderful series by Dalia Mortada and Lauren Bohn titled Salloura: an Epic of Sweets. It chronicles the history of Salloura and current state of Salloura in a series of articles.

The dessert that made Salloura famous in 1870 was As’ad Salloura’s great grandfather’s sweet cheese rolls, halawet al jiben (حلاوة الجبن). He sold them in the streets of Hama carrying a tray of these fluffy, chewy rolls over his head.

mise en place
mise en place

Halawet al jiben, or sweet cheese rolls, is a comforting dessert. It’s a soft, chewy dough infused with the fragrant essence of orange blossom and rose water. It gets its name from the sweet cheese (mozzarella curd) that gets melted into the chewy semolina dough and filled with creamy qashta.

If you have a Mediterranean store close by, the best cheese to use for this dessert is sweet cheese or mozzarella curds. You can also use Akkawi cheese, but you need to steep it in fresh water to remove some of the salt content. The goal is to use a cheese with little salt. If you can’t find “sweet cheese” at your local market, you can substitute regular mozzarella, too.

mozzarella curd
sweet_cheese

The dough comes together in a matter of minutes. Start heating up water and a little sugar in a large pot. Once the sugar dissolves and the mix begins to bubble, add the cheese that’s been cut into small pieces. Stir until the pieces melt together and form a stringy mass.

melted mozzarella
melted_cheese

Once the cheese has melted, mix in the semolina making sure to stir constantly using a wooden spoon. There are many grades of semolina that correspond to different thicknesses from fine to coarse. For this dessert, it’s important to use fine semolina.

fine semolina
fine semolina

This is when the dough will start to thicken up. Make sure to keep stirring to make sure the cheese completely dissolves into the semolina dough.

cheese-semolina swirl
cheese-semolina swirl

Once the dough comes together, you’ll want to add the fragrant orange blossom and rose waters right as you remove the dough from the heat. This will help preserve the intense flavor of the waters. If you’re successful, you’ll be rewarded with a soft, billowy cheese dough.

soft cheese dough
soft cheese dough

Home cooks in Syria roll the dough out on plastic bags that they’ve opened into sheets. Since the dough is hot, I recommend using silicone baking mats instead. Once you transfer the dough to the baking mats, use your fingers to carefully open the dough into a rectangular shape. Then use a rolling pin to continue rolling the dough out into a thin rectangular sheet.

thin sheet of cheese dough
thin sheet of cheese dough

With a sharp knife, cut the edges of the sheet to form a perfect rectangle.

cutting edge
cutting edge

Line the bottom edge of the halawet al jiben dough with qashta and carefully roll the dough around the qashta to form a cylinder.

stuffing with creamy qashta
stuffing with creamy qashta

Cut the cylinder and continue filling rows of qashta until you run out of dough. Cut the cylinders into individual portions. At this point, the halawet al jiben can be plated and tightly covered with plastic wrap until you’re ready to serve. Once your guests arrive, you’ll want to top each piece with crushed pistachios.

pistachios (فستقحلبي)
pistachios (فستق حلبي)

If you recall from the qashta post, the cream filling isn’t sweetened. Serve the plated halawet al jiben with a side of ‘atar or simple syrup so that each person can choose how sweet they would like their dessert.

orange blossom infused simple syrup
orange blossom infused simple syrup
halawet al jiben (حلاوةالجبن)
halawet al jiben (حلاوة الجبن)

Halawet Al Jiben

yields ~24 pieces

Components

  • 1 cup fine semolina
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 2/3 cups water
  • 500g mozzarella curd, cut into small pieces*
  • 2 tsp orange blossom water
  • 2 tsp rose water
  • 4 cups qashta

‘Atar (Simple Syrup)

  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 Tbsp orange blossom water
  • 1/2 tsp fresh lemon juice

Putting them all together

  1. In a small saucepan over medium heat, prepare the ‘atar (simple syrup) by mixing the sugar and water together.
  2. Simmer for ~5-7 minutes until the mix begins to thicken.
  3. Add the orange blossom water and lemon juice. Turn off heat and allow to cool. The ‘atar can be made days in advance and stored in a mason jar in the refrigerator until ready to use.
  4. In a large pot over medium heat, mix the water and sugar until the sugar dissolves and the mix begins to bubble.
  5. Lower heat to medium low and add the cheese. Stir until the cheese is dissolved.
  6. Slowly pour the semolina while constantly stirring with a wooden spoon. Continue stirring vigorously until the mix becomes a dough. It’s ok for some of the dough to stick to the sides of the pan.
  7. Turn off the heat and stir in the orange blossom and rose waters.
  8. Line a counter with silicone baking mats. Move the hot dough to the baking mats and form it into a rectangle shape with your hands (making sure not to burn your fingers). Use a rolling pin to roll it out to a thin sheet (~1/16 inch).
  9. Using a spoon, run a line of qashta down the long edge of the dough.
  10. Roll the dough over the qashta to form a cylinder. Use a knife to slice down the edge and repeat until there’s no more dough left.
  11. Slice the cylinders into individual pieces. Sprinkle with crushed pistachios and serve on a large tray with the ‘atar or simple syrup on the side.

Note: This recipe makes more ‘atar (simple syrup) than needed. No need to use all of it. Allow guests to make their serving as sweet as they’d like.

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gushing qastha
gashing qashta