Back in May, I wrote about my culinary tour to Syria and at the end, I posted a recipe for a classic Aleppine dish, cherry kababs but it wasn’t until the recipe was reproduced in Gulf Air magazine, alongside a piece on Halabi restaurant at the Four Seasons in Damascus, that my great friend, Pierre Antaki, saw it. He wrote to me horrified at the idea that I had added pomegranate syrup to the cherries and asked where I had gotten this information. I guess Andrew Humphreys, my lovely editor at Gulf Air, had not included my introduction to the recipe explaining who had given it to me. I was mortified. So, I told Pierre that I would write to his sister, Lena Toutounji, who has the best table in Aleppo, to get her recipe which I would publish to correct the mistake. Here it is again, without the offending pomegranate syrup. I have to say, I love her touch of pressing a lone pine nut inside each meat ball. So refined, but then all her food is.
Lena’s Cherry Kababs
500 g lean minced lamb
Â½ teaspoon 7-spice mixture (or allspice)
Â½ tablespoon sea salt
handful of pine nuts
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 teaspoon plain flour
1 kg fresh sour cherries, pitted (or 500 g dried sour cherries soaked overnight in 2 cups water)
2 to 3 pita breads, opened at the seams and cut into medium sized triangles
1. Mix the meat with the spices and salt to taste. Make small meat balls, pressing one pine nut inside each.
2. SautÃ© the meatballs in the butter and transfer to a sieve to drain off the excess fat.
3. Add one teaspoon flour to the butter and stir it for a minute or so. Add the pitted cherries. Season with a little salt and stir for a few minutes.
Let the cherries simmer on low heat until cooked.
4. When it is time to serve the kababs, Add the meat balls to the cherry sauce to heat them through and serve over torn pieces of pita bread.
I didn’t ask Lena if she garnishes her kababs like I was told to do with toasted pine nuts and chopped parsley — the photogrpah is from when I tested them with the other recipe. I’ll do that when I return to Syria in the fall and will report back. Until then enjoy, with or without the garnish.
I had some friends over for a Lebanese dinner last night and as usual, I went to Zen on Moscow Road to do my shopping. It’s my favourite Lebanese shop in London, owned and run by three charming brothers who are incredibly friendly and attentive. It is very rare that I have to wait to get served there but this time it was different. There was a lady there, wearing the most impossibly high heels with mid-calf white leggings. She seemed to be a regular client and a flashy one at that judging by her fancy mercedes parked in front of the shop (as if her clothes did not give that away), and she was happily chatting away to Mario, the younger brother, while filling a large bag with fresh pistachios — the season is just starting. I kept making faces at him behind her back, not only to see if he could rush her but also to stop her from taking all the pistachios but she was going on and on, and Mario was too polite to say anything. I thought she would never stop. She did eventually and thankfully, she left some pistachios which I pounced on before someone else did.
She paid and got into her mercedes, and I finished my shopping and went back home, tucking into my fresh pistachios on the tube, leaving some for my guests of course. They were all curious about them, having never seen fresh pistachios before and naturally, they loved them. Apart from being great just as a snack or with drinks, they are also lovely added to a fruit compote or a fruit salad. The only problem with the latter is that if you are greedy like me, you won’t be able to stop eating them while shelling them. Totally irresistible.
You remember my recent post on tabbuleh and what is or isn’t the right amount of burghul? Well, I am almost sure that Kissir, a Turkish salad where the main ingredient is burghul, is why people get tabbuleh wrong. Someone must have given a recipe for kissir as tabbuleh and the misinterpretation stuck until recently that is, when some writers and chefs started using less burghul and more parsley, although still not getting the ratios quite right, at least by Lebanese standards. In any case, Kissir has hardly any parsley, a lot of tomatoes, a fair amount of onion and a tiny amount of green pepper for crunch. You can season it with lemon juice or pomegranate syrup — I prefer the latter — and the main spice is Aleppo pepper, or Isot biber, (also known as Urfa biber but this will have to be a whole new post), the Turkish equivalent. Of course, there are lots of variations. Mine is an adaptation from a recipe out of Nevin Halici’s Turkish cookbook, one of my favourites. It is sadly out of print but try to get it on one of the used books sites if you can. You’ll love it. Kissir is just as moreish as tabbuleh, and the advantage is that it is much quicker to make: 15 minutes flat from beginning to end. Here is a whole picture of the salad and a recipe. Enjoy.
Turkish Burghul Salad
200 g fine burghul
200 ml boiling water
2 small spanish onions, very finely chopped
5 medium firm ripe tomatoes (about 500 g), deseeded, diced into 1 cm square cubes
1/2 small green bell pepper, deseeded and diced small
few sprigs flat-leaf parsley, most of the stalk discarded, finely chopped
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon Aleppo pepper
1 1/2 tablespoons pomegranate syrup, (or 3 tablespoons lemon juice)
sea salt to taste
1. Put the burghul in a large mixing bowl and stir in the water a few spoonfuls at a time. Cover with a kitchen towel and let sit for 15 minutes.
2. When the time is up, add the onion to the burghul and mix well. Add the other ingredients together with the seasonings. Mix well. Taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary. Serve immediately.
I have been going to my local newsagent now for 10 years and am friends with the whole family: I speak French with the two adorable young boys, commiserate with the pretty young wife whose dream it is to return to India, discuss local affairs with Dip, her husband, and talk about anything and everything with his charming parents, Mr & Mrs Patel. Their shop is like any other newsagent’s except for what is inside one small hot cabinet: Mrs Patel amazing home-made samosas and kachoris (balls of dough filled with a spicy pigeon peas mash).
And because the Patels are from Gujarat, neither the kachoris nor the samosas have any onion or garlic in them, an important detail for a dear friend who can’t eat either. So, one evening, when I was seeing her for dinner at another friend, I took some with me. Naturally they were a great success, especially with an Indian friend who was also there and who immediately knew the kashoris were from Gujarat and asked if Mrs Patel also made khandvi (spicy pasta rolls). So, I suggested he come over to me and I’d get Mrs Patel to make us some as well as other Gujarati specialties. And because Fuchsia Dunlop was also coming that evening, we decided to have a mix & match dinner: Gujarati starters from Mrs Patel, a Lebanese salad or two by me and a Sichuanese chicken salad and an aubergine dish by Fuchsia. And, I took advantage of the occasion to go watch Mrs Patel cook. Here are a few photos of her in action.
Sadly, I didn’t think to photograph Fuchsia’s dishes. They were delicious. The salad I made is the white tabbuleh in my previous post and I served a Chateau Musar 1999, which was a perfect match for all those strong flavours. We finished with my own blackberry ice cream and unlikely as it sounds, all the dishes worked fantastically well together. Now I must think of more mix & match combinations.