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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
½ teaspoon 7-spice mixture (or allspice)
½ 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. Sauté 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.

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There is 6 comments on this post

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    Alexandre Medawar
    August 29, 2009 at 7:05 am

    Anisa, your recipes will even make a robot drool !!!
    Now i have to swallow my saliva.

  • Warning: Undefined array key 36 in /data/40/0/131/109/783598/user/802494/htdocs/anissahelou/wp-content/themes/Anissa/functions.php on line 377

    you are too funny alexandre. i still have some cherries in my mother’s freezer in beirut. will make you some when i am next there.

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    I agree, I had to swallow my saliva too! I guess I will be on the lookout for sour cherries now, this recipe looks just too good not to be tried!

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    i guess the fresh ones are over now. you’ll have to make it with dried cherries. let me know how it works out.

  • Warning: Undefined array key 36 in /data/40/0/131/109/783598/user/802494/htdocs/anissahelou/wp-content/themes/Anissa/functions.php on line 377

    Dear Anissa, as I mentioned on Twitter, I followed this recipe, and the flavor was perfect. I tried one version with the tomato sauce before, which was given to me by a Syrian-Iraqi friend, but Lena’s recipe truly allows for the beautiful match of cherry and lamb to shine.

    My dream is to join you on one of your Syria culinary tours. To be honest, the moment I found out that you are planning one this year, I was very tempted to inquire about joining it. However, since we are planning a wedding in India this winter, things got a bit hectic with all that preparation. I hope that there will be another opportunity in the future. Meanwhile, I look forward to more recipes from your travels and your new discoveries.

    P.S. Just ordered the Fifth Quarter from Amazon! Cannot wait to receive it.

  • Warning: Undefined array key 36 in /data/40/0/131/109/783598/user/802494/htdocs/anissahelou/wp-content/themes/Anissa/functions.php on line 377

    how nice to hear this victoria. hope you manage to join us on one of the trips. as for lena’s cherry kababs, they are divine but all the food she serves in her house is amazing. i hope you enjoy the fifth quarter. look forward to hearing how some of the recipes in there work for you.

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