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.
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