I wrote my Lebanese cookbook 20 years ago and when I did, I wanted to include a recipe for muhammara except that my mother didn’t have one. I then found a recipe in Ibrahim Mouzannar’s book but it was not like the muhammara I knew and loved — I think he suggests using burghul instead of breadcrumbs. A few months later, I found a good version at a Lebanese shop on Kensington High Street — long gone now — but they wouldn’t part with their recipe! As a result, I never included one in my book. But I kept looking until I finally found three good recipes, the one I give below, a classic Aleppine version which is posted later today on Design Sponge in their ‘In the Kitchen with’ section and a third one which was published in Food & Wine magazine a few years ago and which I had learned from Mohamed Antabli, chef/owner of Al-Waha. The one below is made with grilled peppers and the one on Design Sponge with pepper paste — I bring mine back from Aleppo or Gaziantep but you can find decent commercial pastes in Turkish shops. I sometimes bake mastic-flavoured crackers to serve with my dips and I also give a recipe for them here.
I love beetroot. I can’t remember which author it was who taught me to bake instead of boil it. It was many years ago and I don’t think I ever boiled beetroot since. The great thing about baking beetroot is that you avoid any wateriness which makes a difference when you are using them to make a dip like the one below which I learned a few years ago in Aleppo, at Maria’s, the lady chef who does the cookery demonstrations on my culinary tours — not happening this spring because of the revolution!
Great news. Absolute Press are bringing out an expanded edition of my Fifth Quarter next year. To celebrate this, I thought I’d post a couple of videos I did recently of one of my food obsessions: lamb testicles. The last place I expected to see them was in the kitchens of Pistache d’Alep (the best baklava maker in Aleppo) where they have recently installed a separate butcher’s kiosk to prepare the meat for the kibbeh balls and lahm bil-ajine (meat ‘pizza’), which they also make there. Their butcher is a charming and very jolly man, who took great pleasure in showing us how to prepare the testicles for cooking. It is possible that this butcher ‘kiosk’ was a temporary installation because of the Eid. i forgot to ask. In any case, I am only sorry he wasn’t there when Andrew Zimmern filmed in the kitchens for his upcoming Syrian episode of Bizarre Foods. He would have loved the spectacle. And Andrew, if you are reading this post, I am totally flattered to be your new food-crush! I also loved spending that day with you.
There are many places I return to whenever I visit Aleppo. I go at least once to have ful medammes at Hajj Abdo. I stay at Yasmeen d’Alep, and if I am not, I make a point of going there to sit in their peaceful courtyard and have a chat with the lovely owners Badeeh & Hannadi Qudsi; and I always walk up to Sahet el Hatab in Jdaydeh at around 9 am to watch the pita bread being made and then spread right on the pavement to cool before being packed. The process, as you can see from my not so great clip, is fully automated, from kneading the dough, to dividing it, to rolling it out (first into ovals, then into perfect circles), to putting it in the oven, to taking it out of the oven and sending it to the sales window or the packing floor, with the loaves going from one place to the other on a conveyor belt. The only thing that is not automated is placing the dough into the dividing machine and then packing the bread.