Toronto Star

Eat your way through Aleppo’s rich and complicate­d history

Culinary instructor packs more than 200 recipes from Syrian chefs, snapshots of country’s landscape


With one of the oldest civilizati­ons on Earth, the Levant region — which covers modern-day nations such as Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and Israel — is rife with culinary history and dishes that are now ubiquitous around the globe (its inhabitant­s gave the world hummus, after all). Focusing on Syria’s capital city of Aleppo, The Aleppo Cookbook: Celebratin­g the Legendary Cuisine of Syria ($ 60, Interlink Books) lets readers who are only familiar with the city via the news see another side of it. Since coming out in October, the book has been lauded by critics as an essential guide to the food of a country with an uncertain future.

The book: Beirut, Lebanon-based TV chef and culinary instructor Marlene Matar collected more than 200 recipes from Syrian chefs, home cooks and restaurant­s that include meze essentials, such as baba ganouj; vegetarian mains, such as pilafs and stuffed vegetables; kebabs; and my favourite, more than twodozen kibbeh recipes (fried spiced meat and bulgur croquettes).

Among the food pictures are photograph­s of shop owners, ancient architectu­re as well as everyday city life that give a melancholy feeling of what has been lost.

The quote: “It is natural to seek comfort in the fact that, over the millennia, Aleppo has been rebuilt time and again after periods of great turbulence and loss. But when Aleppo reconstruc­ts this time, when its buildings and alleyways are restored, when the sights, sounds and aromas of its souk (markets) are recovered, can the spirit, understand­ing and know-how that created this heritage of traditiona­l marketplac­e and cuisine be recovered and preserved as well? Hopefully, this collection of Aleppian recipes can serve as one small contributi­on to that venture.”

The tester: It was only in the last year that I really got into Syrian cuisine thanks to catering companies, such as the Newcomer Kitchen at Dufferin and College Sts., and Hamilton’s Karam Kitchen, which are staffed by newly landed Syrian-Canadians.

Recipes I’m dying to make: Stuffed Lamb Tongues (tongue has a wonderful, tender texture), Itch (Aleppian tabbouleh that uses pomegranat­e molasses, cumin and tomato paste), Chili and Garlic Kebabs (spiced lamb kebabs), Saffron Rice Pudding (a celebrator­y dessert with orange blossom water and saffron).

Basic Fried Kibbeh

Star Tested The recipe looks long but, start-to-finish, it takes less than an hour. Two to three kibbehs are plenty for one serving, so freeze any uncooked ones and save them for a quick meal later. Pair kibbeh with something acidic, such as plain yogurt with fresh mint, tabbouleh or sliced tomatoes. The book includes baking instructio­ns as an alternativ­e to deep-frying. While both are delicious, the fried version (pictured) has a much prettier golden-brown colour. Aleppo Spice Mix (Daqqa) 2 tbsp (30 mL) ground allspice 1 tbsp (15 mL) ground cinnamon 11/2 tsp (7 mL) ground black pepper 11/2 tsp (7 mL) ground nutmeg 11/2 tsp (7 mL) ground cardamom 3/4 tsp (4 mL) ground cloves 3/4 tsp (4 mL) ground ginger Whisk spices together and store in an airtight container.

Makes 1/3 cup (80 mL). Basic Kibbeh Shells Fine bulgur (dried, cracked wheat) comes in white and brown varieties and can be found at certain Loblaws locations (the Al Wadi brand is usually the only one available) or Middle Eastern grocers. 2 cups (500 mL) fine white or brown bulgur 8 oz (225 g) lean ground beef or lamb, chilled 1 tsp (5 mL) kosher salt 1 ice cube 1/4 cup (60 mL) coarsely chopped onion 1/4 tsp (1 mL) ground pepper 1 tsp (5 mL) Aleppo spice mix In a large bowl, rinse bulgur under cold running water until water runs mostly clear. Drain, fill with water again and soak bulgur in cold water for 8 minutes if using white bulgur, 10 minutes for brown bulgur. Drain, squeeze out excess water and set aside.

Pulse meat in a food processor with blade attachment. Add 1/2 tsp (2 mL) salt and ice cube. Continue pulsing to form a smooth paste. Transfer meat to a bowl and refrigerat­e until ready to use.

Add chopped onion to food processor along with remaining salt. Pulse until finely chopped. Add bulgur a bit at a time and pulse until it forms a paste. Add chilled meat, spices and remaining bulgur to processor. Continue to pulse until a smooth, thick paste has formed. Add a bit of cold water if paste is too thick. Transfer paste to a large bowl. Knead for one minute. Divide into 12 balls (about 85 g each). Cover with plastic wrap and keep refrigerat­ed up to a day, or until ready to use.

Makes 12 kibbeh shells. Meat Stuffing 2 tbsp (30 mL) vegetable oil 3 tbsp (45 mL) pine nuts 8 oz (225 g) lean ground beef or lamb, chilled 1/2 tsp (2 mL) Aleppo spice mix 1/2 tsp (2 mL) ground allspice 1/4 tsp (1 mL) ground pepper 1/4 tsp (1 mL) ground cinnamon 1/2 tsp (2 mL) kosher salt 2 tbsp (30 mL) chopped flat-leaf parsley In large skillet over medium heat, heat 1 tbsp (15 mL) oil. Fry pine nuts until fragrant and golden brown, about 1 minute. Pour into a bowl and set aside.

Using same skillet over medium-high heat, add remaining oil and sauté beef until no longer pink. Add spices and stir. Toss in pine nuts. Remove from heat and transfer to a bowl. Stir in parsley. Taste and adjust seasoning as necessary. Set aside to cool to room temperatur­e before covering with plastic wrap and refrigerat­e up to a day, or until ready to use.

Makes enough stuffing for 12 kibbeh. To assemble kibbeh Moisten hands with cold water to prevent kibbeh from sticking. Take one kibbeh shell in one hand and create an indentatio­n with thumb of other hand. Keeping hands moistened, rotate ball and continue to widen and deepen indentatio­n with thumb and index finger, creating a hollow shell with thin walls.

Fill shell with 1tbsp plus 1tsp (20 mL) of stuffing. Close open end of kibbeh. Roll with both hands to create a smooth egg shape. Repeat with remaining shells and stuffing. Cook kibbeh as per directions below or freeze for later. Makes12 kibbeh. To fry kibbeh Fill a heavy-bottomed pot with canola or vegetable oil until it reaches 2 inches deep. Heat oil to 350 F (175 C) or until bubbles form around a wooden chopstick when inserted. Lower stuffed kibbeh into oil, careful not to overcrowd pot, and fry until golden brown, about 3 to 4 minutes. Transfer to a plate lined with paper towels. Repeat with remaining kibbeh. Serve immediatel­y. To bake kibbeh Preheat oven to 350 F (175 C). Brush stuffed kibbeh with canola or vegetable oil. Place kibbeh on a lined baking tray. Bake for 30 minutes or until kibbeh are browned, flipping once or twice to ensure even cooking. Serve immediatel­y.

 ?? BERNARD WEIL/TORONTO STAR ?? Marlene Matar’s Basic Fried Kibbeh takes less than an hour to make.
BERNARD WEIL/TORONTO STAR Marlene Matar’s Basic Fried Kibbeh takes less than an hour to make.

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