Aleppian cooking differs significantly from that of Damascus and the rest of Syria. Aleppian food is far more exotic and richly flavored. Historically Aleppo was a flourishing commercial centre and with its location on the Silk Road ingredients, spices and indeed influences came from all over the world. Aleppian food contains more spices compared to the Damascene salt and pepper. In addition it shows signs of influence from nearby Turkey, Iraq and Persia and some distant land as far away as India. One of the Aleppian cuisine characteristics is the use of fruits in main dishes which is almost unheard of elsewhere in Syria or the rest of The Levant.
Cherry Kebab (Kebab Karaz in Arabic), Aleppo's most famous dish symbolise everything that is unique about cooking is that ancient city. First of all, it is a kebab and Aleppo is the kebab capital of the world. Then it is rich, strongly flavoured, sweet and sour and uses the glorious cherry fruit. In Syria a special kind of sour cherry is used for this dish. Trying to find sour cherries in London proved to be a nightmare so I abandoned the attempt and cooked with sweet cherries instead. This worked fine actually, the colour was not as purple dark as the original but fine tuning the amount of sugar, pomegranate molasses and lemon created a very authentic taste. Even my wife thought the cherry kebab I cooked tasted better than the one we eat in Syria! Baby you are so sweet!
Here is my recipe: for 2
Lean minced lamb 400g
Pomegranate molasses 2tbs
Sugar 1-2 tea spoon
Pine nuts 30g
Ghee clarified butter 1tbs
Cinnamon 1 tea spoon
Khobez (Arabic flat bread) 2
Start by very finely chopping the onion (use food processor for easier and much better results). Mix the meat, onion, one tea spoon of salt and half a tea spoon black pepper. Check your seasoning by frying a small piece of the meat. Put the meat in the fridge for an hour. This will make it easier to shape the kebab. Take the chilled meat and form into one inch size balls with wet hands to give a smooth surface. Arrange on a tray and bake for 15-20 minutes under the grill or in a very hot oven. Don't over cook it as it will dry up. I like my kebab just done.
Add the pitted and halved cherries to a large heavy bottom pot with cup of water, pomegranate molasses, Cinnamon, squeeze of lemon and sugar. Bring to the boil and then simmer for 20-30 minutes. Stir frequently squashing some of the cherries to release flavour and thicken the sauce.
Remove the meat balls when done and add the meat juices in the tray to the cherries for a richer sauce.
Fry the pine nuts in the Ghee butter till nice and golden. Remove most of the pine nuts to sprinkle on top of the finished dish. Add the remaining nuts with the Ghee butter to the cherry sauce and stir well.
When the sauce is ready add the meat balls and simmer for another 10 minutes.
Cut the Arabic bread into triangles and open the two layers of the bread. Arrange the bread in the serving plate with the pointy edges outwards and sprinkle with cinnamon. Spoon the kebab and sauce over the bread, sprinkle the pine nuts and serve immediately.
P.S. I started writing this post three weeks ago when I discovered that Anissa Helou the great food writer has published a recipe on her blog. I decided to publish my recipe a bit later. Today I discovered that Louise from Just Add Maple Syrup has published a recipe last week. Regardless I decided to publish mine. So now you have not one but three recipes for the same dish published within a month (it is cherry season so no surprises there). Chose whichever recipe you like or even mix and match but make sure you try this dish, you won't regret it!