aromas of aleppo

Calsonnes is one of the most ­well-­received dairy dishes in the Aleppian Jewish repertoire. It has a linguistic connection to the Italian calzone, which makes sense when you consider that both are types of stuffed dough. The principal components of this dish are cheese ravioli, which are baked to
a crisp with butter and noodles, although some prefer their calsonnes on the tender side.
The dish is prepared for weekday dairy meals. It is also served with other dairy foods during the holiday of Shavuot—the festival of the first fruits and the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai. This custom of eating dairy foods commemorates the Israelites’ avoidance of meat on the momentous days before they received the Torah. The Israelites’ cooking utensils, which they had used to cook meat and dairy ingredients together, were rendered unkosher by the ­brand-­new dietary laws (known as kashrut) that Moses brought down from Mount Sinai. Thus, the Israelites ate simple dairy dishes to stay within the dictates of their newly acquired dietary laws.


sweet almond milk

This drink is always served at the Aleppian Jewish engagement party called the Meeting of the Family (see page 362). Traditionally served on silver trays, sweet almond milk is passed around to guests entering the home. Symbolic of fertility, the intoxicating fragrance of this drink is unmistakably romantic and a special treat. The almond paste can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks or in the freezer for several months. This is convenient because it takes time to prepare and can be done in advance for special occasions.

aromas of aleppo

sweet cherry stewed meatballs

A small, bitter, ­crimson-­colored cherry found near Aleppo, called the St. Lucie’s cherry (Prunus mahaleb L.), is the featured flavor of two Aleppian Jewish dishes, this one and kibbeh b’garaz (Sweet Cherry–Stuffed Beef Slices, page 166). You can use either fresh pitted sour cherries or canned sweet cherries (though not the garish, syrupy sort used for pie filling). During the summer months, it is a good idea to pit cherries and freeze them for later use.
This dish, kebab garaz, is a stewlike preparation. It was traditionally served over ­open-­faced Syrian flatbread and topped with chopped parsley and scallions. Today, many Aleppian Jews enjoy kebab garaz over rice because it is often served alongside other dishes that are complemented by rice.

aromas of aleppo

roast chicken

The potatoes in this dish are fried before they are added to the chicken. After absorbing the pan drippings, they become absolutely addictive. When the chicken is done roasting, one tradition is to cut it into eighths and serve it layered among the potatoes.

aromas of aleppo

okra with prunes

In the Middle East, okra is also known as ladies’ fingers because of its dainty shape. Okra is extremely popular in the Eastern Mediterranean and Middle East, where it is much smaller and more flavorful than okra grown in the West. It has a lot of small seeds and a very glutinous texture, which can be lessened considerably by soaking it in a saltwater–lemon juice solution before cooking. Small okras have small seeds and are not as tough and stringy as the larger variety. Therefore, try to buy the smallest fresh okra you can find, or buy frozen Egyptian baby okra from a Middle Eastern grocery. Before sautéing, rinse the okra quickly, so that it does not absorb too much water.

Click recipe to Enlarge


aromas of aleppo

golden ground meat

Kibbeh nabelsieh is one of the great classics of Syrian cuisine: crisp, toothsome, golden ­torpedo-­shaped bulgur shells filled with delicately spiced ground beef (tadbileh), or other savory fillings. The word kibbeh or kubeba means “dome” in Arabic. These rounded delights are a staple of the maza table. Some sebbits, which are festive Sabbath luncheons, do not truly begin until the tray of kibbeh is passed around. Do as the sebbit revelers do: bite off the top of the kibbeh and squeeze the juice of a lemon wedge into the filling, or swipe the kibbeh into a bowl of tehineh (Sesame Spread, page 26).
While eating kibbeh is a simple pleasure, making it from scratch is a difficult skill to master. In fact, a certain mystique is attached to the art of ­kibbeh-­making. The women of Aleppo were renowned throughout the Middle East for their skill in shaping the delicate shell. In the olden days, it was said that a woman could not marry unless she could make kibbeh, and women with especially long, slender fingers held much promise as ­kibbeh-­makers. A woman’s ­kibbeh-­making ability was the touchstone by which she was evaluated as a hostess and homemaker; a praiseworthy “kibbeh finger” represented the highest form of refinement and elegance.

aromas of aleppo

twisted string cheese

Syrian string cheese is still made at home on a regular basis, and “stringing the cheese” is still a common sight in Aleppian Jewish kitchens. Strands of the cheese and sliced cucumber tucked into Syrian flatbread was an old standby in Aleppo and is still adored by young and old alike.
The tiny aromatic black nigella seeds (heb al berekeh, page 366) impart a distinct and special
flavor to this cheese—nutty with a slight but pleasant bitterness. The seeds don’t release much aroma until they’re heated, which is why they are boiled with the starter cheese (curd). They are also known as “black cumin.”

aromas of aleppo

harper collins