The Aromas of Aleppo

HarperCollins  2007

The vibrant pages of Aromas of Aleppo will make your mouth water for laham b’ajeen (miniature minced meat pies), yebra (grape leaves stuffed with meat and rice), and homemade hummus, but its appeal goes beyond just the food. Whether you’re Syrian or not, the family photographs found alongside the recipes will trigger memories that bring you back to your own holiday dinner table (perhaps with a few variations). History, family, and tradition—all of these combine to create a cookbook that gives the reader a taste of the culture, and of course the cuisine, of Aleppo.  

Ask any member of the Syrian community— when it comes to Shabbat and holidays, food dominates. The book, with recipes for salads, meats, desserts, and everything in between, reflects that pretty accurately. It is extremely comprehensive; it includes the staples of Syrian-Jewish cuisine like rice and kibbeh (stuffed meatballs) as well as lesser-known recipes. And since food is so tightly woven into the fabric of Aleppian culture, the author provides a brief history of the Aleppian-Jewish community, a description of different Jewish and Syrian traditions throughout the calendar year, and extensive holiday and Shabbat menus. 

The cookbook, complete with an index and glossary of terms, is easy to use and a pleasure to read. It is a valuable reference for the Syrian kitchen and a rich guidebook to Aleppo’s unique heritage for the non-Syrian, both in and outside of the kitchen.

Recipe: Bambia b’Mishmosh Okra With Prunes and Apricots in Tamarind Sauce

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 sautéeing, rinse the okra quickly, so that it does not absorb too much water.

Yield: 8 to 10 servings.

1 pound fresh small okra, stems or trimmed, or frozen Egyptian baby okra (about 2 cups)
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
4 garlic cloves, chopped (about 2 teaspoons)
1 tablespoon tomato paste
3 tablespoons ou’ (tamarind concentrate), homemade or store-bought
Juice of 1 lemon (about 3 tablespoons)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup dried apricots
1/2 cup pitted prunes

1. In a medium sauce pan, gently sauté the okra in the vegetable oil over medium heat for 2 to 3 minutes 

2. Add garlic and sauté until the okra is lightly browned, 1 to 2 minutes. To prevent the okra from emitting its characteristic starchy, mucilaginous liquid, do not stir with a spoon, shake the pot occasionally as it cooks. 

3. Dollop the tomato paste and ou’ over the okra. Add 1 cup of water, the lemon juice, and salt. Cover and simmer over low heat for 30 minutes, then add the apricots and prunes. Cook for 30 minutes more until okra is crsiptender, not mushy.

From The Aromas of Aleppo by Poopa Dweck (HarperCollins; 2007; $49.95)

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