The Aleppo Cookbook: Celebrating the Legendary Cuisine of Syria, written by Marlene Matar, is a tribute to one of the world’s oldest cities with over 200 vibrant and unique regional recipes, photos, and stories. Favorites include Muhammara (Red Pepper and Walnut Spread), Kabab Karaz (Meatballs in Sour Cherry Sauce), Kibbeh Maqliyeh (Fried Kibbeh), and Khobez Arabeh (Arabic Flatbread) along with the lesser-known Jazar bi-Rawbeh (Fried Carrots in Batter), Aqras Samak wa Batata (Syrian Fishcakes), Hibb al-Ib (Hidden Love), and Baqlawa Franjiyeh (Western-Style Baklava).
Marlene Matar is a Lebanese television chef, cookbook author, and instructor based in Beirut. She developed this book to honor her mother’s Syrian ancestry. She worked with the Syrian Academy of Gastronomy and fell in love with the city during a prolonged stay in Aleppo. She also attended Beirut’s L’Academia Italiana della Cucina, Montreal’s Ecole Professionnelle de Cuisine Chinoise, and received a Grand Diplôme in cooking and pastry from Le Cordon Bleu in Paris. She started her own cooking school in 1999.
Disclaimer: I received this book from Interlink Books in exchange for my honest review. All comments and opinions are my own.
The chapters are divided according to course: Basic Recipes, Appetizers and Mezze (Cold Appetizers, Hot Appetizers), Soups, Salads and Vegetable Side Dishes, Grains, Fish, Poultry, Meat (Meat as the Centerpiece, Grilled Meat and Kebabs), Kibbeh (Grilled Fried and Baked Kibbeh, Meatless Kibbeh, Kibbeh Stews), Stuffed Dishes (Meat Stuffed Dishes, Vegetarian Stuffed Dishes), Vegetable Main Dishes, Stews and Sauce-Based Dishes, Bread, Pickles and Preserves, Desserts and Sweets, and Drinks.
Matar begins with an introduction of Aleppo’s history through turbulence, loss, and rebuilding all the way back to 3000 BC when it was the capital of the Akkadians. It is located at the intersection of the Silk Road and its food has been influenced by Persian, Chinese, Turkish, Jewish, Greek, Armenian, and other cuisines. The city was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1989.
Matar also includes a set of basic recipes to help create authentic flavors like the Aleppo Spice Mix, pomegranate molasses, Laban (yogurt), and Labneh (strained yogurt). You will even have step-by-step instructions on preparing ingredients like artichoke bottoms (ardishawkeh), chickpeas, white rice, freekeh, mint, pomegranates, and vine leaves.
The recipes were collected from Aleppian families, restaurants, and chefs. Measurements are provided in US Customary and Metric. The name of the recipe is listed in Arabic and English. Most recipes include a headnote with background information, tips, and variations. The serving size and preparation/cooking/resting times are also included. Most of the photography is provided by Marlene Matar. I do wish there were more photos, but many of the recipes are accompanied by a full page color photograph, generally of the finished dish. You will also find beautiful photos of Aleppo with scenery, landscapes, markets, and people.
This book is a great pick for those wanting to learn and preserve the incredible cuisine of Syria. There are hundreds of recipes to choose from with a range of difficulty levels and everything from vegetarian to meat/fish-based and sweets. There are even a few beverages including teas, coffees, yogurt, and fruit-based drinks. Being close to a market featuring Middle Eastern ingredients will be helpful to complete a few of the recipes, though many can be made with access to the average American grocery store with the help from the basic recipes included. Some more difficult to find ingredients include tamarind, salep powder, sour cherries, orange blossom water, fine semolina, kataifi, mastic, rose water, red pepper paste, green garlic, cardamom pods, freekeh, fava beans, and tahini.
Roz bi-Haleeb Mbattan is a beautiful Syrian layered pudding. The bottom part is a creamy milk-based rice pudding and it is topped with a light orange layer. I love the contrast between the citrus and the dairy. I garnished the pudding with chopped pistachios, but you can also use almonds. It doesn’t take much effort to make, but does required some chilling time in the refrigerator for both layers.
I served the pudding on Christmas Eve and everyone loved it. It was perfect, particularly since I was able to make it in advance and just store it in the refrigerator until I was ready to serve.
I also made Sambousek (Turnovers), Salatet Jazar (Carrot Salad), Qaleb Ma’karoneh (Pasta Cake with Kebab), and Sharab al-Kammoon (Cumin Tea).
Sambousek is a favorite of mine and these turnovers definitely didn’t disappoint. These incredibly flaky pastries were first made during the tenth century. They can be formed into half-moon or triangle shapes, baked or shallow-fried. Matar included two types of fillings: meat and cheese. I enjoyed both, but particularly the meat mixture with ground lamb (or beef), pine nuts (or walnuts), spices, and pomegranate molasses. It was quite addictive. The cheese stuffing includes grated Akkawi (or feta), Aleppo pepper or paprika, and fresh parsley or dried mint. I was able to freeze the extra uncooked pastries and fry/bake them straight from the freezer for a quick and easy snack.
Salatet Jazar is a Carrot Salad flavored with cumin, garlic, lemon, and olive oil. I made the salad with carrots in a variety of colors, but black carrots are particularly abundant in Aleppo. Since they were lightly cooked, the carrots were also easy for Claire to eat.
The Qaleb Ma’karoneh was another huge hit for the whole family. This pasta cake is filled with spaghetti coated in a spiced tomato sauce and mini meatballs. I particularly loved the addition of the cinnamon. It was also great the next day as leftovers.
Sharab al-Kammoon is a Cumin Tea that is easy to make with only a handful of ingredients. Freshly ground cumin and salt soak in hot water for 30 minutes before straining and serving with lemon juice, hot or cold. Matar states that the tea is particularly beneficial following a heavy meal and helps in aiding the absorption of iron.
Roz bi-Haleeb Mbattan (Rice, Milk, and Orange Pudding)
Adapted from The Aleppo Cookbook
Rice and Milk Layer:
1/3 cup (2 1/2 ounces, 70 grams) short-grain rice, preferably Egyptian
1 cup (240 ml) water
3 3/4 cups (890 ml) milk
1/4 cup (1 3/4 ounces, 50 grams) granulated sugar
1/4 cup (1 ounce, 30 grams) cornstarch
1/4 cup (60 ml) cold water
2 1/2 cups (600 ml) orange juice
Zest of 1 orange
1/2 cup (3 1/2 ounces, 100 grams) granulated sugar, or to taste
1/4 cup (1 ounce, 30 grams) cornstarch
1/4 cup (60 ml) cold water
Peeled pistachios or almonds to garnish
To make the rice and milk layer: Wash the rice until the water runs clear and drain. Add the rice and 1 cup water to a small pot and place over medium heat. Once it comes to a boil, cover, and reduce heat to low. Cook for 15 minutes, then remove from heat.
Stir together the milk and sugar, then add to the pot with the cooked rice. Bring to a boil over high heat, then decrease to a simmer and cook for 8 minutes while stirring.
In a small bowl, whisk the cornstarch with 1/4 cup water. Slowly add to the simmering milk and continue to stir while boiling until the mixture thickens. Simmer for a few more seconds and allow to cool slightly before dividing among small serving dishes or one large glass bowl. Cool to room temperature, then cover and refrigerate for a few hours to overnight to chill completely.
To make the orange layer: In a medium pot, whisk together the orange juice, zest, and sugar over medium heat. Bring to a boil and simmer for a few seconds before straining through a fine mesh strainer and returning to the pot. Bring back to a boil.
In a small bowl, whisk the cornstarch with 1/4 cup water. Slowly add to the simmering orange juice and continue to stir until the mixture thickens. Continue to stir for a few more seconds before removing from heat. Allow to cool slightly before gently pouring over the milk layer. Cover and refrigerate until well chilled.
Serve cold topped with pistachios or almonds.