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. A few favorites include Muhammara (Red Pepper and Walnut Spread), Kabab Karaz (Meatballs in Sour Cherry Sauce), Jazar bi-Rawbeh (Fried Carrots in Batter), Aqras Samak wa Batata (Syrian Fishcakes), and Hibb al-Ib (Hidden Love). I will also be sharing her recipe for Roz bi-Haleeb Mbattan (Syrian Rice, Milk, and Orange Pudding) following the review.
Disclosure: I received this book from Interlink Books in exchange for my honest review. All comments and opinions are my own. This post contains Amazon affiliate links. If you purchase something through the link, I may receive a small commission at no extra charge to you.
Marlene Matar is a Lebanese television chef, cookbook author, and instructor based in Beirut. 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. Marlene started her own cooking school in 1999.
The Aleppo Cookbook
Marlene developed this book to honor her mother’s Syrian ancestry. She 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.
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.
Marlene 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. Many of the recipes are accompanied by a full page color photograph (taken by Marlene), generally of the finished dish. You will also find beautiful photos of Aleppo with scenery, landscapes, markets, and people.
Roz bi-Haleeb Mbattan (Syrian Rice, Milk, and Orange Pudding)
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 over the winter holiday 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.
Looking for more recipes featuring oranges?
- Orange Almond Cupcakes
- Cioccolata Calda (Italian Hot Chocolate) with Orange Whipped Cream
- Orange Pumpkin Pancakes
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. The 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. The cheese stuffing includes grated Akkawi (or feta), Aleppo pepper or paprika, and fresh parsley or dried mint.
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. Marlene states that the tea is particularly beneficial following a heavy meal and helps in aiding the absorption of iron.
The Aleppo Cookbook 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 items 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 (Rice, Milk, and Orange Pudding) Recipe
Excerpt from The Aleppo Cookbook
Roz bi-Haleeb Mbattan (Rice, Milk, and Orange Pudding)
For the 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
For the Orange Layer:
- 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 prepare the rice and milk layer:
- Wash and drain the rice. Place it in a small pot with 1 cup/240 ml water and bring to a boil over medium heat. Cover the pot, lower the heat, and cook over low heat for 15 minutes. Remove from the heat.
- Mix the milk with the sugar and pour into a medium pot. Add the rice.
- Place the pot over high heat, stirring continuously until the mixture comes to a boil. Lower the heat and continue to cook, stirring, for a further 8 minutes.
- Stir the cornstarch into 1/4 cup (60 ml) cold water and pour gradually into the simmering milk. Stir continuously until it returns to a boil and thickens. Simmer for a few seconds, then pour into small glass serving dishes or into one large glass bowl. Cool and refrigerae for a few hours.
To prepare orange layer and serve:
- Place the orange juice, zest, and sugar in a pot over medium heat and bring to a boil. Simmer for a few seconds then pour through a fine mesh strainer to remove the zest. Return the juice to the pot.
- Stir the cornstarch into 1/4 cup (60 ml) water, then stir the mixture into the orange juice in the pot.
- Plaec the pot over medium heat and stir continuously until the mixture comes to a boil and thickens. Simmer for a few seconds. Remove from the heat and cool slightly. Pour slowly over the milk layer. Cool, then refrigerate.
- Serve cold, decorated with pistachios or almonds.