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Aromas of Sephardic Syria


Amanda Gold, SFGate.com, September 12, 2007
As autumn approaches, and with it the Jewish high holidays, many of us find ourselves thumbing through recipe boxes and time-worn cookbooks to extract familiar family recipes. Some turn to well-known authors like Joan Nathan or Claudia Roden for ideas to supplement the dishes that have been passed down from previous generations.

This year, "Aromas of Aleppo," by Poopa Dweck - a cookbook exploring the colorful cuisine of Syrian Jews - is a worthwhile addition to the kitchen collection.

As much a history lesson as a cookbook, the substantial tome provides a detailed account of Aleppo, Syria, from the earliest settlement of the Jews in 586 B.C. Today, that Sephardic Jewish population no longer exists, dispersed to smaller communities around the world, including Dweck's hometown of Deal, N.J.

The story and culture of her people comes alive in "Aromas," detailed in the beautiful photos of her extended family and ancestors, supplemented by black-and-white photos from Sephardic community archives. Recipes developed by Dweck and other Syrian cooks are interwoven with historical snippets explaining the traditions and customs of the Aleppian Jews.

Practically speaking, there's a balance between involved and short recipes, providing options for both easy weeknight cooking and more complicated holiday meals. Sample menus in the back offer ideas for the holidays like tart tamarind-stewed meatballs to be served on the eve of Yom Kippur (see recipe), or Syrian flatbread with a Rosh Hashanah dinner.

Traditions throughout the year and symbolism are explained in great detail. To that end, the book is as enticing to read through as to cook from. It's all too easy to get lost in a culture about which little else is written.

"Aromas of Aleppo," by Poopa Dweck (HarperCollins, 388 pages, $49.95).
Tamarind-Stewed Meatballs
Serves 8-10

The meatballs
1 pound ground beef
3 eggs
3 tablespoons matzo meal
11/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon Aleppo pepper, or 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper

The sauce
1 6-ounce can tomato paste, or two 8-ounce cans tomato sauce
1 tablespoon tamarind concentrate
Juice of 1 lemon (about 3 tablespoons)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon sugar (optional)
2 tablespoons vegetable oil

Instructions: To make the meatballs, combine the beef, eggs, matzo meal, salt and Aleppo pepper. Mix well by hand. The mixture should be loose and moist so that it can best absorb the sauce and sustain a velvety texture. Shape the meat mixture into walnut-size balls.

For the sauce: Combine the tomato paste, tamarind concentrate, lemon juice, salt, 1 cup water, and, if desired, sugar. Mix well.

In a large ovenproof saucepan, brown the meatballs, one batch at a time, in the oil over medium-high heat for about 3 minutes per batch.

Return all the meatballs to the saucepan. Pour the sauce over the meatballs and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer, covered, for 30 minutes to thicken sauce and allow the flavors to integrate thoroughly.

Yield: 8-10 servings

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Djaj Mishwi

Friday Night Roast Chicken With Potatoes

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.

1 3- to 4-pound chicken
3 cups plus 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
3 garlic cloves, minced (about 1½ teaspoons)
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 onion
3 pounds of potatoes, peeled and cut into 1½-inch wedges

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
2. In a large roaster, coat the bottom of the pan with 1 tablespoon of the oil. Rub the entire chicken with 2 tablespoons oil, the garlic, paprika and salt.
3. Add the onion to the roaster. Place the roaster into the oven, covered, and roast the chicken for 1 hour.
4. Meanwhile, deep-fry the potatoes, 1 to 1 ½ cups at a time, over medium heat in a deep-fryer or medium saucepan filled with the 3 cups of vegetable oil. Fry each batch for 4 to 5 minutes, or until the potatoes are golden. Drain on paper towels.
5. Add the potatoes to the roaster. Give them a stir in the pan drippings, making sure that they are well coated. Roast the chicken for 1 more hour, or until the chicken is golden.

Yield: 8 to 10 servings

Keywords: Syria, Global Jews, Global Judaism, Sephardic, food, recipe