A recipe for the #CookForSyria campaign, inspired by the famous Aleppo cherry kebab
Six years ago, my brother added a postcard to my blog, Rocket and Squash, detailing some of the food he had enjoyed while holidaying in Damascus and Aleppo. Reading it again recently provided a chilling reminder of how devastating the last few years have been for the people of Syria. How everyday life—simple pleasures like visiting a local café for a plate of muhammara and flatbread— has descended into humanitarian crisis.
One picture from that postcard was of the famous Aleppo cherry kebab: marble-sized lamb meatballs in a glossy cherry sauce, as sweet and sour as pomegranate molasses. It has fascinated me for years. This recipe is inspired by that dish, using more of a western style meatball in size and content (ricotta and breadcrumbs lighten things). Fresh sour cherries aren’t abundant here, so a combination of dried cherries and cherry juice provides the high notes. It’s really worth buying some quality lamb mince from one of the Market’s butchers—none of that ‘lean’ nonsense you find in the supermarkets.
This would be great dish to scale-up and serve at a #CookForSyria supper club or dinner party—part of an initiative in aid of UNICEF’s Syria Relief Fund, supported by Borough Market through a variety of events and recipes during November.
125g dried sour cherries
300ml boiling water
For the meatballs:
600g lamb mince
1 large egg
50g panko breadcrumbs
15g fresh coriander, stems finely chopped, leaves reserved for garnish
1 heaped tsp ground cumin
1 tsp mixed spice
1 tsp ground cinnamon
Sunflower or vegetable oil for frying
For the sour cherry sauce:
300g medium onions, quartered
400g lamb stock
300g cherry juice, not from concentrate
1 tsp cornflour
2 tbsp sunflower or vegetable oil
Pour 300ml of boiling water over the dried sour cherries and leave to soak for 8 hours or overnight. Once the time is up, remove 50g of now plump cherries for the meatballs, and keep the remainder in the soaking liquid, as this forms part of the sauce.
Roughly chop the 50g pile of sour cherries. Drop them in a large mixing bowl, along with the lamb mince, ricotta, egg, breadcrumbs, coriander stems and spices. Mix thoroughly, then get your hands dirty and roll meatballs about the size of a walnut—25g each if you’re into measuring. Refrigerate until required, for at least 30 mins.
Meanwhile, make the sauce in a casserole dish or high sided saute pan. Heat the oil over a medium-high heat. Place the onion quarters flat side down and allow to brown before turning onto their second side. Repeat the browning, then cook the curved side too. The whole process will take 5-8 mins in total, and the onion wedges will sweeten and soften as they cook.
Add the lamb stock, cherry juice, remaining sour cherries and their soaking liquid to the onions. Heat to a high simmer and allow to reduce and intensify for 15 mins. During this time, remove 3 tbsp liquid from the pan and mix in a mug with the cornflour. Pour this back in the pan and stir—it will help to thicken the sauce.
Fry the meatballs in a little oil, using a heavy-bottomed frying pan over a medium-high heat. You may need to do this in batches, depending on the size of your pan. Allow them to colour and get a little crust for 4-5 mins, but not cook fully through. Then add, with any cooking juices, to the cherry and lamb stock sauce. Season with plenty of salt and black pepper and cook for 10 mins more.
Serve with plain rice, soft flatbread and coriander leaves.
Recipe: Ed Smith
Images: Patricia Niven