I’ve strayed from tradition here, as kebab karaz, as it’s known in Syria, is usually made with veal or lamb served on Arabic bread. The spices used are not at all typical and in the traditional manner, kebab karaz, is served over flattened Arabic bread with the sour cherry sauce drizzled over.
This notorious dish, which hails from Aleppo, is a real rustic, comfort kind of food in its traditional form. It truly is an alluring demonstration of this legendary city’s exotic and richly flavoured cuisine and I can’t honestly say that I don’t like the traditional rustic preparation, because I do. But, when I was conjuring up this recipe for The Jewelled Kitchen (AKA Pomegranates and Pine Nuts), I was seeking the perfect flavour match; I saw just a little bit more room to manoeuvre (ahem, I bring your attention to the key choice of word) and climb those extra few (three) steps to heaven. I was also wanting for something a little more elegant with party-canapé appeal for a change. I must say and perhaps at the risk of sounding rather boastful, that this kebab karaz interpretation does knock everyone’s socks off! I try and make it for my book-signings; it just does all the selling! So, while it’s not rustic, which really is of more importance to me than fancy, soul-less dinner party fare, I will dare to say: it’s going to be one unforgettable party in your mouth.
If you’d like to go down the rustic avenue, just warm up (or crisp up) some Arabic bread and then lather it with the cooked meatballs in the sauce. Or, you could also incorporate it into a Persian polow recipe; cook it as below and then steam with rice prepared the Persian way (The Jewelled Kitchen AKA Pomegranates and Pine Nuts).
The sour cherry native to the Middle Eastern region is small and dark crimson-red, and its kernels are ground to make an aromatic powder, known as mahlab, which is used to flavour breads and sweets. I’ve made the sauce with morello cherries, although you can use fresh sour cherries when in season, or dried sour cherries soaked in water overnight.
- 85g/3oz salted butter
- 100g/31?2oz kataifi or sheets of filo pastry (defrosted if frozen), very finely shredded
- 250g/9oz minced venison, lamb or beef
- 11?2 tsp peeled and grated root ginger
- 4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
- a pinch of Lebanese Seven Spices (see page 211)
- 6 tbsp kirsch
- 1 star anise, cracked in half
- a pinch of ground allspice
- 250g/9oz morello cherries in syrup, drained
- 1 tbsp pomegranate molasses
- 25g/1oz/1/4 cup walnuts, roughly chopped
- sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Preheat the oven to 190C/375F/Gas 5. Melt 55g/2oz of the butter in a frying pan. Remove the pan from the heat and toss the kataifi in the melted butter, making sure to cover as many strands as you can as you separate them into a loose pile with your fingers. Divide the kataifi strands among the cups of a 24-cup mini-muffin pan with 2cm/3/4in cups (about 2.5g/1/8 oz per muffin cup), pressing them into the bottom and up the sides and tucking in any strands to make 24 pastry nests. Bake in the oven for 15–20 minutes until crisp and golden.
- Meanwhile, put the venison, ginger, garlic and spice mix in a bowl and season to taste with salt and pepper. Mix well, then pinch off a little of the mixture and roll it in the palm of your hands to create a ball about the size of a golf ball. You should be able to make 24 meatballs.
- Melt 20g/3/4oz of the remaining butter in a heavy-based frying pan over a medium heat and cook the meatballs for about 10 minutes, turning often, until browned on all sides. Transfer the meatballs to a plate, cover and keep warm.
- Pour the kirsch into the frying pan, add the star anise and allspice and mix well to get all the flavourful bits into the sauce, then boil for 1–2 minutes until it has reduced by half. Add the cherries and cook for a further 3–4 minutes until the sauce is syrupy, stirring them with a wooden spoon and breaking the cherries up into pieces. Add the remaining butter and stir well to incorporate. Finally, stir in the pomegranate molasses and sprinkle over the walnuts.
- When the kataifi nests are ready, remove them from the pan and transfer them to a large plate. Put one meatball into the hollow of each kataifi nest.
- Spoon the sauce over the meatballs and then serve as canapes. You can wrap the nests in paper napkins before serving, if you like.