Fri 26 Jun 2009
It’s still cherry season. Inspired by Syrian food and having eaten devoured my way around the better part of the country last year it seemed the time to attempt a savory cherry sauce…
Despite most Parisian shops displaying evidence to the contrary it is possible to find them for less then 3 euro a kilo. Never having thought much about the potential of cherries, eating my way around Syria on holiday last year changed my mind. The northern Syrian city of Aleppo boasts a specialty dish that has infiltrated every eating house in the country – lamb, either a kebab or perhaps meatballs, served with a hot, dark, thick cherry sauce that is delicious.
Spot the cherry sauce?
The countryside surrounding Aleppo is famous for a particular type of black cherry which is smaller and a little sour. They bloom in spring time and the fruit is plentiful. Hence the ubiquitous lamb with cherry sauce dish on every menu…
Sissi House, a relatively upmarket Aleppan restaurant in the old Christian quarter was my first taste of the cherry lamb experience. Al Khawali in Straight Street in Damascus was another. The more innovative and modern Naranj, and for me the best, (albeit upscale for Damascus) restaurant does a less traditional version of the Aleppan cherry kebab as well as an extensive menu of all kinds of Syrian traditional delights given just a touch of a modern makeover. This restaurant has a retractable ceiling, a touch of Beruiti glamour and truly good food. Reservations essential and never dine before nine!
Saha – A chef’s journey through Lebanon and Syria - the cookbook previously discussed here - has a cherry sauce recipe. I made very much my own version of it the other night and impatiently devoured it cold with cheese the following day. Not exactly the most authentic of first attempts but a decent, versatile sauce nonetheless. Next time it will be duly served hot with spicy lamb. This is a great little compote to serve cold or hot.
1 kilo fresh cherries – pitted, not too ripe
250ml chicken or vegetable stock
1 teaspoon white pepper
1 tablespoon pomegranate molasses
2 cloves garlic
1 tablespoon nut oil for frying
1 tablespoon butter
1 half teaspoon cinnamon
Optional – some Greek yogurt or crème fraiche for serving when serving hot
Soak the pitted cherries for about an hour in enough water to cover them. Heat the nut oil with a little butter, add the diced garlic and fry until golden and soft. Add the cherries with their soaking water, the pomegranate molasses, and the white pepper. Simmer on a very low heat with about 250ml water or stock for about 45 minutes. Add half a teaspoon of cinnamon before bringing to the boil until most of the liquid burns off and you’re left with a thick dark sauce. It will be quite reduced. Take off the heat and either serve immediately hot with lamb cutlets or spicy lamb meatballs. Otherwise leave to cool and chill overnight to serve it with cheese.