Syrian cuisine has elements in common with the cuisine of many Middle-Eastern nations, and so does not seem at all exotic to most Israelis. In addition, because Syria is a Moslem nation, where pork is never served and seafood rarely found, the Jews of Syria had little problem adapting this versatile cuisine to kashrut, the rules of dining to which observant Jews adhere.
For several centuries, the Jews of Damascus played a major role in the mercantile system of the nation. Many of these families enjoyed a highly developed cuisine and set such sumptuous tables that one l9th century visitor reported their cookery "to be second only to that of France." That may have been a bit of an exaggeration, but the recipes for the following dinner will serve to demonstrate the honesty, simplicity and subtlety of this cuisine, now a regular part of dining in many Israeli homes and restaurants.
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500 gr. large black olives
125 gr. anchovy fillets
3 Tbsp. olive oil
1 Tbsp. white vinegar
1/2 tsp. each tarragon and black pepper
Pit the olives and fill each with an anchovy filet. Place the olives in a deep serving dish. Combine the oil, vinegar, tarragon and pepper, mixing well. Sprinkle the mixture over the stuffed olives. Cover and refrigerate at least 4 - 6 hours. Serve well chilled.
500 gr. dried figs, chopped coarsely
125 gr. walnuts, chopped
1 1/4 cup sugar
1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp. each ground cinnamon and ground ginger
juice of 1 large lemon
Put the figs and lemon juice in a heavy saucepan and barely cover with water. Let stand for 2 hours and then, on a low flame, heat gently. Stir occasionally until the figs are tender. Add the sugar, cinnamon and ginger and continue to cook on a low flame until the figs are glazed and the mixture has thickened to the consistency of jam.
Remove from the heat and stir in the walnuts. Let cool before refrigerating. Serve cold with demi-tasse spoons.
1 liter beef, chicken or vegetable stock
4 slices stale French-style bread
3 Tbsp. olive oil
6 - 8 garlic cloves, unpeeled
2 egg yolks
2 egg whites, lightly beaten
salt and pepper to taste
chopped parsley, for garnish
Brush the bread slices with the egg whites and toast in the oven until golden brown. Drop the garlic cloves into boiling water and let boil for 12 - 15 minutes. Drain the garlic, rinse under cold running water and peel. Mash the garlic and then beat together with the egg yolk until the mixture is thick.
In a saucepan or small kettle bring the stock to the boil. Remove from the flame and stir in the garlic mixture. Cook, stirring regularly, until thickened (about 5 minutes) taking care not to let the soup boil. Correct the seasoning with salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle the soup with the parsley and serve with the bread slices.
2 medium-sized gray mullet or
other firm-fleshed salt-water fish, about 675 gr each
1/2 cup each dry red and white wine
2 medium onions, sliced
1/4 cup butter
juice of 2 lemons
1/2 tsp. each hot and sweet paprika
several sprigs of fresh tarragon, chopped finely or
1/2 tsp. dried tarragon
salt and pepper to taste
parsley sprigs, sliced onion and lemon wedges for garnish
Clean the fish and place them in a shallow baking dish. Pour over the white wine and 1/4 cup water and let stand for 5 - 6 minutes on each side.
Melt 2 Tbsp. of the butter in a small skillet and saute the onion and hot paprika together until the onions are translucent.
Transfer the fish to a well-greased baking dish and dot with the remaining butter. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, tarragon and lemon juice. Pour over the red wine and add the sauteed onions. Bake in a medium oven for 30 minutes.
Immediately on removing from the oven, sprinkle the fish with the paprika. Place under a hot grill for several minutes, just until the skin begins to blacken. Serve hot garnished with parsley, lemon quarters and sliced onion.
Sources: Embassy of Israel; Israeli Foreign Ministry; Ruth's Kitchen; Manischewitz; Rogov's Ramblings- Reprinted with permission.
Daniel Rogov is the restaurant and wine critic for the daily newspaper Ha'aretz. He is also the senior writer for Wine and Gourmet Magazine and contributes culinary and wine articles to newspapers in Europe and the United States.