Stuffed delights: A taste of Syria

Basal mechshe (stuffed onions) (photo credit: PASCALE PEREZ-RUBIN)
Basal mechshe (stuffed onions)
(photo credit: PASCALE PEREZ-RUBIN)
I was very fortunate to be invited to the home of Emma Mamrud in Herzliya to see firsthand how she prepares homemade Syrian delicacies, which she herself learned to prepare from family members who grew up in Damascus. Mamrud says that at first she had no interest in cooking, but over the years came to love preparing food. And her five children, 15 grandchildren and five great-grandchildren no doubt enjoy the fruits of her labor.
Mamrud learned to cook from her female relatives, who taught her that successful cooking requires thought and patience since most of the dishes involve a number of steps. And above of all, she learned how important it is to put your heart and soul into food preparation and love what you’re doing.
The first dish is stuffed onions. I will explain how to separate the layers of the onions, add the meat and rice stuffing, and then cover with a sweet and sour sauce.
The second dish is called manzala, which consists of layers of fried eggplant and chicken. And the third delicacy is ma’uda, which is made from fried potatoes and chicken, and is reminiscent of the Sephardi sofrito.
Translated by Hannah Hochner.
Basal mechshe (stuffed onions) ■ 6 medium long onions ■ ²⁄3 cup round rice, rinsed ■ 1 Tbsp. oil ■ 1 Tbsp. water ■ 2 Tbsp. ground beef ■ ¼ level tsp. black pepper ■ ¼ tsp. baharat ■ ¼ tsp. chicken-soup powder ■ ¼ tsp. salt ■ 3 Tbsp. oil Sauce: ■ 4 Tbsp. silan (date syrup) ■ 4 Tbsp. pomegranate concentrate ■ 4 Tbsp. lemon juice ■ 1 tsp. salt ■ ½ tsp. chicken soup powder ■ 1½ cups water ■ 2 Tbsp. oil Garnish: ■ 10 organic apricots ■ ½ cup amarena cherries ■ Plums and cranberries (optional) Directions: Peel the onions. With a long, thin knife, remove the non-edible tops of the onions and make a slice halfway through to the center. Put the onions in a pot of boiling water for seven minutes until the layers start to separate. Rinse and allow to cool. Once they are cold, separate the layers.
To prepare the filling, heat the oil in a pan and add the rice and a tablespoon of water. Cook until water has evaporated. Add the meat and spices. Mix.
Place a ½ teaspoon of filling in the middle of each onion piece and roll it up lengthwise. Continue with the remaining onion pieces. Place all the onions in a pan so that the “open” part is facing down. Arrange apricots, cherries and extra pieces of onion on top.
Prepare the sauce and pour on top. Drizzle oil over the dish and cover with aluminum foil. Cook for 60 minutes at 150º. Remove foil and cook for another 10 minutes.
Home-made mixtures to start your cooking Black pepper mixture: ■ 100 gr. black pepper ■ 50 gr. cumin ■ 5 pieces of cardamom Directions: Grind spices together in a blender, pour into an air-tight container and store in freezer.
Baharat mixture: ■ 100 gr. allspice ■ 3 nutmeg seeds Directions: Use hammer to crack open nutmeg seeds.
Grind seeds together with allspice, pour into an air-tight container and store in freezer.
Ma’uda (chicken with beef kubbeh and potatoes) Makes 10 servings Kubbeh filling: ■ 2 Tbsp. oil for frying ■ 100 gr. ground beef ■ 1 tsp. pepper ■ ¼ tsp. chicken-soup powder ■ ¼ tsp. salt ■ ½ tsp. baharat ■ ¼ cup water Kubbeh coating: ■ 1 cup ground rice ■ 150 gr. ground beef ■ ½ tsp. salt ■ ½ tsp. chicken-soup powder ■ ½ tsp. pepper Kubbeh-making mixture: ■ 1 cup water with 1 tsp. oil Chicken and potatoes mixture: ■ 6 potatoes ■ 10 pieces of chicken (thighs and legs) ■ 2-3 Tbsp. oil ■ ¼ tsp. pepper mixture ■ ¼ tsp. white pepper ■ ½ tsp. chicken soup powder (optional) ■ ¼ tsp. salt ■ ¼ cup water Directions: To prepare filling, heat oil in a pan and add meat. Fry beef until it turns gray. Add the spices and mix. Let cool.
To prepare kubbeh coating, mix the ground rice with the beef and spices and place in a blender. While blending, add 1-2 tablespoons of water. Separate dough into two sections. Roll each one out into a tube and cut into 3-cm.
In your left hand, take a piece of dough. Dip the index finger of your right hand into the water/oil and then make an indentation in the dough and pinch softly so that the walls thin out. Fill the hole with a spoonful of the meat mixture and then close opening with dough.
Roll kubbeh into a round ball and place on tray.
Prepare all the kubbeh in the same fashion.
To prepare potatoes, peel and cut lengthwise. Cut 2-cm. crescent-shaped slices. Sprinkle salt on top.
Heat oil in a pan and fry potato pieces until golden brown. Transfer to plate covered with paper towels and let cool.
In a large pot, heat oil and fry chicken pieces on all sides. Sprinkle with spices and cover.
Cook over low flame for 10 minutes. Add kubbeh balls, pour on a little water, and shake pan a little. Cover and cook for 10 more minutes. Add the potatoes and the remaining water and cook over a low flame for another 30 minutes. Shake the pan every so often. Serve hot.
Manzala (chicken with eggplant) Makes 8-10 servings ■ 1 large eggplant or 2 medium eggplants ■ 10 pieces of chicken (thighs and legs) ■ 4 large cloves of garlic, sliced ■ 2-3 Tbsp. oil ■ ¼ tsp. pepper mixture ■ ¼ tsp. baharat mixture ■ ¼ tsp. salt ■ 2-3 Tbsp. water Directions: Peel the eggplant and cut into 1-cm. slices.
Salt lightly. Heat oil in a pan and fry slices of eggplant until golden brown. Remove and place on paper towels. Heat oil in a large pan and fry chicken pieces on both sides until golden brown. Transfer to a separate bowl. In a pot, arrange slices of eggplant side by side, followed by the chicken pieces on top. Add the rest of the eggplant pieces on top of the chicken.
Add the garlic and spices and cover. Cook over a low flame for 30-40 minutes. Add a little water every now and then and shake the pan. Serve hot.