Ok so cherries and meat...weird combination right? why would I try this right? I have some memory of being at some medical conference that my parents dragged us to as kids (I think Mackinac Island) and going to a dinner where they had cherries and chicken. I just took a little bit and it was amazing! I have wanted something similar since but I guess it isn't that common of a thing. Anyways, I have been wanting to try this dish for a long time and I never see sour cherries here in America (however I have seen dried sour cherries, sour cherry jam, and sweetened sour cherry juice) and I wanted to try it the real way so I went to whole foods to buy some fruit and I saw SOUR CHERRIES and I think I might have squealed with delight out loud and embarrassed myself but nothing out of the ordinary. So yay for whole foods.
Kebab bil karaz is a dish from Halab (Aleppo) which is about 4 hours away from Damascus. Just 4 hours away and it seems like their food is so different from the food in Damascus. Halab is known for their kibbeh and kebab and for using spicy Aleppo pepper in their food contrary to Damascus. Damascus food is very....well we tend to focus on the ingredients rather then the spices and so some may find it kind of boring.
I have never been to Aleppo, at least not that I can remember. I know that when I was around 13 our family and some other family friends took a trip around Syria but I was at that age where I didn't care about much so we probably passed through Aleppo but I couldn't tell you much about it. Kano, from Syrian foodie in London, always has interesting information about where foods came from and about the city so check out his blog. He also has a recipe for Kebab bil karaz. I have never tasted this dish so I don't know what it is suppose to taste like but I enjoyed it and so did my Damascene husband who doesn't always like to try new food (especially such a foreign concept like fruit in his dinner). Anyways I tried my best and I think it tasted like it was suppose to however probably in Syria it tastes much better because the fruits and vegetables in Syria in general have a much better taste...fruits and veggies in America have a watered down taste. Anyways here goes:
Ok so I washed the cherries and then i pitted them with this handy dandy gadget. If you don't have one and don't want to buy one then you can either crush the cherries and pick out the seeds of just cut the meat of the cherries off from around the seed.
These cherries are really soft and dark and are not as sour as I thought they would be from the name. I think they use the cherries not as ripe when making them in Halab but we need to compromise here. (sha7ad oo msharit)
So in a heavy bottom saucepan (because of the sugar it would burn easily otherwise) add the pitted cherries, some sugar, and a little bit of water to get the cherries started.
I covered the pan and put it at medium low and about 5 minutes later this is what it starts to look like. Start smashing the cherries a bit so more juice is released and it can be thickened.
At this point add some dibis rimman (pomegranate molasses) and just a tiny tiny bit of cinnamon. I was kind of hesitant about the cinnamon because at this point the sauce was very sweet. I was kind of scared and mad that maybe I had messed up this dish but once you add the meat the sweetness evens out.
So I decided to puree my cherries (1st because I don't like chunks of soft fruit in anything and 2nd because I wanted the sauce to thicken easier) however I believe they don't usually puree the cherries and they keep some of them whole...but its your food so you can do what you want.
I put it back in the saucepan and cooked it just a little more.
Grate an onion on the finest setting (If the onion is too big you won't be able to form the meat or it will fall apart while cooking). I decided to add the onion juice to the sauce to take away from the sweetness, it worked but I don't think it is necessary because like I said earlier the meat evens out the sweetness.
So I decided to use ground lamb (some recipes say just meat and some said lamb). If I made this again I would either mix lamb and beef or just use all beef and that is because I am just use to Damascus cooking and they always use beef for their kebabs and stuff. The lamb tasted good but it has a strong taste if you are not use to it.
I formed the meat into medium sized meatballs.
I cooked the meat in a little bit of samneh (clarified butter) but I believe in Halab they grill them. You can also place the meat in a pan close together and cook them in the over half way. Next time I would put them in the oven because this dish gets heavy with the meat and the pine nuts and samneh you garnish with.
Cook on all sides until a nice dark brown. When the meat forms this crust it helps to keep the juice in and makes a really good deep meaty flavor that will mix with the sauce.
Once the meat is cooked half way through, finish cooking them all the way in the cherry sauce. The sauce will become a little thinner when you add the meat because the meat releases some juice so that is why the cherry sauce should be thickened before hand. If you want to thicken the sauce more and you have already added the meat then just cook on medium until the desired consistency but watch the bottom because sugar burns easily.
So you are suppose to serve the kebab bil karaz with triangle pieces of pita bread and I believe you are suppose to just eat it like that but I made some rice. When you serve the Kebab you need to garnish with fried pine nuts and chopped parsley.
It was really good and very filling.
This is how we ate it. If you are form Halab and are offended from my version of the recipe then...sorry. I understand, its like when you see recipes with quinoa in tabbouleh or fava beans in the hummus....it is annoying.
Anyways, hopefully I did everything right ( I searched many recipes for this and they were pretty much all the same).
1 pound of ground lamb (or a mix of lamb and beef or only beef, your preference)
1/2 onion finely grated
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 to 1 tablespoon of mixed arabic spice
Sour cherry sauce:
2 cups whole pitted cherries (or around 1.5 pounds of whole cherries)
2 tablespoons of dibis rimman (pomegranate molasses)
1/4 teaspoon of ground cinnamon
1/4 cup of water
(my addition of about 1 tablespoon of onion juice from the grated onions)
garnish with fried pine nuts and samneh, parsley and pita bread.