The Aleppo Cookbook
War, loss, suffering and displacement are unfortunately our human lot. During tumultuous times poetry, music and food can be an important solace and gift of remembrance that can’t be so easily erased as bricks and mortar. Most immigrants and refugees have brought with them a food memory of some sort, whether it is a recipe on a few tattered pieces of paper, a well thumbed cookbook or a culinary ritual forever etched in their heart. My mother arrived in Melbourne from war-torn Europe with a recipe for walnut cake that was not only a parting wedding gift but a cherished piece of cultural heritage of her city. I wonder how many recipes have crossed through Europe and beyond in the recent exodus from Syria, in particular, from the historic city of Aleppo. Aleppo is regarded as the culinary capitol of the Middle East and home to the UNESCO world heritage Al-Madina Souq, the largest covered market place in the world. Large parts of it have been destroyed in the war and while it will one day be rebuilt, it will have lost the patina of age, the continuity and cultural diversity that made it the focus of one of the oldest cities of the world. Great cities have always endured, so too the recipes that define it. Fortunately someone has brought them together. The Aleppo Cookbook, by Marlene Matar, is a beautiful compilation of dishes that are the pride of this particularly culinary part of Syria. As I dipped into the book, I decided on cooking a soup first. Soup is always a great tonic and the red lentil and chard soup from the The Aleppo Cookbook is lovely, yet so simple. Red lentils are softer and not as earthy in flavour, so even those of you not so keen on them may like that the lentils are blended to give a lovely creamy consistency. The chard and carrots are added after cooking the lentils and the soup is finished with the tang of fresh lemon juice. You can use kale or spinach as substitutes too. A classic of Aleppo is the vibrant red pepper and walnut dip, which is not only the highlight of the mezze but a tasty side to meat or vegetable dishes. Other interesting dishes are the many and unique variations of the ground lamb dish, kibbeh, including walnut stuffed kibbeh (a popular street food) and kibbeh balls braised with quince and pomegranate. The Aleppo Cookbook has a lot that is different from the other Middle Eastern cookbooks, so it is a worthy addition if you want to expand your repertoire and cooking knowledge of the region.