Kebab Keraz – Syrian lamb meatballs with a rich cherry sauce

The souks of Aleppo. Image: author’s own.

In northwest Syria sits Aleppo, vying for the title of oldest constantly inhabited city in the world. It is a city of history and intrigue, with its rabbit warren of brick-tunnelled souks and its ancient Crusader castle. And from the folds of its culinary cloak (or kaftan) it has produced this gem: kebab keraz, or cherry kebab in English. It’s a dish for all the senses, with a deep purple sauce, fruity aroma and spicy-sweet flavour. The cherries match the richness of the lamb perfectly, presenting a yin-and-yang of sweet and savoury. And just when you think the cherry intensity is starting to get too much, the jet of chilli helps sway the dish back over to the savoury realm. Traditionally, sour cherries are used, but given that this article is being written from the UK in late autumn, getting hold of them could be a bit impossible. Instead, I use pitted cherries in a jar, and I wash the syrup off before adding them to the pot; I find Lidl is good for these. Pomegranate molasses are increasingly available in the UK in Asian shops. So don’t let the exotic element of the ingredients list put you of – bring some Aleppo into your life!

Ingredients (serves 4):

  • 400g lean lamb mince
  • 500g (preferably sour) cherries, pitted and halved
  • 1 small onion
  • 2tbs pomegranate molasses
  • 1 lemon
  • 1–2 tsp sugar
  • 30g pine nuts
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 red chilli
  • Salt and pepper
  • Flat breads/wraps

Method:

  1. Chop the onion finely and combine with the mince, then season with salt and pepper and chill for one hour.
  2. Shape the mince into 1 inch balls and then bake for 15–20 minutes under the grill or in a very hot oven.
  3. Meanwhile, add the cherries to a pot with a cup of water, the pomegranate molasses, cinnamon, lemon, sugar, and a small amount of the red chilli (enough for a little bit of spice, but not overpowering – e.g. about a centimetre or two in length of the chilli for my tastes). Bring this to the boil and then simmer for 20–30 minutes.
  4. Remove the meatballs from the oven when done and add the meat juice to the cherry sauce.
  5. Once the sauce has cooked, it can then be blended to create a smooth texture, although this is optional. Add the meatballs after blending and simmer for a further 10 minutes.
  6. Gently toast the pine nuts in a dry frying pan, and then add half to the sauce to give a crunchy texture, and reserve the other half to sprinkle on top of the dish.
  7. Slice the flatbread into triangles and arrange around the edge of a serving plate, with the tips pointed outwards, and then pour the sauce into the centre and sprinkle over the remaining pine nuts.

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