Sunday, February 7, 2010

Beans, beans and bread

souq, aleppo syria, easter 2004Image by seier+seier+seier via Flickr

My passion for the spices and flavors of the Middle East only seem to increase as I get older. I have been trying more and more to experience again the wonderful meals I enjoyed for many years at my mother's table -- her Jewish specialties from Aleppo, Syria, where she was born.

Now, I visit Aleppo Restaurant and Middle Eastern bakeries and markets in Paterson to taste that wonderful food or gather the ingredients for home-cooked meals.

The other day, I found a large, 32-ounce can of fava beans from Lebanon in my cupboard and immediately thought salad. I drained most of the liquid and poured these humble beans into a bowl, adding chopped scallion and parsley, extra-virgin olive oil, juice from two small lemons, garlic powder, cumin, allspice, Aleppo red pepper and salt.

You can heat up the seasoned beans, smash some of them and serve them with a hard-boiled egg on top. Or you can spoon a good amount of beans on a plate, warm them in the microwave and top them with one or two sunny side up eggs, as I did for breakfast today. Then, I warmed up Syrian bread and scooped up egg, yolk and beans, or made small sandwiches with the pocket bread.

Photo de falafels Photo prise par Jerem ja:画像:...Image via Wikipedia
Grace Sasson, my mother, used to make falafel with fresh fava beans, as the Egyptians do. Everyone else uses chickpeas. In her self-published cookbook, "Kosher Syrian Cooking," she has the falafel recipe and a second recipe where shelled fava beans are cooked in oil, water and allspice until they turn brown and served as a side dish.

I'll probably be making some hummus (pureed chickpeas) this week -- adding powdered garlic, lemon juice and olive oil to canned spread from Lebanon -- and I know I'll be snacking on pocket-bread sandwiches of fava beans and hummus. Basic, filling and delicious.

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  1. The falafel in that picture look absolutely perfect. They never come out that way when I make them.

  2. At least you try to make them. I always buy ready made. Anyway, that photo is generic. I remember visiting Afula in Israel in the late 1970s, and saw a unique falafel frying method. The falafel balls were placed in hoppers on a miniature Ferris wheel, and as the wheel turned slowly and the hopper descended, they passed through the hot oil below. When they emerged, they were done. I got a kick out of that.

  3. I haven't tried in a while, I do have some mix in a box that I should probably use soon. I think another quick method that they use in the Middle East is in a machine that is usually used to make donuts, where the falafel balls are dropped into the hot oil automatically.

    I think I have asked you before, but do you ever make ajjeh (small omelettes with parsley and onion)?

  4. Ajjeh is one of my favorite dishes, but I haven't had them in years. I did once try making them from my mother's recipe and they came out pretty good. I remember in the summers years ago, when I would put ajjeh and a big slice of Jersey tomato into pocket bread. I just loved that sandwich. But my mother also used to make ajjeh with meat, in addition to just parsley and onion. I really love that version. She also made them with brains and I hated that, especially when she didn't say anything and I put the brains ajjeh into my mouth. The texture was awful.

  5. Hi Victor,
    As unbelievable as it may sound, I bumped into your mother's cookbook (Syrian Cooking) at a friend's house in Winnipeg, Manitoba. The book was given to her by her mother who lived in Brooklyn. I decided to feature the book in my blog and also one of her recipes (Baba Ghanouge). You can see it here:
    After that I found your blog. What a great thing to have such a phenomenal cook as a mother! By the way, my family, mother's side, is also from Aleppo, Syria. Kind regards,

  6. Der Aida,

    Thank you so much for your wonderful comment.

    My mother's cookbook has wings. I visited the Sassoon Synagogue in Hong Kong in 1979, and was invited to breakfast, where members of the congregation said the Chinese cooks used my mother's cookbook to prepare the Sabbath meal.

    That day, the man sitting next to me at the service wasn't a Jew living in Hong Kong, but a traveling salesman who lived two blocks away from me in Englewood, N.J.

    Anyway, my mother's cookbook is a connection to food and culture for Syrian Jews and others scattered around the world.

    Yes. I really appreciate the love of food and cooking my mother handed down to me. Some of my warmest memories of growing up are family meals and celebrations.

    All the best.

    P.S. Please send me your address and your friend's address to my e-mail account shown at the top of my blog, and I'll send you the last edition of the book, "Kosher Syrian Cooking."


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