Friday, January 17, 2014

Warming up with hot mint tea in South Paterson

A photo of the 13th century Citadel of Aleppo in the dining room of Aleppo Restaurant in Paterson, above and below.

The restaurant is at 939 Main St. in Paterson.

Editor's note: We've had some depressingly chilly and sunless days in North Jersey this January, and I'll take comfort wherever I can find it -- with a glass of hot mint tea or home-cooked favorites.


It's an especially quiet January for the owners of Middle Eastern stores, restaurants and bakeries in the South Paterson section of Silk City.

On Tuesday, when I had an errand in Paterson -- known for its Great Falls and its glorious silk-industry past -- I immediately thought of stopping at Aleppo Restaurant and Fattal's Bakery on Main Street.

At the Syrian restaurant, the owner emerged from the kitchen and offered me a glass of hot mint tea, made with fresh mint leaves, or his justifiably famous lentil soup to warm up from the chilly, rainy weather.

I love the pureed soup, which reminds me so much of the one my mother prepared, but I chose the tea, adding a half teaspoon of sugar as we caught up, seated in the empty dining room.

When I got home, I rummaged in the cupboard and found a pouch of Basak-brand Lentil Soup from Turkey, reconstituted it with water and heated it up on the stove until it boiled and thickened.

It didn't approach the versions prepared by my mother or Aleppo Restaurant, but I enjoyed it nevertheless, squeezing fresh lime juice over it and adding a generous pinch of ground cumin. 

Fattal's at 975-77 Main St. in Paterson is expanding its parking lot.

99-cents sardines

I purchased the lentil-soup mix on a previous visit to Fattal's, the Syrian bakery, grocery, butcher shop and cafe less than two blocks away from Aleppo Restaurant.

On Tuesday, I picked up 21 cans of Al-Shark Sardines in Tomato Sauce, which has less sodium than the same Moroccan sardines in oil, for 99 cents a can.

These sardines are wonderful in canned fish salad, heated up and eaten with rice, added to pasta sauce and eaten right out of the can with salad.

I also purchased a 28-ounce jar of Salloum Bros. Marmalade from Figs for $5.99, even though I saw a less expensive brand.

Sugar was listed second on the ingredients label of the cheaper brand; Salloum lists it fourth after figs, sesame and anise. Both are from Lebanon.

A favorite snack is a spoonful of fig marmalade followed by a spoonful of Kirkland Signature Natural Peanut Butter from Costco Wholesale, but I also eat the thick fig spread with cheese, almonds and fruit.

I also picked up Fattal's own 6-inch Meat Pies ($8.99), a comfort food that is terrific heated up in the oven, if you eat meat. They can be frozen, too.

My mother sometimes added pine nuts to her chopped meat after spreading it on the oiled dough.

For a sweet-and-savory breakfast, I added Kirkland Signature Basil Pesto from Costco Wholesale to an egg-white omelet and a leftover baked sweet potato.

Besto pesto

I love having a jar of Kirkland Signature Basil Pesto from Costco Wholesale in my refrigerator to use at any meal -- whether to spread on a sandwich, add to egg and fish dishes or mix with hot pasta, including whole-wheat shells or imported egg-noodle tagliatelle. 

Ingredients include 100% Italian basil from the province of Genoa, extra-virgin olive oil, sheep's milk and cow's milk cheeses, sea salt, pine nuts, garlic and black pepper.

The pesto doesn't have to be heated up before you mix it with hot pasta, and it's best to add it to fish and egg dishes after you take them out of the oven or off of the stove.

A 22-ounce plastic jar of Basil Pesto is $7.99.

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