This is a wonderful, festive yet easy recipe from Syria (Aleppo) also prepared in the Armenian kitchens of the region. I did not get the specific cherries from Aleppo (for obvious reasons) but used instead sour cherries I found at the Iranian exhibit in Beirut. The cherries have the perfect amount of sweet/sour flavor required for this recipe. Other, more practical, options are possible. One is to use canned sour cherries, or frozen black cherries, and adjust the amount of sugar or lemon in the dish accordingly.
This dish is actually simple, albeit a bit time-consuming (that’s where music playing in the background or the chatter of a friend comes-in to lighten the load). The first step is to make the meatballs (they can be prepared and frozen for a week). The second step is to make the cherry sauce. Finally, the meatballs are baked or pan-fried briefly, then simmered very gently in the cherry sauce and served with a garnish of toasted pine nuts and a sprinkle of chopped parsley over pita bread.
INGREDIENTS: 60 meatballs, small size
1/3 cup oil or clarified butter
1 pound lean ground beef (or other meat)
1 white onion, grated or chopped very fine
salt, to taste
1/2 teaspoon black pepper or seven-spice mix
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
For the cherry sauce:
1 1/2 pounds sour cherries (fresh, canned or frozen, see Note)
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt, to taste
1/2 cup (or more, to taste) sugar or molasses (I used date molasses)
1 tablespoon lemon juice or vinegar (if needed)
2 heaping tablespoons of cornstarch diluted in 1/3 cup water or cherry juice
Pita bread, as many as 6 pitas (one per serving)
1. Mix the ground meat with the onion, salt, cinnamon and pepper or seven-spice until combined and pasty. If a food processor is available, the work would take minutes. Take a small cookie dough scooper and shape the meatballs (or use a teaspoon or your fingers). The smallest, the daintiest.
2. Heat the oil in a large frying pan and quickly brown the meatballs for a couple of minutes over medium heat. (The meatballs can be baked in a 350F oven for 10 minutes). Set aside or freeze if preparing in advance.
3. Squeeze most of the cherries (leaving a third whole) either by running through a food processor (pulsing for 30 seconds) or by adding 3 cups of water and mashing with one’s knuckles or a meat mallet. Soak for 30 minutes or longer then dump into a sieve set over a bowl and press with a mallet to extract as much juice as possible. Pour into a saucepan, add the salt, cinnamon, sugar and bring to a simmer. Add the cornstarch diluted in 1/3 cup of water or some extra juice and stir till the sauce thickens. Add the meatballs and the whole cherries and simmer for a few minutes longer. Serve with a garnish of pine nuts and chopped parsley over pita bread. Place one pita on each plate and ladle some meatballs and cherry sauce over the bread.
NOTE: I find it easier not to pit the cherries and to use the processor to mash them instead. Usually 30 seconds is more than sufficient to chop them up. I then transfer them to a sieve and manually press them to extract the juice. If the cherries are frozen and already pitted, great!
The amount of sugar is tentative. It depends on the type of cherries used. The final sauce should be sweet with a tangy undertone. If the cherries used are already sweet, then a smidgeon of lemon juice may be needed to add a touch of sour taste (or, say, apple vinegar).
8 Comments • Comments Feed