So the other day, while playing cards at my friend Rim's house, we got to talking about cooking, and I mentioned that I really don't know how to cook any Syrian food. She offered to show me how to cook some upcoming Friday(her day off). We ended up deciding to make it an iftaar, since we tried to invite our other friend Rasha (that didn't work, since iftaars are usually a family thing, and therefore she ended up eating with her family) and because Kathleen from my program is fasting. In the end, it was a bunch of Christians (and me) having an iftaar, but it was a lot of fun. Due to the chaos of the whole event, I didn't witness the cooking of everything, but I've listed the recipes for most of the stuff below. She also cooked some stuff the day before, and so I don't have the recipes for that stuff. I didn't annotate those dishes in the picture of the spread below:
Here're the recipes:
Maqluuba("Upside down") with meat
Maqluuba is one of the Palestinian national dishes(along with kunaafa) - it's called maqluuba "upside-down"(pronounced in urban centers as "ma'-LUU-ba" where ' is a glottal stop) since it is a huge break with the normal tradition of putting meat on top of rice(in this case, it goes under the rice in a mind boggling switch-er-roo). However, silly name aside, it's quite delicious and other than frying up the eggplant, is actually a pretty simple dish that can be scaled up really easily to feed a large number of hungry mouths. It can be made either with chicken or meat, this is the meat recipe.
This recipe is based on watching my friend make this dish, so it's not super duper precise. The meat she used was veal(mystery cut), which is pretty cheap and readily available here, but you can obviously use any meat that you think would be appropriate. In fact, she didn't actually know what kind of meat("lahm" 'meat' in Arabic means anything that isn't chicken or fish. Theoretically it would include pork I think, but practically it does not) it was until I asked, since someone else in the family bought it, so no need to be too picky.
1 pound boneless meat, cut into small pieces
Eggplants, probably 2-3 sufficient depending on size
Spices: Curry, Cinnamon, S&P
Cut eggplants lengthwise, with skin on. Fry(in normal cooking oil, no need to blow a bunch of olive oil or anything) until golden brown (you may want to make a bunch and use it for musaqqa3a, below). Then skin and cut tomatoes into thin slices(I don't recommend the boiling water method here, as that will liquify the tomatoes too much)
Sautee meat in large saucepan for a little while(she didn't seem to have any particular time limit, just until we were done cutting up the tomatoes). Then put a layer of eggplant above the meat, followed by a layer of tomatoes. You can throw some salt and curry powder into these layers if you wish. Then add rinsed rice in a layer above the vegis and meat. Pat down gently(important). Throw curry powder, cinnamon(this is apparently the secret), salt and pepper on top of the rice. Add 1.5x as much water/chicken broth (she used bullion cubes) as rice, then bring liquid to a boil, cover, turn flame to lowest setting, and wait 30 minutes(You can leave the flame higher if in a hurry, but its best to take your time.) Do not stir or otherwise agitate.
When finished, put a serving pan on top of the saucepan, flip, and serve with yogurt sauce/salad below(placed beside the dish on the plate, not on top).
The eggplant being placed above the meat:
The rice with spices on top - next you add the liquid.
Basic Yogurt Sauce
Dried Mint(one can use fresh mint if available and feeling particularly energetic)
Garlic(crushed used a mortar and pestle, not probably entirely necessary)
Musaqqa3a(completely different from the Greek dish, but still involving eggplant)
Musaqqa3a is really, basically, like pasta sauce that you eat with khubz. This is the way Riim made it. I've done it differently, but the effect was quite similar.
Green bell pepper
Garlic (we used 2 cloves or so super smooshed, but we accidentally added it quite late, so you may want to add quite a bit more if you add it early on and its best with larger chunks of garlic IMO)
A large quantity of tomatoes(ripe tomatoes are quite cheap here, but feel free to use whatever canned variety you like).
Fried eggplant(as per the maqluuba recipe)
Parsley(just a little bit)
Crushed hot pepper(a very little bit)
Cut the onion and bell pepper as you would for fajitas. Peel the tomatoes (the boiling water method is recommended here), smoosh in bowl after removing any hard or otherwise inedible bits. Fry eggplants as per above.
Cook onion and peppers until soft, add tomatoes and garlic. Cook until liquidy. Add eggplants. Cook somewhat longer(mostly for flavors to mingle).
To serve, use a slotted spoon, so that it's saucier than soupy and can be eaten with Arabic bread.
I didn't see the final stages of the recipe, so it might be missing some steps near the end. I'm not sure if/when olive oil was added, but this being Syria I assume it was.
Garlic(crushed as per above)
Thin, preferably stale Arabic bread.
Watercress(Not sure if this is what it was, but its optional anyway)
Either: Lemon or Pomegranate molasses.
Chop an approximately equal quantity of cucumber and tomato into smallish(under 1" square) bits. Then mince a small quantity of onion - we used one small white onion for maybe 5 tomatoes and cucumbers, add this along with garlic. Squeeze lemon or pour pomegranate molasses on top of vegis. Add herbs(w/o stems, obviously) - I don't think the mint needs to be chopped, though the parsley might be better that way. Mix everything. This is the point where one presumably adds a certain quantity of olive oil, salt and pepper, but I didn't see it.
Chop thin pita bread(presumably thicker stuff can be used, but if you can find the thinner loaves it will be better. And this shows that it's actually good for something.) into approx. 1" squares. Fry. Sprinkle on top of salad. Enjoy.
Ok, this is a pretty famous dish around here, but I think it's a little overhyped. However, it was part of the meal and I annotated it in the picture, so here's the recipe:
Thin Arabic bread
Something acidic, such as lemon, pomegranate molasses, or I have a feeling cider vinegar would be good as well.
Cook lentils and macaroni separately. Add macaroni to lentils, allow to absorb excess lentil juice. Add acidic thing, mix. Add some salt. Put in medium sized bowl.
Fry bread as per fattoush recipe. Cut onions into very thin strips, carmelize - towards the end, add a lot of cilantro. Put onions on top, then bread, then sprinkle bread with a bit more cilantro, cooked or raw.
Our highly scientific experiments indicate that it tastes a lot better warm. It has a very strange appeal, which you will understand after you've eaten a serving of the stuff. However, it is traditionally served cold, though you may want to put on the bread chunks after retrieving from the fridge, otherwise they'll get kind of limp. Do not serve as a main dish unless you are a very poor Syrian housewife.
There are great similarities between this dish and the Egyptian dish kushari, which by all accounts is much better.