Cherry Kebab is a tart and sweet meat dish from Aleppo, Syria, that is easy to make thanks to jarred Morello Cherries, the secret ingredient.
Cherry Kebab is a very special dish. As I stated above, the dish originated in Aleppo, Syria long ago. It was mainly made by the Armenians in the area who called it Fishnah (cherry) Kebab. What makes it special are the cherries used to create the tangy, sweet sauce.
So what kind of cherries, you ask…
They are St. Lucie cherries or Morello cherries (as we used in our recipe). It’s a variety of cherry that is tart and slightly bitter, available only mid to late summer, if you’re lucky to find them at all. The other fun fact is that these cherries are also heavily used for the pits. If you are familiar with Middle Eastern cooking, you may be familiar with the spice Mahleb (used to make Maamoul), which comes from inside the cherry’s stone.
If they’re so hard to find, how will I make this dish!?
Well, there are several ways to go about this!
- Trader Joe’s carries jarred Morello Cherries, all ready to cook might add!
- Sour Cherry Jam, which you can find in many ethnic and specialty grocers or online.
- Dried Cherries, soaked, then cooked in water with pomegranate molasses, lemon, sugar, cinnamon and salt.
- Regular cherries, cooked in sour cherry juice, which companies like Tazah sell, and then you can add the pom molasses, sugar, lemon, salt, cinnamon
Soooo, with all that being said, there are a ton of ways to make this dish work! Some easier than others, our preferred method is Trader Joe’s Morello cherries because it’s the easiest and fastest, but again, any way can work.
This dish holds a special place in my heart not only because it’s from Syria, but because on a recent trip to Beirut, Lebanon, I ate at Mayrig, a very famous Armenian restaurant who makes this dish and it was indescribably delicious and I always think back and imagine I’m there eating it…sigh.
Who made it best…
My mom and I spoke to several of our aunties from Aleppo and of course, each one of them said their way was the original way and the best way and that if you divert from that, it’s not the right dish. Don’t add onion to the meat; make sure you add onion. Add cinnamon; do not add it. It must be lamb; you can mix lamb and beef…and the list goes on. But here I give you, my version (sorry aunties;-).
- 1 pound lamb or 80% beef, ground (or a mix of both)
- 1 small onion, grated
- 1/4 teaspoon baharat, 7 spice, or all-spice
- 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon, ground
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 tablespoon milk (optional)
- red pepper to taste (optional)
- 2 jars Trader Joe's Morello Cherries w/liquid (50 oz total, do not drain)
- 1 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon, ground
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice, fresh
- 1 loaf pita bread, cut in diamonds
- parsley, chopped (garnish)
- pine nuts, toasted (garnish)
Place ground meat in a large bowl. Add grated onion, spices and milk, and mix by hand until well incorporated.
Form meat into 0.5oz balls, between the size of a quarter and ping pong ball.
Place in a large skillet over high heat. No oil is needed because the fat from the meat will be enough. Cook about 5 min, turning them halfway through to brown both sides, but not to cook all the way through. (you will be cooking them again in the sauce).
In a large skillet over medium-high heat, add both jars of cherries plus liquid. Add salt, cinnamon and lemon juice and stir together. Simmer for 30-45 min or until the sauce has reduced and becomes jammy in consistency.
Once meatballs are done searing, add them to sauce and cover with the sauce and allow them to simmer together about 10 more min. where the meat will finish cooking.
In a medium sized plate, arrange diamond cut pita around the outside perimeter of the plate and work your way in to the center so the whole plate is covered in the bread. Then top with the Cherry Kebab and sprinkle with parsley and pine nuts!
There are many ways ways to substitute fresh St. Lucie cherries. Please read the bulleted list above for reference.
Feel free to add more cinnamon or leave it out completely. You can also omit the onion. The milk is used to add moistness to the meat and isn't necessary.