{recipe} Kebab Karaz

There is great food to be had all over Syria, but the far northern Syrian city of Aleppo is the one that’s known throughout the Middle East for its refined cuisine and innovative use of flavors and spices. Kebab Karaz, an unusual and unexpectedly tasty combination of lamb meatballs with cherries, pomegranate, and pine nuts, is one of the signature dishes of the region. The flavor combination is unusual but wonderfully balances the richness of the lamb with the sweet and sour notes in the sauce.

Every day it seems like there’s more troubling news about protests in Syria. I have a soft spot in my heart for the country and the people, since I went there on my honeymoon and found it to be one of the most magical, welcoming, wondrous places I’ve ever been. It’s hard to think of Syria without remembering the mouth-watering food we ate there.

I present an example that illustrates Aleppo’s primacy in Syria’s food culture: when the Four Seasons opened a hotel in Damascus, they opened Al Halabi, one of the fanciest and highest-rated restaurants in all of Syria. The scouting team went to Aleppo and poached the city’s best chef to helm their flagship restaurant. Al Halabi, of course, translates to “from Aleppo.” The food at Al Halabi is exquisite–especially the kebab karaz.

Even the kids in Aleppo are serious about their food.

Other Syrian cities boast excellent food, too. On a rainy day in Hama, we had a hard time mustering enthusiasm for the creaky wooden windmills for which the city is famous, but we do fondly remember the city for this friendly fried chicken shack. We were two honeymooners huddled under the awning out of the rain. The effusive counterman gallantly brought out a plastic table and chairs and insisted we make ourselves comfortable.

His hospitality and the warm, crispy chicken and super-thick fried potatoes saved the day.

In addition to the aforementioned Al Halabi, Damascus is full of fantastic food from the low end to the high end. The shawerma shops at the western end of the old souq–where you can have a few bites of heaven for under a dollar–were a favorite of mine.

The sweet shops, proffering pyramids of sticky pistachio-studded pastries, are hard to pass up, even with some minor misspellings.

In Syria, fine cooks use sour cherries and pomegranate molasses to make kebab karaz. I adapted the recipe with fresh or frozen cherries and pomegranate juice because I find the taste is comparable but the flavors are a little brighter.

Kebab Karaz

serves 2


  • ½ lb. ground lamb
  • 1 small yellow onion, minced finely (you can use a food processor)
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • ½ cup unsweetened pomegranate juice
  • 1 cup pitted cherries, fresh or frozen
  • 2 tablepoons brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • salt and pepper
  • small handful of toasted pine nuts


  • Combine lamb, onion, ½ teaspoon salt, ½ teaspoon pepper, and 1 teaspoon cinnamon with your hands or a wooden spoon. Put lamb mixture in fridge, covered, for at least an hour, as it will be easier to form patties when chilled.
  • Preheat broiler. Put a piece of foil on a cookie sheet and spray with nonstick spray.
  • Form 1-inch meatballs with your hands and place meatballs on foil. Broil 3-5 minutes on one side, then use tongs to flip meatballs over and broil another 3-5 minutes. Remove from oven and set aside.
  • Meanwhile, in a saucepan, combine juice, cherries, remaining 1 teaspoon cinnamon, sugar, and lemon juice. Bring to a boil then turn down to a simmer. Simmer for 10 minutes, then mash cherries with a potato masher. Scrape down sides and continue simmering about 10 minutes more, until sauce is slightly thicker and syrupy.
  • Gently add meatballs to sauce and stir to coat. Warm if necessary.
  • Remove to serving bowl and garnish with pine nuts. Serve with warm pita bread and thick plain yogurt on the side.

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7 Responses

  1. Mia says:

    This looks delicious! I’m digging the fruit and meat combo.

    Mm, shawerma…I think back fondly on the doner kebap shops that were a major part of my trip to Germany and Switzerland. Those were good days.

  2. Ehab Bandar says:

    Great post. Our hearts go out to them and hopefully they’ll prevail.

    And thanks for the awesome recipe. Have to try it soon. The photo alone looks good enough to eat.

  3. Dana says:

    Mmm… the shwarma picture makes me hungry.

  4. nadia says:

    Great post and wonderful photos!

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