Dima Al-Chaar: Generations of Damascus

This week at Motto, Damascene chef Dima is presenting a new twist on some classic Syrian recipes.  She explains how her food is influenced by tradition: 
“That’s why I still go and visit my grandma every two weeks; sitting with her, sitting with my aunts, and getting all the original recipes.”

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“I decided to go back to my country [after studying in Montreal], because I really have a passion for Damascus. I was raised in New Damascus but I studied in Old  Damascus, so during the day I’d work in New Damascus and then on a daily basis spend my night in Old Damascus.  That’s why I decided to go back, because there’s a lot of culture – and there’s a lot of passion involved in the work itself.  

“Since the war began I’ve focused more on the Damascene cuisine, bringing a twist to the traditional recipes.  To tell you the truth, my mission now is to bring the beauty of Syria, after all the corruption that people have done to it, and to bring a good image of Damascus: not only the war, the refugees, the tents… what you see in the media.

“Each country, if you want to see how rich the culture is, you go to see the cuisine.”

This weekend (22-24 October) Dima is cooking at Mótto’s Madrid Street home.  As she worked in the kitchen on her debut night, she talked us through the dishes she is preparingScreen Shot 2015-10-19 at 4.22.58 PM

Grandma’s tabbouleh
“Grandma’s tabbouleh is like the normal tabbouleh, but sometimes my Grandma she gets… like, lazy!  She doesn’t want to chop loads of parsley so she puts in chopped lettuce instead.  So that’s why we call it in the family Grandma’s tabbouleh. Actually it’s the same as normal tabbouleh, but we use more Arabic lettuce than parsley.  And I’ve added green onions, lemon zest and even some cinnamon and Arabic spices.  This makes it more interesting and gives the tabbouleh more taste.”

Lentil kibbeh
“The lentil kibbeh is very well known, mainly in Aleppo.  I’m not sure where the original recipe comes from but in Damascus we make lentil kibbeh, potato kibbeh, pumpkin kibbeh and the normal meat kibbeh. Today I’ve twisted the recipe slightly: I’m making it with cucumber, tomato, mint and a bit of jalapeño salsa.  It just gives a bit more of a kick.”

Eggplant mfassakh
“This is a dish based on fried eggplant.  Today I changed a bit the presentation because… I prefer when people eat that they don’t leave anything on the plate.  The original receipe tells you to deep-fry half an eggplant, even with the head.  But usually people eat the whole thing and eave the head on their plate.  I prefer to see clean plates with nothing left.”
So everything tonight on the plate will be edible?
And Dima will be checking.

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“Besmashkat is a pure Damascene dish. Usually when you tell people it’s meatballs filled with rice and beef and served with mashed potato, they tell you it’s a Western dish. But for me, the only people who really know about besmashkat are the Damascenes.  Even people from Aleppo might not know it.  And for me it’s a dish which combines Western cuisine with the Arab cuisine. 
“So, you pan fry the meatballs and then deglaze it – usually with red wine but I did it with balsamic vinegar – and you make the gravy from the meat itself and you add the spices: nutmeg, and Damascene allspice.”

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“You know how each dessert has its story, like mughle, which you make when you have a newborn child. So sliqa is something similar: usually people eat it in the fall or the winter.  I got the original recipe from my grandma.  It’s usually served warm, but today I’m making the recipe with a twist.
“You know, this is what I really like: to get the traditional recipes and then do them with a modern twist.
So for example, usually the sliqa is a wheat pudding, made with grape molasses.  So today the twist which I’ve made it to use ‘melban’ [walnut dipped in solidified grape molasses] as a decoration.”

To book for Dima’s Damascene dinner, or for more information, SMS us on 70954057.  As always, pay what you think is fair.  

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