Aleppo Mortadella

I’m so excited to share this recipe: Aleppo mortadella.

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Armenian influence has punctuated Aleppo cuisine in many ways. The city saw an onslaught of Armenian refugees in the early 20th century when they fled neighboring Turkey during the tragic genocide by the Ottomans. Tens of thousands of Armenians were forced out of their villages and taken to the desert near Syria where they were killed and buried in mass graves. Many who fled found themselves in northern Syria in Aleppo and surrounding villages.

With them, they brought their cuisine. When the Armenians came, Syrians were introduced to this version of mortadella and other cold meats (basterma, sujuk). Aleppo mortadella should not be confused with the Italian kind, which is cured and made with pork. Aleppo mortadella, on the other hand, uses very lean ground beef, is poached and resembles more of a meat loaf.

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Aleppo mortadella is quite nutritious, and it’s made by combining very lean beef with 0% fat (called habra in Arabic), ground kaak* (or bread crumbs), spices and pistachios (which Aleppo is also famous for). The meat is slapped onto a surface and shaped into a cylinder. It’s traditionally deep fried for browning before poaching, but I skipped this step, and it still turned out delicious. The meat is then poached in a mixture of water, apple cider vinegar and warm spices, giving it an earthy and bright complex flavor that you won’t find anywhere else.

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This dish is a staple in any Syrian households. It’s often eaten as part of a mezze spread, and leftovers are made into sandwiches with mustard and pickles. My mother’s family often prepared it during Ramadan and served it during suhoor, the pre-dawn meal. After she married my dad, she learned the recipe from my paternal grandmother and passed down the tradition. I have many foggy memories of being woken up to eat a mortadella sandwich before beginning a day of fasting.

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I’m so excited to have learned this dish. Not only does it have clear lineage, it’s also a legacy of my namesake, my grandmother

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My first attempt was not perfect (especially regarding the shape), but it still tasted delicious. I encourage you to give it a try! And if you do, don’t forget to put it in the comments or tag me at @omayahatassi or #omayahcooks on Instagram.

Aleppo Mortadella

Makes about 5 cylinders

1 lb very lean beef ground finely (habra)
1 ice cube
1 c plain kaak*, ground finely, or breadcrumbs
1 Tbsp flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp ground cloves
1 Tbsp minced garlic (about 6 cloves)
Few grinds of fresh black pepper
3/4 c raw pistachios
1 egg + 1 egg white
Neutral oil for frying (optional)

Poaching liquid:
1/2 c apple cider vinegar
3 bay leaves
2 cinnamon sticks
7 whole cloves
2 tsp salt

  1. Start by grounding the kaak, if using, in a food processor.

  2. Empty the kaak from the food processor and give the bowl a rinse. Add the meat and 1 ice cube and process until combined and fine.

  3. In a large mixing bowl, combine the processed meat with the remaining ingredients up until the pistachios.

  4. Prepare a smaller bowl of ice water with lots of ice. You want to make sure it’s very cold so the meat doesn’t warm while you’re working with it.

  5. When ready to shape the meat, dip your hands in the ice water and knead the meat mixture until nice and soft.

  6. Take a heaping handful of the meat dough. Slap it on your work surface a few times to get rid of any air bubbles.

  7. After dipping your hands into the ice water again, press the meat dough in an even layer against the work surface until its about a 1/2 inch thick.

  8. Sprinkle pistachios across the dough. Fold the ends up over one another. Smooth the creases and edges by dipping your fingers in the ice water again.

  9. Slap the dough against the work surface a few more times. Dip your fingers in the ice water and continue shaping until you form a smooth cylinder.

  10. Continue with the remaining meat dough and pistachios.

  11. When you’ve finished shaping all of your meat cylinders, beat the egg and egg white until combined.

  12. Dip your hands into the egg mixture and spread all over each cylinder, smoothing and shaping as you go.

  13. If frying, cover the bottom of a pot with oil by about 1 inch and preheat. Fry each cylinder until browned, about 2 minutes per side.

  14. Add the poaching liquid to a large pot with about 5 cups of water, making sure the mortadella is submerged. Bring to a simmer and drop the cylinders in the pot. Cover and let simmer until brown all the way through, about 4.5 hours.

  15. Once they’re cooked, drain the mortadella. Place on a baking sheet and refrigerate until completely cool, preferably overnight.

  16. Slice into discs and serve with pita bread and pickles. You can also make sandwiches with mustard (or mayonnaise), pickles or tomatoes. Extra mortadella can be stored in a Ziplock bag in the freezer up to 3 months.

*Kaak is a Syrian breadstick. You can find it at most Middle Eastern grocery stores