Encompassing the entirety of the old city and all of its historic glory, Istanbul’s Fatih district is home to a large population of Syrians, who settled in certain neighborhoods following the outbreak of civil war in that country. Yusufpaşa is one such place, and so is the area around Akşemsettin Street, which is lined with a variety of shops and restaurants run by Syrians.
Aksaray is another, with the working-class neighborhood now full of signs advertising “Syrian shwarma” and “Aleppo cuisine,” spelled out in Turkish and also in the curly, coiled letters of Arabic. Restaurants serving displaced Syrians familiar dishes like fatteh, fried pieces of pita topped with slow-cooked chickpeas and doused in garlic-yogurt-tahini sauce, and muhammara, a spicy spread of roasted red pepper and walnut sweetened with a drizzle of pomegranate syrup, now dominate the main boulevard.
One eatery in particular caught the attention of Dalia Mortada and Lauren Bohn, two journalists formerly based in Istanbul, in the spring of 2015: Salloura, a 150-year-old dessert institution that uprooted to Istanbul from the embattled Syrian city of Aleppo in 2014. The Salloura family, the store’s namesake, has passed down recipes for its specialty sweet cheese desserts since the 1870s. Back then, the Sallouras’ great-great-grandfather roamed the streets of Hama balancing a tray filled with fluffy cheesy pancakes on his head. He’d holler, “Sweet cheese!”, and customers would flock to him.
Within months of opening its doors in 2014, Salloura became a neighborhood sensation. Dalia and Lauren became friendly with two of the store’s most trusted employees, Rashed and Ahmed, who insisted on stuffing them with hummus and stews, ice cream and cream rolls, transporting them to Syria with each bite. And then, just like that, Ahmed and Rashed abruptly disappeared and suddenly reappeared – only now they were thousands of miles away, in Germany.
A journey that already had countless dramatic twists and turns now had even more of them, evidence that the story of Salloura is beyond a tale of a sweets shop in exile. It is the story of Syrians forced to move further and further from home. With each violent blow of their nation’s history they’re forced to rebuild in new places what they had before.
So Dalia and Lauren, with support from The GroundTruth Project, chronicled the evolving story of Salloura – the family and its enduring craft of sweets-making and the workers who carry on the family’s trade – in five installments over the course of spring 2016. They followed the shop and its people as they chased the memory of a time and place that no longer exists, and with each piece offered a key recipe to a dish described in or connected to the story, offering the chance to taste Syria right from your home.
We decided to republish one of those recipes – shakriyyeh, chicken and yogurt stew – from Chapter 2. But the entire series is worth revisiting: Chapter 1 (with a recipe for saffarjaliyya, Aleppo quince and lamb stew), Chapter 3 (with a recipe for warbat bil ishta, puff pastry shells stuffed with sweet cream), Chapter 4 (with a recipe for halawet el jibn, sweet cheese rolls) and Chapter 5 (with a recipe for molokhiyya with chicken).
Shakriyyeh is usually made with lamb shank, but many prefer a lighter version of the yogurt-based dish made with poached chicken. The meat is stewed in a smooth sauce of hot yogurt, served with a side of freekeh – roasted cracked wheat, nutty with flavor. This recipe comes primarily from my mom and grandma, with measurement help from Manal Al-Alam, a cooking personality in the Arabic-speaking world. It’s a dish we love dearly – our ultimate comfort food.
½ Tbsp olive oil
1 large onion cut into eighths
1 chicken, about 2-2.5 lbs, cut into eight pieces
2 tsp salt
6 pods cardamom
½ tsp allspice
½ tsp white pepper (can substitute black pepper)
1 stick cinnamon
1 bay leaf
3 cups full-fat yogurt
2 Tbsp cornstarch
2 to 3 cups chicken stock
½ poached chicken
1 Tbsp butter
2 Tbsp pine nuts
1 Tbsp butter
¼ cup vermicelli noodles
1½ cup rice
3 cups water
Broth: In a large pot, sauté onion until translucent. Add chicken. Sprinkle salt, allspice and pepper on top and give it a quick stir. Add cinnamon stick and bay leaf and cardamom pods (I like to put my loose cardamom pods in a tea infuser so they’re easier to take out at the end).
Add enough water to cover the chicken. Bring to a boil on medium-high heat, and then turn down to medium for at least an hour and up to 90 minutes to make the broth.
Remove the chicken from the pot. It will probably be falling apart by now. Once it cools, remove the meat from the bones and set aside. Using a slotted spoon or a sieve, remove and discard the cardamom pods, cinnamon stick and bay leaf.
Yogurt sauce: In a medium-sized pot, combine yogurt, cornstarch and egg and whisk together thoroughly. Place over medium-low heat, and slowly stir the yogurt with the whisk in the same direction until it begins to bubble. The yogurt should be thick and smooth. Once it starts bubbling, add about half the chicken – a mix of white and dark meat. Slowly, about ½ cup at a time, add chicken stock, including onions, and stir after each addition. After you’ve added two cups of stock, check the consistency of the sauce – it should be creamy, not watery. If it’s too thick, add more stock, ½ cup at a time, and check consistency again.
Let the sauce simmer briefly, then turn off heat and cover.
In a skillet over medium-low heat, melt butter. Add pine nuts and sauté until golden brown. Set aside.
Rice: Soak rice in cold water for 20 minutes, then rinse in a sieve. In a large saucepan, heat butter, add vermicelli and sauté until golden brown. Add rice and sauté with vermicelli, mixing thoroughly. Add salt, then water. Bring to a boil on medium-high heat, keeping the pot uncovered until water disappears from the surface of the rice (you’ll see little dimples form on top). Reduce heat to medium-low, cover and cook for about 20 minutes.
Serve the shakriyyeh over the rice. Sprinkle pine nuts on top.