My Citizens, few things delight the palate of the Mufti of Munificence, the Pasha of Panache who ALONE is TFD more than a delicious filled pasta dish! These ancient tortellini equivalents are found throughout the Middle East and are assuredly the ancestors (or at least distant cousins) of many Italian filled pasta recipes! Known as Shishbarak in Arabic, these delights are especially enjoyed in the now war-torn country of Syria and remains a favored dish by its people (especially in the ancient city of Aleppo, the gastronomic heart of Syria).
A part of Arab cuisine for centuries, a recipe for shishbarak appears in the 15th century Arabic cookbook from Damascus, known as Kitab al-tibakha.
Interestingly, the origin of the word ‘shishbarak’ is thought by Arabic etymologists to derive from ancient Persian – specifically from the word joshpara, with ‘josh’ meaning “to boil” while ‘para’ is a term for “bit”. Joshpara was the name commonly used for this type of dish prior to the 10th century, when it was replaced by the modern Persian name ‘gosh e-barreh’, meaning “lamb’s ear”.
There are several variations of the name in other languages that adopted this dish, including Azerbaijani (düşbərə, dushbara), Kazakh (тұшпара, tushpara), Kyrgyz (чүчпара, chuchpara), Tajik (тушбера, tushbera), Uzbek (chuchvara) and Uyghur (چۆچۈرە, chöchürä). The Arabic word shishbarak (Arabic: شيشبرك) is thought to be derived from joshpara in pre-Islamic times.
As further noted on arabamerica.com:
Similar to most Arab dishes, the origins <of shishbarak> are difficult to trace, but it is said that the dish came from pre-Islamic Persia and subsequently variations were made in Azerbaijan, Uzbek and several other countries.
This dish travelled the Middle East and each country personalized the food based on their spices and tastes. While many Arabs eat this dish, it is more popular in Palestine, Syria, Jordan, and Lebanon today.
The basic and most common preparation of Shish Barak is compared to the Italian ravioli, as it is a pocket of dough filled with ground beef or lamb, garlic, coriander and other fresh herbs.
This delicious dish takes hours of preparation, patience, and skills, but is worth the hard work in the end. It gives consumers a delectable taste of the yogurt stew that’s mixed with the meat dumplings and topped with mint and a mellow garlic flavor.
Shish Barak is usually more popular in the spring, as there is more goat milk and yogurt accessible, particularly in Lebanon. Yogurt is one of the main ingredients for such a succulent delicacy, and goat’s milk is known to make the yogurt creamier and richer than cow’s milk.
The fantastic cookbook THE CUISINE OF LIFE by The Center for International Private Enterprise proposes an alternative reasoning behind the name of shishbarak:
It’s said that these dumplings were originally called shishdarak — shish meaning helmet, darak meaning soldier — since the shape of the dough resembles a soldier’s helmet. It’s unknown how they became shishbarak.
Prominent in the Ammara area of Damascus, the dumplings are the sister of mantı, a type of dumpling from Central Asia. Preparation is time consuming, thus home cooks prepare several portions of shishbarak in one sitting, pack them in storage bags, and freeze for several months to have on hand for an easy meal or unexpected guests.
Tiny shishbarak are all the more enjoyable to eat — try to make them so small that one sits comfortably in a tablespoon. Cooking with yogurt indicates a good future in Syrian cooking, due to its pure, white color.
A most fortuitous dish indeed – and my version adheres closely to the classic iteration of the Syrian version of this recipe. I have added a suggestion to replace the very tangy goat yogurt originally used in the Syrian recipe with water buffalo yogurt. While totally inauthentic, it is even richer than goat yogurt and with a flavor profile more amenable to the American palate. You can buy it from this producer by mail-order and I highly recommend them, but feel free to replace this with the traditional goat yogurt or even cow’s milk yogurt – but if you do that, don’t use anything but whole milk yogurt and and never use Greek yogurt in this recipe.
I also tweaked the recipe to use some of the famous Syrian Aleppo pepper flakes in place of the original smoked paprika – I prefer it with a bit more kick, and you can buy Aleppo pepper flakes of top-quality from here. For the mint used in the yogurt sauce, only use spearmint, never peppermint – it is far too aggressive a flavor profile in this recipe. A key flavor component in the dish is Aleppo spice mix (Al-Bhar Al-Halabi) – I give you instructions on how to make it below, it makes more than you need for this recipe.
Unlike Italian tortellini, these are toasted in the oven, which adds a chewy savor and chaw to your meal that I simply love. This is a delicious and beloved Syrian recipe – keep the war-weary citizens of Syria in your prayers and enjoy this classic dish, perhaps in tandem with an appetizer of the TRUE Syrian baba ghanouj, not the fake version we eat here in the U.S.!
Battle on – the Generalissimo
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