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Salute to our Syrian Neighbors

Island Epicure

They are extremely brave people. They’ve escaped civil war in their home country, Syria, a conflict that cost them family member’s lives, their homes and all their valuable things. Jamila left behind her olive orchard and ten gold bracelets. The gold could have provided capital for funding her new life here in the USA, but there was no way she could save both her jewelry and her family. They fled to Lebanon, to Turkey, and finally to America as refugees.

A committee of sympathetic Islanders from Island churches brought Jamila and Iyolit and another Syrian family to Vashon-Maury Island, and saw to it that our new neighbors were comfortably installed in homes found for them.  Our new Syrian friends were introduced at an event at the Presbyterian church in the summer. They provided Syrian desserts and tea to the Americans. Some of them already spoke English and are able to function as translators.  Others are learning. Iyolit is enrolled in first grade. She already speaks English and translated for her mother, Jamila, when Suzanna Leigh brought them to visit me. I hope to eventually be able to cook with Jamila and learn to make some of her favorite dishes.

Meanwhile, I’ll hark back to foods introduced to us by a Syrian classmate of my husband’s when we were students at Willamette University in Salem, Oregon. Naseeb Malouf and his wife and small son were also our neighbors in a housing project just outside Salem. He taught us this recipe for lamb with celery and lemon. It’s usually made with bite size pieces of lamb meat. I’ve adapted this delicious dish to accommodate the more readily available ground lamb. Instead of the traditional olive oil, I’ve used coconut oil. It doesn’t degrade when heated to frying temperatures, and it has a pleasant aroma and flavor. Her is my Americanized version of this Syrian dish.

Lamb with Celery & Lemon
              4 servings
2 Tablespoons olive or coconut oil
1 pound ground lamb
2 cups sliced celery
1 cup minced onion
1 teaspoon dried, crushed oregano
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon pepper
1 lemon, sliced and the slices quartered
1 to 2 teaspoons honey
1 cup hot water, plus more as needed

Thickening:
2 Tablespoons cornstarch
3 Tablespoons water

Mix the ground lamb, oregano, salt and pepper. Form mini-patties about 1 ½ inches across.

Heat the oil in a large, heavy-bottomed skillet. Brown the patties on each side.  Remove and reserve. Add onions and celery to the skillet; sautee them. Add the patties back,tucking them among the celery slices. Tuck in the lemon pieces. Add the hot water. Cover, reduce the heat to medium low. Cook until the vegetables and tender and the lamb patties have no pink inside.

Stir in the thickening. Stir on until the sauce clears and thickens a bit.
Enjoy with steamed rice and a glass of rose wine.