I visited the home of Poopa Dweck one Thursday morning to—well, what else but cook! We started off by preparing a Syrian dessert which I had never made before: Al Mazieh, a sweet and nutty pudding, with a hint of rose water. See what else we cooked in the September/October issue of Joy of Kosher magazine!
“I like to line up all my ingredients first, before I cook,” Poopa tells me. “I create a story for each dish.” Today, the sugar, cornstarch, pistachios, almonds, and rose water tell the story of our dessert.
“When the old time Syrian women discuss their al mazieh, they say, “I make it 9-2-1.” Their friend might say, “I like mine sweeter; I make it 9-3-1,” Poopa says. The number acronym stands for the ingredients: 9 cups of water, 2 cups of sugar, and 1 cup of cornstarch. Poopa first fills the pot with filtered water and mixes the dry ingredients in before it goes over the heat. “Don’t use a metal spoon!” she says, as she takes her wooden spoon to stir the mixture.
“How about silicone?” I ask.
“I like silicone too—it holds up to really high temperatures. It’s actually better—wood holds bacteria while silicone doesn’t. They didn’t have silicone in Aleppo centuries ago.”
“They didn’t have ketchup either,” I respond. I sometimes “cheat” and use the ingredient in some Syrian recipes, like the laham b’ajeen —but you won’t catch Poopa making it less than authentic. The al mazieh comes to a boil, then is left to simmer for the next hour and a half.
Almonds, pistachios, and rose water will go into the al mazieh when it’s complete—so we get the nuts ready by blanching. “I prefer to use almonds that are not peeled—they are much fresher and have less of a chance of getting rancid,” Poopa says. After the nuts boil for just a few minutes, drain, and cool, Poopa rubs them between her palms—and the skins come right off. “People always ask me, ‘Poopa, why do your pistachios look so green and beautiful.’ Their pistachios might not look good because they skip the important step of removing the skins.”
When the al mazieh is done cooking, Poopa stirs in the nuts and rose water, and pours it into a decorative mold in the shape of a Bundt pan. “This mold is from my mother—it’s over 50-years-old,” she says. She then shows me another huge circular pan, “This one is from my grandmother—it’s 100-years-old. I use it to make baklava.”
The al mazieh is left on the counter to cool. “Don’t put it in the fridge piping hot—it will lower the temperature in there and ruin the food. It will also change the consistency of the pudding. Refrigerate it only when it reaches room temperature.” Patience is a virtue. Get the recipe here.
Poopa Dweck is the author of Aromas of Aleppo, and expert on Aleppian Jewish cookery and the creator of Deal Delights cookbooks. A highly active community leader, she frequently lectures and performs cooking demonstrations. She is also the founder of the Jesse Dweck City Learning Center and Daughters of Sarah and the cofounder of the Sephardic Women’s Organization. Dweck lives in Deal, New Jersey, with her husband, and has five children.
Photos by Dan Engongoro
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