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Tuesday, March 6, 2018

New immigrants prepare a delicious meal, reminding me of my roots in Aleppo, Syria

SYRIAN COMFORT FOOD: At a Syria Supper Club event in a private home in Oradell last weekend, I loaded my plate with hummus, tabbouleh, a rice-and-lentil dish called mujadara, stewed okra with tomatoes, eggplant salad, pocket bread and more.
GRAPE LEAVES OF WRATH: A couple who fled the Syrian civil war prepared the buffet. Yabra or grape leaves, one of my all-time favorites, were stuffed with rice and vegetables, front.



My most vivid memories of growing up in Brooklyn revolve around the Sephardic Jewish specialties prepared by my mother, who emigrated to the United States from Aleppo, Syria.

My favorite dishes are too numerous to mention, but last weekend, me and my wife attended a Syria Supper Club event in a private home, and enjoyed some of them in a buffet prepared by a couple who fled the Syrian civil war. 

The Syria Supper Club program connects Americans and recent immigrants, providing moral and financial support to the refugees who cook the meals and to their families.

Our nation of immigrants

I am a first-generation American, whose parents emigrated from Aleppo, met on Manhattan's Lower East Side, married and then moved to Brooklyn, where they spent the rest of their lives.

But the Saturday night dinner at the Oradell home of Lisa and Sean O'Donoghue proved to be an eye-opener, as Jews, Christians, Muslims and people of other faiths sat down to a great meal.

During an ice-breaker in the couple's family room, paying guests, the hosts, cooks and translators discussed their roots:

We were immigrants, and first- and second-generation Americans from Jamaica, Costa Rica, Panama, England, Ireland, Italy, India and other countries opening our hearts and wallets to the Syrians who had escaped the brutal civil war, which the United States and United Nations continue to ignore.

Four of the guests at the Syria Supper Club event on Saturday night in Oradell.

Syrian food

The 17 guests paid $53 each for a belly busting dinner from a buffet of Syrian food, plus wine, seltzer and dessert.

We were told to sit next to someone we didn't know, and the four Syrian cooks and translators, and our hosts -- a total of 23 people -- also sat down among us.

My favorites were mujadara, a dish of cooked rice, lentils and caramelized onions, which I ate with a fluffy garlic sauce I had never tasted before. 

We were invited to take home leftovers, and I had another big portion of mujadara for breakfast today.

'Taste of Syria'

"Taste of Syria" starts at 12:30 p.m. on March 21 at William Paterson University in Wayne, where guests will learn about Syrian culture and the current struggles Syrians face.

Admission is $10, including lunch, and the location is University Commons 211.

The event will be presented by the co-founder of the Syria Supper Club. To buy tickets, go to WPPresents.org.

For information about Syria Supper Club dinners in private homes in New Jersey, go to United Tastes of America.

FALAFEL AND KIBBEH: Falafel and kibbeh (bulgur wheat formed into ovals and stuffed with ground meat), were two of the items on the buffet.
TABBOULEH: A refreshing salad of finely chopped parsley, tomatoes, bulgur wheat and other ingredients.
HUMMUS: Ground chickpeas, garlic, olive oil and lemon juice are the ingredients in this Syrian classic.
OKRA AND TOMATOES: Bamia or okra stewed with tomatoes and other ingredients is another great dish from the Syrian kitchen, which relies on garlic, tamarind, lemon, cumin and other flavors.

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