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Bringing Middle Eastern food to the heart of Paris

By Zeenat Hansrod

Two Syrian cooks living in France offer a unique take on classic recipes from the Levant. Inspired by memories of their childhood in Aleppo and Damascus respectively, their food creations also bear a marked French influence.

Myriam Sabet, owner and founder of Maison Aleph in the Marais neighbourhood of Paris opened her patisserie shop in July 2017.

People from Tokyo, Los Angeles, Astana or Berlin stop by to taste her pastries and ice creams (only in summer), infused with Middle Eastern flavours - citron, mastic, sumac, orange blossom, to name but a few.

"My creations come from what I would like to make people [here] discover," she explains. "For example, we're going to mix tamarind with almond paste; we're going to work zaatar with chocolate and peach. The idea always is to procure pleasure and if, at the same time, our clients discover new flavours, the deal is done."

Maison Aleph’s Sesame Halva 1001 Feuilles Romain Chirat

Maison Aleph’s recipe of Sesame Halva 1001 Feuilles

By Myriam Sabet, Paris.

Preparation: about one hour

Chilling and baking: about 3 1/2 hours

Yield: about 35 squares

For the filling

  • 113 grams unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 120 grams vanilla halva
  • 75 grams tahini, stir before measuring
  • 120 grams confectioners’ sugar
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1/2 teaspoon fleur de sel (or 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt)
  • 3 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 50 grams toasted white sesame seeds

For the layers

  • 28 sheets phyllo dough (12 x 17 inches), thawed
  • 360 ml clarified butter
  • 180 grams confectioners’ sugar
  • About 2 tablespoons white sesame seeds, for topping

To make the filling: Working with a mixer (preferably fitted with a paddle attachment), beat the butter, halvah and tahini together on medium speed for about 3 minutes. Add the confectioners’ sugar, cornstarch and salt and mix on low for 2 minutes more. One by one, add the eggs, beating for a minute after each goes in; you’ll have a thick, smooth, shiny mixture (think mayonnaise). Stir in the sesame seeds. Scrape the filling into a bowl, cover and refrigerate for 1 hour (or for up to 2 days; longer is better than shorter).

To build the layers: Lay the phyllo out on a piece of plastic wrap and cover with a damp kitchen towel. Always keep the towel moistened – the dough dries in a flash.

Brush the interior of a rimmed baking sheet (12x17 inches) with clarified butter.  Place a sheet of dough in the pan, brush with butter and dust lightly with confectioners’ sugar (use about 2 tablespoons sugar per sheet). Continue until you’ve made 14 layers. Spread the filling evenly over the top and then continue making layers with the remaining dough. Butter and sugar the top layer (you’ll have some butter leftover; hold on to it). Refrigerate the set-up for at least 30 minutes (or cover and refrigerate for up to 1 day).

Center a rack in the oven and preheat it to 180°C/350°F/Gas6. Using a pizza cutter (best) or sharp knife, trim the edges (don’t remove them), then cut as many 2-inch squares as possible, cutting all the way through the layers. Scatter the sesame seeds over the top.

Bake for about 40 minutes, rotating the pan after 20 minutes, until the top is beautifully golden. Transfer to a cooling rack and lightly brush with some of the reserved butter. Place a piece of parchment or foil over the surface, top with another baking pan and press evenly and firmly to compact the layers. Re-cut the squares, so they’ll be easy to lift out. Let them sit for 2 to 3 hours before serving (discard or nibble the trimmed edges). Stored tightly covered, the squares will keep at room temperature for about 2 days.

Maison Aleph's Nids de voyage and 1001 feuilles inspired by memories of Myriam Sabet's childhood in Aleppo, Syria Zeenat Hansrod

Nid pâtissier by Myriam Sabet, with a mango filling and jamsin flavoured whipped cream on top Caspar Miskin

Maison Aleph's Nid Pâtissiers, inspired by the traditional Esh Al Bulbul, offers an eclectic mix of flavours Zeenat Hansrod

Maison Aleph's chocolate bars with Piedmont chestnut, apricot and candied citron Caspar Miskin

Damas rose water and Amalfi lemon water at Maison Aleph, made from a traditional no-heat extraction methoid Zeenat Hansrod

Syrian Food Concept

Emad Shoshara, known as Chef Emad, came to France in 2015, after leaving Syria in 2012. Food being his passion since he was a little boy hanging around his mother's kitchen in Damascus, earning a living as a cook was an obvious choice.

The 35-year-old chef experiments in what he describes as "Syrian food concept", combining Syrian recipes with ingredients and techniques from France and elsewhere.

"Here [I use] the same basis as the Syrian cuisine but I adapt it with French ingredients and the way the French people like to eat it," he explains. "For example, French people like to talk when they eat, they take one hour to eat something that takes [other people] five minutes. So, it's not just eating something, it's sharing food and talking about food. That's why I present my food in a French way."

His next project is to launch a venue that will regroup chefs from differents parts of the world under one roof. A place for Parisians to eat and also learn how to cook.

A hummus without chickpeas: grilled pumpkin in tarator sauce Chef Emad

Zucchini with garlic and lemon sauce, sprinkled with parmigiano and drizzled with olive oil Chef Emad

Beetroot hummus because "French people love hummus" Chef Emad

Fattet Makdous: meat-stuffed small aubergines with tarator sauce Chef Emad

Follow Chef Emad on Facebook and Instagram @chefemadf

Follow Maison Aleph on Facebook and Instagram @maisonaleph

Follow Zeenat Hansrod on Twitter @zxnt

Sound editor: Alain Bleu

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