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Cooking with Poopa Dweck


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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


To win a copy of Aromas of Aleppo in the comments below,  tell us what Syrian recipe you would like to try or just ask Victoria a question about Syrian food.

Must be a US Resident 18 or over. Contest Ends November 16th 2011 at 9 am EST. Winner will be chosen by online randomizer from valid entries only.



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48 Responses to Cooking with Poopa Dweck

  1. I am very curious about Syrian food. We eat mainly plants (Vegan/Kosher Parve) does traditional Syrian food have more plant or animal based dishes?

  2. avatar says: Tamar

    Because of kashrut issues with my guests, I couldn’t use the prepared tamarind paste/juice from the Asian market so I made my own temerhindi. It was lots of fun! I got 3 cups out of 24 oz of pods. I’m so excited to make the Laham b’Ajeen meat pies. Yum!

  3. avatar says: cindy b

    I have never tried Syrian food so any Syrian recipe would be a new experience for me!

  4. avatar says: Chaviva

    Dear Poopa,

    Are stuffed grape leaves a Syrian dish? What is the name of this dish? I’ve always been afraid to try it but I have seen it before.

  5. avatar says: SarahG

    Dear Poopa,
    With so much delicious food, how to Syrian women stay so thin?

  6. avatar says: cindy

    My Ashkenazi son married a Syrian girl, so I am now a consuegra. When she visited us the first time, I made Poopa’s Rice and Pistachio recipe in the Bundt pan, but it lost it’s shape, when I turned it over on the plate. Question: How to prevent that? My son’s favorite food now is Laham B’jeen, so I better learn that quickly before Sukkot. Question: what are good replacements for tamarind paste and rosewater?

  7. avatar says: cindy

    I love Aromas of Aleppo. The interesting historical accounts are as delicious as the recipes. I took it out of the library when my son brought his Syrian girlfriend home.

  8. avatar says: dkny

    I am not really familiar with Syrian cooking but am always interested in trying new recipes from new (for me) cuisines. I am looking for some good eggplant dishes and I believe the Syrians use them a lot in cooking.

  9. I love okra and tamarind, so I want to try the Okra with Prunes and Apricots in Tamarind Sauce.

  10. avatar says: Lauren

    I’d love to know if there is a classic vegan or vegetarian main dish!

  11. avatar says: Dodi

    Great article! I really want to try this al mazieh–does it cook the same if you divide the recipe in half? I’d like to try it out with just my family before I make a bigger batch. I love baklava, also, but I’m the only one in my family who likes it. :( Like other commenters, I’m interested in sourcing kosher ingredients like tamarind paste and rose water. Thanks!

  12. avatar says: chaya

    I’d love to know more about how to use rosewater and where I could buy it. It sounds like such a nice thing to use it baking!

  13. avatar says: Aviva

    I’ve seen at friends shabbos tables, this syrian rice kugel? Its like a crunchy rice dish and its delicious. I’d like to give that a try!

  14. avatar says: strandjss

    I am not that familiar with Syrian food but I read somewhere that Schwarma was Syrian. I have made this before and am always looking for new ways to make it. I love Schwarma.

  15. This is one cuisine I have not sufficiently explored and would love to learn more through this cookbook. I especially would like to learn how to make a world class Dafina/Chamin.

  16. avatar says: Shalhevet

    I would love some more recipes featuring Syrian desserts!

  17. For health reasons, is it possible to make the vegetable fritters in a silverstone skillet? By doing this, I could avoid the deep frying. The Ejjeh or zucchini, potato or and leek fritters would be a new treat for us.

  18. avatar says: joanna

    i would love to make Laham B’jeen!! my family buys it from takeout all the time!

  19. avatar says: momoftwo

    Stuffed grape leaves.

  20. avatar says: Amomomys

    I would like to make the stuffed zucchini recipe.

  21. Syrian food seems really enticing, besides for the fact that this cook book looks gasp-worthy in beauty…
    I’d love to try Laham B’jeen!

  22. avatar says: Erica

    I love lamb and I know Syrian food uses it many ways – I would be very interested in a great lamb recipe.

  23. How spicy is the typical Syrian recipe?

  24. avatar says: Erin

    I would love some recipes for some cooked Syrian salads!

  25. I have never tried Syrian food but the Al Mazieh sounds good.

  26. avatar says: elk99

    I’ve always wanted to make kibbeh. I surely do love eating it!

  27. I don’t know anything at all about Syrian food, so I’d like to try all of the recipes. I have a question for Victoria though – do you know of any great Syrian restaurants in Chicago or do you have a favorite Syrian restaurant in the entire US?

  28. avatar says: sbersson

    i love lechma gene, (Sp?). My husband dies for it. Made it once, I have to get around to making it again

  29. avatar says: mink

    I’d love to try the recipe for baklava.

  30. avatar says: davises88

    I made her Eras bi’Ajweh-Date-Filled Crescents for Rosh haShana. Wonderful. Since I ended up with extra semolina dough I used some of my homemade quince spoon fruit (like a preserve made with grated quince, lemon peel and cinnamon) as a filling and shaped them as little rosettes. Both were perfect for the yom tov meals. Each recipe I’ve made from this book has turned out quite well. It’s a great addition to my collection.

  31. avatar says: RGLevy

    Since I love pudding, I’d love to try the Al Mazieh recipe. I’d also love a recipe for Baklava since it’s my husband’s favorite dessert!

  32. avatar says: rabjeff

    I hear that Syrian (or at least Aleppo) food combines fruit with meat. I’m interested in that aspect.

  33. avatar says: shmo

    I’ve been stealing my mother’s Aromas of Aleppo book to try the recipes but she keeps taking it back. I was raised on my grandmother’s delicious Syrian cooking and Poopa’s recipes come VERY close. I would love to try some of the more complex recipes like Rubuh’ and many others that I haven’t attempted yet.

  34. I want to try Al Mazieh after this! Sounds amazing.

  35. avatar says: FAL

    One of your recipes i noticed is “ground meat-fille semolina half-moons” The variety of spices with the ground beef sounds wonderful. Looks quite similar to some things from Morocco. I would appreciate being considered for the cookbook. My son and daughter in law always have a house full for Shabbat dinner and this would really allow them to expand on their variety. Thank you.

  36. avatar says: FAL

    I must have done something wrong since instead of my comment being listed as others comments were, it is listed as a reply to what someone else had typed. I don’t know how to rectify it. I would appreciate some assistance with that please as i really don’t want it to be lost among others. Thank you.

  37. I love the idea of the lib kusa – making a delicious dish out of what might otherwise be wasted – I can’t wait to try it next time I stuff zucchinis with anything! (not to mention mehshi kusha :)

  38. I like learning about other cultures’ cuisines, and I really enjoy tasting them! However, I am not that skilled at complex recipes, and I’m hoping that with your cookbook, Aromas of Aleppo, I will be able to at last tackle some successfully!

  39. avatar says: drbgb

    I would love to see recipes for mechshi (not sure how it’s spelled but it’s the stuffed vegetables) especially, onion mechshi and any tips on how to prepare them.

  40. avatar says: sidler1

    I love Kibbeh and all the ways its made!

  41. avatar says: tasty

    I don’t know many Syrian foods, but I’d love to learn how to make some. Are there any Syrian salads? (no nuts)

  42. avatar says: xoeskie

    new to syrian food but i’d love to know what the staple foods are for Syrians. lots of breads? lots of veggies? meats?

  43. I have a question. I don’t mind spending some time in the kitchen making things from scratch, but I most appreciate simple foods with strong, bright flavors. Can you recommend a menu of Syrian dishes that would be easy for someone new to Syrian food, yet special enough for Shabbos? Thank you.

  44. avatar says: Atreau

    I would love some fatayer recipes!

  45. avatar says: gkran

    What is your favorite Syrian meal? I don’t know anything about it so I would love a recommendation of what to try first.

  46. i would like to make the kibbeh

  47. avatar says: donnak4

    What is the favorite meat dish there?

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