If there is a dish that symbolizes the cooking of Aleppo, this has to be it. Maria Gaspard Samra, a rare Syrian woman chef who gave cooking classes before the destruction of the city, grinds the cherries before cooking them, while my friends Lena Toutounji (famous for having one of the best tables in Aleppo) and May Mamarbachi (creator of the first boutique hotel in Damascus, Beit Mamlouka) both leave the cherries whole. May very kindly gave me cherries from her frozen stock so I could test the recipe. If you can’t find fresh or frozen sour cherries, use dried.
NOTE: If you can’t find fresh sour cherries, use dried sour cherries and simply rehydrate them by soaking them overnight in water: 2 cups (500 ml) water for 14 ounces (400 g) pitted dried sour cherries. Add the soaking water along with the cherries when you make the sauce.