Christmas at Jerusalem Market on Elm

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On a chilly December afternoon in downtown Greensboro, Easa Hanhan stands behind the counter at Jerusalem Market on Elm. He’s always standing behind the counter — lunch and dinner, every day — to keep his eye on the food, the ingredients, the customers.

Today he’s explaining the day’s special: white-bean stew with roasted lamb shoulder, as prepared by his brother Omar.

“It’s American lamb shoulder,” he explains. “It gets a very light seasoning — black pepper, allspice and salt — and we roast it in a 200-degree oven overnight. It cooks for 13 hours like that.”

The result is a traditional, falling-off-the-bone cut that pairs magnificently atop the white-bean stew, which Easa explains is vegan when taken on its own.[pullquote]

Jerusalem Market on Elm $-$$

310 S. Elm St. GSO

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“We use those Greek white beans,” he says. “They’re gigantic. It’s like a lima bean but it’s much creamier, and it doesn’t break down in the stew; it stays nice and whole.”

And on a day like this, with Christmas fast approaching and cold weather bearing down, it’s just perfect.

In some ways it’s business as usual at Jerusalem Market — both the one on Elm Street and its predecessor near Adams Farm: a solid menu of Middle Eastern classics like tabbouleh, baba ghanouj, grape leaves — “dolmathes” on the menu, tahini, feta and yogurt sauce. But technique and presentation lifts their menu above the rest.

The shawarma comes as charred chunks of actual cuts of lamb and beef, not the ground or shredded product some are accustomed to, which by necessity must be served sliced.

“It’s like the burnt ends on a brisket,” Easa explains.

The bulk of their produce is local — through Gate City Harvest; their slate of wraps, which rely on ingredients like dried beef and sausages, imported cheeses and house-made sauces, are completely unique. Their vegetarian selections are ample. And their hummus is the best in the world.

But J-Mart is a grocery as well, and that’s never more evident than at Christmastime.

As the holiday draws near, the side shelves fill with unique ingredients, imported from the Middle East and Europe: Turkish Delight candies in flavors from pistachio to rose petal, dried figs and fig jam, Icelandic chocolate, grape molasses, honey with caraway seeds in it — said to ward off the flu — and English biscuits to pour it on.

Behind the bakery case, an array of pastries and cookies need constant replenishment as customers come in looking to leave with a taste of home.

Easa points them out one by one.

“They’re Middle Eastern recipes, so they use a lot of nuts and butter,” he says. “The pistachio baklava is probably our best seller — it’s not quite as sticky and sweet as Greek baklava — and we have it in walnut and a vegan variety as well. Mamoul are those filled cookies. We do nuts or dates or something. Namoura is a cake made from semolina flour, and we soak it in orange-blossom water. We make boorma with shredded filo dough – we take like one big piece and cut it up.”

And then there’s barazek sesame-pistachio cookies, ghouribeh butter cookies, kol-osh-kor mini roses and, for the health-conscious, Saliba’s Harmless Cookies, made without butter, using honey, sesame and anise for flavor.

Easa is happy to explain it all to anyone. And he’s really easy to find.

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