Comfort Food from Lebanon

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As many of you know, each week I chat with Matt Swaim on the Sonrise Morning Show about Bible foods and herbs and their history. Today we talked about Lebanon.

Being Lebanese, my heart and prayers, along with those of my extended family, go to Lebanon and its people during this unprecedented horrific time in Beirut and surroundings due to the explosion. Many of you are praying and offering support as well.

So today the topic was food, as usual – but it was Lebanese food we wanted to talk about, the food that I grew up with and is considered so healthful.  Here’s a bit of history along with some treasured recipes:

The Cedar Tree is Lebanon’s national emblem.
Cedar trees symbolize resilience, immortality, strength.
The mountains of Lebanon were once covered with Cedar trees.
Lebanese pine nuts are considered to be the finest in the world. 

Depending upon which country ruled it, the food choices varied.

Many dishes in Lebanese cuisine can be traced back thousands of years to when different countries ruled. That is most prevalent in the use of spices, like zaatar. That spice, which I make, contains sumac (lemony and acidic), thyme, marjoram, sesame seeds, salt) – I believe the Nomads traveling through Lebanon brought spices with them.
 
When Jesus was living, Rome ruled. 
 
The Greeks, Persians, Egyptians, France, Ottoman Empire and Phoenicians all ruled Lebanon at one time.
Foods prepare simply.

Depending upon the food, most are grilled, baked or cooked on the stovetop in a bit of olive oil. Butter and cream is rarely used except in some desserts.
The Mezze is a type of appetizer – lots of little dishes like olives, roasted veggies, Lebanese cheese, beans, yogurt dip, hummus, eggplant dip, etc. IMG_8148.jpg
 
Lebanese cuisine has a lot of vegetarian foods. 

Today we can get fresh produce year round, but in true Lebanese cooking, certain dishes are considered best during certain seasons. Like tabouleh. Best made with veggies and herbs straight from the garden. 
 
Fatoush is another salad best made in season. It’s a peasant salad with tomatoes, cucumbers, flatbread, mint and if you can find it in your yard, chickweed!
 
The abundance use of nuts, like almonds, walnuts and pine nuts are common in Lebanese food and sometimes added to vegetarian dishes. Lemon is also a key ingredient.
 
Beans and legumes show up a lot in Lebanese food. 

Lentils cooked with rice and garnished with fried onions and yogurt is a staple during Lent. 
 
One of the recipes I’m sharing today is for a fresh green bean salad from friend and excellent cook, Helen Sarky. It calls for lemon and olive oil and garlic.
 
Food like chickpea hummus is made year round. And chickpeas show up everywhere. I like to roast them with olive oil and garlic and eat as a snack. Cook them in their own juices with a bit of olive oil, lemon, cumin, salt and pepper. This site has my recipe for hummus with a nice photo – check it out.

I have to think that flat bread brushed with olive oil and sprinkled with zaatar. “Lebanese pizza” would be a favorite Nomad bread.

 
What about meat? 

Lamb, certainly. Under the Ottoman influence from the 1500 to early 1900’s lamb became the meat of choice. Spring was the best time to eat lamb when I was growing up. We never ate mutton, which is the older lamb.
Kibbeh, Lebanese cooked green beans with cinnamon, sfihah (little meat pastries), stuffed wild grape vine leaves, all use lamb. I make kibbeh a lot and my family loves the fried or baked kibbeh best. 
 
Chicken vs beef.

Chicken has always been more popular than beef.  Chicken kebabs marinated in yogurt, garlic and oregano is a wonderful summer meal. Chicken with rice, onions, cinnamon and chick peas is a much requested dish at my house.
 
Goat is now becoming popular, and fish has always been a part of our diet.
Fish!
I make a baked white fish with yogurt and spices which is yummy.
 
Certain beverages are popular in Lebanese menus. 
 
Turkish coffee is one. My dad used to brew it 3 times in a special copper coffee urn lined with tin. And he served it dark and thick in special little cups. 
 
I like a tisane in the winter made from orange flower scented water, mint and sweetened with honey or sugar. 
 
A nice lemonade can be augmented with orange flower or rose flower water and mint.
 
What’s the special drink made with alcohol and anise?

Arak, which is not my favorite. Drink it as a cordial in tiny crystal flutes.
 
Desserts – baklava comes to mind, but flan and rice puddings with pine nuts are familiar, too.

We make baklava only at Christmas! Flan comes from the French influence. Rice pudding is made with leftover long grain rice and often topped with pine nuts. Milk pudding is made with milk and cornstarch and garnished with pistachios and cardamom.
 
Candied orange peels and candied oranges are a special treat. 
 
And halva – sesame seed confection – was a treat we had only during the holidays growing up. 
 
Jordan almonds and what I call Lebanese butter cookies made with butter and oil are faves.
 
 
RECIPES FROM HELEN SARKY
 
St. Anthony of Padua Parish here in Cincinnati, a Maronite Catholic parish headed by the most kind, intelligent, compassionate and yes, humorous, Fr. George Hajj,holds several food festivals each year. My friend, Helen, is always there in the kitchen helping prepare the delicious and healthful food. A while back she shared her recipes for 2 dishes we eat a lot in the summer. Here they are:
CUCUMBER-LUBAN-YOGURT SALAD
1 CLOVE GARLIC
1 TEASPOON SALT
1 TABLESPOON FRESH OR DRY MINT
1 QUART PLAIN LUBAN (YOGURT)
2 CUCUMBERS
Mash garlic, salt and mint until well blended
Peel and cut cucumbers in 1/2 lengths and slice into thin rounds
Add above ingredients to the LUBAN
Mix gently.
This salad is especially refreshing in the hot days of summer.
 

 

GREEN BEAN SALAD
1 1/2 POUNDS FRESH OR FROZEN GREEN BEANS
1 CLOVE GARLIC
SALT TO TASTE
1/2 CUP LEMON JUICE
SMALL ONION CHOPPED
2-3 TWIGS PARSLEY CHOPPED
1/3 CUP OLIVE OIL
Brush and snip ends of green beans if fresh in to 2″ lengths
Cook in salted water until tender
Drain and cool
Mash garlic and salt
Add lemon juice and all remaining ingredients and toss gently to coat.
This recipe can be served hot or cold and serves between 4-6.

 

 


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