Wednesday, March 23, 2011

L is for Lebanon: Fresh Food and Fun Friends

my love, Mario Ashkar 
Writer, artist, sister, friend. These all describe the amazing Lebanese people I have in my life. One of the many loves of my life is dear friend Mario. Mario and I became friends the way most 7-year-olds become friends, he invited me to his birthday party and I went, except I was a freshman in college and there was no pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey. We spent countless days were spent in his dorm room, reading poetry and playing ninetendo.  One sunny, glorious afternoon Mario introduced me to Lebanese food, and it was delicious.After one meal at Lavash I was hooked. The food is fresh, simple, and full of flavor, and thus I just had to learn how to make it. 

Situated on the waster coast of the Mediterranean, most of the Mediterranean food that you are use to is probably Lebanese food. Lebanese cuisine is the most popular of middle-eastern cuisines. The Lebanese gastronomy is a colorful cuisine that is rich in cultural history. Foods contain generous amounts of olive oil, garlic, and fresh lemon juice. However, the cuisine is truly a compilation of foods of the various products and ingredients from the the diverse Lebanese regions.  The cuisine of Lebanon focuses on herbs and spices that give dishes a fresh and earthy taste, and like most Mediterranean countries, food is dictated by the seasons. Mint, parsley, oregano, garlic, allspice, nutmeg, and cinnamon are the most common seasonings. Lebanese cuisine is a product of both the earth and the sea. The proximity to the sea makes the cuisine rich in fresh fish and seafood. Animal fat is rarely consumed, with fish taking the place of red mea

Not much grains are used in meals, with the exception of bulgur wheat and pita. Bulgur is a dried bran made from durrum wheat.  Brought to Lebanon from the Ottomans, bulgur is light, with a nutty flavor, and looks a lot like couscous. It can be sold coarse, or fine-ground, and is used in soups, salads, or for stuffing. It makes a great substitution for rice because of low glycemic index, and high levels of fiber, protein, and vitamins. Pita bread is a necessary companion to every Lebanese household. Meals are incomplete without this puff-dough. Pita is used to scoop dips, like hummus and baba ghanoush, or to wrap meats and falafel. Known in arabic as khubz (ordinary bread), pita is an oval, slightly leavened, wheat bread that traditionally baked in a brick oven.

One of the coolest aspects of Lebanese cuisine the manner in which food is served. Mezze is what antipasto is to Italy. When dining, mezze is the combination of many (up to 30!) small dishes, served simultaneously, that create a a culinary masterpiece of color, aromas, textures, and flavors. Dishes can be hot and cold, and can vary, but in general always contain salads, like tabouleh or fattoush, dips, like hummus, meat patties, yogurt, with the grand finale of stuffed grapes leaves. The intricateness of the mezze has made Lebanese notorious worldwide for her tantalizing foods.

For the record, my favorite type food in the whole entire world is Mediterranean food. I just am obsessed by the fresh, earthy, and invigorating flavors. The food is simple too, and really focuses on the ingredients, and not fancy, smancy, techniques or ingredients. This is the reason why the food is extremely healthy for you. It's a perfect combination of health and pleasure, which is why this food is so glorious.

As mentioned above, Lavash has some stellar Lebanese food, they also have reasonable prices for fresh ingredients too expensive at the store. I stopped by Lavash this week and picked up some of their homemade pita, their tahini sauce (which is so freakin' expensive at the store!!), and their yogurt. I definitely  recommend at least getting the yogurt from Lavash. It is not only way cheaper, its more delicious and authentic then anything you will find in stores. I also shamelessly flirted with one of the cooks for free falafel....hey, I'm young and single, and love falafel. 

The idea of mezze really stuck with me this week, so that I wanted to recreate it with my some of my closest girls. Two of my newest sorority sisters, Alicia and Kamilah (Whose dad is Lebanese), came by to help cook, along with my other sister Nakeshia, my real sister Jennifer (who did not help cook!) and Angie, my partner in crime, whose hard work made the meal possible. In total the meal consisted of tabouleh, hummus, yogurt, and kibbeh. Tabouleh is a cold parsley salad made from burghul. It is made with all fresh ingredients, so the flavor is very earthy, and it's super healthy for you. Kibbeh is the national dish of Lebanon. While making it, we were joking that it is meat fried meat, and thats actually really what it is. Kibbeh is sort of a Lebanese pate, made from emulsified ground beef, burghul, and spices, and then stuffed with cooked ground beef mixture, and deep friend. They were delicious, but a pain in my behind. I didn't buy enough meat, and they meat wasn't forming a dough, but Angie worked her magic, and after much time and love, the dough came out perfect. The meal was filling, and super fun to make with your friends!!

Garlic Hummus
serves: many

  • 16 oz of chickpeas
  • 1/4 cup liquid from can of chickpeas
  • 1/4 cup of fresh lemon juice 
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons tahini (buy at a Mediterranean restaurant) 
  • 3 cloves of garlic, crushed
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

  1. Drain chickpeas and set the liquid from the can.
  2. Combine remaining ingredients in a food processor and chickpea liquid.
  3. Blend until mixed and smooth.
  4. Place in bowl, and create a shallow well in the center and add fill with olive oil.
  5. Garnish with olives and parsley.

serves: a lot
  • 1/4 cup fine burghul
  • 2 cups parsley, finely chopped
  • 1/2 tomato, finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup fresh mint, finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup onion, finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  1. Wash the burghul serval times and drain. 
  2. Soak it in the chopped tomatoes for 20 minutes.
  3. Mix the onions with salt.
  4. Mix all the ingredients together in a large bowl.

serves: 25 Kibbeh balls

  • 1 lb ground beef or lamb, divided
  • 1/4 lb of fine bulghur
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted
  • 1/4 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp allspice
  • salt, pepper, olive oil, vegetable oil
*Also need cheese cloth
    beef paste
  1. Soak bulghur for 30 minutes in cold water. Drain and remove excess water by squeezing the wheat through a cheesecloth. 
  2. Place in bowl and mix half of the meat, chopped onion, and season with salt and pepper. 
  3. Combine in a food processor until it is doughy (this takes a lot of work! add water if it gets very sticky). Place mixture aside, and cover.
  4. In a frying pan sauté onions in olive oil. Add pine nuts and ground beef. Cook until brown.
  5. This is the fun part. Take an egg sized amount of the beef pate and form it in a ball. Poke a hole in the ball and stuff with the filling. Pinch the top to seal the ball.
  6. Once all that is done, deep fry in oil until golden brown, and crispy. Drain on paper towels.
making kibbeh



  1. Steph...this looks great. Although Mediterranean food is one of my absolute favorites, I had no idea that most of the dishes that I love so much are in fact Lebanese!!! You are teaching me so much! I can't wait to go to Lavash!!!

  2. I LOVE these posts!!! Keep them coming- they always make me want to go to the kitchen immediately and try your recipes! :) How do I get on the list so they can come to my page too?

  3. @Lavonda- I will add you on Facebook and post them on your page!

  4. The little balls were so good. I could have ate 5342482049 of them :)