Foods of Lebanon
Lebanon has been for thousands of years a melting pot of various civilizations and cultures. Originally home to the Phoenicians, and then subsequently conquered and occupied by the Assyrians, the Persians, the Greeks, the Romans, the Arabs, the Ottoman Turks and most recently the French, Lebanese culture has over the millennia evolved by borrowing from all of these groups. Lebanon's diverse population comprising of different ethnic and religious groups has further contributed to the country's lively festivals, highly successful musical styles and literature as well as their rich cuisine. Some of the most popular local dishes include “Kibbeh” (a lamb-and-cracked-wheat dish, often grilled or fried),and “Tabbouleh” (a salad made with cracked wheat, finely chopped parsley, tomato, onions and olive oil).
Lebanese cuisine is considered a Mediterranean delicacy consisting of a variety of fresh vegetarian recipes, salads and stews all seasoned with a flavorsome combination of herbs and spices. One of the most world known Lebanese specialties is called the Maza, also written "Mezze", which is a selection of appetizers: olives, cheeses, Labanee, or small portions also known as “muqabbilat” (starters).
As with most Mediterranean cuisines, Lebanese cuisine is considered to be a very balanced, healthy diet.
Common foods & recipes
• Ackawi - a white cow's milk cheese. It is a semi-hard cheese with a smooth texture and a mild salty taste. Commonly used as a table cheese, it is considered good by itself or paired with fruit.
• Baba ghanoush - salad made of grilled eggplant with finely diced onions, tomatoes and other vegetables blended in.
• Baklava - chopped nuts, usually walnuts or pistachios, layered with phyllo pastry, sweetened with sugar or honey syrup.
• Balila - also known as Cumin Chickpeas, consists of boiled chickpeas mixed with garlic, salt, cumin and olive oil. It is usually served as a hot Mezze dish.
• Batata harra - potatoes, red peppers, coriander, chilli, and garlic which are all fried together in olive oil.
• Dolma is a family of stuffed vegetable dishes. Perhaps the best-known is the grape-leaf dolma. Common vegetables to stuff include tomatoes and peppers. The stuffing may include meat or not. Meat dolma are generally served warm, often with sauce; meatless ones are generally served cold. Both can be eaten along with yogurt.
• Falafel - a fried ball or patty made from spiced fava beans and/or chickpeas. Falafel is usually served in a pita bread wrap (i.e. sandwich), and the term "falafel" commonly refers to this sandwich.
• Fried cauliflower - a vegetarian dish often served cold, consisting of fried cauliflower with tahini sauce, lettuce, parsley and tomatoes, served on pita bread or sliced bread, often grilled or toasted. Variations include curried and roasted cauliflower, bell peppers, or a garlic lemon vinaigrette. Non-vegan versions may contain eggs, mozzarella or other types of cheese.
• Fried eggplant - a vegetarian dish often served cold, consisting of fried eggplant with tahini sauce, lettuce, parsley and tomatoes, garnished with sumac and served on pita bread or sliced bread, often grilled or toasted. Variations include bell peppers, or a garlic lemon vinaigrette.
• Ful medames - consists of fava beans slow-cooked in a copper pot (for some reason, other types of metal pots don't produce the right type of flavor) that have been partially or completely mashed. Olive oil is often an ingredient, and garlic is sometimes added. Ful medames is served with plenty of olive oil, chopped parsley, onion, garlic, and lemon juice.
• Hummus - also spelled houmous, hommus, hummous or humus. Hummus is a dip made of chickpea paste and tahini (sesame seed paste), with flavorings such as olive oil, garlic, paprika, and lemon juice. Hummus is often garnished with mushrooms, parsley, paprika, pine nuts, tomatoes, cucumber, thinly-sliced onions, or more chickpeas, and then drizzled with olive oil before serving. Hummus is traditionally scooped up with flatbread, but is increasingly popular as a dip for tortilla chips in non-Middle Eastern countries.
• Kebab - usually consist of lamb and beef, though particular styles of kebab have chicken or fish. Pork is never used for kebabs by Muslims because of the religious prohibition on the meat, but is sometimes used by non-Muslim sellers. Some sources have explained that kebab comes form two Persian words, namely “Kam” (meaning less) and “Aab” (meaning water), literally meaning cooked with less or no water. Shish kebab is a wooden or metal stick with small cubes of any kind of meat, fowl, fish, fruit, or vegetable (usually a combination) which is roasted on a grill. The name literally means “skewer of grilled meat”.
• Kibbeh - consists of minced lamb mixed with bulgur and spices, stuffed inside a bulgur pastry crust and grilled or fried. The shape, size and ingredients vary between different types of kibbeh and between the recipes traditional in different areas. The mix of spices changes as does the composition of the crust.
• Kofta or Kafta - balls of minced or ground meat, usually beef or lamb, mixed with spices and/or onions. The meat is often mixed with other ingredients such as rice, burghul, vegetables, or eggs to form a smooth paste. Koftas are sometimes made with fish or vegetables rather than meat, especially in India. They can be grilled, fried, steamed, poached, baked or marinated, and may be served with a rich spicy sauce.
• Labneh - a white Middle Eastern yogurt cheese made from sheep, cow, or occasionally goat milk. It has a consistency between that of yogurt and that of cheese, and has somewhat of a paste texture. In order to keep it for longer, it can also be allowed to dry and harden further, then formed into balls and preserved in olive oil. Labneh may also be flavored by spices like thyme. Labneh is a popular mezze dish and sandwich ingredient. The flavor depends largely on the sort of milk used: labneh from cow's milk has a rather milder flavor.
• Manaeesh - baked Middle Eastern dough topped with cheese or thyme or ground meat. Similar to a pizza, it can be sliced or folded and served for breakfast or lunch.
• Markook - Levant bread that is cooked on a spherical pan called “Saj”. It is usually sizable, about 2 feet, and thin, almost transparent. It is folded and put in bags before being sold.
• Mutabbel - a Lebanese dish made from eggplant mixed with salt, pepper and anar seeds.
• Pastirma or Bastirma - a highly seasoned, air-dried cured beef.
• Shanklish - type of cow's milk cheese made in Syria and Lebanon. It is typically formed into balls of approximately 6 cm diameter, which are covered in spices and dried. The most common spice is thyme, thus giving the cheese its appearance somewhat resembling a dirty tennis ball. Shanklish is also sold in much smaller balls or unformed.
• Shawarma - a Middle Eastern-style sandwich usually composed of shaved lamb, chicken, turkey, or beef. Shawarma is a popular dish across the Middle East, and is consumed by many across the rest of the world as well. Shawarma is made by placing strips of meat or marinated chicken on a skewer. Animal fat and an onion or tomato are placed at the top of the stack to provide flavoring. The meat is then roasted slowly on all sides as the skewer rotates in front of or over a flame for a period of several hours (see rotisserie). Traditionally a wood fire is used, but nowadays a gas flame is more common. The cooked meat is then shaved off the skewer with either a large knife, electric knife or a small circular saw, dropping to a circular tray below to be retrieved. Shawarma is most commonly eaten as a fast food, made up into a sandwich with pita bread or rolled up in Arabic lafa (a sweet, fluffy flatbread) together with vegetables and a dressing. Vegetables commonly found in shawarma include cucumber, onion, tomato, lettuce, parsley, pickled turnips, pickled gherkins and cabbage. Common dressings include tahini (or tahina), Amba sauce (pickled mango with Chilbeh) and hummus, flavored with vinegar and spices such as cardamom, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Chicken shawarma is often served with garlic mayonnaise, pomegranate concentrate, skhug (a hot chili sauce), or any combination of the three. Once the sandwich is made up, it might be dipped in the fat dripping from the skewer and then briefly seared against the flame. In Syria and Lebanon, chicken shawarma sandwiches are generally toasted after being made up, whereas meat sandwiches are eaten straight-away. Sometimes beef is used for shawarma instead of lamb, and turkey is also occasionally used instead of chicken. In Israel, a turkey/lamb fat mixture is the primary flavor, although chicken is also available. Less common alternatives include fish and sausage. Some shawarma stores use hot dog buns or baguettes, but most have pita and lafa. Shawarma is often served with a plate of french fries or home fries; sometimes the fries are placed inside the pita as well. Sometimes, beef shawarma—despite its name—contains some lamb in addition to the beef, to ensure juiciness. Shawarma is also eaten as a dish either by itself, served with grilled bread and garnish or sometimes with other Middle Eastern foods like Tabouli, Hummus, and Fattoush.
• Tabouli or Tabbouleh - a salad dish, often used as part of a mezze. Its primary ingredients are bulgur, finely chopped parsley, mint, tomato, scallion, and other herbs with lemon juice and various seasonings, generally including black pepper and sometimes cinnamon and allspice. In Lebanon, where the dish is generally assumed to have originated, it is often eaten by scooping it up in Romaine lettuce leaves.
• Tahini - a paste made from ground sesame seeds. It is a major ingredient in hummus and other dishes from the Middle East. It can be purchased fresh, in cans, in jars, or dehydrated. Tahini comes in two varieties — 'hulled' and 'unhulled'. Both types are relatively high in vitamins and proteins. Unhulled tahini is quite bitter but has a much higher proportion of vitamins, calcium, and protein because the sesame seeds are ground whole.
• Toum - Lebanese sauce made of garlic, olive, lemon and salt.
• Za'atar - Green za'atar is traditionally composed of wild oregano, toasted white sesame seeds, and salt. Some sources additionally list savory, hyssop, thyme, cumin, and fennel seed. Red za'atar is made with sumac. Different versions of za'atar will differ greatly in proportions.
• Almaza - Lebanese beer brewer, established in 1933.
• Arak - a clear, colorless, unsweetened aniseedflavoredd distilled alcoholic drink. Arak is usually not drunk straight, but is mixed in approximately 1/3 arak to 2/3 water, and ice is then added. This dilution causes the liquor to turn an opaque milky-white color. Drinkers may also take arak with a chaser on the side. Arak is usually served with mezza, which could include dozens of small dishes, which many arak drinkers prefer as accompaniment rather than main courses. When the main course of the meal is served, it may hardly be touched, in favor of these smaller dishes. It is also well appreciated with barbecues, along with garlic sauce. Tradition requires that water is added before ice, because if ice is added directly it results in the formation of an aesthetically unpleasing skin on the surface of the drink. For the same reason, an arak glass should never be refilled directly after being emptied; a clean glass must be used each time. In restaurants, when a bottle of arak is ordered the waiter will usually bring a number of glasses along with it for this reason.
• White coffee - an herbal tea, invented in Beirut, made with orange blossom water. Traditionally served after meals in Lebanon and Syria, it is often accompanied by candied rose petals, served in tiny, delicate dishes. White coffee is a sedative, and calms the nerves while stimulating digestion after a particularly rich or heavy meal. In Lebanon, orange blossom water is given to fussy babies; it is also used as a perfume, either in the bath water or directly on the skin. Lebanese and Syrian white coffee contains absolutely no coffee.